"I had an abortion -- pre-Roe v Wade -- and that experience, along with the politics of my liberal Democratic parents, shaped not only my political and social beliefs; but, also informed my ethical standards. The life I lead, and most important, the children that I raised, would not have been possible if I had not chosen to have an abortion. In fact, every experience that I had post March 1, 1971-- the day of my abortion -- occurred because of it. Because of my decision, I was able to stay in school and complete my degree, meet the man I married and raise two beautiful children with him, work in a field that allowed me to use my intelligence and personal skills to help other people gain a measure of success, and on and on. I got to create a life and family of my choosing --not one that was thrust on me because of a mistake that I made as a teenager.
Having an abortion pre-Roe v Wade wasn't an easy thing to do, especially for an 18 year old. I was afraid to tell my family, not because I thought they would force me to have the baby, but I didn’t want to be a disappointment to them. With the help of my oldest sister, Mary Ann, I made my way to New York City, where one of the only two legal abortion clinics in the United States was located. It entailed working through a sometimes confusing gamut of people and shadow institutions before access to the clinic was possible. Initially, I had to meet with a woman who worked as an academic advisor at one of Michigan’s public colleges. That I was able to get to her was just dumb luck. She was former high school friend of my sister, who knew the ropes because of her experiences with college-aged women in crisis. Prior to meeting this woman, I had gone to three different doctors, and each one told me that they couldn’t help me after confirming my pregnancy. One of the doctors was kind, one didn’t seem to care one way or the other, and the third became agitated and angry when I told him that I wanted an abortion. He basically chased me from his office. I developed a hardened attitude about the whole process, refusing to let other people’s opinions of me get in the way of my ultimate goal, which was an abortion. The academic advisor sent me to a make-shift clinic that was housed, for that day anyway, in a warehouse in Grand Rapids. There were about 20 or 25 make-shift exam rooms with no privacy except the sheets hanging between the rooms. I remember hearing a nurse tell the doctor after examining me, that I had the most hard and uncaring attitude of any of the young, pregnant women that she had seen. What this nurse didn’t understand is that I was doing everything that I could to protect myself emotionally and to not break down. I was afraid that if I was too emotional that somehow I would be prevented from going to New York. She was not privy to all the tears and heartache that went into making this decision, including the rejection by the young man who impregnated me. I believed in my heart that if I showed even a trace of misgiving and remorse that I would be prevented from having the abortion that I had decided was necessary. The final step before getting the document needed for the clinic in New York was seeing a minister who was part of the underground movement helping women needing abortions. I don’t remember the name of it; but, it was something like Pastors for Choice. When he asked me what I would do if I couldn’t get the documentation necessary to go to New York, without hesitation I told him I would attempt an abortion myself. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have been driven to do that; but, I felt that I had to say it or he would decide I was capable of handling having the baby and giving it away for adoption.
The trip to New York was the easiest part of my journey. I was told by the academic advisor to wear a dress instead of jeans, so I had on one of the dresses hanging in my closet from my high school days. She arranged for a couple of college men to take me from the college to the airport, which was about 45 minutes away. That in itself was very embarrassing for me; but, I just continued to keep my chin up and dampened my emotions. It wasn’t until the plane took off, and I was over Lake Michigan on my first plane ride ever, that I let down my guard and cried. I continued crying for most of the trip to New York City. I remember the very kind and well-dressed woman sitting next to me asking if I was leaving home for a college on the east coast. I told her yes as that seemed wiser than explaining the real reason for my tears.
I think I was crying for a couple of reasons. The first was relief that I finally had made it through the maze and was going to be able to have an abortion. The second reason was regret that I had put myself in the position of having to have one. When I got to New York, as instructed, I told the cab driver that I was going to 73rd and Lexington rather than using the name of the clinic. The driver knew exactly why I was going there, but instead of being rude to me, he was very kind. I told him that this was my first trip to New York; and so he asked me if I wanted a scenic tour--no extra charge! He began to point out some of the sights that we were passing. I remember seeing the Statue of Liberty in the distance. I got to the building about two hours earlier than required, so I decided to take a walk being very careful to be able to retrace my steps. I must have looked like such a rube, a wide-eyed girl in a woolen mini-dress, the fabric perfect for March in Michigan but much too hot for New York City. I felt so vulnerable—a couple of men at a construction started whistling and commenting on my body when I passed by them, a clerk in a ladies dress shop looked at me dismissively when I paused to look at the fashions in the store window, even stopping at lunch counter for a cup of coffee scared me. I remember stopping at a church that I came across while walking. I was very surprised that that the doors were open. I sat on a pew for a while—thinking about what I was doing, trying to get my bearings, saying a prayer, and trying not to cry. Finally, the time came for my appointment, so I entered this huge building and realized that I didn’t have a clue as to which office I needed to go. Even though we were told not to reveal why were there, I approached somebody at an information kiosk who told me without any hesitation where I needed to go.
The rest was really very easy. I was given an exam and the doctor explained what was going to occur. During the procedure, a nurse held my hand. After it was over, which was very quick, I was told that I would need to rest for several hours before I would be released. In the recovery room, there were about 12 other women. During the rest of the recovery, I told my story and listened to the stories of the other women. Some were college-aged like me although there was one young girl that was only about 15. Most of the women were married. I remember one woman in her late 30s or 40s, who was the only woman there who had her husband or a significant other with her. The other younger women and I shared the cost of the cab and had dinner together at the airport. I was one of the first to catch my flight home. My sister picked me up in Grand Rapids and took me home where I slept for about 12 hours.
I didn’t tell my mother until years later after I had married and had children of my own. She cried. Not because I had the abortion, but because I didn’t let her support me and help me as it went through the ordeal. Having a child is one of the most important decisions that a woman can make and it is too important a decision to leave to strangers. I do regret the circumstance that led to my abortion. I wish I hadn’t been in the position of having a child before I was ready to do it and I take responsibility for my actions and for the decision that I made. I emphatically do not want to go back to the days of an underground process where a woman is shepherded from Point A to B to C in order to have a medical procedure which the woman has already determined is in her best interest." - Diann