I was in college in the early 1960s. When my period was a month late, I realized I was pregnant.
The withdrawal method had worked — for a while. It was illegal for doctors to prescribe contraception to unmarried people in those days. Boys could buy condoms in a drugstore or vending machine, but nice girls didn’t dare buy them for fear of being thought of as “loose.”
The pill wasn’t available yet. All my mother had told me about sex was “don’t let a boy touch you down there.”
One of my greatest fears was that I’d get pregnant before marriage. Now I had to choose between an unwanted early marriage, single motherhood without a college degree, or a dangerous illegal abortion. I’d read in newspapers about women dying from illegal, back-alley abortions or being maimed and unable to have children afterwards.
I told my boyfriend about the pregnancy and he said he’d ask his Catholic priest what to do. Neither one of us wanted to give up our college education, get a job, and start a family so soon.
I called my parents. They came up to college and talked to my boyfriend. I was not invited to be part of the discussion and was rebuffed when I said I wanted to be there.
After my father pressured him, my boyfriend finally said that he’d marry me if I really wanted to. I told him thank you, but I didn’t want to get married either.
My boyfriend’s priest recommended that I leave college and move to a Catholic “home for unwed mothers” in the Midwest until the baby was born. I assumed that I’d then be pressured into giving the baby up for adoption, which I didn’t want to do.
I flatly turned down the Midwest suggestion and reiterated that I wanted an abortion. My boyfriend asked the priest where to get one and was given a phone number in another city.
My boyfriend didn’t offer to make the phone call or to take me to get the abortion. So I asked my parents, who — thank goodness — were supportive.
My dad made the phone call. He said the woman who answered the phone seemed to know what she was talking about and assured him all would be well. She didn’t give a name or address, since the doctor could go to jail if caught. This was more than a decade before Roe vs. Wade, which made abortions legal and safe for women.
My father picked me up from college and drove me to the other city. We reached the pre-arranged corner and met the woman in her car, as planned. He gave her $500 in cash, and then I got into her car and she blindfolded me. She drove me around and around, I had no idea where.
Then she stopped the car and led me, still blindfolded, into a building. She had me take off my panties and lie on my back on a table. She said that I had to be examined to make sure that I was truly pregnant and not part of a sting operation.
A man approached me and put his fingers into my vagina and felt around. He said that he wasn’t sure if I was pregnant and asked another man to check me. The second man did the same thing. It was degrading. I realized that they were just having their jollies with me. I didn’t think they were doctors, since they didn’t do the pelvic exam the way a real gynecologist would. But they discussed my situation and agreed I was pregnant and could be moved to the next location.
The woman drove me around some more; I was still blindfolded. She led me into a building and to another room and another table. This table had stirrups as in a real gynecologist’s office, which was reassuring.
Without any pain-killing meds, the “doctor” started opening my vaginal canal with a cold metal speculum, slowly but forcefully. It hurt. He told me to hold still and not make a sound. He started scraping inside me with an instrument.
It was uncomfortable. After a while, I asked him to stop so I could catch my breath. He stopped for a couple minutes and then continued.
When he finished, I clutched his hand and thanked him profusely. He’d taken a great risk for me — if caught, he could have lost his license and been jailed. Still blindfolded, I left with the woman. She took me back to the corner where my dad was waiting in his car.
After she left and I removed my blindfold, I realized that my poor father had been sitting there for hours, worried sick. I reassured him that I was okay, although I didn’t know for sure and wouldn’t know for years.
I was lucky to have supportive parents, unlike one pregnant friend I knew who was kicked out of the house when her parents found out. Or another friend, whose parents insisted she have the unwanted baby and refused to help her abort.
Even today, I have no qualms about it, no guilty feelings. I realized that I’d been lucky to have the abortion done by a real doctor — years later, I was able to have two children. I was lucky.
One friend, who’d used an old coat hanger on herself, was maimed and could never have children. Another friend died from an illegal abortion. We all knew of such friends or acquaintances in those horrible old days of the 50s and 60s. That’s why so many of us became feminists — to change the laws so that women could make their own decisions about their lives.
Years later, I was angry that I’d had to take such a great risk. After the pill became available, women could finally control their destinies, get reliable contraception, and not rely on their fathers, boyfriends, or husbands. And in 1973, after the Supreme Court made abortion legal, it was such a relief for women and men. Finally we could plan our families.
When Planned Parenthood became the place for education, access to contraception, and abortion, it felt like a miracle. That’s why I wholeheartedly support Planned Parenthood to this day.
I can hardly believe that now, in 2016, there are many people in our country who want to turn back the clock and force women to make life-risking choices.
That’s why I give moral support and as much money as I can to Planned Parenthood — to the national organization, the international organization, and to my local affiliate. I give to the main organizations that provide education and services, as well as to their action funds that work on changing the laws. I’ve served on Planned Parenthood boards wherever I’ve lived, and was even president of one. And now some politicians want to make abortions illegal again. My goal is to take the stigma out of abortion, and encourage women to be in control of their own reproductive lives. It’s a matter of life and death.
-Martha, a Planned Parenthood supporter