I learned about abortion when I was 15 years old. I knew I was pregnant, but my mother took me to a doctor to confirm it because I just couldn't tell her. My parents were getting ready to send me to Ohio to marry my boyfriend, who was 16, and my dad and mom came into my bedroom and asked me if I wanted to have an abortion. I said, “I don't know what that is.” They said, “Well, you won't be pregnant anymore… You won't have to get married. You can finish high school.”Because in 1966, pregnant girls were expelled from high school. Boys weren't. But girls were. And I would have done anything at that point not to have a baby, not to be thrown out of school, and to be able to go forward with my life. My boyfriend's father made the arrangements. Everything was done by secret and by code. We had party lines—you shared a phone with a neighbor, so you couldn't talk freely to someone on the telephone.My parents were given the information on where to go. My mom was six months pregnant with my youngest sister, and my father was afraid for her to go. He took me and we drove to some spot in Detroit, and both of us were then blindfolded and put in another car and driven to this place. When the blindfolds were taken off, we were inside some kind of warehouse. The floors were greasy.
I was scared to look around. I was afraid that if they hurt me, my father was going to kill somebody and he would end up in jail. I didn't really understand the other kinds of consequences.Around me, there were a lot of women. I only looked at people's feet. I was afraid to look up at their faces because if I did, I was afraid they'd make me go home. They gave me something to put me to sleep. When I woke up, my father and the person who did my abortion explained to me that I was a little farther along than they thought and that they couldn't finish the abortion, that it was going to happen at home. What I know now is they packed my uterus with gauze in hopes that I would go into labor and pass the pregnancy at home. They said it would happen in a couple of days.My mother had told our family physician, who told a young OB-GYN doctor from Colombia, who had just opened a practice in the small city within Detroit where I lived. He called my mom and said that, if there were any problems at all, that she should call him and he would take care of me. I found out later his sister had died from an illegal abortion in Colombia. That OB-GYN put me on antibiotics, which was probably the best thing that happened to me, because it was more than a week and nothing had happened. In that week's time, the people who did my abortion sent my dad and I to a pharmacy. We gave a fake name and a code word, and they gave us a bottle of quinine pills. All they did was make my ears ring.
“Well, you won't be pregnant anymore… You won't have to get married. You can finish high school.”
This time, I think they ruptured the membranes or amniotic sac, and repacked my uterus with gauze. They were certain I was going to go into labor this time. And within 24 to 48 hours, I started having contractions. I lived in an inner-city neighborhood. If you reached your hand out the window and your neighbor reached their hand out the window, you could touch them. We had one bathroom and I had three younger siblings. So my dad took the kids for the day, and my mother closed all the windows and doors in the house because she didn't know if I would scream. I passed the pregnancy in the toilet, which unfortunately then presented another problem for my parents: What to do with the fetus? My mother asked me if I wanted to see it, and I didn't need to. I was exhausted and I just knew I wasn't pregnant anymore.My mom must have gotten hold of my boyfriend’s dad, because the people who did my abortion told my mother that it would be a couple of hundred dollars more to come and pick up the fetus, which my parents didn't have. My boyfriend's father paid for the abortion. It was $2,000 total. I'm pretty sure my parents bought the house we were in right around then and paid six or eight thousand dollars.
My mother closed all the windows and doors in the house because she didn't know if I would scream.
We'd start at 7 o'clock in the morning and sometimes we were working until 7 or 8 at night. We would go out to get something to eat, go to bed, and get up the next morning and start all over again. We did that Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.There wasn’t really time to talk to the patients. I never stopped from the minute I got there until the last patient left. When I went in to work in the procedure room with the patient, I held her hand. I helped get her dressed. Then I had to take the instruments and the products of conception out of there into another room. We dumped them down the garbage disposal, which was not illegal. That was the standard of care. And I put the instruments in the sink, ran water on them. Once the patients were dressed, I helped them out the back door where I scrubbed instruments.
“You can never tell anyone. It could get us all in trouble. No man would marry you if he knew. This is something you don't ever tell anybody.”
Then, in 1976, I decided to open my own clinic. I was going to find a doctor who believed in women's health care the way I did. I went to my husband. We had saved almost $100,000 dollars between 1972 and 1976. I asked him how he would feel about letting me use that money to open a clinic. He said, “Do you think that you can succeed?” I said, “Well, I don't think I can fail.” If I had been any older, I would never have probably taken that risk. But I 100 percent believed I could do this.In 1976, I opened Northland Family Planning Clinic. I had my first baby in 1980, and my husband was a police officer—something that he loved. I would never have asked him to quit. However, when I was pregnant, he came home one night after getting shot at on a drug raid with machine guns, and said, “I'm never going to live to see this baby being born.” I told him to come work with me. “We can job-share,” I said. “We can take turns taking care of the baby and you can do the jobs I hate, like paying bills and ordering medical supplies, and I get to work with patients.” And he did. At that time in 1980, there really weren't men staying home with babies. Together, we grew the clinics, and together we took care of our kids in the way that we dreamed. He thought he was only going to be doing this temporarily, and we’re still working together.
I was thinking of my sisters, that they would not ever have to face what I had to face, and neither would my future daughters.
This other provider and I went to every Christian bookstore in the area and picked up all their literature. We got our families on every mailing list possible. So we always knew when there was going to be a blockade. We’ve had two arson attacks in our clinics. I've had numerous death threats. We've had bomb threats. The worst for me was the home picketing, because they terrified my young children. These people who claim to be so “pro-life” and care so much about kids took great pleasure in terrifying my children. My youngest daughter wanted her bedroom windows bricked in. She wouldn't play in the yard unless I was out there with her. She wouldn’t go to the end of the driveway. She closed her blinds the minute she got home from school and wouldn't open them, well into her teenage years. She would lie in bed at night and scream, “Somebody is going to break in and kill us! Somebody is going to break in and kill us!”
The worst for me was the home picketing, because they terrified my young children. These people who claim to be so “pro-life” and care so much about kids took great pleasure in terrifying my children.
One of the worst memories for me was when my oldest daughter was around 12. There was an attack at a clinic in the Boston area and I called all the doctors to tell them. We only had one clinic seeing patients that day, but two of the husbands of my staff were headed in their pickup trucks with rifles to go sit in the parking lot. I felt like I needed to go there and make sure that there wasn't going to be any trouble. My oldest daughter grabbed me and begged me not to go.
We have had protesters on and off since the day I opened the clinic.
A group of us have been working for more than a year to get ready for a ballot initiative. This ballot initiative will put in the Michigan state constitution a protection of abortion and reproductive rights in the state of Michigan for every pregnant person. And then we will be able to keep the clinics open. We're going to have to work very hard, but I'm very, very optimistic about winning. If we don't, abortion will be completely illegal in the state of Michigan. Everywhere. And we're a state surrounded on three sides by water.What worries me is that women will face exactly what I faced. There will be illegal abortion shops set up again. While some people may feel that they're going to be able to get pills online or through friends, it's going to be more and more difficult.I'm 70 years old. I will fight, but the battle has to be picked up by younger people now—men and women, or however they identify, to protect this right. I can't fix this. Northland can't fix this. Only the public can fix this.
I can't fix this. Northland can't fix this. Only the public can fix this.