"It was all about me, my life, and my choice."
October 25, 2014 2:59 AM   Subscribe

So I had no choice. At work, I spoke to my friend Shirley, who promised to call around her Bronx neighborhood that night. She knew someone who knew someone, and in a few days, it was arranged. I would stay with her and everything would be all right.
What having an abortion was like in 1959.
posted by MartinWisse (37 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
How can sane people be willing to go back to this?
posted by notreally at 3:52 AM on October 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


How can sane people be willing to go back to this?

Because it doesn't affect them, of course, it only affects those Godless sluts who don't wait for marriage.

I wish I was joking but that really does seem to be their mindset. It's about punishing sluts, nothing to do with saving babies.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:35 AM on October 25, 2014 [30 favorites]


That was an incredible story. I was moved, and I felt so angry that these poor women had to endure this bullshit.

Part of me still can't half-believe that Buzzfeed is capable of such great journalism, but I love it.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 4:39 AM on October 25, 2014 [6 favorites]


This won't load on my slightly elderly ipad, but from the description I am reminded of an amazing comment here some time back that was a first hand account of getting an abortion in the pre-Roe era.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:35 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Dip Flash, are you thinking Anitanola's amazing comment, "This is how it was for me?"
posted by ChuraChura at 5:38 AM on October 25, 2014 [9 favorites]


Yes, that is the one, thank you. I think of it often.

The FPP article finally loaded for me after a bunch of tries. I appreciate these windows into an era before I was born and don't understand why so many people want to return to those limitations.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:44 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


feckless fecal fear mongering: "It's about punishing sluts, nothing to do with saving babies."

Unfortunately, the pro-coat-hanger people I know, that's all they talk about, babies, babies, babies.

They also support the removal of the social safety net for women that do carry to term, so...
posted by notsnot at 5:50 AM on October 25, 2014 [6 favorites]


Unfortunately, the pro-coat-hanger people I know, that's all they talk about, babies, babies, babies.

What they say and what they're actually doing aren't the same thing at all. As you point out; if they cared about babies they wouldn't be taking away things that actually help babies.

It's about punishing sluts by attempting to force women back under the complete subjugation of men.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:54 AM on October 25, 2014 [12 favorites]


As you point out; if they cared about babies they wouldn't be taking away things that actually help babies.

Of course, you're politely overlooking the race and gender war subtexts that are always lurking in the background in these discussions. If women are allowed to have agency over their bodies, next thing you'll know they'll want to have agency over things like their careers and their politics and also the godless hordes - you know how many kids they have - will outbreed us, and that would be terrible and god help us all.
posted by mhoye at 6:29 AM on October 25, 2014 [6 favorites]


They also support the removal of the social safety net for women that do carry to term, so...

Life! Begins at conception, ends at birth.
posted by localroger at 6:30 AM on October 25, 2014 [20 favorites]


What having an abortion was like in 1959.

...for wealthy white women.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:36 AM on October 25, 2014 [7 favorites]


The Story of Jane is another good look at how pre-Roe abortions worked. It's about a group of women who set up a clandestine network to help women in need.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:07 AM on October 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


What having an abortion was like in 1959.

...for wealthy white women.


Sounds like it was her dr. fiance who probably paid. And they did discuss how they couldn't afford a baby right then.

In her place, I was thinking, so close to the wedding, I would probably have been too scared and just pretended the baby came early (this was incredibly common in those days) and hoped for the best.

A person's views on contraception are my metric for deciding if they really want to "help babies" or punish women who have sex they don't approve of with pregnancy. If they don't support the single most-effective way of preventing unwanted pregnancies and thus abortions, if they are unconcerned with the lives of women (and often the already born children which they support) to whom another baby would be a real hardship, then it's about punishment. So far, every "pro-life" org that I know of fails this test. Spectacularly.
posted by emjaybee at 7:19 AM on October 25, 2014 [17 favorites]


Every year, the Med Students for Choice group holds a D&I workshop. Typically there is some levity due to the strange absurdity of working with papayas as models, but the last few years have become progressively more somber. There is a palpable feeling now that many of us who wish to provide this service will, after a few brief decades of safety and support, be performing abortions on a dining room table.

