Forty years ago I had an abortion when I was 19. It was December 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade.
I had unprotected sex just once with a young man that I met at a college mixer. He was very cute, of Greek descent; today I don’t remember his name. Even that night I was aware of the risk, but my attempt at calculating the number of days since my last period was clouded by too much alcohol, his deep brown eyes and skills as a lover. In the morning, I quickly checked the calendar, and willed myself to believe that the sex had not fallen in the middle of my cycle.
Eight weeks later, when I really didn’t get my period again, I realized I needed a pregnancy test. I recall the doctor at the college infirmary being blunt and unsympathetic.
My dorm-mates volunteered to take up a collection for an abortion and find me a doctor. I called a trusted adult, the minister from my high school youth group, who urged me to talk to my parents. My parents were shockingly supportive. They asked me only two questions; are you in a relationship? No. Do you want to get married? No. I didn’t feel pregnant, I didn’t want to be pregnant, I wasn’t in love, in fact, I never heard from Mr. Greek-Brown-Eyes again.
At the time, I didn’t know how fortunate I was to be enrolled in a college in New York State, which had decriminalized abortion just the year before. I arranged to take my final exams early, went home to NJ, and then, with the help of an obstetrician/gynecologist family friend, was referred to a hospital on Long Island for the procedure. By then I was 10 weeks pregnant and near the limit of the skills of the doctor or rules of the hospital. Coming out of the general anesthesia, I felt relief and gratitude for my parents’ support and the sensitivity of the medical staff. I vowed to take the birth control pill forever, even if I lived alone on a desert island.
Sixteen years after the abortion, I was 35, married for two years, and ready to start a family. How strange to not be concerned about birth control. A year went by, then another. We both went to doctors, got tested, everything was fine. At age 38, we met with an adoption agency, but couldn’t afford their fees. So we kept on, waiting, hoping we would be surprised. But I never got pregnant again.
Unprotected sex just once. Pregnant once. One abortion. Never pregnant again. How crazy, sad, ironic is that? Yet I have always known that I made the right choice. One cannot go back, take back or know the future. One night forty years ago shamed me, silenced me (until now), and forever shaped me to devote my life to preserving safe, legal access to abortion services and reproductive healthcare. Each choice is yours to own.