Sara's Story

My whole life, I listened to my grandmother talk about her younger sister who died at the age of 21 of kidney failure. Her sister's death had left an enormous hole in my grandmother's life, but it was not until a few years before her death that my grandmother spoke to me about the secret that she had kept for more than 50 years. Her sister died of kidney failure caused by an abortion that my grandmother had helped induce.

My great-aunt was in love with a young man who had just been drafted into the Army and was soon to be shipped to France during WW II. In the few days they had left together, my great-aunt conceived a child. Unmarried and with no guarantee that her boyfriend would return to marry her, my great-aunt felt she could not have the baby. Because her sister asked, my grandmother, using a piece of rubber tubing, the blunt end of a knitting needle, and a tragically rudimentary understanding of female anatomy, attempted to abort her sister.

The abortion itself was successful, my grandmother told me, as the fetus was expelled, but the consequence was fatal. Infection set in and the family doctor was unwilling to help my great-aunt once he discovered the reason she was ill. My grandmother sat by her sister's bed for five days until her sister finally died from the massive infection. The only assistance the local doctor was willing to offer was this: afterwards he listed cause of death as "kidney failure" so no one else would know what she had done.

I tell this for the same reason that my grandmother told me this: she wanted me to understand the horrible knowledge of what NO access to safe, legal abortion does to women. After hearing this story, when my grandmother died, I felt I had lost not only her but her beautiful, spirited, and funny sister who was the star of so many of the stories I had grown up hearing. Even though my grandmother had lived a full life, I feel I was cheated of my great-aunt, and for all the wrong reasons.

October 1998

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According to  Alan Guttmacher Institute, abortion services are NOT available in one-third of U.S. cities.