Her eyes looked haunted, distant, as she began telling me the story. It was the 70s and we were working together at a summer job. I’m not sure how the subject of children came up – it might have been in the context of relationships – but suddenly her demeanor changed noticeably.

“I can’t have children,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’m too scarred up, too ruined.”

I remember to this day the word ‘ruined.’ I asked her what happened and that’s when her eyes turned away from the bright California day and traveled back down the years.

In the 60’s, while protesters took to the streets to rail against the Vietnam War, and others traveled to concerts like Woodstock, stripped off their clothes and made love with whoever they wanted, other girls were trapped by fear after finding out they were pregnant. Abortions were illegal. There were stories of girls going to Mexico, taking rattly buses to barns and mysterious houses where men who spoke broken English laid them on a table and said in a few minutes they wouldn’t be pregnant anymore. But only after the girls handed over a wad of cash. There were people here, in the states, who were performing abortions, too, but you had to search for them and know who to ask.

My co-worker found the right person to ask. She was 18 and a boy she went on a date with had forced himself on her. She said she had an ominous feeling right after, but then when she missed a period her worst fear was confirmed. She asked around, got a name, and scraped together six hundred dollars.

He lived on the outskirts of the city, and she was told to park her car a short distance from the house, under some trees on the far side of a small field. He looked to be the same age as her father and she said he tried to be nice, but really he just wanted to get it done and get her out of there. He’d turned his dining room into a makeshift surgery room, directed her to the table covered with a white bed sheet. She still remembered the terror that washed through her – how it changed the taste in her mouth and seemed to turn her bones soft. She wondered how much it would hurt – he gave her aspirin, but that’s all he had. She wondered if the sheet on the table was clean and if he’d sterilized the instruments. She wondered if she’d live.

The pain was blinding. It was over quickly, but pain distorts time – to her it seemed like an eternity. Then there was the sound of sirens in the distance, getting closer.

“Get out,” he said to her. “I think they’re coming for me. Get out now.”

Bleeding and nauseous, she stumbled across the field that now felt like it was five miles wide and tumbled into the car. Blood seeped from her and stained the seat. It was her parents’ car. She had to tell them. There was the blood, but she was also in excruciating pain. She ended up in the hospital with an infection, and ultimately with scarring that would never allow her to have children in the future.

Desperation crowds out rational thought. So many girls in those years fell over an edge into the roil of panic and terror. A girl would do anything to have her life back, to try and forget the boy who raped her, or the relative who came into her bedroom late at night and forced himself inside her. Or maybe just the mistake she made on a crazy night when she had too many beers. If you are desperate, you will grab onto anything — any solution, no matter how risky.

Maybe all those white men in Alabama who voted for one of the most draconian abortion bills that anyone’s ever conceived of have never in their lives known desperation. That seems unlikely. Maybe some of them who are older and remember the 60s never knew about the girls and women stretched out on tables in ramshackle houses. That’s doubtful, too.

Maybe all the legislators in all the other states where anti-abortion legislation is consuming the landscape think that women will get used to turning their wombs over to the government. Also doubtful.

The likeliest explanation is that they just don’t care. Politics has devoured humanity. In all the bluster about how precious life is, the over-riding message is that women’s lives do not matter.


  1. Michele Spillane says:

    This is exactly what the old white men want to have happen. They will then be able to blame the girl for “getting herself into trouble” Its vile, period! If a woman dies getting a back alley abortion, they will say, its Gods will. This is disgusting and shameful!

  2. Kimothy Cruse says:

    This is one of the best explanations I have read about these new abortion laws being passed in red states.:
    “Reasonable people can disagree about when a zygote becomes a “human life” – that’s a philosophical question. However, regardless of whether or not one believes a fetus is ethically equivalent to an adult, it doesn’t obligate a mother to sacrifice her body autonomy for another, innocent or not.
    Body autonomy is a critical component of the right to privacy protected by the Constitution, as decided in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), McFall v. Shimp (1978), and of course Roe v. Wade (1973). Consider a scenario where you are a perfect bone marrow match for a child with severe aplastic anemia; no other person on earth is a close enough match to save the child’s life, and the child will certainly die without a bone marrow transplant from you. If you decided that you did not want to donate your marrow to save the child, for whatever reason, the state cannot demand the use of any part of your body for something to which you do not consent. It doesn’t matter if the procedure required to complete the donation is trivial, or if the rationale for refusing is flimsy and arbitrary, or if the procedure is the only hope the child has to survive, or if the child is a genius or a saint or anything else – the decision to donate must be voluntary to be constitutional. This right is even extended to a person’s body after they die; if they did not voluntarily commit to donate their organs while alive, their organs cannot be harvested after death, regardless of how useless those organs are to the deceased or many lives they would save. That’s the law.
    Use of a woman’s uterus to save a life is no different from use of her bone marrow to save a life – it must be offered voluntarily. By all means, profess your belief that providing one’s uterus to save the child is morally just, and refusing is morally wrong. That is a defensible philosophical position, regardless of who agrees and who disagrees. But legally, it must be the woman’s choice to carry out the pregnancy. She may choose to carry the baby to term. She may choose not to. Either decision could be made for all the right reasons, all the wrong reasons, or anything in between. But it must be her choice, and protecting the right of body autonomy means the law is on her side. Supporting that precedent is what being pro-choice means.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *