‘I made the choice’: 9 readers share their (Jewish) abortion stories
The response to the column I wrote about my abortion story was unlike anything I’ve experienced in more than 30 years of journalism. Messages poured in via email and text, on Twitter and on Facebook, from people I’ve known forever and many I’ve never met. One woman I volunteer with at the food pantry just came over and gave me a long, hard hug while whispering: “thank you.”
People praised my honesty. Many called me brave. And many — so many — made clear that they had their own story to tell.
Below are nine of those stories from Forward readers, edited lightly for clarity and length. They are stories of fear and pride, of pain and memory, of choices and consequences. As I wrote in my own column, 1 in 4 American women are believed to have abortions by age 45. Each of us has a story. They are real, and we should not be afraid to talk about them.
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I am a product of the pre-women’s lib generation, when it was expected of us to marry at a young age and vocational opportunities were limited. I became a bride at 20, had my first child at 21, second at 23 and third at 30, followed by a tubal ligation.
When my youngest child began elementary school, I decided to return to school in order to fulfill my dream of obtaining a university degree in psychology. Just before my 40th birthday, I became pregnant and, ultimately, went into a state of depression. My obstetrician said that because my tubal ligation had failed, I would need approval from the local hospital’s all-male abortion committee to allow me to abort. Tears flowed as I signed the form.
Two weeks later, after the procedure in the recovery room, I asked my physician if it was a boy or a girl. He didn’t answer.
At age 42, after a miscarriage, I became pregnant with twins. One of the twins had multiple birth defects — Klinefelter and Down syndromes, shown through chorionic villus sampling (CVS). It was 1994, and only two hospitals in the country did selective reduction. It was scary, there was nothing to research; the Internet didn’t exist. I just had to trust. I made the choice.
I believe in abortion and had spent so much of my life supporting a woman’s right to choose. I had worked with the Cambridge Women’s Law Collective on an amicus brief for Roe v Wade as a college student applying to law schools; as a law student, helped start the Abortion Law Reporter, which grew into NARAL Pro-Choice America; as a young Justice Department lawyer in the 1970s, refused to defend the Hyde Amendment, which bars using federal Medicaid funds for most abortions.
I totally believe in a woman’s right to choose and yet it was still a painful, awful choice to make. I write this with tears in my eyes because this is my truth, but having a choice doesn’t make it easy. It just makes it a choice. A choice that is constitutionally embedded in the 14th Amendment’s right to privacy and one that must remain immutable. Amen.
I am eternally grateful that I never had reason to make the difficult decision to have an abortion. But the idea was always in the back of my mind — if I ever needed one — that that choice was mine. It would be my choice, my right, my body.
After all, having been molested twice — by two doctors, no less — I was always cognizant of reality. But what really occurred to me was the reality of some man raping some woman, she becomes pregnant, and HE gets to vote AGAINST abortion! Why would men have the right to vote on this issue? Should the government be involved 100% in my body?
There are so many scenarios that could play out, but the one that absolutely cries out is a young girl, pregnant due to rape or incest, FORCED by law to carry a reminder of the nightmare for nine months. Nine months of being the talk of the school, nine months of discomfort, nine months of forgoing cheerleading or soccer or whatever is her passion.
A year of a young girl’s life altered in ways MEN will never know. Physical changes, nausea, emotionally overwhelmed, socially isolated and add to that possible loss of school attendance — not to be outdone by decisions about what to do with the baby.
Thank you for your article and your story. It gave me great strength. I am now 85 years old, but my abortion is on my mind every single day.
It was 1977. I was 41 years old and a single woman with two elderly and challenged parents who would never physically or monetarily have been able to offer me any type of help. I had no living sisters or brothers. I worked paycheck to paycheck. The gentleman who impregnated me lived on another continent.
I met him while touring Asia. We spent a lot of time together as tourists, and on the last evening I had with him, I was stricken with sadness to have to say goodbye. It resulted in a romantic evening. The next day I was on my way back to the U.S.
A month later, I learned that I was pregnant. A friend who was friends with a doctor told this doctor about my situation, and without ever even seeing me, he arranged for a pregnancy test and it was positive. His nurse called me and said to go to an abortion clinic.
