The Abortion That Saved Me

I was in my 20s, well educated, and completely in denial until it was almost too late. Missed periods, morning sickness. The idea that I was pregnant never crossed my mind.

Terrified, when I finally realized I was pregnant, it was almost four months, just a short time left to get a D & C. Not the traumatic procedure of letting the pregnancy go to four months to “salt out” the fetus.

My pregnancy took over my mind. I saw pregnant women wherever I looked. When one man in our TV station’s writers’ department became a father, he got a raise. I imagined that as a single woman, even with the women’s movement on the rise. I’d be fired. I told no one except my partner, about to leave for film school in London.

I was spared the nightmare of the black and white photo I later became familiar with—the rear view of a woman on the floor, dead, a pool of blood under her. A botched self-abortion, possibly with a coat hanger.

I was lucky.

I was in Baltimore, where legal abortions were available on a technicality. If a psychiatrist confirmed that continuing the pregnancy would be harmful to a woman’s mental health, a hospital abortion was available.

I had mine in Johns Hopkins Hospital. I still remember the woman in the waiting room with me. She had forgotten no food pre-general anesthesia and had drunk a Coke that morning. She was frantic, thinking she might not be able to have the abortion. The doctors, compassionate, performed the abortion with local rather than general anesthesia.

My complete ignorance of where babies come from completely changed my life. I was aghast that someone with a master’s degree, albeit in journalism, wouldn’t know how a woman’s reproductive cycle actually works. I had figured that ovulation takes place two weeks after the end of the menstrual cycle, not two weeks from the beginning. So I just hadn’t put in my diaphragm.

I signed up for the course on the female reproductive system given by a nurse midwife at the People’s Free Medical Clinic. Once educated, I wanted to spread the word. It became my passion. I did women’s birth control and abortion counseling at that clinic. I helped set up abortion appointments behind the closed doors of my office at Maryland Public Broadcasting. The psychiatrist who had documented my need for an abortion wanted to do something useful once the State of Maryland finally removed the psychiatric requirement as an insult to the profession, and abortions became totally legal. He expected to counsel women. Instead, the People’s Free Medical Clinic trained him to insert Dalkon Shield IUDs. And I assisted him.

The Dalkon Shield, developed by a local gynecologist who was as much self-promoter as doctor, turned out to be flawed. Not as safe or effective as the fudged data indicated. Long/short: stupidity or denial or a failed contraceptive should not force a woman into carrying a fetus for nine months.

Decades later, at a Jewish Theological Seminary symposium on abortion, a male religious leader self-righteously intoned, “Abortion is never an easy decision.” He’d obviously never been there. And no one contradicted or corrected him. From my seat in the balcony of the crowded hall, there was no way I could be heard. And this bow to anti-abortion rhetoric went unchallenged.

My 50-years-ago desperate desire for suicide could grip women across the U.S. again. Rich women, poor women, Black, white, brown women. Every person with a uterus.

With the death of safe, affordable and available legal abortion, will coat hangers be outlawed next?

Amy Stone on the Lilith Blog, September 2021.