The following was written in 1978 when I was in journalism grad school. We were to produce a public affairs piece. The professor said, "This is not a public affairs piece. This is now settled law. The debate is no longer an issue."
Since 1978, there have been Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and Stenberg v. Carhart (2000). In 1999, there was a major debate in the U.S. Senate, and in every presidential election since this piece was written, the abortion issue has been a factor.
What's settled in law changes. Both Dred Scot and Plessy once made for "settled law."

Two women, two abortions

- by Alice Marie Beard

The two young women sat gingerly at the yellow plastic dining table in a stylish apartment which they share in a far suburb of a major metropolitan area. One nervously twisted a long strand of blonde hair around a finger. The other's blue eyes were snapping with anger as she chided the Right-to-life groups.

Both women are 19. Both have had abortions within the past 18 months. They want to talk to someone; each has a story to tell.

Debbie was not quite 18 when she learned she was pregnant. She had been using no contraceptive. "You just think it's not going to happen to you," she said quietly. "I went to my boyfriend, my friends, even my boss for advice. I was scared to have the abortion because I didn't have any friends who'd gone thru this before. My boyfriend said he'd marry me, but I knew it wouldn't work." A month after her high-school graduation, Debbie had a vacuum aspiration abortion ending eight weeks of pregnancy.

Lorie was 12 weeks pregnant when she had an abortion by combination dilation & curettage and vacuum aspiration. She had quit taking oral contraceptives and was using no other contraceptive.

"I learned I was pregnant when I was five weeks, but I waited because I wanted to keep the baby." She was engaged to the baby's father but was convinced the relationship would not last. The abortion was four months ago. She has since broken up with the man. "Every time I'd see him, it would remind me of the baby. Every time I hang up the phone after talking with him, I still think about it. The abortion was a horrifying experience."

Lorie's gynecologist was opposed to the abortion and suggested her family could help her raise the child. "But when I have a child, I want to raise it myself. I couldn't have supported it, and I couldn't have given it up because five years from now I'd wonder what the baby looked like and how it was. I didn't want to bring a child into the world and see him ragged and hungry. I can't put down the Right-to-lifers, but I've seen many situations where the grandmother becomes the 'mother' and the mother becomes the 'big sister.' I didn't want that. The crusaders who condemn abortions annoy me."

Lorie selected an abortion clinic which a friend had used. She was first counseled by a clinic nurse about the possible effects of abortion. "The nurse said that when the baby would have been born, there might be a recurrence of depression. She pointed out other alternatives to abortion. After the counseling, she said I was free to go if I wanted, and they'd give me my money back. There was no pressuring."

Debbie selected a clinic from the yellow pages of a phone book. Her boyfriend went to the clinic with her. At the clinic, a woman with no apparent medical credentials privately explained to each of about 20 women what the physician would be doing. The woman did not speak of possible emotional consequences. "I didn't feel like a person. What really made you feel like part of an assembly line was a row of chairs, and you just moved down one more chair till you were next. I'll never forget the look of one woman's face as she threw away her bloody paper gown. It was a look of terror. And I was next to go in. She was one of the women I'd talked to and gotten to know.

"What really scared me," Debbie continued, "was that when I went into the room, there were blood spots on the floor and streaks of blood on the door. The most horrible part of the whole thing is that, when they take all this out of you, you can see it go from you, down the clear plastic tubing and into this clear jar. It was sickening."

Debbie's abortion, at eight weeks, cost $160; Lorie's, at 12 weeks, cost $185 plus $40 for an injection required because she has Rh negative blood. Both paid cash; their insurance companies refused coverage. "When you call the clinic," Lorie said, "they tell you they'll take only cash, money order, or green Medicaid card."

Lorie went to the clinic by herself. "I didn't want anyone there with me, but you really need someone there for you. All the way home, I cried."

"About 25 women were there for abortions," said Lorie. "Most were young, under 20. One woman had had an extramarital affair after her husband had had a vasectomy. One girl was just 13 and was saying she was going to marry the baby's father in just four months. Several women already had children and didn't want more. We all talked of our special situations, and it seemed we could be honest because we each had the same plight."

Debbie's abortion took about five minutes after three local anesthetics were administered vaginally. "The abortion itself was quick and didn't hurt much, but there were emotional problems. For a month, it bothered me when I would watch tv and see a baby or when I would see babies out in public. One time a tv program showed the birth of a baby; I just started crying. And when my baby would have been born, I felt very sad.

"But I know what I did was best for me," Debbie continued, "and if I were pregnant now, I'd do the same thing again."

Since their abortions, both women practice birth control. "They give you the birth control information while you're still at the clinic," said Lorie, "and they furnish you with what you need. An abortion is definitely not a means of birth control."

Lorie said that, while she doesn't condemn those opposed to abortion for their feelings, "I don't think they should condemn me for mine. At the time I had the abortion, that was what I thought I should do.

"I know a woman who had an abortion when they were illegal," Lorie continued. "She started hemorrhaging but couldn't return to the abortionist because they both had done something illegal. She finally had to have a hysterectomy. If abortions weren't legal, I'd probably have tried to get one somewhere and might have ended up like that woman."

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