Thursday marks the 42nd anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that affirmed women’s right to obtain a legal abortion.
At that time, the majority of states outlawed terminating a pregnancy, except in instances when it would save a woman’s life or in cases of rape, incest or major fetal problems. But as HuffPost’s Laura Bassett reports, access to the procedure continues to be challenged 40+ years later, with Republicans in Congress introducing a handful of new potential abortion restrictions in the first few days of the new 2015 legislative session alone.
“I’m fearful we may lose [the right to legal abortion] and lose access to safe care. And affordable care is still an issue depending on where you live,” Debra Hauser, executive director and president of the sexual health advocacy group Advocates For Youth, told The Huffington Post. The organization runs the 1 in 3 campaign, an effort to encourage women to share their experiences to help bolster political support for legal abortion care.
“Telling these stories is a personal action that becomes quite political,” added Hauser, 54, who had an abortion when she was 35. Here, on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, she and seven other women (many of whom asked that only their first initials be used) discuss why abortion has mattered in their lives.
E, 68, California: “To me, this choice is a woman’s. It’s hers.”
I got my abortion in 1969 [before Roe v. Wade]. I was 22, got married very young, and my husband was an abuser. It took me four years to muster up the courage to leave and, of course, two weeks later, I found out I was pregnant. I just knew I was not going to have this baby.
I lived in Chicago and had an uncle in California who was a doctor, who I thought for sure would help — and besides, California was known as this state of permissiveness. I flew out to see him, and he said he was scared to death that he could lose his medical license. He didn’t even want to talk to me. A good friend of his set me up with a call girl he knew, who I met in a coffee shop in San Francisco, and she was like an angel. She shared her story of becoming pregnant and not being able to have an abortion, so she had the child and gave it away. It was the worst thing she’d ever had to do. She gave me a phone number to call in Los Angeles; I didn’t know who or where I was calling.
The next morning I flew to Los Angeles and was picked up at the airport by a woman in a station wagon. I was blindfolded, and driven out to some house with no furniture — just a surgical table. A young man was waiting there in a short white coat — I think he was a medical student or a nurse, I don’t know. They asked me to go into the bathroom and get undressed and I remember looking at myself in the mirror thinking, “How did I get here?” But I knew the only way “out” for me was [in] that living room.
He was very good, and the procedure was quick — I was back in the airport in two hours. I don’t remember any pain. I didn’t feel scared; I just felt triumphant. I always think of that as my birthday, because it was the first independent decision I ever made about myself and my destiny. It was really monumental. Now I work as a [talkline] counselor [with Exhale, an organization that provides emotional support to women after abortion] and this is a theme I hear all the time from women, “I just knew.” It’s mind-boggling to me that after all these years, the government still wants to have a say in what happens in women’s bodies. To me, this choice is a woman’s. It’s hers.
Sriya, 24, New York: “Half of me was like, ‘I’m so glad I live in New York right now, and not somewhere where access is a problem.'”
It was my finals week in my first semester of grad school and I had been feeling nauseous for a couple of weeks. I thought it was stress, but just to be on the safe side thought I’d go get tested at Planned Parenthood. It was positive. I was completely blown away, because I had an IUD and they’re supposed to be 99 percent effective. I couldn’t believe I was in that situation. Half of me was like, “Why me?” and half of me was like, “I’m so glad I live in New York right now, and not somewhere where access is a problem.”
I had a surgical abortion, under mild anesthesia, scheduled for the day after I found out, and aside from it being an emotional 48 hours, it was as smooth as I could possibly hope for. I’m on Medicaid and it covered elective abortion, which I didn’t realize until I went to the clinic. My main worry was really, “How am I going to finish these two assignments due the next day?” which is amazing, if you think about it. I was very aware of that, as sucky as the situation was — and it was definitely ill-timed — it was not beyond my control to address and take care of.
J, 34, North Carolina: “I was not ready for children at all, but I was ‘pro-life.'”
When I was 21, I met a man who was significantly older than me, and we really hit it off. Within a month, I was pregnant. I was not ready for children at all, but I was “pro-life.” In school, I wrote essays on the dangers of abortion. I started to prepare myself to be a mom.
I told my boyfriend and he got really upset. Things just got worse and worse, and I got to the point where I felt like I needed a sign about what to do. When I was about seven weeks along, I was at work and started bleeding really badly. I had a cyst rupture on one of my ovaries. I went to the emergency room and the doctor told me that the chances of me maintaining the pregnancy were very slim. Hearing him say there wasn’t much they could do and there was the possibility that if I did have the child, he or she could have things wrong with it, I decided that was the sign, and it would be best for me to terminate the pregnancy. Ultimately, I was peaceful about it, and now I say I’m definitely “pro-choice.” Every woman should be able to make that decision for herself.
T, 34, Ohio: “Part of me is pissed the hell off that I can’t make a decision and go to my regular doctor for something that pertains to my health.”
At 32 years old, with a 6-year-old and 2-year-old, I was staring at a pregnancy test shaking in anger and frustration. My husband and I had been married for seven-and-a-half years. Financially we were stable. My career was in full-swing, my health was great and we loved our children. We had not chosen to tie [my] tubes after the birth, because we weren’t positive we were 100 percent committed to being done… until that positive pregnancy test. In that moment it was all clear. No more.
In my state, I had to wait 24 hours before I could have the procedure and there were picketers outside with signs, yelling. It’s frightening. On top of that, you’re seeing medical professionals who are not your doctors — they know nothing about you other than what you filled out on some sheet of paper when you came in. I called the nurses’ line with the doctor who delivered my children and was told [they] didn’t perform abortions. Part of me is thankful that we have [providers] who do this legally, and part of me is pissed the hell off that I can’t make a decision and go to my regular doctor for something that pertains to my health.
Debra Hauser, 54, Washington, D.C.: “It was almost immediate that I knew I needed to seek out abortion care.”
I was married at the time, 35, and had a 6-month-old baby. My husband went to work one day, and he didn’t come home. A couple of weeks later, I found out I was pregnant. We didn’t know where my husband was and he had depleted our bank accounts. I found the situation so incredibly untenable, to have this little baby, to be worried and wondering about where my husband was, whether he was coming back, whether my marriage would survive, whether I could support myself and my son without him. For me, there wasn’t really a question. It was almost immediate that I knew I needed to seek out abortion care.
I was really lucky that I lived in a state where there were services available to me that I could afford. A little while later my husband did show up and he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A couple years after that we divorced, and he eventually took his own life. When I look back on that situation, I never feel ashamed. I never feel it was the wrong thing to do. It was absolutely, 100 percent the most responsible thing for me in my life at that point.
A, 31, Ohio: “I wasn’t ready. And I never wanted to look at a child with resentment.”
My pregnancy, in 2012, was completely unplanned, a birth control fail on both ends, and I hadn’t been seeing the guy for very long. I found out very early — I was about four weeks along when I took the test. I knew right away what my decision was going to be. I wasn’t ready. And I never wanted to look at a child with resentment.
I scheduled an appointment with Planned Parenthood and had decided that because it was still early enough in my pregnancy, I was just going to have a [medication abortion]. I thought the pill would be a good option because it would give me some sense of emotional space from the procedure. I went back the following week to get the medication, and at that point, they told me that because of the laws in Ohio, I was considered nearly eight weeks along (based on my last period), and the pill wasn’t an option. [Ohio is one of a small handful of states that requires women follow what The Guttmacher Institute calls the FDA’s “outdated regimen” specifying women must take the pill within 49 days or seven weeks gestation.] I could either go across state lines to go with my plan and take the pill, or I could keep my next appointment and get a surgical procedure.
They took great care of me, but I was scared enough as it was and having to revisit everything — and have one of my options taken away from me — was hard. They’ve put on all of these restrictions. I’m worried about what that will mean for women’s rights.
A, 23, California: “I’m pursuing my dream to become a special education teacher, and that wouldn’t necessarily have happened if I had a 4-year-old.”
I was 19 when I had my abortion. I had been dating my boyfriend for two years, and it was a verbally abusive relationship. It was really hard making the decision, and it was actually my parents who helped. They told me my mom got pregnant before they were married and they got an abortion. I had never, ever known it. My brother and sister don’t know that. I was shocked, absolutely shocked.
It was scary, lonely, and probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life up to this point, and I struggled for a year after thinking it was a very selfish decision. But now I realize what came of it. I’m pursuing my dream to become a special education teacher, and that wouldn’t necessarily have happened if I had a 4-year-old. I still would’ve been in contact with my abusive ex-boyfriend.
K, 38, Pennsylvania: “Roe v. Wade meant a future I could control.”
To me, Roe v. Wade meant a future I could control. I got pregnant when I was 16. I was a straight-A kid, thinking about college. I went to the doctor, because I wasn’t feeling well and the doctor asked, “Well, do you think you could be pregnant?” And I said “I don’t think so.” On the way home, my mom was silent, then she pulled over and asked, “What do you mean you don’t think so?” That’s how she found out I was having sex and that I was pregnant. She’s very conservative, and got really upset about it, but she actually ended up calling our insurance company to find out about coverage.
If I had that kid — and in my brain, it’s always a he — I probably would have been stuck in the little town where I grew up, no college, having to work really hard to raise him. Instead, I’ve gone to school, got a graduate degree, I run a non-profit and do a lot of work with the environment. I’m able to do those things, because I was able to make that decision.
These accounts have been edited and condensed.