As a pregnant woman, I was “in love” with this fetus. I loved being pregnant. I felt glowing all over. I would have loved to have had this baby, but my sensible side overpowered me, and I knew I would be in a difficult situation if I didn’t work steadily and had to find the money to support my child and manage my life.
I had no one to talk to. I didn’t belong to a temple at the time, nor did I have a gynecologist. I took a day off work and I went to the abortion clinic. They were very kind. When the fetus was removed from my body, I felt dead for several days. This depression went on for a few months.
I am a light-complected woman and the father was Asian. Whenever I see a mixed couple with a baby, I always stare and think about the child I did not have.
Eventually, I told two close friends, and they were shocked and upset. This made me feel awful. However, I never felt guilty. I read material about when the fetus is a human, etc., and I am comfortable with my decision.
A few years ago, I told a very wise man I was friends with about this, and he set me straight about the responsibilities of having children. I am very glad we had this conversation. It is done and my life has been very good. I have friends, wonderful volunteer jobs, and good, interesting things to do. I think of this baby and have asked for forgiveness for not allowing him/her to live.
Remember when abortion was illegal? If you are under 60, probably not. My friend Annette, who is now 86, remembers it well. She had one.
In 1960, Annette, a recent UCLA graduate, found her first job as a sales secretary for General Electric’s semiconductor division. She met two important figures in this story working there: the married product supervisor who became her lover, and her good friend who helped her find an abortion provider.
Between the era and her own sheltered life, Annette had not previously needed contraception. She mistakenly assumed that counting days would be sufficient to prevent a pregnancy. When she suspected she was pregnant, she visited her personal physician. He confirmed the pregnancy. When she asked for abortion information, he emphatically told her that he could not help her. He did, however, offer that if she secured an abortion, she should come back to him for follow-up care.
When I asked why she so anxiously wanted an abortion, she cited two reasons. First, her lover was married and had children. Second, Annette came from a religiously observant family and was petrified of humiliating her beloved parents. Although they were close, Annette never told her mother.
“How did you find an abortion provider in 1961?” I asked.
“I asked my close friend. She knew everyone,” Annette told me, emphasizing the “everyone.” And, indeed, the close friend knew a guy who knew a woman who knew an abortion provider in Tijuana. Annette’s lover gave her the cash needed for the procedure.
“I climbed into this car with my close friend and this man and woman I did not know,” she recounted. “I literally gave them a bag of cash, $300 or more, and they counted it before we left Los Angeles.” (That is the equivalent of about $2,780 today.)
“They drove us to the border at Tijuana, and we crossed,” Annette continued. “Once we entered the commercial area of Tijuana, the guy and my close friend got out of the car. The woman wrapped a blindfold around my eyes. She drove me around for some time and then parked. She guided me into a building and then through some turns and into a room. She helped me lay down on an exam table.
“I heard people walk into the room speaking Spanish. I felt my legs being pulled apart, and my arm being stretched out. At that point, I screamed and someone removed my blindfold.
“‘We are trying to give you anesthetic,’ a woman explained to me in English. After that, they gave me the anesthetic.”
Annette remembers regaining consciousness in Tijuana and being sleepy and woozy on the drive back. Again, Annette was blindfolded and driven some distance. Then, after Annette’s close friend and the man re-entered the car, her blindfold was removed, the border re-crossed, and the car returned them to the friend’s apartment.
What Annette remembers more than 60 years later is the terror and the humiliation of the entire experience.
Compared to many other illegal-abortion experiences, Annette’s was mild. When she saw her personal physician for follow-up care, he told her how lucky she had been. The procedure did not kill her. She did not develop a postoperative infection. She did not lose her ability to have children in the future. Her physician prescribed birth-control pills.
A short time later, Annette met the man she has been married to for the last 53 years.
There have always been and will always be women who need abortions. Limiting access to birth-control information increases their numbers. Making abortions more difficult to acquire creates opportunities for illegal providers to replace legal ones.
“I was very, very lucky,” Annette said. “Even so, it was an absolutely horrible, miserable, and terrifying experience. I want to make sure that no one ever needs to go through that experience ever, ever again.”
