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Lucky Girl

By
March 15, 2010

There was a time when illegal abortion was the only option for a woman with an unwanted pregnancy.

luckygirl300.jpgIn 1962, I was nineteen, working in my first job, living in my first apartment, having sex with my first real boyfriend. Michael was a tall, thick-haired Italian from the Bronx. For birth control, I was using fluffy pink foam from an aerosol can. I had heard about it from dark-banged, bespectacled Emily Perl in the television production office where I had my first job. I was the floater, filling in when a secretary went to lunch or the switchboard operator needed to go to the bathroom. Emily was a researcher and married. She used the foam as backup to her diaphragm. At the time it was illegal for a gynecologist to prescribe a diaphragm for a single woman, and I didn’t have the nerve to lie. As for condoms, what little I knew of them was that they were disgusting, unreliable, and boys didn’t like to use them anyway.

Emily Perl knew a single girl who had been buying the pink foam illicitly from a pharmacy on Madison Avenue and using it—no diaphragm—without a problem. It was a spermicide. When the white-coated pharmacist handed me the plain white box of contraband from beneath the counter I tried to ignore his knowing leer. Sperm killer sounded safe and safe is what I wanted to be.

I used the pink foam.

My period was late.

One night I sat in an extremely hot bath while Michael fed me a whole quart of gin, jelly jar glass by jelly jar glass. I got beet red and nauseous. We waited. I threw up. Nothing more.

Sociologist Rickie Solinger in her book Wake Up Little Susie, describes what it was like to have an unwanted pregnancy in 1962. The woman might be “futilely appealing to a hospital abortion committee; being diagnosed as neurotic, even psychotic by a mental health professional; expelled from school (by law until 1972); unemployed; in a Salvation Army or some other maternity home; poor, alone, ashamed, threatened by the law.” There was also an acute social stigma attached to an unwed mother with an illegitimate child; maternity homes were frequently frightening and far away. All counseled adoption. The only alternatives were a shotgun wedding or an illegal abortion.

According to a 1958 Kinsey study, illegal abortion was the option chosen by 80 percent of single women with unwanted pregnancies. Statistics on illegal abortion are notoriously unreliable, but the Guttmacher Institute, a respected international organization dedicated to sexual and reproductive health, estimates that during the pre-Roe vs. Wade years there were up to one million illegal abortions performed in the United States each year. Illegal and often unsafe. In 1965, they count almost two hundred known deaths from illegal abortions, but the actual number was, they estimate, much higher, since the majority went unreported.

Michael and I checked around for remedies. First we had a lot of energetic sex, even though we were hardly in the mood. That didn’t work. One night I sat in an extremely hot bath in my walk-up on Waverly Place while Michael fed me a whole quart of gin, jelly jar glass by jelly jar glass. In between my gulps, he refreshed the bath with boiling water from a sauce pan on the crusty old gas stove. I got beet red and nauseous. We waited. I threw up. Nothing more. Another night I ran up and down the apartment building’s six flights of stairs, Michael waiting at the top to urge me to go back down and do it again.

On a Friday evening, I drank an overdose of Castor oil. By midnight I had horrible cramps of the wrong kind in the wrong place.

When my period was a month late I gave up hoping for a false alarm and went to visit Emily Perl’s gynecologist. His ground floor office in a brownstone on a side street on the Upper East Side was genteel but faded. So was he, a short, stern old man with glasses perched on the top of his head and dandruff flakes on his gray suit-jacket. As I explained my problem, he shook his head from side to side in obvious disapproval of the loose behavior that was the cause of my visit. He instructed me to pee in a jar. The test results, he said, would take two weeks.

At that time pregnancy testing involved injecting a lab rabbit with human urine and watching for its effects. I waited to hear if the rabbit died. I learned much later that all lab rabbits used for pregnancy tests died, autopsied to see the results. It was code.

My rabbit died.

Michael was Roman Catholic and at twenty-two was willing to get married but unenthusiastic. We could, he supposed, live with his parents in the Bronx. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My upper-class English parents would have been appalled and, I was sure, unsupportive. Confused, ashamed, scared, and sad, I decided to try to get an abortion.

Try was the operative word. I asked the gynecologist for advice. He told me that the law prohibited him from helping me in any way but he offered to check me later for infection. The idea of infection alarmed me but I thought his gesture was nice.

I’d heard that after twelve weeks the procedure became extremely dangerous. So I had four weeks left to borrow money, find a way to do it, and get it done.

Emily’s last suggestion was based on a rumor. There might be a place in the Santurce district of San Juan, Puerto Rico called The Women’s Hospital that would give an abortion. It might cost two hundred and fifty dollars.

Emily Perl knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who had been taken care of by a woman in an apartment on West 86th Street. When Michael and I arrived, she put the chain on the inside of the door and peeped through the crack. She let me in but demanded that Michael wait in the lobby. The room was dark, overheated, and smelled of boiled cabbage. I glimpsed a big Victorian wood-framed, red velvet couch and a round, oak pedestal table through the dinge. In her fifties, the woman had an Eastern European accent, suspiciously black hair, and smeary scarlet lipstick. She was curt.

She would “pack” my uterus and send me home where I must rest. For a day or two. When I started to bleed I must return and she would take care of it. What would she put inside me, I asked clumsily. “Stoff,” she replied. Where would she “take care” of it, I asked. She pointed to a door. “In ze udder room.” I must “svear” not go to a doctor or a hospital. I understood the chilling threat. “It’s nowting,” she said. “If you wanna now is fine. Five hunnerd dollars. Cash.”

