Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 17. 19th July 1972
The following articles are examples of the suffering women undergo when they are forced by the laws against abortion to seek relief from unwanted pregnancies by illegal means. That women must break laws, endure the most degrading and humiliating treatment or resort to near self-destruction in order to control their reproductive lives is one of the greatest crimes committed by this society.
Irene Kennedy's story, which she told at the Abortion Action Day meeting at Victoria on July 1, shows how safe and easy an abortion can be under the right conditions. She was lucky. Safe illegal abortions are not easy to find and cost a great deal of money.
Put yourself in the position of one of these women. Imagine discovering that something is growing inside you, which you cannot stop. Imagine the terror of finding no-one to turn to, no-one who can end your problem. Imagine the scorn you will face for being so "irresponsible" - for bringing a child into the world which has no place to go. Imagine the guilt and pain which will be heaped upon you for having sex and, being female, conceiving.
You don't agree with abortion? Nobody is denying you the right not to have one. The law is denying those women who choose abortion from getting an unwanted pregnancy terminated safely, legally. It is denying women the right to decide.
The Abortion Action Committee is campaigning for the right of every woman to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy, whether or not and when to have children. That freedom of choice can only be guaranteed when the abortion laws are repealed, when contraception becomes freely and available, and when easily sterilisation is no longer denied to those who want it.
A march to demand these conditions is being held in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch on July 28. On May 5, over 500 marched in Wellington and Christchurch - let's make July 28 several times as big. This is an issue that the politicians must not be allowed to ignore.
i "...$600 to Make it All Better..."
When did you get pregnant?
[unclear: I] was 17 at the time. I was also a Catholic, a school leader [unclear: nd] a frightened little girl. How could I possibly be preg-[unclear: ant] Everything had always gone as I'd planned. I was to [unclear: raduate] in two weeks and go on to college in the fall.
Certainly I couldn't tell my parents. There would be a [unclear: uick] and quiet shotgun wedding for sure abortion wasn't [unclear: ven] in their vocabulary. And to my friends I represented [unclear: II] those fine Catholic values: purity, honesty, goodness, [unclear: te]. I was determined not to marry John, and I was even [unclear: ore] determined not to lose face.
[unclear: Did] you think about having an abortion?
[unclear: I] had absolutely no contacts for abortion whatever. I'd [unclear: eard] of trying bars, but the second-hand tales of butchery [unclear: id] rape terrified me. As a fluke, I decided to see a doctor [unclear: I] one of the "looser" sections of the city. It was a lucky [unclear: choice]. Although his nurse eyed me disapprovingly, the [unclear: doctor] was very helpful. He said he would simply give me a [unclear: rw] "shots" to make me start bleeding, and in three or four [unclear: ays] I'd be back to my innocence. Seven days later I [unclear: returned] to his office; nothing had happened. He soothed me. Well, sometimes it lakes a stronger injection." he offered. [unclear: and] I waited another week.
The bleeding never came. And the little thing inside me [unclear: as] about eight weeks old by then. So on my third visit to [unclear: am] (I still hadn't learned), he examined me again. This [unclear: me] he began fondling my nipples and telling me that it [unclear: as] no wonder I was in that condition—I had such a lovely, [unclear: rm], shapely body. I was afraid to leave, afraid to run—I [unclear: seded] his help so desperately. I just lay there while he con-[unclear: nucd] stroking me and talked about the possibility of, for or so, "making everything all better."
How did you get out of there?
Finally I regained some sense of control. I got up, dressed myself and told him that I'd think about it. But I knew I could never get that much money without compromising myself.
When I got outside, I barfed. I was disgusted with that horrible lecher inside, with men in general, with the round lump inside my belly, and most of all with myself. I barfed until even the phlegm was gone.
In September I began school as planned. I knew I'd have to do it myself. I rode horses, ran up and down stairs, jumped, climbed, twisted, shook; finally I began pounding.
