On January 22, 1973, abortion
became legal in the United States. In my completely nonpolitical state of mind,
I was barely aware that this change had occurred; let alone had any realization
of the difference it would make in my life. In late February of 1973 - barely
one month later - I suddenly found myself at age 21, filing for divorce, unemployed,
no job skills, and about 12 weeks pregnant.
In those days,
people who oppose abortion had not yet organized. Or maybe they had and I was
just oblivious to them. At any rate, I was too involved in my own dilemma to worry
about someone other than my immediate family members. My situation, in short,
was that I had no source of income, I had no place to live, and I was facing the
idea of raising a child on my own. It was a time of great soul-searching and of
giving myself permission to be selfish and believing that it was okay. In the
end, I realized that I was not ready to have a child. I really did not want to
be pregnant, and I certainly did not want to be tied to a man I was divorcing
for the next 18 years because of a child I did not want! This man was rapidly
becoming abusive and I knew that I would never be safe with him, let alone trusting
him with a small child.
With the help of my parents, we obtained
information about where to get an abortion. Since the law had so recently changed,
most facilities were not yet set up for abortion services. We lived in conservative
Orange County, California and while there was a Feminist Womens Health Center
there, I was unaware of its existence or of its significance. My parents
offered to help pay for the abortion, but I was very proud. I decided that rather
than borrow money from my family, I would go to the Welfare office and apply for
Medi-Cal to pay for the procedure. Maybe that was my self inflicted penance for
being in this position. It was truly one of the more humbling experiences of my
We were referred to a hospital somewhere in Los Angeles
not far from the ocean. A Catholic hospital; Saint Somebody-or-others. At
the time, I did not appreciate the irony. I remember getting up very early in
the morning. I think we had to be there at 6:30 or 7:00 a.m., and it was an hour
or so drive just to get there. It was a very cold morning and I was scared to
death. I remember trembling inside from a combination of those two factors. We
parked the car and my dad, mom and I walked into the side entrance of the hospital.
We found ourselves in a waiting area with just a few chairs
and packed from wall to wall with terrified young women with their family and
friends trying to be supportive. In actuality, there were probably about 35 of
us there for abortions. I waded through the mass of people to stand in the first
of many lines. In this line, each woman was given a cup and told to produce a
urine sample. Once we returned with the urine sample, we would be given paperwork
to complete before we could go on to the next step. I took my cup to the bathroom
and nothing happened. I couldnt go! I had gone just before we left home
and now I just couldnt! All I could think of was that this meant that I
would lose my place in the process and get further and further behind. I started
to panic. I was just sure that they wouldnt see me if I couldnt come
up with a sample. It seemed like forever; I tried running water in the bathroom,
but that didnt help. I stood outside where it was cold, but that didnt
work either. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally squeezed out a couple
of drops of urine and returned to the window to claim my paperwork.
this day, I have no idea what I signed. I remember lots and lots of paper. And
I remember that I didnt read it. It was handed to me, I signed it. The one
thing that sticks out in my mind, however, was that at this point in the process,
with no information whatsoever, I had to decide on what method of birth
control I would leave with. No birth control method, no abortion. Lets
see... I choose..... I choose... yeah, okay, Ill have an IUD.
Here, sign this. Done. NEXT!
Steps one and two were over with.
The woman at the counter hollered instructions in my direction so she could be
heard over the crowd. "Go through the door over there and get your blood
drawn". This meant I had to leave this room where my parents were. Of course,
it was also the room where everyone else was! And even though my parents were
there for support, I still felt very afraid and very much alone. I remember going
through that door and closing it behind me. Ahh. Quiet.
front of me was a line of about 7 or 8 young women, waiting to get their blood
drawn. I went and waited in line. What next? I wondered. No one had told any of
us what to expect. I could be lining up for the gas chamber for all I knew. I
remember a young black woman in line in front of me. I also remember the disgust
of the nurse who drew our blood. She deliberately made it as painful as possible
when she stuck the needle in that black womans arm. I wondered if she was
a bigot or was she passing judgment on the fact that we were having abortions?
In 1973, abortion was a concern of womens morals. "Nice" girls
didnt get pregnant unless they were married. Only "cheap sluts"
found themselves in our position.
Once I survived having my
blood drawn, I was instructed to go into another hallway to wait. By then, we
had all been waiting for quite a while and the line of women waiting for the next
step was sitting on the cold floor. Very few of us spoke, and when we did, it
was only to find out that none of us knew what was going on. The next step was
a pelvic. As a group, we each waited alone for our turn to go into a tiny exam
room, change into a hospital gown, climb up on the exam table, put our feet into
the stirrups and have a pelvic to determine how far pregnant we were. A pronouncement
was made of each womans gestation, and then it was off to the next step.
A nurse appeared from somewhere. At last! Someone who might
be able to tell me what was happening! I asked what was going to happen and was
told that I would be given something to put me to sleep before the abortion. Period.
End of discussion. I was then taken into a wing of the hospital to wait my turn.
I was taken into a room and I remember an old man sleeping in the other bed. The
nurse gave me a pill to take. I concluded that this was the pill that would put
me to sleep. She said theyd come and get me in a little while.
laid in that hospital bed for what seemed like hours. I stared at the ceiling
and waited for sleep to overtake me. I wanted to relax. I wanted to cry. I wondered
where my parents were and what they were doing. I never occurred to me to wonder
what I was doing in a room with an old man! After a while, I forgot he was even
there. I focused more and more on that fact that I wasnt falling asleep.