My rent was sixty dollars a month. I earned sixty dollars a week, forty-seven dollars after taxes. I could barely make it Friday to Friday. I thanked her and fled. There had to be a cheaper, safer way.

There was. Within a couple of days Emily Perl, born researcher, came up with The Angel of Ashland, Pennsylvania. Dr. Robert Spencer was a legend, a general practitioner inspired by compassion to perform, it is said, somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 illegal abortions over his sporadic career. His price was fifty dollars. He worked in a sterile environment with an anesthetist and used an orthodox medical procedure called Dilation and Curettage. What did that mean, I asked Emily. Opening and scraping, she told me. I was sorry I had asked. His clinic had been closed down by the law, but she gave me a contact number at a motel somewhere in Pennsylvania. I should say I wanted an appointment, saying simply that I needed a D & C. It was affordable, sane, and safe.

I called. The woman who answered told me Dr. Spencer was unreachable, he would be unreachable for about five months. I pressed. I might even have cried. The woman in the motel somewhere in Pennsylvania finally told me that he was in jail.

Emily’s last suggestion was based on a rumor. There might be a place in the Santurce district of San Juan, Puerto Rico called The Women’s Hospital that would give an abortion. It might cost two hundred and fifty dollars. She knew nothing more. I was becoming frantic. Michael was unable to do much more than hold my hand. I had two weeks left. I was on my own.

Sneaking into an empty office at work and locking the door, I picked up the phone. The overseas operator found the number and placed the call. The connection was crackly, and the man who answered neither confirmed nor denied that they would help. I asked if I would need more than two hundred and fifty dollars. That might be OK, he said vaguely. I should come down if I wanted to know more. Not on a weekend, he warned.

I would go. I would need money for the airfare, money for a place to stay for a couple of nights, and money for the abortion. It would add up, I speculated, to about five hundred dollars.

Michael offered to ask his father, a shoemaker with a repair store on Canal Street, but he couldn’t tell him what he needed the money for, and he wasn’t sure if his father would have it to lend. I had never asked my parents for money, and they had never offered it. If I did now, they would assume, rightly, that their prediction that I would get into some kind of dreadful trouble had come true. I couldn’t face them.

Emily Perl’s husband was a book editor. They lived in an apartment with real draperies. They gave dinner parties at which they served wine in long-stemmed glasses. Maybe she had an extra five hundred dollars. Borrow it from the office, she suggested. Bosses like their employees to feel obligated. They’ll get it back by deducting it from your paycheck.

So I sucked in my breath and asked the young partner in the television production company. He didn’t ask what it was for. I had been obvious, sniffling and red-eyed around the office. “I’ll talk to the accountant,” he said. The accountant gave me a check the next day.

It wasn’t such a rare occurrence I learned later.

As I walked up the steps under the white-columned portico to the entrance, I allowed myself to believe for the first time that this would work.

I had money to fly to Puerto Rico, stay a couple of nights in a motel, and have the procedure taken care of by a doctor in a hospital. I bought a ticket on Pan Am for a Sunday evening flight there and a Tuesday night flight back. The airfare was one hundred dollars. I picked a place to stay a short distance from the hospital, The White Castle Hotel. There was a White Castle on the corner of 7th Avenue and 11th Street, a block from my apartment, which served a quarter-inch-thin gray burger, pellucid squares of chopped onion on top, on a saccharine sweet bun that dissolved in your mouth without a chew.

I climbed down the stairs from the Pam Am flight at San Juan Airport and as I stepped onto the tarmac, my white patent-leather kitten-heeled shoes sank in, ruined. I had a change of clothes, a nightgown, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a copy of Henderson the Rain King, three hundred and fifty dollars in American Express traveler’s checks, and one hundred and fifty dollars in cash.

I checked in to the White Castle Hotel after dark and gave the clerk one hundred dollars in traveler’s checks. The rest were for the procedure. The cash was for taxis and food. The room smelled of disinfectant and stale cigarettes but it was air-conditioned. Lucky. I hadn’t thought to ask. It was one hundred and three degrees that dark night in San Juan.

In the morning, the clerk gave me directions. I didn’t want him to know my destination but I couldn’t risk spending money on a taxi. The hospital, I gleaned from the map, was a long walk away.

It looked like a friendly suburban institution, built of clean white brick with a sweeping u-shaped driveway. As I walked up the steps under the white-columned portico to the entrance, I allowed myself to believe for the first time that this would work.

The lobby was quiet. Behind a desk stood an official-looking young man in a white coat. I approached tentatively, standing in front of him, praying that he spoke English. He looked up and asked, “Jes?” I had practiced this speech a million times. On the plane. As I tried to sleep. When I woke that morning. On the walk over. Out loud, I said that I had been told on the telephone from New York that I could get a D & C. I want to make an appointment. For today. Please. He nodded and slid me a form to fill out. This was going to work.

He asked me my age.

Nineteen.

He shook his head.

“Oh, no no no. Too young. Only after twenty-one.”

I begged, pleaded, told him I had borrowed money to get there, that I didn’t have any more, that I was desperate. He told me to leave.

As I walked towards the door, the rain began to fall, splashing back up a foot or two, a few people on the road outside caught in the downpour, running to escape but instantly drenched. I stepped outside, but it was useless. Already dripping, I ducked back in and asked meekly if I might wait until the storm passed. I sat on a brown couch, the back of my thighs sticking to the plastic surface.