I had an abortion at age 32. I was married, but had known from high school that I did not want to have a child. Roe was a law by then. It was very early in the pregnancy, it was easy to schedule and I have never been sorry. I still do not have children. I learned later on that my mother had an abortion after my sister was born. It was done by our pediatrician, which I found funny.
I’ve often read romantic novels of how the hero or heroine of the story was conceived. Usually, it was under perilous circumstances. There the lovers were, seeking shelter from a storm, stranded on a desert isle, snowbound on an icy peak. What else could they do? But while there are many stories explaining how a person was conceived, few explain why that person was in fact born. That’s my story.
My parents had been married for 14 years and were living in Berlin in 1927 when Mother discovered she was pregnant again. This was cause for considerable concern in the household. Mother was 36, and a year earlier, she had had an ectopic pregnancy. It had taken her many months to recover, and her gynecologist had warned her against ever becoming pregnant again.
Mother had already undergone seven abortions when she became pregnant with me. The procedure, while illegal, was generally available. She even had a choice of abortionists. One brisk Friday morning in September of 1927, Mother bid auf Wiedersehen to my father after breakfast and set off for the office of a tall swashbuckler of a doctor — only to find he was en route to the Swiss Alps for a vacation with one of Berlin’s prima ballerinas.
Disconsolate, Mother came home and went to bed, where Father found her that evening, obviously the worse for her experience. “Well, Lina,” he greeted her heartily, “It’s all over? Everything’s all right?”
“No, Zysia,” moaned Mother, explaining that she’d have to go see the other doctor next week.
“No,” said Father. “Let it be already.”
And so I was born. But that was not the end of the story, as Mother told it. Whenever she described her visit to the swashbuckling doctor’s office, she always ended it by lowering her voice and saying: “We didn’t know it was going to be you.”
Sonia Pressman Fuentes, excerpted from her 1999 memoir, “Eat First — You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You.”
I prefer to keep my name anonymous since my children choose not to tell their teenagers about my abortion. I respect their choice though I don’t agree.
My husband had a heart attack every time I was pregnant. I had one successful pregnancy after many losses, then became pregnant with twin boys who were born premature with hyaline membrane disease, an immature respiratory disease, and died within days of each other. I chose to have another pregnancy, and a son was born in good health and good time.
My husband recovered from all those heart attacks and I became pregnant again. His cardiologist and internist strongly suggested that I not go through with the pregnancy, because my husband could not survive another cardiac incident. They discussed it with my obstetrician, who agreed.
The abortion was a disaster, since it was at the time that you had to appear with the doctor before a panel who could say “yay” or “nay” to the procedure. They gave permission, but the nurse and attendants walked off in protest. My doctor, left alone in the operating room, called upon another nurse, who agreed to assist him.
I had the abortion and physically recuperated well, but psychologically I had many problems and still do to this date, 54 years later.
I am old enough to remember life before Roe v. Wade. I am old enough to remember my friends traveling from Florida to California and Puerto Rico to obtain abortions, or spending their pregnancies with a distant relative. I am old enough to remember my friends visiting doctors clandestinely and hoping their procedures would not cause massive bleeding, sterility, or death.
I am old enough to remember getting pregnant in 1970, the year before I was starting college, and feeling sheer and utter terror. What would I do? Would this change the entire trajectory of my life?
I knew that I was not ready to raise a child. I was fortunate that my mother accompanied me to New York, where abortion was legal. Our OBGYN did some research and sent us to a dirty abortion clinic on top of a phone company in Queens.
I was lucky: I could afford to travel and had a parent to support me. I never forgot how the luck of birth had provided me with privilege and the ability to take control over my life.
That’s why, nearly 30 years later, in 1989, I founded the Women’s Emergency Network so that needy women in Florida could exercise their constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. To date, the network has assisted thousands of women in exercising that right.
Jeri Beth Cohen
These stories from Forward readers came in response to this column by our editor-in-chief, Jodi Rudoren. To add yours, email [email protected] To get Jodi’s weekly column delivered to your inbox, sign up here for our free email newsletters.