I pounded my abdomen until it was bruised first with my hands, then against bedposts, chair-backs, anything. Hut nothing worked. I starved myself until my body began to take on the look of an undernourished child with a distended stomach. Then I began begging John to hit inc. But he wouldn't. I pleaded and sobbed until he gave in. He'd hit me hard with his fist, and his eyes would fill with tears, begging me not to ask so much But I was determined to abort it and he was going to help, goddamit—he was responsible
Did your parents have any idea of what who going on?
Well, by Thanksgiving I was five months pregnant I was sure my friends suspected, but no one said a word. My fantasy of coming out of the mess unscathed remained unshaken until Christmas Eve. My mother couldn't take it any longer; she hysterically accused me and I denied everything. I still don't understand why she believed me, but she must have wanted to. And for the first time I faced reality. There I was, six months pregnant with a child which was certain to be deformed or brain-damaged, if born.
So what did you do did you go back to school?
Yes, I returned to school after Christmas vacation more determined than ever to get this "thing" out of me. I began the beatings again. On the day of my first exam I went into labor As I was leaving the classroom I felt a warm surge of water rush down my legs. At first I thought my bladder had collapsed from all the pounding and pummeling. Then I knew it was the sack that had broken.
Was John there to help you at all?
Yes, he drove me into the country. He tried to comfort me and persuade me to see a doctor, but I raved about how could he dare ask that of me when it was so close to being over. That night I slave.' in the basement of the dorm, praying (I still prayed) that the pain wouldn't make me scream for help until John could take care of mc again.
The following night the thing was born. And it let out a cry. A seven-month-old baby born in the parking lot of a men's dorm on a freezing January night.
I sneaked back into the dorm a few minutes before closing time, wrapped in a dirty car blanket to hide my blood soaked clothing. I braced myself against the walls and worked my way up the four flights of stairs to my room.
The next day I asked what had happened to the little thing. And John said, "Don't worry, honey, I took care of it." I pressed him more, and he told me no one would ever find it. It was buried in cement at the bottom of a stream two hours' drive away.
And I couldn't even cry.
ii No Flowers but no Regrets
[unclear: We] do not know precisely the number of illegal abortions [unclear: performed] in N.Z. each year, the figures vary between [unclear: 5,500] and 12,000. Illegal abortions are sometimes [unclear: dangerous]. More often than not, they are attempted by women [unclear: themselves] out of sheer desperation because they do not [unclear: qualify] for a legal abortion; or done in unhygenic conditions [unclear: y] quacks.
[unclear: In] Canada there are at least 100,000 illegal abortions a year. [unclear: of] these 20,000 are admitted to hospital for post-abortive [unclear: mplications]. At least 1000 of these cases result in severe [unclear: lisability] or death. (Source. Canadian Birth Control Hand-[unclear: ook] 1970).
Canada's prohibitive abortion laws are similar to those in [unclear: ew] Zealand. These figures contrast greatly with those in [unclear: ountries] where abortion is legal and easily available; [unclear: ungary]: between 1962-64, 358,000 legal abortions with 2 deaths.
Czechoslovakia: between 1962-64, 140,000 legal abortions without a single death.
[unclear: Bulgaria]: between 1962-64, 67,000 legal abortions without a single death.
Compared with countries where abortion is illegal, the [unclear: ortality] rate is very low.
[unclear: Illegal] abortions can be safe if performed by qualified people [unclear: a] hygenic conditions. But Safe abortions which are out [unclear: ide] the law are done at great risk to the careers of those [unclear: who] perform them — such was the case of a doctor from [unclear: whom] I obtained an Illegal but safe abortion.
The prospect of an unwanted pregnancy is a traumatic experience for most women. I was faced with this problem — I didn't want to keep the baby but at the same time I didn't want to adopt it out personally I do not believe that adoption solves the problem of unwanted pregnancies. It was suggested to me that I have an abortion. The doctor I went to see in New Zealand advised me not to seek an abortion here because the possibilities of obtaining one safely through illegal channels were very slim.