I would be returning pregnant. I wept silently, hoping that anyone who saw me would mistake the tears sliding down my face for rain from the deluge outside. My paperback copy of Henderson the Rain King was sodden. Outside, it rained on. I would go back to the White Castle, call Michael, tell him the news, get a plane back to New York that day. I would be able to save a few dollars. But I would have to keep this baby.

I sat and waited. And waited. As I started to pull myself together to leave, a tiny brown man in the green uniform of an orderly approached me, skittish, surreptitious. He held a crumpled piece of lined paper in his hand torn from a notebook. “Go dere,” he said in a stage whisper. He offered me the scrap, then disappeared.

Written in pencil was a name and an address. My dress was wet, my tarmacked shoes stuck to the ground as I walked. I had proud long hair then that I ironed straight. It frizzed in the humidity. I handed a cab driver the paper. He spoke no English but I could tell that he thought I was mistaken, that I didn’t want to go there. That it was far. Yes, yes. I nodded emphatically at the paper, taking it back from him and pointing with my finger at the address. Finally I understood his words: twenty dollars. I handed him money and off we went, out of San Juan, on dirt roads for what seemed like hours, to a small village built around a grassy square. The square was still, empty save for a few mangy looking dogs, a couple of chickens, and two old men sitting on a bench playing a board game. He dropped me in front of an open building, which appeared to be someone’s house.

A small man glanced at me from inside, and pointed to the whitewashed stairs that rose along the wall. At the top stood a second man, dressed in white pants and an undershirt. His massive shoulders and arms were those of a wrestler. He must be a bodyguard, I thought. But he immediately started talking about the money in fluent, barely accented English. He could take care of me but traveler’s checks were no good to him. I didn’t have enough money for the cab fair to the hotel and back again on top of the two hundred and fifty dollars that he was demanding. Are you alone, he asked? Yes, I said. We agreed on two hundred dollars. He would wait. I returned in the twilight with the cash.

A wooden table, no anesthesia, a scraping sound, and a newspaper-lined metal bucket. I moaned. Be quiet, he demanded. Or did I want him to stop? No, no. Go on. Please. Go on.

When it was over he warned me not to fly for two days, gave me two sanitary pads, and called a taxi. By now it was night. The roads seemed ruttier in the dark, every bump jarring my sore body. It was still Monday. I had to change my flight to Wednesday. At the hotel I slept on and off, not knowing day from night. Tuesday, in the dark, I went out to the little bodega across the street and bought some cheese and peanut butter snacks in little rectangular cellophane packages. Peanut butter sticks to the roof of my mouth, so I grabbed a bottle of Coca Cola. That didn’t seem healthy, so I added an orange. I had nothing to cut it within the hotel room, and the peel didn’t want to come off, so I bit off the top, sucked the juice out of it, and threw it empty but whole into the garbage.

Michael met me on Wednesday night at Idlewild. We rode the bus in to the Port Authority. I was tired and craving red meat. We took the IRT downtown to our favorite place for a cheap-enough steak dinner. It was owned by Mickey Ruskin who became famous later as the proprietor of Max’s Kansas City. I had a filet steak, a baked potato, a salad with blue cheese dressing, all for $9.99. The vodka was extra. So was the carafe of house red. Michael paid for dinner and I felt full and satisfied and safe. The name of the place was The Ninth Circle, the lowest region of Dante’s Hell, below which lies only Lethe, the river of forgetfulness.

In the morning I called Emily’s gynecologist. He saw me the same day. He examined me and wrote a prescription for penicillin just to be sure. He told me to call if the bleeding got worse. It didn’t. I was one of the lucky ones. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 1962—the year I made my trip to Puerto Rico—nearly sixteen hundred women were admitted to just one New York City hospital for incomplete abortions.

In the New York Times in June 2008, Waldo Fielding, a retired gynecologist, described his experience with incomplete abortion complications.

“The familiar symbol of illegal abortion is the infamous ‘coat hanger’—which may be the symbol, but is in no way a myth. In my years in New York, several women arrived with a hanger still in place. Whoever put it in—perhaps the patient herself—found it trapped in the cervix and could not remove it… Almost any implement you can imagine had been and was used to start an abortion—darning needles, crochet hooks, cut-glass salt shakers, soda bottles, sometimes intact, sometimes with the top broken off.”

Three years after my trip to San Juan, illegal abortion officially accounted for 17 percent of all deaths attributed to pregnancy and childbirth in the U.S. It is speculated that the actual number was likely much higher.

Today, about sixty-seven thousand women worldwide still die each year from abortions, mostly in countries where the procedure is illegal.

G

Bridget Potter is currently working on larger project, a memoir/social history of the nineteen-sixties, from which “Lucky Girl” is adapted. After a long career, most notably in charge of Original Programming at HBO, she burned out, entered Columbia College, and managed somehow to get a BA in Cultural Anthropology. She is now working towards an MFA in Nonfiction at Columbia where she is an Instructor in the University Writing Program.

Writer’s Recommendations:

To continue to visit New York before second wave feminism, read Joyce Johnson’s memoir Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir. Aside from her heartbreaking relationship with Kerouac, the evocation of her young womanhood in nineteen-fifties New York rings deep and true. Betty Fussell’s brilliant account of her life as an academic wife in the same period, My Kitchen Wars, is close to unbelievable. To move to the sixties, dip in and out of Todd Gitlin’s encyclopedic The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. For the music, check out Dave Van Ronk’s The Mayor of MacDougal Street, a surprisingly engaging stroll though the sixties folk music scene in the Village, and don’t miss David Hajdu’s Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina, which will take you beyond.

