Carol’s Story

I was 17 when I had an illegal abortion. It was the late 60s, and I had just returned home from a three month marriage to a batterer. One day, my dad sat down, facing me, and asked if I was pregnant. I nodded. “What are you going to do?” “I’m not having it.” He got up, went to the phone and dialed a business man he knew. I stood by, listening, realizing that it was men who had control of this secret world. It was some time later that the three of us – my dad, mother and I – drove to Detroit. We pulled up to an abandoned theatre, and stopped. My mother waited in the car. I followed my dad inside and up the stairs. We walked into a long, dark hallway and knocked on a door. A skeletal, bearded, very gray, old man opened the door. I was terrified. He was silent. We entered the tiny, windowless room with a partition half-way up to the ceiling. I sat on a chair, and the man led my father to the other side. I heard my dad speak first: “My daughter is in trouble.” The stranger protested. “You have the wrong place. Who gave you my name?” My dad answered, “I won’t give their name any more than I’ll ever give yours.” The talk turned to money, and the door opened. Dad came through the partition and sat where I had. I went into the inner room and laid on the table. The man picked up a long, silver instrument and I felt excruciating pain as he inserted and twisted it. He asked me if I loved the boy! I felt invaded by the question and his tone. In the car, I vomited all the way home. It was Thursday. On Monday, I went back to work, but by Wednesday I was rushed to the hospital, hemorrhaging. On Friday, I left the hospital and went to my aunt’s, then to a friend’s out of town for several months. I had to hide. I’d nearly died that summer, more than once. It was the abortion that saved my life and set me free. When I went public, years later in an interview in my hometown newspaper, my mother was furious. Yet I was furious that we could all have been criminalized for that abortion. I don’t know if she ever understood. I’m a professor now. My research is related to my experience. I tell my students that I had an illegal abortion and I never want it to be against the law again.