Yesterday, January 22nd, marked the 41st Anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision. This historic Supreme Court ruling guarantees the right to safe and legal abortions in the United States. This week’s diary entry from Ilene offers us a glimpse into what it was like for women who chose abortion before Roe v. Wade.
The first time I ever heard anyone share a personal abortion story publicly was in 2012 at “The Urgent: Free Abortion Now Conference” at The New School in New York City. I don’t know how I heard about the conference, but I do know that I was compelled to attend. I was intrigued by the prospect of entering a space where people would feel safe and open enough to share their abortion experiences. Two years prior to the conference, I had shared my own abortion experience with someone for the first time and slowly began to feel comfortable sharing it with others.
Two of the women on the first panel of the conference shared their pre-Roe abortion stories. They talked about the want, the need, and the difficulty of obtaining an abortion before Roe. I remember hearing about the seedy and unsafe conditions, the high cost and desperate need to borrow money, the violence, the shame, the stigma and the fear that came with it all. It was illegal and dangerous, but necessary. But as I listened I also began to understand that their stories were about strength, commitment, self-determination and dedication. These women stood at the front lines of the fight for abortion rights, and they came together and raised their voices so that people could have the right to reproductive choice. Their stories put mine into perspective and gave me the courage to say that I had also had an abortion, and to buy (at that same conference) and wear a bag that tells that to the world.
More recently, I came across the JANE Zine. Jane, an underground abortion referral service run by women in Chicago from 1968-1973, provided over 11,000 people safe and affordable abortions and abortion counseling. The zine offers a series of firsthand accounts that provide a brief overview of the story of Jane. One particular excerpt from the zine written by Judith Arcana, one of the members of Jane, deeply impacted me: “She gulped some water in the kitchen and said, Oh thank you, you’ll never know what it means to me, thank you so much. I can’t thank you enough, I’m sure. I know some people say it’s wrong, abortion, that you shouldn’t take a life. And maybe you did take a life. But it’s all give and take, isn’t it? My mother always said that everything comes down to give and take. So the baby, today, that was the taking – and me, me, my own life, I think that was giving.” People knew then and still know now what is right for their lives and their own bodies. Their life circumstances, experiences and emotions are complicated, unique and nuanced.
In listening to pre-Roe stories I understand my privilege as a woman who had access to a legal and safe abortion. However, although abortion may not be illegal in the United States today, it is still inaccessible to so many people and there is still a great deal of stigma, shame and isolation associated with it. As we listen to these, and all, abortion stories let’s not forget that safe and legal abortion is constantly under attack, and that our reproductive freedom is not a guarantee. And, most importantly, that we can do so much more to make each other feel safe, understood and supported in our choices. I thank them and all of you for story-sharing and listening. These are the stories we share.
Listen to this week’s story here.
You can learn more about Jane here.