Illustration by DerrickT via “Flickr”

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56 comments for Lucky Girl

  1. Comment by dexter on March 15, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Amazing to think of how easily this could have gone wrong(er) and how depressing it is that the title, Lucky Girl, has a ring of truth to it. You’d made me laugh with the White Castle burgers!

  2. Comment by DeLand DeLakes on March 16, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Thank you for being brave and candid enough to share this story with the world. Women born after Roe v. Wade too often forget how dangerous it was to simply be a woman in America prior to legalized abortion–and too often ignore the signs that this right is being slowly and incrementally taken away. Thank you for reminding us of the need to work for our never-guaranteed freedoms.

  3. Comment by Angie on March 16, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. Many young women do not realize what pregnancy and abortion were like before Roe v. Wade. The right to abortion is precious, and we must take action to protect that right.

  4. Comment by Heather on March 16, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    “There was a time when illegal abortion was the only option for a woman with an unwanted pregnancy.”

    Not quite. Adoption was another option. It wasn’t clear why she considered abortion to be her only option. Other than saying homes for unwed mothers were far away, she never mentions it.

  5. Comment by Annette on March 16, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Heartbreaking and terrifying to read about…I shudder to think of how scared this young woman must have been and how helpless she must have felt throughout the entire ordeal. Women should have the right to a safe, affordable and legal abortion without question and stories like this brings it home that not too long ago this right was absent and women died seeking it. It took courage to share this story, and for that and all of your fear and suffering I thank you sincerely.

  6. Comment by Katie on March 16, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Heather: Maybe she didn’t want to carry a fetus to nine months? Pregnancy is very hard on the woman, both physically and mentally.

  7. Comment by M on March 16, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    She did not want to go through nine months of pregnancy and whatever would follow that. Thank god she wasn’t forced to go through with an unwanted pregnancy.

  8. Comment by Shelby on March 16, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Wow…what a terrifying story. I am so thankful to have Roe v Wade in place now. I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like. Thank you so much for posting this. People really don’t understand what times were like back then.

  9. Comment by Julie on March 16, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    Thank you so sharing. It’s so important to remember how far we’ve come– and how far we still need to go.

  10. Comment by Julie on March 16, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Or “Thank you FOR sharing.” Either way, you’re brave :)

  11. Comment by Sigmund on March 16, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    “It wasn’t clear why she considered abortion to be her only option. Other than saying homes for unwed mothers were far away, she never mentions it.”

    She probably assumed it would be inferred. Since she was working sporadically, one can assume she would not be eligible for maternity leave (if it even existed at this point). Pregnancy can take a huge physical toll, not to mention emotional, and it is likely that she would be unable to work for a period of time– longer if there were physical complications. Considering how limited her funds were with a steady paycheck, carrying a baby to term would have been impossible.

  12. Comment by Valkyrie607 on March 17, 2010 at 1:32 am

    Why does she have to have a reason other than that she didn’t want to give birth?

    Tell me, Heather, had you been there at the time, would you have compelled Bridget Potter to go through with her pregnancy? To what lengths would you have gone to compel her? Would argue persuasively with her? Would you lock her up? Would you hold her prisoner? Would you take away her money? Would you threaten her life? Would you vote for a law that ensured she would be locked up for getting an abortion?

    It’s all in the name of saving a baby’s life, right? What would you do to make sure that your conviction that not getting an abortion was the right thing to do prevailed over the Bridget Potter’s conviction that abortion was her only option? If you would stop short of physical force or stealing, then you really must face facts: you are, at heart, pro-choice.

  13. Comment by DF on March 17, 2010 at 10:26 am

    Amazing story. I’m a modern teenager, and it seems to me like this could only happen in a George Orwell novel. Women have worked so hard to get where we are, and you must have been insanely brave to go through all of that.

    Too many people forget what happens when abortion is made illegal. My mother had her fair share of them back when contraception was unreliable (although abortion was legal in her time), and even after she married my dad, she put off having children for another seven years. All of this family planning resulted in an environment with the proper resources to raise me, and it didn’t add to the unbelievable amount of children in foster care.

    Thank you for reminding us modern kids to appreciate our access to safe, legal abortion. (Let’s hope it stays that way.)

  14. Comment by Angie Jackson on March 17, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Thank you. I knew things were “bad” pre-Roe but I had no idea HOW bad. When you want an abortion, nothing else will do. I’m glad you were “lucky” and I’m glad women fought for my right to be much, much luckier. Taking a pill in the comfort of my own home, legally prescribed by a competent doctor just can’t compare in any way to what you went through. Thank you for sharing this.

  15. Comment by kehlizabeth on March 17, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    “Thank god she wasn’t forced to go through with an unwanted pregnancy.”

    Is that who we’re thanking?

    Is 9 months of carrying a child and giving it life afterwards more scarring than everything that these women went through?

    Is the emotional grief of giving up a child- knowing that I gave a child to a woman who’s only option is to adopt… than a D&C, a coat-hanger appearance or landing ill in a hospital for a cervical, etc. infection?

  16. Comment by Anonymous on March 17, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Ya I’m happy you r ok but happier that people of today know the consequences of their actions like oh say pregnancy. Now that we have better forms of birth control and sex Ed not sure why we should be relying on abortion.. But sometimes that’s the easy way out instead of being ashamed… God forbid you think before you act. I mean sex isn’t a choice right?