I was advised to go to Australia but was warned that I had only ten days to go before I would be three months pregnant, after which few doctors would risk doing an illegal abortion. I was then faced with the unenviable task of finding a lot of money. Luckily a friend was able to lend me $350. At this point I did not know that with $300 and over, you had to book the return flight for not less than two weeks.
When I arrived in Australia the first task I was faced with was finding the doctors number in the phone book. I explained to the receptionist that I was from New Zealand and could I have an appointment as soon as possible as I only had a short time to stay. She told me to be at the rooms that afternoon.
In the course of my interview with the doctor he asked when I was due. I lied a little saying I was 2½ months late instead of 3. The operation was to cost $120 and to be in cash. I told him I only had travellers cheques and he explained that travellers cheques could be traced. I was also told that the hospital was a small private one and that there would be 2 nurses another doctor and himself. He told me not to worry, that it would be perfectly safe.
I went to cash $150 in travellers cheques which to my surprise caused me no trouble. Early the next morning the taxi took me to the hospital, the nurse ushered me into a room whereupon she asked me for the money then left me to get undressed. After about a quarter of an hour I was led to the operating theatre clad in a dressing gown with a pad hanging at the back. The theatre was spotless and the two nurses and doctors were waiting for me. Once on the operating table I knew nothing more till I woke two hours later.
I was relieved and pleasantly surprised to find no pain. When I talked to the other girls in the ward I found they felt the same. Before I left the woman advised me, for the next six hours, to walk around as much as possible. Also I wasn't to have intercourse for a month in case anything went wrong and if it did to ring my doctor immediately. Nothing went wrong and I was back at work after a couple of days.
I've never once regretted my decision, for me I think it was the best possible thing. If the operation had not worked, and this happens to many women, I would have seriously contemplated suicide.
I don't think women should be punished for seeking relief from an unwanted pregnancy, and from my experience I can see no reason why the practice of abortion should not be made Legal — so that it can Always be Safe. If the abortion laws are repealed, women will be able to choose whether or not they want to continue an unwanted pregnancy.
Iii "...They had to Cut it Up Inside me..."
How long ago did you have your abortion? About two years ago.
Did your children know about it?
I talked about it thoroughly with the oldest one and the middle one.
Why did you decide to have an abortion?
I was facing the danger of having a deformed child. I had had two miscarriages before; the doctor had called them blighted ovums. I had a talk with him about this and I told him how I felt I was 40. And somehow I felt it wasn't worth it to me if the baby was defective. It would have been a burden on all the other children. It's an expensive proposition and it would have been a very painful experience. I wasn't about to take the chance. The doctor would have been willing to prescribe a therapeutic abortion, but it would have had to go before a hospital board and there just wasn't time. I had waited so long considering and considering and considering- There wasn't time for the board to meet and make a decision. I would have been in my fourth month. I realized that I was taking quite a chance either way; I didn't know which was worse.
We finally decided to go ahead with an abortion out of the country, and I knew—I just knew—that there would be complications.
Did you have an appointment for the abortion?
Yes. It was all arranged. The man was a doctor. He had a degree from the University of Mexico. I got his name from an underground list of doctors who do abortions. I tried a number of them before I found this man most of them had been cleaned out of Tijuana in May. They had an answering service in Tijuana and had to relay the call to Juarez. They would call you back and give you the information and you would say what you wanted to do. Then they drove you by a roundabout way to the clinic. It was pleasant and clean, but nothing was sterile. They didn't even put towels on the table-not even a paper towel.
That's something I wouldn't even have noticed.
Well, I was aware of it because I was in nurses' training and I know what sterile technique is.
It must have been terrifying to you then.
It was. I resigned myself at that point that I was going to have complications and that I would hurry back to my own doctor as soon as possible to be taken care of. If I had been in any kind of situation where I could have done something about what I saw, or even comment on it, I would have done so, but I was completely at the mercy of these people.
What was it that frightened you so much about it?
Well, as I said, the place was very clean but it was not sterile. They didn't even have a cover on the table. When the instruments are piled up and put in a bunch on the table they're not sterile. When the doctor does not wear gloves it's not sterile. And any lime you have anything coins directly into a sterile part of the body that's not sterile, there's a danger of infectio... There was no anesthetic [unclear: use] none whatsoever It was a perfectly formed fetus and the had to cut it up inside so it was a pretty sticky thing.
How long did it last?
I went in Friday night I was so far along that they had [unclear: a] dilate me, and the dilation took 12 hours. So from the [unclear: tim] I came in till noon the next day they dilated me. And they did not use an anesthetic I was very uncomfortable. Apparently my blood pressure was very low and they would [unclear: no] take the chance (from their point of view) of giving me [unclear: a] anesthetic. The next day about noon they did the [unclear: abort] and they made me rest about an hour and we stayed [unclear: thi] night. I was exhausted. Well, part of the reason was [unclear: because] after it was all over we went on a walking tour of [unclear: Juarny] And then we went to dinner and by that time I [unclear: could] even stand up anymore and I went tubed. The next [unclear: roo] ing we took the plane back and everything was fine [unclear: that] was Sunday night and Monday night I called the [unclear: doctor] told him what happened and asked if there was anything [unclear: a] could do. He said, "No, if there are any complications [unclear: a] me know." So everything was fine until that [unclear: Wednesday] don't remember what we were doing, but all of a [unclear: sudent] was in a cold sweat and in tremendous: pain. I called [unclear: to] doctor. I remember sitting on the table waiting for him [unclear: a] come in and I almost passed out. I had a massive [unclear: infeet] but it only lasted for a few days.
How much did this cost you?
Six hundred dollars.
Iv ".... I Inserted a Piece of Coathanger and Just Kept Pushing...."
I got pregnant during the end of my senior year in high school. When I told Jim, he made it clear that he had no intention of giving up college to marry me and that I'd better get an abortion.
Is that what you wanted to do?
That was the first thing I thought of, but then I started thinking about the life growing in my body.... In the end, though, the thought of being an unwed mother was worse than the thought of an abortion, so I decided to try and get one.
Did you contact the abortionist?
Actually Jim was the one who found one. We grew up in a small town where the kids didn't even let on they were screwing, let alone know where to get abortions. There were only two doctors in our town and I didn't dare go to either of them; both were friends of my family and I knew the idea of an abortion would shock and repel them. Jim finally got a name from a guy he'd played against in a football game in Sacramento. Once he'd given me the phone number of the guy to contact, Jim said he'd fulfilled his obligations and the rest was up to me. He got a summer job in another town, and left.
How far along in your pregnancy were you?
I had missed two periods I guess about eight or nine weeks. I had read somewhere that after eight weeks an abortion got more and more dangerous, and I was getting very frightened. I went to a pay phone and called the number in Sacramento. A man answered and I told him I wanted to make an appointment to come and see him. He laughed in a weird way and said, since when did anyone need an appointment to visit a bar. That really threw me and I almost hung up. Then he asked me if I had a "problem" I'd like to talk to him about that he liked to help people with their problems. I told him I did want to talk to him and he said to come to the bar the next day. I told my parents I was going to take the bus to Sacramento to go shopping. . . .
Did your parents have any idea of what was happening?
No, and I was terrified that they would find out. I was sure they would have thrown me out and that my father would shoot Jim. My parents are very into their religion and it doesn't leave any room for the kind of "mistake" I had made. I was having terrible morning sickness, and when my mother began to notice, I started going into my bedroom closet every time I had to throw up. It was the only place I could go where no one would hear me.
What happened when you got to Sacramento?
I had a hard time finding the bar. It was in the skid row part of town, and I had to walk by the junkies and winos. By the time I found the bin, I was so frightened I was crying. I forced myself to go in, and sat on a stool. I sat there for a long time before the bartender came over. He asked me what I wanted and I told him I wanted to talk about my "problem." lie really looked me over then. When he finished, he ashed me how old my "problem" was I told him, and he told me to come back to the bar that Saturday with $400 and he'd see that my "problem" was solved.
