1972 Freedom

The summer of my 17th birthday, I became pregnant. My best friend and first feminist sister, Katie Bug, sifted through the ads in the back of the “Rolling Stone” and quickly found an abortion clinic in New York City that would do an abortion on an out-of-state 17 year old with no parental involvement. It was October 1972, just a few months away from the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. As a native of the Texas Panhandle, my access to legal reproductive health care consisted of live births, miscarriages, and complete hysterectomies.

“Take it out, you, don’t need it anymore.”

I turned to a very studious person who came up with $600 for the round trip plane ride and the abortion. This individual prided himself on being a lucrative entrepreneur and had no problem selling more than enough illegal drugs to fund the project.

“You are a promiscuous whore.”

Since we were high school seniors, Katie Bug planned a college weekend cover story for us, where we could spend a long weekend away from our town touring a college with the premise that we might attend there. We visited Texas Tech, where my brother was beginning his first year. We traveled 215 miles by car to Lubbock. The next day, I traveled almost 2,000 miles alone on my first plane ride with Katie Bug’s message in my ear.

“Love you sister and you will be okay.”

I have very little memory of the plane ride, but vividly remember the crazy taxi ride from the NYC airport to the abortion clinic. I came from a place where Main Street had one stop light. A place where my granddad’s driving advice was “Don’t use your blinkers, you’re gonna waste the power” and “Don’t stop at stop signs, nobody’s coming anyhow.” I found a cab driver who, seemingly following my granddad’s advice, tore across a huge bridge and wriggled down onto a loud, smelly street. My trip abruptly ended, with the yelling cabbie double-parked in front of the abortion clinic.

“Pay and get out.”

I entered the clinic where the check-in sister marked my name off the daily procedure list and I joined my pregnant sisters in a large waiting room. Some smoked cigarettes; others were high, many sad or angry, young, middle aged and all anxious. When it was my turn, I moved to a chair next to a small table where a young review sister asked me a series of questions, then showed me diagrams that graphically detailed the specific abortion medical procedure for my stage of pregnancy. Unbeknownst to me, I had just passed my psychological exam.

“You’re okay. Move to the hall.”

In the operating hall, I sat in one of the four chairs along the wall. As I looked down the hall, I saw four open doors where abortions were being performed. A nurse sister approached and escorted me through one of those open doors. She guided me to the procedure room’s bathroom, told me to undress, and handed me a hospital robe. When I got on the table, she helped me put my feet in the stirrups. I had never even had a pap smear.

A young male doctor appeared between my legs and told me to scoot down as he asked about the date of my last period. He checked a due date calculator, then performed a pelvic exam. The abortion preparation began when he inserted the first of three metal medical instruments thru my cervix. Then, a suction device was inserted through my cervix and whirring sounds started. As they got louder and faster, I turned my head to the right and saw a huge glass container where the bloody substances were being collected. I shakily whispered:

“What’s that, what’s that, what’s that?”

The doctor finished by scrapping my uterus, then left the nurse sister to get me cleaned up and on to recovery. She walked me the few steps to the bathroom, handed me a knee pad sized Kotex, told me to take care of it and get dressed. I went in to the bathroom, locked the door, and then the blood curdling scream of my exploding heart filled the air. As my breath came back into my body, my mother’s coyote voice came and began making its lonely howls at the moon as the nurse sisters tried to open the door. Once opened, a relieved nurse sister held me, helped me dress, and escorted my sobbing crumpled little girl spirit into the recovery room. I was laid on a cot among my bleeding sisters whose abortions were also completed on that day. Most were relieved, resting, smoking, wanting to get high, ready to leave and forget. As I was released from recovery, the older check-out sister shoved birth control pills in my hand.

“Take these. We don’t want to see you here again.”

Everything became a blur, except that night I spent in the NYC airport, with my bloody Kotex and my birth control pills for company, after a 1972 legal and safe abortion. Back in the Texas Panhandle, I returned to classes to complete my senior year, which included suiting up for Monday morning gym class.

“Hey, what did you do over the weekend?

“I had an abortion in New York City.”

I am okay.