  17. Comment by Anonymous on March 19, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I believe in a woman’s right to choose and believe abortion should be legal. Bridget Potter is a brave woman to share her story and should not be subjected to anyone else’s judgment. I was surprised to find that the way Bridget told her story made me sympathize both with her and with the unknowing baby. I felt very torn, which is why abortion is such an emotional issue. Well written!

  18. Comment by Matthew Parker on March 20, 2010 at 12:21 am

    If men could get pregnant, they’d be able to get abortions at a vending machine.

  19. Comment by Robin A. Vosburg on March 21, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    I was another lucky girl, somewhat younger than the author and somewhat later (1966, contraceptive failure) in the slow and erratic progress from my mother’s illegal abortion in 1941 (contraceptive failure) to my daughter’s legal abortion in 2008 (contraceptive failure). I was also on the opposite side of the country and opposite end of the city of residence population scale.

    But my legal options were the same as Ms. Potters': none that would not have thrown my life and/or the life of my by-then ex-boyfriend into the toilet.

    Most of my friends were marvelous; several tried to figure a way to divert funds from a college club to which we belonged to help pay for the procedure. When my family found out, some of my relatives were horrid: my grandmother wanted to know if I had been drunk. My parents, whose reaction I had feared, were very supportive.

    I too had relied on spermicides and on infrequent male willingness to use condoms, although I was able to get birth control pills after the abortion from the same sympathetic doctor who had performed the procedure. Yes, I was doubly lucky, far more fortunate than the author: my illegal abortion was performed ‘after hours’ in a medical clinic by an MD whose response, when I asked him why he was taking the risk of prosecution and prison and loss of his license to practice medicine in order to help me for a lousy $200, was “I don’t believe that anyone should have to be knocked up who doesn’t want to be”.

    I believe that such doctors are candidates for sainthood. Now, thanks to the insane wing of the right-to-life movement, they are not risking prosecution, imprisonment and loss of their license to practice medicine; they are risking their lives for us.

    On the 10th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I participated in a pro-choice demonstration at the offices of a local anti-legal-abortion politician. The women present ranged in age from their 20s to their 70s. When the news cameras and reporters appeared, I could not resist asking how many of those present had had an abortion when they were still illegal. Every woman there over 30 raised her hand — and the older the woman the prouder and more defiant she was.

    Every time that an attempt is made to limit access to safe legal abortion services, the statement of my abortionist needs to be put front and center: no one should have to be pregnant who does not want to be.

  20. Comment by Walli on March 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Well done! Congratulations. You evoked the realities of that time and

    > turbulent emotions that were such a powerful part of the experience so

    > vividly that at several points, while reading the piece, I forgot that

    > abortion is no longer illegal. Though, actually, abortions are still out of

    > reach for many women who don’t have money, are without insurance, or are

    > living in certain parts of the country, a reality that taints today’s

    > celebration for the passage of the healthcare reform bill. Immense progress

    > and still, in some ways, no progress at all.

    >

    > But seeing your piece in the publication was great progress, and a

    > celebration is in order.

    >

  21. Comment by Dr.Waldo fielding on March 23, 2010 at 12:32 am

    Thank God and God bless. My own experience prior to Roe

    is too vast to write here.Suffice to say, while in

    training in NYC the problem of

    damaged illegal abortions took

    a large part of my time–pre-

    antibiotics, etc.Glad to discuss it any time.

  22. Comment by Anonymous on March 24, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Dr. Waldo,

    If you’re interested, contact the magazine at editors@guernicamag.com.

    Michael Archer

  23. Comment by Anonymous on March 24, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Dr. Fielding, I meant. Apologies.

  24. Comment by Yonmei on March 30, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Heather: Adoption was another option.

    No: adoption is never an “option”. Closed adoption is the permanent removal of a baby from the baby’s mother at a time when the mother is least able to deal with losing her baby – forever, at that time, and even now only if the adult who was once adopted chooses to get in touch with the biological mother.

    Adoption ought rightly to be regarded as a means of providing parents for children who need them – not, as you propose, a means of removing a baby from its mother.

    When a woman is pregnant, her two options are to give birth or to have an abortion. You cannot blithely propose adoption as a “solution” without sounding completely inhuman.

  25. Comment by Yonmei on March 30, 2010 at 5:50 am

    Heather: Adoption was another option.

    No: adoption is never an “option”. Closed adoption is the permanent removal of a baby from the baby’s mother at a time when the mother is least able to deal with losing her baby – forever, at that time, and even now only if the adult who was once adopted chooses to get in touch with the biological mother.

    Adoption ought rightly to be regarded as a means of providing parents for children who need them – not, as you propose, a means of removing a baby from its mother.

    When a woman is pregnant, her two options are to give birth or to have an abortion. You cannot blithely propose adoption as a “solution” without sounding completely inhuman.

  26. Comment by Tiff on March 30, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Adoption, while a wonderfully compassionate choice, is extremely hard to deal with. Despite the fact that an adoptive family will get to experience the joy of raising a child, and the birth mother will not be raising a child they are not ready for there is still a stigma against it. It was a choice I made, but it was mine to make and not someone else’s choice.

