Carol's Story

In 1961 I was an 18 year old living on campus when I found out I was pregnant. I was convinced my strict parents would disown me. Back then, although abortion was illegal, there existed a grapevine of names of abortion providers. These names and phone numbers were often out-of-date as I found when I tried unsuccessfully to reach every name on the list.

For weeks I searched for a doctor who was willing to perform abortions until finally, I reached "Wilson" some four states away. I had been told to use the code phrase "I have a gift for you" which then set in motion the elaborate arrangement for me to be met at the airport at a pre-designated spot and I would be recognized by the ribbon I was to wear in my hair. When that Friday arrived I was nervously looking around the airport trying to spot my contact when a man in a black trenchcoat slowed down as he walked past me and muttered, "Follow me". With blind faith I followed him out of the airport to a waiting car. He sat next to me in the back seat while the driver took off. In a kindly way I was told that I had to wear a blindfold as they did not want me to be able to give directions to where we were going.

After about 20 minutes, we arrived at our destination and still blindfolded, I was led into a room which when my blindfold was removed I realized was a waiting room filled with other young women and several older women, everyone sneaking looks at the others. When my turn came I was led into an examining room where I met the doctor, a well groomed middle-aged man who had a gentle air about him. After examining me he gave me the bad news that my pregnancy was too advanced for him to do an abortion and that he could not help me. I was stunned at first, then started crying. He told me to go back to the waiting room and he would talk to me at the end of the day.

Several hours passed and finally the last woman had left and the doctor sat down with me, telling me that he could not risk doing an abortion on someone in the second trimester, but that he had a daughter my age and was moved by my situation. He took me to his home where his wife gave me something to eat while her husband talked at length on the phone. When he finished he told me he had arranged for me to go where a former nurse was willing to help me. His wife gave me one of her scarves to wear as an identifying piece when I arrived at the train station in the next state. Before I left he told me not to tell her how much money I had, but just to give her $300. He also gave me a vial of penicillin, instructing me to take the full course of the medication beginning right after the abortion.

When I arrived at my destination I did as I had been told and stood by the door. A woman walked right up to me, nodded and motioned for me to follow. She led me to a run-down brownstone building about twenty blocks from the train station. We were met at the door by an unkempt woman holding a bottle of Canadian Club in her hand. As scared as I was I hadn't come this far too back out, so I followed them inside. The house was filthy and smelled like cheap liquor, but I willed away my doubts and did as I was told. The Canadian Club woman said very little to me other than to haggle over her fee. She told me to take off my skirt and underpants and get up on the dining room table which was covered with newspapers. She wore no gloves and did not even wash her hands before inserting a rubber catheter into my cervix. She told me I would go into labor, but refused to answer any of the questions I had. I was then led upstairs to a windowless room which contained a metal bed with a bloodstained mattress and no sheets or covers; the only other object in the room was a toilet. I was locked in the room and told I would be looked after. By this time it was about 9 pm. and all I'd had to eat or drink all day was a cookie and milk at Wilson's house.

It was dark outside and with nothing else to distract me from my reality, I tried to sleep. I must have fallen asleep because I remember waking up with terrible pain which just kept getting worse. I was bleeding and the pain wouldn't stop. Saturday and then Saturday night passed excruciatingly slowly. Where was the woman? Why didn't anyone come to check on me? Why couldn't they give me water or food? The pain changed and felt so sharp I screamed. Only then did the woman who met me at the train station unlock the door and tell me to shut up or the neighbors would call the police. She left the room and re-locked the door. On Sunday morning I crawled to the toilet and expelled the fetus, then crawled back to the bed and fell asleep.

I was awakened by the two women shaking me, telling me I had to leave immediately. Barely able to walk, I wandered down the street trying to remember which direction led to the train station. By some stroke of luck, I made it back to the station, then to the airport and back to school.

For years that nightmare weekend haunted me. Now, over 35 years later, I can visualize that room as if I saw it yesterday. It was the most frightening time of my life.

And some people wonder why I am so passionately committed to keeping abortion legal and accessible.

21 April 1999

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Today in many countries of the world, abortion is still illegal and unsafe. We must make abortion legal worldwide. As of May 1998, there were 50 million abortions worldwide annually, 30 million illegal, 20 million legal.
-Alan Guttmacher Institute