Identity

What It Was Like Getting an Illegal Abortion as a Teenager

One woman shares her story of what it was like getting an abortion before Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized the procedure in the US.

by Broadly Staff; as told to Melissa Madera
Jan 26 2018, 9:23pm

Illustration by Lucy Han.

This piece was published in collaboration with The Abortion Diary, a podcast of abortion stories from people around the world, and included in a series of firsthand accounts republished on Broadly. Read the full story here.

Before abortion was legalized in the United States 45 years ago, women with unwanted pregnancies often found themselves in desperate situations. A privileged few could afford to leave the country for abortions, but the vast majority had to deal with unsafe, unsanitary conditions and risk their own health and welfare. Cathy was one such case: When she was 16, in 1962, she became pregnant. She had to get her abortion on top of a kitchen table in a sleazy motel. During her follow-up examination, the stranger who performed her abortion made a series of sexual comments to her. "Here I am, just turned 17 years old, probably had sex maybe six times," she said. "Which is one reason I believe so strongly that it should be done in a clinic.”

You can listen to this excerpt of Cathy's story or read it below. You can also listen to her full story on The Abortion Diary.

Cathy, 69. Ormond Beach, FL, 1962

Here I was, 16 years old, and I was dating a guy, a sailor, who was 21. I remember throwing up in the bathroom at school and thinking, “Oh my God, please, I don't want to be pregnant.” But I went to a doctor. He said, "Well, you're pregnant. You need to tell your mom and dad.” I didn't know how I was going to do that. And, honestly, I was suicidal. Abortion was illegal. There was nothing.

Momma was—she was just so pissed. But she came to me a day or so later and said that she had called the doctor who I had gone to and he had given her the name of someone, an abortionist. A few weeks later, Momma said, “Your father is taking you to have an abortion.” He took me to Ormond Beach. There was a little motel, and to say that it was sleazy is being nice. He drove right up there and met the doctor. The doctor's name was Van. The place was relatively clean. Van told Daddy to leave and come back in about an hour and a half, and Daddy said, “No, I'm not leaving my daughter. I promised her mother I would not leave her.” There was a curtain between the kitchen area and the sleeping area. He pulled the curtain, and Daddy sat there. It took about an hour and a half.

He said, "You have a tight pussy," as I'm laying on the kitchen dinette table

I went back to make sure that I wasn’t bleeding unnecessarily. Momma took me the second time, but she left me. That was when this doctor—I am being nice by calling him a doctor—got chit-chatty. He said, "You have a tight pussy," as I'm laying on the kitchen dinette table, where I was five, six days before. Here I am, just turned 17 years old, probably had sex maybe six times. God, that was terrible. I can't believe he said that, which is one reason why I believe so strongly that it should be done in a clinic. I mean, I was on one of those crappy ass yellow tiled dining room tables, with my legs up in the air, and blood in the kitchen sink right there next to me.