  27. Comment by Judy on March 30, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    How likely is a similar story still being told by women living in the states today where aceessible and affordable abortions are being blocked through legislation encouraged by anti-choice groups? I have talked to young women who have gone the illegal route today due to the protesters and unavailablility of convenient legal clinics. It is important to maintain access and affordability of legal abortions. Women owe it to each other to make these stories only historical data that comes from the dark ages of male dominated oppression.

  28. Comment by Aghast on March 30, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Kehlizabeth -how about ‘Yes’. Carrying a baby, being forced to, for the best part of a year, bearing the signs of that for life, then effectively handing it over to someone who bought it, is more scarring than a termination. Knowing that your flesh and blood lives out there in the world, not knowing if they’re even aware of your existence, that is more scarring than a termination.

    You know what else is traumatising and scarring? Knowing that there are self-righteous idiots out there who believe that a foetus has more worth than any woman, that women are merely baby-vessels, and should be happy – nay, ecstatic, at being forced through an unwanted pregnancy to provide a chubby little accessory for the barren ‘Mommy who has everything’, that is, except the ability to bear her own children.

  29. Comment by Aghast on March 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Anonymous, your post is so inane that it as to be sarcastic. I’ll have to break it down:

    Ya I’m happy you r ok but happier that people of today know the consequences of their actions like oh say pregnancy.

    Ah a sub-literate concern troll. Let me guess, a pro-life, pro-abstinence creature who believes that women see termination as something akin to bursting a zit.

    Now that we have better forms of birth control and sex Ed not sure why we should be relying on abortion..

    You’re joking, right? I mean, surely you’re a parody of an American? Let’s see, ‘better birth control’? It exists, there are some brilliantly effective choices all over the world, that just aren’t available to your average US teen. Things like IUDs and IUSs like Mirena that are fitted routinely in girls aged 15+ all over the world, but whose manufacturers are only allowed FDA approval if they claim that it’s unsafe and unsuitable for women who haven’t had children. Devices like these, a woman’s best chance of avoiding pregnancy, are hindered in the US by ignorance and outright deception, people are told by doctors that they’ll become infertile, have their uterus ruptured, that they’re abortifacients. Oh and don’t forget the price tag, the uncooperative pharmacist who won’t fill prescriptions etc etc.

    Better sex ed? Sure “Don’t do it or God will be angry, you’ll get a disease, you’ll die”. Slut-shaming and outright lies do not make for good sex ed. All it means is that when young people do have sex (and they will) that they know nothing about how to protect themselves. It’s your Purity Ball-going, Ring-wearing girls that are getting pregnant and diseased, not the street-smart kids who know what condoms are and how to use them.

    But sometimes that’s the easy way out instead of being ashamed… God forbid you think before you act.

    Yep, abortion is just like popping a zit isn’t it. No money involved, no drugs or surgery, easy-peasy! Sometimes I get pregnant and have an abortion because my local clinic has great juice and biscuits.

    I mean sex isn’t a choice right?

    Now I know that you’re either a troll or an idiot, because no, it isn’t. The girl who’s forced to have sex with her dad and brothers, the immigrant worker who’s raped by her employer under threat of deportation, the cheerleader who’s “saving herself” but has an abusive boyfriend who won’t take ‘No’ for an answer. How about the women who have their birth control tampered with by their men, and can’t get access to a clinic for replacements, and just can’t afford another co-pay or $50 for emergency contraception?

    I am praying that you’re not a real person, because my heart can’t stand living in a world full of such ignorance and hate.

  30. Comment by D on March 31, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Well written article, thanks. I live in Ireland where abortion is, shockingly, still illegal. I’d like to commend the group Women on Waves (www.womenonwaves.org) for their provision of a low cost answer for those who cannot afford the 6-1000 euro that an abortion costs (including travel, procedure, etc). Hope that they keep on doing their good work, until the laws come down around here…!

  31. Comment by Anonymous on April 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Yonmei

    You want to talk about inhumane, what do you call killing a child with a heartbeat?

  32. Comment by A on April 1, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    Aghast, I love the way that you tear Anonymous’ post apart. You are from the real world and it is refreshing to hear someone who isn’t abstinence only and pro-life share their feelings on the issue of legal abortions.

  33. Comment by Samantha on April 1, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    Anonymous, I think many people would not grant your premise that anything with a heartbeat is a “child”.

    Thanks to Bridgette for sharing this, really unbelievable story. I second the commenter who said this sounds Orwellian.

    I am so glad you came out of this horrible, harrowing experience safely.

  34. Comment by Sister on April 2, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Adoption, not abortion. I should know, was faced with an unintended pregnancy at 25 and single. Never considered killing the baby. Killing the baby tears apart a woman’s soul as well as the baby, I know because my 2 sisters went the abortion route. I chose my son’s family and received pictures/letters his whole life. So glad I gave him life instead of having him burned with saline or torn apart by a knife. People wait years to adopt because there’s a shortage, now we have gay couples who want to adopt too who would make great parents!

  35. Comment by amy on April 2, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    no, there is not a “shortage” of children in the system, ready for adoption. maybe there is a shortage of white, abled, under 1yr old babies, if that’s what you actually mean.

    no, just because your experience of adoption was good, and because you have two sisters who had bad experiences with abortion DOES NOT mean that you speak for all women. I really shouldn’t have to explain that concept.

    instead: trust that other women can make smart, thoughtful decisions about their own bodies, in the same way that you were decide what was best for you.

  36. Comment by Anonymous on April 2, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    If there’s no shortage then why are there so many overseas adoptions of non-white babies? And don’t assume I’m white or that my baby was born w/out problems! And I never said I speak for all women. Lastly, there isn’t enough choice in pro-choice; adoption is rarely counseled.