The more I thought about it, the more panicky I became. Oh my God! What if I didnt
fall asleep? What would happen?
At last, a nurse came to the
room and had me get on a gurney. I was relieved to see her, but still afraid of
what would happen if I didnt fall asleep. She wheeled me out of the room,
around a couple of corners and into a hallway. I was just getting up enough nerve
to ask some questions when she walked away! There I was, in a hospital gown with
a silly hospital net on my head, laying on a gurney alongside the wall in a hallway
of some hospital, wearing an IV in my hand with a drip line attached, waiting
to fall asleep. I leaned my head over the side of the gurney and looked down the
hallway. The picture is indelibly etched in my mind. It was like seeing a mirror
image of a mirror image of a mirror image... As far as I could see down the hallway,
were women laying on gurneys in gowns, with nets, IV bags swinging from poles,
one after the next, after the next. Cattle. Humiliated, dehumanized, processed
cattle headed for the slaughter.
And on top of it all, I still
wasnt asleep! It was all too much for me. I finally started to cry. I cant
remember ever feeling so alone, so helpless and so scared. It wasnt too
long before someone in a white uniform walked by and asked me what was wrong.
I told her that I was still awake and I was afraid of what would happen if I didnt
fall asleep. She took just a moment to reassure me and to tell me that the pill
I had been given was only to help me relax. I would be put to sleep in the surgery
room before I had the abortion. Thank God! At last I at least had a little bit
of information. It was a tidbit, but it was enough to calm me down. I finally
started to relax a little as the gurneys slowly worked their way into the surgery
room, one by one. I had no idea what to expect, but at least I felt confident
and comforted by the knowledge that I would be asleep for whatever happened.
last it was my turn to be wheeled into the operating room. The lights were glaring
and the room was incredibly cold, green, and sterile-looking. Someone wheeled
me in. Someone positioned the gurney. Someone took hold of my legs and put them
into what felt like two cradles- one under each thigh. Then someone pulled my
drape up onto my stomach and pulled my legs apart. Bright lights were shining
on me as I lay there completely exposed to the world. People walked by, having
conversations about vacations, their kids, all kinds of things, as preparations
were made. No one but me seemed to be aware that I was lying there, in position,
crotch up, cold and naked, waiting for whatever was coming next. It was the most
horrible feeling... to be totally vulnerable and humiliated in a brightly lit
room full of people who were too busy to notice. Finally, I was relieved when
someone sat down beside my head and placed the anesthesia mask over my mouth.
Someone pulled up a stool between my legs and pushed them even farther apart.
Escape had come at last. I fell asleep staring at the bright lights above me.
They say there is a reason for everything in this Universe.
Many years later, in 1984, I found myself in the position of helping my 16 year
old stepdaughter obtain an abortion. We were living in Northern California at
the time. After a pregnancy test at a local clinic, she was referred to the Feminist
Womens Health Center in Chico, California. There had been a Feminist Womens
Health Center in the town in which we lived, but it had been closed for six months
now, due to antiabortion activity causing them to lose their lease. The round
trip was 150 miles, but well worth the ride.
My husband, myself,
and my stepdaughter drove to Chico on a Saturday. I tried to reassure her, but
I had very little information from my own abortion experience to share. I realized
that I never really knew what it was all about... I had signed the papers, gone
through the system, and the abortion had been done. I had gone on with my life
and not looked back. More than anything, I tried to be supportive and talk about
anything BUT the details of her impending abortion.
in for the surprise of my life. I was able to be with my stepdaughter through
the entire process of her abortion experience. What an incredible difference!
People were nice. No one was placing judgment. Things were explained to her every
single step of the way. She was given the reason for and the results of every
test that was performed. Her questions were answered. She was treated with respect
and dignity. A complete explanation of what to expect every step of the way was
given... not just about the abortion, but about her entire visit. The abortion
explanation was given to a group of us who sat on couches in a "60s
free clinic style" room. As a group, we asked questions and discussed our
own women experiences and how they related to us being there. The doctor was late,
so there was lots of time to share information with and be supportive of each
other. The counselors answered questions and clarified things for us. And while
my step daughter was still scared, she had information and she knew what was coming
and what to expect. At least she knew what it was she was afraid of! She was afraid
of the pain... I had been terrified by the unknown. What a blessing! Knowledge
really is power! With the information she had, she was able to participate in
the process from a place of strength and get through it.
a year later, I ran across an ad in the paper for a clinic manager at the Feminist
Womens Health Center. They had found a location in Redding again, and were
about to reopen the Redding clinic. I knew that I had to apply. I wanted so badly
to be a part of those women who made the abortion experience respectful. I wanted
to be able to give that to other women, so they would not have to experience the
terror, agony and humiliation I had experienced back in 1973. I wanted to help
teach, support, listen, and empower the women who came into my clinic, so that
they could respect themselves and have the information and strength to put their
lives back on track and become healthy, successful, empowered, knowledgeable women.
The Feminist Womens Health Centers change womens
lives every day. Not just the women who come through our doors for abortion and
well woman services, but also the women who work here. I know that I am not the
same woman who first applied for that clinic manager position. I am who I am because
of being a part of this organization, and I watch young women come to work here
and change their lives forever. The ideals and philosophies of the Feminist Womens
Health Centers are given freely to any woman who walks through our doors for whatever
reason. It is a wonderful gift, there for the taking.Susan
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Feminist Womens Health Centers change womens lives every day."