One night when I was 19, I had casual sex without using protection. As weird as it sounds, I knew I was pregnant right away. As I pulled on my jeans, I knew exactly what I would do.
That was 1977. Abortion had only recently become legal, in 1973, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.
Though I was aware of the ruling, I didn’t fully understand its importance. Recently, a friend told me about having a back-alley abortion in the early ’70s. The following day, a handyman found her unconscious in her apartment and got her to the hospital before she bled out. Just as many American women have done – and will do, should the Supreme Court reverse its decision, as a leaked draft decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization indicates they will – I would have done the same and risked my life to prevent that pregnancy from continuing.
Like most women who choose abortion, I was in no position to raise a child. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the majority are between ages 20 and 29 and are below the poverty line. Over 70 percent of women who terminate their pregnancies do so because having a child would interfere with their education or their work, or because they simply aren’t ready to become parents. Like most of them, I wasn’t a victim of rape or incest – my pregnancy wasn’t the result of violence. To my knowledge, I wasn’t carrying a fetus with genetic abnormalities. I was a young woman who’d made a mistake.
Having had a difficult early life, I was trying to find my way in the world. I’d started writing poetry in high school, had just secured my first job as a poet in the schools, and thought I might be on my way to becoming a writer. My vision for an independent, artistic life didn’t include being a single mother at 20.
When I was 15 my mother took me to our family doctor, who prescribed the pill. Later I used other forms of birth control. I’d rarely had unprotected sex. But despite knowing risks, when we’re young, we tend to think we’re invincible; I never thought I’d get pregnant.
At the time, home pregnancy tests had just come onto the market. I peed, held my breath, paced and waited a few hours for the result.
I phoned a women’s health collective, which directed me to a gynecologist in private practice. I made an appointment at about eight weeks. I don’t remember how much it cost, just that it was a lot for me at the time. The doctor accepted payments over time.
The procedure was uncomfortable. I spent the rest of the day in bed and I felt lousy the next day too. But the experience didn’t scar me. Had I carried the pregnancy to term, I would have birthed an unwanted child, and that was something that weighed far more heavily on me than having an abortion.
Of course, I wish I’d never gotten myself into that predicament – nobody wants an abortion. Now, at 64, as a woman who chose to never have children, I recognize my decision as an act of self-determination that helped make possible the life I wanted to live.