  37. Comment by its just me on April 2, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    I get that pregnancy full term could be impossible for a person working shifts and making so little money weekly. I also get that raising a child is very expensive, regardless of what time period the child is raised during. What I don’t get, however, is people having sex when they can’t deal with the possible consequences. Sperm + egg often = a fetus. So if you can’t deal with potential consequences of vaginal intercourse, then DON’T HAVE IT IN THE FIRST PLACE. NOT THAT DIFFICULT. Oral sex. Fool around. Anal sex. There are lots of ways to get sexy without engaging in vaginal intercourse. The choice is not whether I should have to have an abortion or carry my child full term, the choice I make is whether or not to engage is vaginal intercourse. Anything else is like asking to have one’s cake and eat it too.

  38. Comment by its just me on April 3, 2010 at 12:43 am

    i’m a little bit surprised that you can spit such vitriol and accuse someone else of harboring hatred and ignorance. there is such a thing in the world as being so open-minded that a person becomes close-minded, and it sounds like you might be getting there…people living in glass houses should not throw stones. the tone of voice you used in your reply to anonymous was so hateful, condescending, rude and disrespectful that maybe it’s people like YOU who make the world a scary place. all of the earth’s citizens are entitled to have our own opinions, not just the people who agree with you. please try to remember that, so that maybe the world will have a little less angry energy in it. just because you support liberal values and have some education does not make you an inherently good person, or a person worthy of judging and correcting other people.

  39. Comment by Sister on April 3, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    A young couple pulled their white car into the parking lot of Aurora’s Planned Parenthood clinic Friday morning as nearly 200 abortion protesters followed the Stations of the Cross across the street.

    The couple never left their vehicle. Instead they pulled back out of the clinic lot and took literature from Margo Cupps, a self-described sidewalk counselor who directed them to the nearby Waterleaf Womens Center.

    After the couple drove away, a tearful Cupps was hugged by several of her companions. For Cupps, it truly was a Good Friday.

    “They said they felt the power of our prayer and decided to keep their baby,” said Cupps, who lives down the street from the facility. “It’s a tremendous feeling of happiness any time a little one is saved.”

    Cupps and members of the Pro-Life Action League and Fox Valley Families Against Planned Parenthood have gathered almost daily to protest and pray since the clinic received approval in July 2007 to open on East New York Street on the city’s far east side.

    Good Friday traditionally attracts larger-than-usual groups of protesters at the site. This Friday, however, was the first large gathering since abortion opponents came to a settlement agreement with the city late last month that set guidelines for organized protests.

    Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, said he was pleased with Friday’s peaceful turnout but disappointed one of the agreed-upon provisions wasn’t met: street signs on Oakhurst Avenue prohibiting protest activity remained.

    City Deputy Chief of Staff Carie Anne Ergo said Friday afternoon that city officials intended to have the signs down as early as the end of the day.

    “Aside from that, we’ve prayed, our counselors have been interacting with women and we’ve saved some children today,” Scheidler said. “This was a powerful day.”

    Beth Kanter, Planned Parenthood senior vice president of external affairs, said Friday’s protests were peaceful.

    The clinic offers numerous health services, including abortions.

    “We certainly recognize their right to peacefully protest out there. Our biggest concern is for our patients, employees and volunteers,” Kanter said. “Inside the facility, we are committed to providing only the highest quality patient care in the reproductive health spectrum to the women, men and teens who seek us out.”

  40. Comment by Edwina Mulcahey on April 5, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Adoption would have implied carrying the child to term, which, in those days, would have meant being ostracized within a society that treated unwed mothers as lepers. If the notion of coming up with $500 for an abortion was terrifying, imagine fleeing one’s hometown and finding elsewhere to live (and a job to support oneself) as a leper. Some people managed to carry the child to term. Someone I knew in high school told her parents of her pregnancy and soon the entire family had “been transferred” overseas for a year, at the end of which, my friend came back with a new baby “sister,” her parents having decided that the best way to handle the circumstance was to adopt their grandchild as their own child, rather than risk ruining my friend’s reputation forever. That was a middle class suburban family. Not all families could or would be that understanding and inventive upon hearing such horrific news that their daughter had let herself become pregnant at a time when pre-marital sex was an unthinkable sin.

  41. Comment by ACH on April 6, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Dear Bridget,

    Thank you for a beautifully written piece. The essay is so vivid in its details and so compelling–will the narrator be able to get the medical help she needs within two weeks? Will she be mauled or permanently maimed on that dirt road outside San Juan?–as to horrify me and remind me of the importance of this issue in a way that op-ed pieces can’t. Thank you.

  42. Comment by SgF on April 8, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Lucky Girl indeed. What a wonderfully written personal piece about a subject that continues to be political rather than a option of choice.

    This piece has humor, suspense, and relevance.

  43. Comment by meaghan winter on April 13, 2010 at 10:01 am

    dear bridget,

    this is such an important story. a very real reminder of how much i (and many women, and men, of my generation) take for granted. courageously lived, beautifully written, courageously shared.

    i hope you’re able to tell the world more of your stories. we need them.

  44. Comment by Mevo on April 13, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    I was humbled by your piece, I’ve long buried that event in my life. Reading Lucky Girl, reminds me how lucky I was and how important it is to never forget those horrible circumstances and to constantly educate the next generations. Bridget, a wonderful piece!

