Nearly every woman I know has either had an abortion or helped another woman get one. I know this because as the Republican attack on Planned Parenthood ramps up, I’ve been asking. Old and young, black and white and brown, married and single, straight and gay, religious and irreligious – women have been telling me their abortion stories.
But I think we need to tell them publicly too. To break the weird veil of shame and secrecy that still hangs over the decision, even when abortion is legal. To stand up and say “Yes, sure, I had one.”
So here’s the story of mine.
I was 20 years old – young and dumb, as every 20-year-old has every right to be. Not that dumb, though, since I was using a diaphragm thanks to the Marie Stopes clinic, the one place in the whole of England at the time that would provide contraception to an unmarried 17-year-old. And the diaphragm worked fine until my first summer in Jerusalem, when it didn’t. Not because of any fault in the device, but because I hadn’t put it in. Carried away, late in my menstrual cycle, I’d said “Come on, it’s okay.” And three weeks later, realized it wasn’t.
There was no doubt in my mind what I needed to do. The guy I was with was a no-goodnik, the result of a bad case of delayed teenage rebellion on my part. I had an undergraduate degree in psychology but no idea what I wanted to do next, only that since I could barely handle myself, no way could I handle a baby. But abortion was still illegal in Israel. And I was dead broke.
I found my way to the Jerusalem branch of an aid organization for Brits – a single room with a single occupant, who took one look at me as I stood miserably in the doorway and before I could open my mouth said “You’re pregnant, aren’t you?”
I nodded yes.
“And you need an abortion.”
“And you don‘t know where to go.”
Again, a nod.
“And you don’t have any money.”
At the final nod, she said “Sit down,” and made three phone calls: one for an appointment with a leading gynecologist who didn’t believe in forcing women to have children; one to her HQ to get approval for a loan to pay his fee; and one to a publishing house to get me a job as a copy-editor so that I could pay back the loan.
We have been firm friends ever since.
The procedure itself was a non-event. (The doctor gave me a prescription for the pill and said he hoped to never see me again, though in fact he did, but not with me as the patient – he ran a maternity clinic, and was the obstetrician for three of my friends as I helped with their labor.) I parted ways with the no-goodnik, and set about the never-ending process of growing up.
And now, almost half a century later? No regrets. Quite the contrary, since I suspect this was the one rational decision I made the whole of that year. In short: thank god I had an abortion.
I agree Lesley that we should be telling these stories. AS you say, we all, myself included, have had one or have helped a friend, or both. But where to tell them? How to publicize them in some impactful way? The impact of undocumented young people telling there stories was important in opening up the immigration debate. Does anybody know somebody who is organizing this?
Looks like I’m organizing an event at Town Hall in Seattle, with thirty women speaking two minutes each, telling their own stories. Alas not until January.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a “speak-out day” nationwide with women doing the same?!
That is great Lesley. Have you posted this on FB? Want me to as well?
Want to get a firm date first, but after that — surely!
But re a “speak-out day” — go right ahead! Thanks.
Count me in.
I’ll tell my story.
And, well, I’m already in Seattle.
Incredibly touching story, and thank goodness those adults were there to provide help in your otherwise isolating situation. I also love that they got you a job to pay back the loan. And how wonderful to hear that you’re still friends with the counselor, and that you had continued interaction with the OB after that. Thank you so much for sharing.
I’m sorry to hear your stories, I am a different kind of person, I urged someone very close to me not to get an abortion, to instead consider adoption. Thank goodness she didn’t go through with it. I can’t imagine the emotional turmoil that would take place if you were truly honest about what sort of ‘procedure’ you and your friends are so nonchalantly discussing.
Nothing at all nonchalant about it, Justine. And you’re making unwarranted assumptions. Some women do go through emotional turmoil; some, like me, don’t.
Further, I don’t know how many adoptees you know, but those I know are haunted by the idea that they were “given up” at birth. Maybe it’s you who are being nonchalant.
I didn’t mean to misread your tone. I do realize that many people have been adopted have questions throughout their life, but I would ask you if you feel that the possibility that a child or grown adult may feel ‘abandoned’ at times is reason enough to not give them a chance at life.
I hear you, Justine, but would ask you to consider what it’s like to come into the world unwanted. And what it’s like to carry a child to term and then let it go. The emotional damage I have seen done to both mother and child is enormous.
I truly cannot imagine the pain of knowing that if I had not had that abortion and had opted instead for adoption, my child would have been a stranger among strangers, and would have asked all his or her life why I had abandoned him or her. Or to live my own life with no idea whether the child had been delivered to a good home or, as too often happens, a bad one.
We’re talking here about a very private decision that has been cynically politicized for electoral purposes, and because making your private life public is a hard thing to do for those unused to being in the public eye, I have enormous respect for those women willing to do it.
I guess I just don’t understand why the best alternative to any of the POSSIBLE outcomes that you might perceive as being negative to the child is the death of the child before it has a chance to experience life. I think the most innocent beings in our society need to be protected. And there are great options, like open adoption, where the baby wouldn’t have to be a stranger. Thanks for hearing me out!
I know I can’t convince you, Justine; you are deeply committed to your stance. But your comments do make me think further on this subject, to the effect that this divide between pro-choice and pro-life is an entirely artificial one — a meme dreamed up by dogmatists. I am pro-choice precisely because I am pro-life. That is, pro-choice IS pro-life. I’ll write a post on this in the coming week, and thank you for prompting me to do so. — L.