When I left the bar I felt so dirty and humiliated I didn't think I'd ever go back. But of course I did. The shame and guilt and fear about the abortion was still more bearable than the thought of facing my parents and that town as an unwed mother. It seems silly now; but for me, then, there really was no choice.
This time I took a taxi to the bar—I couldn't have faced walking those streets again. I sat at a table until the bar closed, and then the bartender came over and asked me if I had the money. I gave him the $400 I had saved for college. Then he took me to one of those third-rate hotels—it looked like the kind where rooms are rented by the hour. When we got up to the room, he told me to take off my clothes and get onto the bed. I asked him where the doctor was. He told me the doctor would be there in a few minutes but that I had to be "prepared" first. I told him I didn't want to get undressed in front of him, but he said if I didn't cooperate, I wouldn't get the abortion. So I got undressed and lay down on the bed. As soon as I lay down he came over to the bed and told me to spread my legs so he could make the preparations. The next thing I knew, that bastard had thrust as much of his hand as would fit into my vagina. I started screaming, and he slapped me hard across the face with his other hand. Then he covered my nose and mouth so I couldn't breathe and told me to shut up or he would rip my insides out. He took his hand out of my vagina, and all of a sudden he was raping me. I started screaming again, and he hit me and I fainted.
When I came to, there was another man bending over me. He had a rubber apron on over his T-shirt and a gauze mask over his Lee. I was so terrified I literally willed myself to die. When this man saw that I was conscious he started calmly explaining what he was about to do. It was so unreal—he was acting as though the rape and beating had never happened. I finally got myself to ask him to please give me a shot to stop the pain. He told me I didn't need a shot, that all I had to do was pant when he inserted the instrument (I don't remember what he called it) and I wouldn't feel any pain. He was a real sadist. He stuck the instrument in very slowly as though he was trying not to hurt me All of a sudden he gave it a hard twist. The pain was excruciating and I passed out again . . . When I woke up, I was lying in a pool of blood.
Was the "doctor" still there?
Yes He was sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed. We just stare' it each other for a while. Then I realized that I was numb from my waist down. That terrified me and sort of aroused me from my shock My change of expression seemed to be a signal to the doctor, for he got up from his chair, came over and put his hand on my forehead, and told me that I had been hemorrhaging and that he had given me a shot. Then he started sort of crooning and rubbing my forehead. When his words finally started penetrating my numbness and fright. I realized he was telling me that the abortion hadn't worked, that I would have to go through everything thing again as soon as I recovered From the hemorrhaging. He pointed to a bottle of pills and told me to take one every four hours He said I should stay in bed until I felt I could walk, and then go home. As he walked toward the door, he sort of turned and said something about I had been a bad girl but he would see me again anyway, and next time it would be free.
How long did you stay in the hotel?
I guess it was about 10 or 12 more hours. I couldn't stay longer or my parents would have wondered why I did't come home. I tried to get up a couple of times, but each time I sat tip I would start bleeding and would have to he down again. I was still lying in all that blood God, it was horrible. Finally, I was able to get up without bleeding wash and get dressed. The bus ride home was a nightmare, but somehow I made it to my room and collapsed....
I stayed in bed for two days, telling my mother that I was having bad menstrual cramps and keeping the room dark so she couldn't get a good look at me. I spent those two days thinking about what that in [unclear: rument] must have done to the fetus. I kept dreaming of malformed babies.... I was going crazy. Finally, I got up, got a piece of coathanger and sterilized it. Then I inserted it into my vagina and just kept pushing....
My mother found me the next morning. I had aborted but had almost bled to death. When they got me to the hospital, the doctors found that my uterus had been [unclear: puncrured] and infected and had to be removed. I was 17 years old, and I would never have a baby.