By Phyllis — Virtual Volunteer Program Storyteller
I had an illegal abortion in September 1968.
I learned I was pregnant right after I returned to college for my sophomore year. I was beginning my life journey and did not yet know who I really was. But I did know that I had to terminate the pregnancy. Still, it was scary. I had heard many horror stories of back-alley abortions. I was determined to do it in a way that would keep me safe.
My then boyfriend was able to gather the money we needed so that the abortion could be performed in a doctor’s office with a nurse present. So that they could monitor my recovery, I would stay in the office overnight. I flew to Washington, D.C., alone. I checked into a hotel and waited for the doctor to take me to his office. He finally came to collect me at midnight – but every part of our plan had changed.
The doctor explained that his police informant warned him that his office would be raided the next day. He would still perform the procedure, but now, it would not take place in his sterile office, his assistant would not attend, and he would not use anesthesia. I was so single-minded in my focus and in shock that I voluntarily left the hotel at midnight with a man I didn’t know, by myself in an unfamiliar city.
The doctor snuck me out of the hotel through a backdoor in the kitchen and drove around for an hour, so that I would be confused if the police asked where we went. Finally, he booked a room at a motel and snuck me inside. He performed the abortion on a table in the room.
I’ve never felt pain like that, not before, nor since. I wasn’t allowed to yell for fear of being heard through the walls. I have no idea how long the procedure was, but it felt like hours. When it was finally over, he handed me a vitamin K pill, and I slept curled up on a chair for 20 minutes. Then he drove me back to the hotel where he dropped me on the sidewalk like a pile of dirty clothes.
I felt brutally tortured! There is no other way to describe this experience. I felt degraded and ashamed, forced to endure something I never would have imagined. The doctor himself behaved in ways he probably never would have imagined.
I, however, was one of the lucky ones. I survived. I wasn’t killed or made infertile. In the mid-1970s, I became pregnant and again decided to have an abortion. However, this time, the abortion was legal. It was a very different story. It was performed in an abortion clinic that was clean and sterile. There were compassionate people who explained what was going on. There were nurses and doctors and surgery rooms. I received anesthesia. I was treated with dignity.
To this day, I do not regret the decisions I made. They were right for me. People are always going to look to end pregnancies — for many reasons. Making abortion illegal is not going to stop that.
I am an abortion advocate from New York City and appreciative of NYC's long history of providing support to people needing an abortion – above and below the law. My abortion is a part of what shaped me and to find my purpose in life. I have been a coach for over 15 years, committed to helping people love themselves unconditionally and nurture their best selves. Sharing my story with you helps to bring meaning to the emotional and physical pain I still remember so clearly, and hope no one ever has to feel again!