Seriously folks. You need to be fucking voting about this
posted by The White Hat at 7:23 AM on October 25, 2014 [44 favorites]


It's about punishing sluts, nothing to do with saving babies.

Agreed.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 7:46 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


What having an abortion was like in 1959.

...for wealthy white women.


Wow. I'm a bit shocked that someone can read that story and toss off the snark, "Well, it must be nice to have such a fancy abortion story!"

Harrowing. Personal. That's what I just read. Although, I wasn't truly moved until the end where she says she has told this story to her children and grandchildren. Tough. Brave. Truth.
posted by amanda at 7:55 AM on October 25, 2014 [28 favorites]


Because it doesn't affect them, of course, it only affects those Godless sluts who don't wait for marriage.

I wish I was joking but that really does seem to be their mindset. It's about punishing sluts, nothing to do with saving babies


This is very true. There was an article I've read from a clinic nurse that says they often get the protestors in, the ones blockading the clinic, and they treat them with compassion and empathy during the procedure, and they always say something like "Well, thank you for everything, but you're still monsters that will burn in hell" as they tromp back out to protest.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:00 AM on October 25, 2014


What having an abortion was like in 1959

More like "what having an abortion will be like in 2024."
posted by zooropa at 8:03 AM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


This is very hard to read.

My parents "had to get married" and I was born in 1958. Back then women who got pregnant were shamed-I cannot stress to you enough how much shame and social disapproval there was if a woman turned up pregnant before marriage.( Take what your imagination tells you and quadruple it.) She really was thought of as a slut and treated accordingly. It was like that even through the Sixties and beyond. It was like that when I was in high school in the Seventies.

Now, these days, people barely bat an eye. Now, people have access to contraceptives of all sorts.

One can have sympathy for those who don't want to be pregnant, for those in difficult situations. But at the same time there are many of us who believe that baby, that life, has a right to be taken under consideration, a right to be.


I'm happy to be here.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:26 AM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


My late mother, an unwealthy white woman, had an abortion in 1945 or 1946, when she was 17 or 18. She didn't tell me about it until she was 81, long after my father had died; apparently she never told him at all. She had gotten pregnant as a result of what she described as a date rape. She also said that she had not chosen to have the abortion, the decision having been made by her father and older brother. The last and worst thing she told me about it was that before meeting my father, she'd disclosed her rape and abortion to a man she was dating whom she hoped to marry; his response was that he could never think of her the same way again after learning of these events.

I never needed an abortion myself, and by now I never will, but from an early age I regarded reproductive choice as my absolute right, to be exercised at my sole discretion. I dare say that her experiences of rape, lack of choice regarding pregnancy, societal shaming, and fifty years of secrecy and pain basically ruined my mother's life. It didn't have to be that way.
posted by FrauMaschine at 8:34 AM on October 25, 2014 [18 favorites]


P.S. My mother was pregnant with me when she and my father married in 1963. I too am happy to be here, on balance, though sometimes the grief I still carry for my mom's suffering can get kind of rough.
posted by FrauMaschine at 8:40 AM on October 25, 2014


Wow. I'm a bit shocked that someone can read that story and toss off the snark, "Well, it must be nice to have such a fancy abortion story!"

Not that at all, this is what it was like for a fairly privileged young lady about to be married to a doctor. How much worse was it for someone who didn't have her connections, money and skin color?

Private in-home abortions will always be available to a subset of the 'right' kind of women who have the money and contacts to obtain those services on the sly, now as it was back then. What won't be, isn't, available is access, safe access, for everyone else who doesn't.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:41 AM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


My mother never had an abortion (to my knowledge) but she has openly talked about how, when she moved to Houston from Dallas in the same time period, she quickly learned about an illegal abortion provider. This was not her story, but she knew people whose story it was. It frightens me to think how close we already are here in Texas to having this story (and the stories of the young women who died) repeat itself all over again.
posted by immlass at 8:41 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


This story is incredibly powerful.

It would be even if it didn't come one day after the news that Cincinnati's only remaining abortion clinic is being forced to close. That will make us the largest metropolitan area in the country without an abortion clinic. 2.1M people live in the GCA. That Planned Parenthood helped women safely end more than 2,000 pregnancies last year. Where are those women going to go when the clinic closes?

They're chipping away at it bit by bit, in Texas and Ohio. Here, it's the legislative guise of "women's safety." Abortion clinics must have transfer agreements with hospitals no more than a 30 minute drive away, so that women can be quickly admitted in case of a dire emergency.

Governor Kasich signed a budget last summer that banned public hospitals from entering transfer agreements with abortion clinics. If it's about keeping women safe, why limit the number of hospitals where women can receive care? The fig leaf is non-existent. The hypocrisy is staggering.

Anyway. Cincinnati's other abortion clinic was forced to close this summer. It was the practice of Dr. Martin Haskell. Anti-choicers' Public Enemy #1 there for a long, long time. An incredible man to do the work he did for so many years, especially after so many colleagues lost their lives for doing so.
posted by none of these will bring disaster at 9:48 AM on October 25, 2014 [13 favorites]


I read this, and then just yesterday also listened to Death, Sex, and Money's interview with actress Ellen Burstyn called "Lessons on survival" where she talks about having an abortion when it was illegal too. Her entire storey was fascinating, but that particularly rung true and her attitude about it was interesting.

She doesn't like abortions, but thinks that women will get one, whether they're illegal or not. She also talks about how her illegal abortion made it impossible for her to have biological children, and thus adopted later in life.

I think that interview went really well with me just having read this article - funny how those things lined up. Ellen's experience really shows the entire view on women around that time and expands on the attitudes around pregnancy, marriage, and abortions.

I agree too, that the article does focus on a small portion of illegal abortions - those done for people who have money and some support. I know there are much worse stories out there from women who didn't have money or the support of others, which is extremely sad no matter what side of this topic you fall on.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:03 AM on October 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


A person's views on contraception are my metric for deciding if they really want to "help babies" or punish women who have sex they don't approve of with pregnancy.

If pro-lifers really valued the lives of these children, we'd have fantastic public schools and at least a year of paid parental leave.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:50 AM on October 25, 2014 [15 favorites]


I always knew that my two older brothers were planned but I was an accident (born in mid 50's). My mother, now in her 80's, has disclosed that she tried to terminate when she was pregnant with me. Her best friend was in vet school and came up with a home brew concoction that should induce miscarriage in cattle, since my folks didn't have the money for even a back alley abortion, plus my mother felt she had too much responsibility to her existing children to risk her life that way. It didn't work, but there doesn't appear to have been any long term consequences.

I am expected to be excessively grateful to be here and call it a "miracle" that I am, but I'm really not. I mean, I enjoy my life, and I think I have made a difference to some people, but if the home-brew had worked, there would not have been a "me" to regret or miss anything. And I was ill-timed, not unwanted -- If I had not been born, there probably would have been another child born in a year or two. Did my birth essentially "abort" that child? Should I feel guilt on her behalf? As far as I am concerned, aborting the fetus that would become me and preventing the conception of the other child they would otherwise have had are morally equivalent.
posted by pbrim at 10:56 AM on October 25, 2014 [15 favorites]


My grandmother had an abortion around that time. It would have been her and my grandfather's 4th baby (and my mother, the third, was unplanned), and she was starting to get sick with the disease that would slowly destroy her body over the next 30 years). I don't know the details about how she did it or what her experience was like, but I'm so proud to be the granddaughter of someone so strong and in a family where the fact that she did it was never a secret - not to her own kids nor to me, and always spoken about as the right decision and not something to be regretted.
posted by brainmouse at 11:37 AM on October 25, 2014 [6 favorites]


More stories from the pre-Roe days:

WHEN ABORTION WAS ILLEGAL: Untold Stories
(documentary)

The Way It Was
posted by mostly vowels at 1:52 PM on October 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


What having an abortion was like in 1959.