  45. Comment by Astri on April 15, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Matthew, that comment is genius. And completely correct.

  46. Comment by Anonymous on April 17, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    I find a few things interesting about your story, you were not willing to lie to neither obtain nor use other “disgusting” methods of birth control, but you have no qualms about killing an innocent child. I find what you did to be repulsive and selfish. In my heart I believe you will have to face your own conscious and realize the folly in your choice of assassinating your child and stealing everything he was or ever going to be. When history judges us, I am sure it will look back on us a barbarians that let this senseless slaughter continue.

  47. Comment by Anonymous on April 17, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    To all the posters calling her brave, she had a masked man do the dirty deed, if she was brave she would have yanked it out herself… Looked it in the eyes and threw it in the trash, now that’s brave….

  48. Comment by fan of anonymous on April 19, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    anon, i agree. nothing about this act was brave. it was selfish. and if having a child or being a pregnant unwed woman would have been truly terrible for her, there is a way to guarantee that pregnancy would not occur-DON’T HAVE SEX. it’s not damn rocket science. if only i could avoid the consequences of my actions like this in all manners of my life…didnt pay a bill? got a speeding ticket? left a child unattended and they got hurt? just get a handy dandy [situation-relevant] abortion and it’ll be like your mistake never happened! wouldnt that be great? being held accountable for one’s actions is for chumps! let’s all do thing for which we know the likely outcome and then talk about how terrible the consequences are! bottom line: sex often = pregnancy. call it sexist if you want, but there is a reason i’m 25 and married and still not a mother (by choice)-i have been very careful about my sexual conduct. sexist or not, it’s ultimately up to women to decided whether or not to engage in pregnancy-inducing behavior. rape is different, there is no choosing involved on the woman’s part. if the woman’s life is significantly compromised by full term pregnancy, that is different because there is an unforseen risk involved. but for the women that want to go out and have sex freely because it’s their “right” to-if you decided to let somebody stick it in, act like an ADULT and deal with the consequences in a way that is fair to all parties (fetus included) involved. PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY.

  49. Comment by tiffany on December 23, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    actually, those aren’t her words, but those of the editor who assigned the headline.

    a close reading of the actual essay says that because the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy for an unmarried woman were so great — you could be fired and denied future employment while pregnant for starters — abortion was, in many ways, the right choice.

    mind you, this was ALSO a time when birth control was either unavailable to unmarried women (pill, diaphragm) or unreliable (condoms, withdrawal).

    by the way, legality has NO effect on the rate of women seeking abortion. in mexico, where is ilegal everywhere except mexico city, 800K abortions still occur.

    legal abortions just ensures that a woman who has one doesn’t have to risk death or fertility to get one.

  50. Comment by relieved sister on December 23, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Sister, every woman I know felt relief, not guilt, after her abortion, myself included.

  51. Comment by Dawn. on May 9, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Brilliant essay, Ms. Potter. Thank you for sharing such a vital story.

  52. Comment by Nikki on October 3, 2011 at 9:27 am

    A harrowing story. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. What concerns me is what if there is even a chance that an unborn baby is a human being? This does not take away for the need for compassion for any woman who finds herself in a difficult situation.

  53. Comment by Steve on March 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Well, she clearly trusted her readers to understand that adoption means giving birth which (to pick a few of about a dozen reasons) would have meant losing her job, greatly damaging her relationship with her parents and pretty much everyone else.

  54. Comment by Really Annoyed on July 4, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    fan of anon, why, you sound just like a grizzled old white man from the 50’s. Are you sure you are not? Deciding to have an abortion cannot be compare to missing a bill or getting a speeding ticket. Guess what?
    Stuff happens. And for you to tell anyone else what they can or cannot do with their bodies, especially during a turbulent time when having a child out of wedlock and so young would ostracize her from society.
    I hope you get pregnant when you are attending college and perhaps your marriage is falling apart and you have no money and no health insurance. Perhaps you can have some compassion instead of passing judgement. God, what a moron.

  55. Comment by Samantha on August 8, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Ms. Potter, thanks for sharing your story, but I have a story too. It is that of my real grandmother. She also had an unwanted pregnancy in 1962, when she was pregnant with my father. She was 18, a Sunday School teacher at her church, and planning on going to nursing school. It would have been much better for her life if she had decided to abort my dad, but she chose my his life instead. And I thank God all the time that she did. She not only went through the pain and suffering of pregnancy and labor, but she then gave my father away to his adopted family so that he could have a better life. He went to college and studied engineering, has served his country and helped protect his fellow citizens for his entire career, and had three smart, beautiful children. I’m studying to be a teacher. My sister is studying Marine Biology. And my brother just graduated from high school. I don’t know about my siblings, but I want to live my life to the fullest and never take it for granted because my life was definitely a gift. I’ve never met my birth grandmother, but I love her because of the sacrifice she made to give my dad life, and the life that I have as a result.

  56. Comment by sparrow on October 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Amazing how people who had the right to choose what was best for them can be so judgemental about what others choose. Carrying a fetus to term is incredibly taxing physically and mentally, and even more so if the baby is unwanted and you don’t have a supportive partner and family. I had an abortion at 5 weeks (took a pill in the comfort of my own home) and I felt RELIEF more than anything else. I am so happy that we made that decision, as I am now in a successful career and getting to a place where I could support a child that I could not then. More women need to speak up on this issue — I will not be cowed or ashamed of my choice!

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