Thank you for sharing your story. We need a world where people feel comfortable sharing such stories, rather than shamed for making the best decision for themselves.
The Torah and the Quran strictly forbids this. We shud discourage rather than encourage and publisize this!
“We”? Speak for yourself, please, not for everyone else.
Would you please cite the actual verses where abortion is strictly forbidden in the Quran? I need some enlightenment.
I’m curious as to where it could possibly be in the Torah, also.
Dear Lesley Hazleton,
Your story is a lesson that must be broadcasted world wide for the benefits of unwed mothers and those in similar predicament. This is the universal problem encountered by young people in a relationship. We need sensible solution to a potentially devastating turmoil in the life of a young person. Thank you for sharing your life experience with us, even though it was very personal and a long time ago involving ‘nogoodnik’.
Anything against sharing this with my local Planned Parenthood Director, Linda McCarthy? She’s a mensch who would be so behind a “speak out” date and there are many others I know of who feel that this would make a dent. We’ve often spoken of it in exactly these terms. It would be smart to co-ordinate events.
I know I’m being a political engineer here, but your story is so many’s and they all need to be “packaged” for the greater good. This nonsense has to stop.
Love you – really.
Of course share, Lynn! Thank you. Happy to pool efforts. — L.
I’m becoming more and more inclined to get rid of the loaded terms “pro-choice” (or “choice”) and “pro-life”(as Lesley perhaps begins to hint at). I understand that there is a cultural context in which the terms arose but I believe they are ready to be retired as being no longer of any descriptive or argumentative value — they’re simply dog-whistle terms for staking out a position. “Pro-life” is particularly galling since it would seem to be all-inclusive. If you’re really pro-life you should be against all wars and all guns as well as capital punishment…and not just against “some” wars or instances of what some would call justifiable homicide like an armed home intrusion. If you’re really “pro-life” then all life should be sanctified beyond quibbling about exceptions. Unfortunately, that leaves us with the somewhat distasteful (to some) but accurate term: “abortion.” Of course, “pro-choice” does not exactly equate to “pro-abortion” so there’s at least a semblance of rationality to that term. No one’s across-the-board in favor of abortion in all situations; it’s really a question of having the choice. But presumably we couldn’t leave pro-choice alone and ban pro-life…so both have to go.
Great, Athena! Plans are afoot. Will keep you in the loop. — L.
(and congrats on your return to writing — gutsy and good.)
Nobody has the right to dictate what a person (man or woman) may do with their body, especially not in forcing a woman to have child she does not want. “Adoption not Abortion” has a good marketing ring to it but it ignores the fact that the woman is being forced to nine months of unwanted pregnancy, limiting or destroying her career and a lifelong guilt of having and then giving up a baby that is now “out there”.
To be sure, there are many people who were adopted and who turned out to be wonderful people, but that argument is tangantial and irrelevant; it is STILL the woman’s choice to make and only hers. — Penjihad.wordpress.com
I’m in Seattle, and will gladly tell my story of both of my abortions.
Thanks Marissa — we’ll be moving ahead in October, and will let you know when and where as soon as we have it finalized. — L.
My story is probably not the “type” of story you are looking for, but I still feel it is an important story to tell. I was pressured into an abortion by my partner and it was a very traumatic experience. I still haven’t gotten over the anger I feel for not standing up for myself and my feelings. That being said, I still support all women making the choice for themselves. This is a deeply personal choice that can’t be made by anyone other than the pregnant women.
Thank you Shelly — and I totally agree that yours is as important a story to tell as all the others. This is what we need: women refusing to be cowed and intimidated, and making their own choices. I deeply regret your regret, and as deeply appreciate your support of all women having the freedom and the self-respect to choose for themselves.
Please let me know about the Seattle event for this. Thanks so much!
Thankyou for writing about this. Although I admit I was disheartened the way your story ended. Not at all because I disapprove, but why is it that of all the (few) stories that women share about their abortion experience it typically ends with a “yes it was the right decision and I’m glad I did it”. Well what if its not the right decision? What if, you thought you were ready for a family but you’re marriage imploded at the same time that you found out you were pregnant, like I did three years ago?
And while there was a such a strong and powerful feeling that you could do this on your own and you loved this child enough to see it through, you were overcome by the sudden, terrifying notion you were going to be a single mum and you couldn’t bear that the man that helped you conceive would be the father. For many, many reasons I didn’t / couldn’t live with this. So I had an abortion and I regret it. There I said it. One year of therapy and I still regret, feel tremendous guilt and sadness over my decision. Maybe one year was not enough or maybe its just something that I just have to learn to live with and accept.
So can we please open up the conversation to all women and all experiences? I’ve considered whether the weight of my guilt is in part because of how I might be perceived for having done what I did and for feeling what I feel. Surely I am not the only women in the entirety of human history that has been through this and feels this same way? It would be nice to know that I’m not! And perhaps through sharing stories if will take some of the fear and loneliness out of such experiences.
Thankyou again for sharing your story Lesley. People like you and the books you write restore my faith and love for humanity.
And thank you for your story too, which must have been very difficult to write. The sadness I totally understand, even if I experienced none myself; but as I see it, you have nothing to be guilty about. You sound as though as you are still grieving, and if this is so, then it seems to me that you are grieving less for the child that might have been than for the marriage that broke up — the marriage that you hoped for, that might and should have been, and that was not. Here’s what I wish for you, then: to begin looking forward instead of back, towards a good, committed, loving partner with whom you will become pregnant again, and fully share in parenthood. In hope — Lesley