...for wealthy white women.


Actually, most women who had illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade actually had them performed by doctors. The proverbial coat-hanger abortion was the exception to the rule, although they did happen. In fact, there were many African-American doctors who were abortionists in the urban Northeast and South, because they had the medical training but discrimination prevented them from getting any medical professional job that was more prestigious. Leslie Reagan's book, When Abortion Was a Crime, is an excellent book on how women obtained abortions in the pre-Roe period.
posted by jonp72 at 2:45 PM on October 25, 2014 [11 favorites]


All my mom's kids were unplanned, including me (or so she said; I'm sure there more to that story than I ever knew). I heard at an early age the story of her not being terribly happy to find herself pregnant with me, but since it was told as a funny story, it never struck me as something that should hurt. Probably because my parents didn't treat me worse than my siblings, so I never felt punished for being born. It wasn't till I was older that anyone expressed astonishment that she would tell me such a thing, as though I should be outraged that she wasn't overjoyed to have me, or something. But I have never felt like I had some sort of claim on her, some right to be born, that she would have been in violation of if she aborted me. I like my life and I hope it has made some positive difference in the world, but if I hadn't existed, then it's sort of conceited of me to think the world would be markedly worse. Or even that different.

(I mean, I love It's a Wonderful Life, but the older I get, the less I believe that most of us have some sort of destined role. Some of us end up in those positions, able to do great harm or good. And we should act as though our actions matter, just in case they do, and also, not to be assholes. But most of us are bit players in history, and vanish without much of a trace, and that's ok.)
posted by emjaybee at 8:16 PM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think it was George Carlin who said, regarding republicans, "If you're pre-born, you're fine. If you're pre-K you're fucked."

Another one of his I liked is that the pro-life crowd isn't really pro-life. What it really is is anti-women.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:59 PM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


No post like this is complete without a link to Rickie Solinger, who solidly argues abortion prohibition was the economic engine that powered domestic adoption markets.

The reason affluent couples now adopt from overseas is after roe v. wade we don't have as many poor white girls with no family planning options.
posted by clarknova at 7:35 AM on October 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


No, the poor of all races are keeping their kids.
posted by brujita at 12:14 PM on October 26, 2014


In the US.
posted by brujita at 12:14 PM on October 26, 2014


Well there's a second part of that analysis: before r.v.w. young women were often forced into unwed mother's homes by thier families. After abortion was adjudicated legal the social stigma of single motherhood began to lift. These same sorts of girls felt empowered to leave thier families and have kids on thier own. Reproductive autonomy vis a vis abortion also led to autonomy in motherhood.

The point is the institution of the unwed mother's home was a de facto baby factory. It's not just a medical threat to subdue sexually empowered women. The social conservatives also want to bring back a lucrative business model.

Really, watch the video. It's edifying.
posted by clarknova at 4:14 PM on October 26, 2014


I heard at an early age the story of her not being terribly happy to find herself pregnant with me, but since it was told as a funny story, it never struck me as something that should hurt. Probably because my parents didn't treat me worse than my siblings, so I never felt punished for being born. It wasn't till I was older that anyone expressed astonishment that she would tell me such a thing, as though I should be outraged that she wasn't overjoyed to have me, or something.

Same here. Not only did I know I cam as an inopportune accident, I knew that my grandmother had gently reminded my mother that abortion was an option as it hadn't been when she was young. I never had any hard feelings against Grandma for that - what she said was perfectly reasonable given the circumstances. And she never treated me worse once I was there.

I've known more than one woman my age who were unhappily raising children they didn't want because (for whatever reason) they didn't believe abortion was a viable option, and (by their own frank admission) they couldn't live with the social stigma of placing the babies for adoption and the prospect of spending twenty years of dread waiting for the inevitable discovery and confrontation.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:47 AM on October 27, 2014


« Older Welcome to the jungle!   |   WHY MAUREEN WHY Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments