The Sanguine Sex - Caitlin Flanagan - the Atlantic
The history of abortion is a history of stories, and the ones that took place before Roe v. Wade are oftentimes so pitiable and heartbreaking that one of the most powerful tools of pro-choice advocates is simply telling them. The Choices We Made is a compendium of such stories, and while you could read it in an afternoon, you should not make the decision to do so lightly: It will trouble you for a long time afterward. In it, women whom we know for the large space they occupy in the world—writers Grace Paley, Linda Ellerbee, and Ursula K. Le Guin, and actresses Polly Bergen and Rita Moreno among them—tell us about a time in their lives when they were reduced to begging for a simple medical procedure that, because of the circumstances in which it was performed, almost killed several of them and left at least one infertile. Abortionists in those days included a handful of merciful and scrupulous doctors willing to risk prison, and more than a few monsters who considered groping or sexually assaulting their patients a droit du seigneur. Who would complain? And who didn’t have it coming? In those days, it was not uncommon for a woman to receive a D & C without anesthetic shortly after being lectured about the wages of being a slut.
Most of the abortions recounted in the book occurred sometime between the late ’30s and the early ’60s, a time when so many American young women were ignorant of some of the most basic facts of reproduction, and when an unmarried woman’s sexual life was, by definition, a shameful and secret thing. It was also a time in which pregnancy could destroy a young woman’s prospects: She could be thrown out of college, fired from her job, removed permanently from the marriage market. Criminal abortions, of course, were dangerous business, and among the women who survived the procedure, many were rendered infertile.
The quality of the criminal abortion that a woman received depended largely on where she lived and how wealthy she was. Reports a woman who got pregnant while a student at Barnard in the 1930s: ‘The actual abortion was comfortable, clean, the absolute tops.’ On the other hand, here’s a description of an abortion the actress Margot Kidder had as an 18-year-old in the mid-1960s. Her boyfriend, John, made the arrangements, ‘all done with great secrecy and a great sense of evil and sordidness’; the couple were told to check in to a certain hotel room where the abortionist, a woman, would meet them. After gaining their assurance that they would never go to a hospital if something went wrong, she began the procedure.
I was told to undress and lie in the bathtub, which I did. John was in the other room. There was no anesthetic, of course. She jammed something through my cervix. It was incredibly painful. I was screaming and crying; I had no idea what was happening to me. Then she used what looked like a douche to shoot some sort of solution up through my cervix.
The woman had filled Kidder’s uterus with Lysol.
read the whole thing.
More: The Sanguine Sex - Caitlin Flanagan - the Atlantic