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.