From Texas Public Radio:
In 1967, Maggie was in her first year of college when she became pregnant — despite using birth control. The news was unexpected. She was only 18 and didn’t feel ready for motherhood.
“I knew I couldn’t handle the stress of being a young, single parent,” she said.
Maggie agreed to tell her story if TPR used a pseudonym because she fears harm from anti-abortion activists.
She chose to terminate her pregnancy, even though abortion was illegal.
Maggie grew up in a progressive household during the 50s and 60s. Her family moved between small towns in South Texas. In high school, people gossiped about who was sexually active and their classmates’ unplanned pregnancies.
“We would talk about sex, just like any kids do, but we didn’t really know that much,” she said.
But she knew more about sex than most of her peers because her parents ran her church’s sexual education course. However, that didn’t make her immune to misinformation about using protection.
“Even though I knew how everything worked, I was influenced by peers who said, ‘You don’t really have to worry about it,’” Maggie said.
While Maggie was on birth control she wasn’t diligent about taking it and now sought an abortion. Through her cousin, she found a place that performed the procedure.
“It turned out that she had gotten information about a clinic in Mexico just across the border,” she said.
Dr. Carole Joffe, a professor that specializes in abortion at the University of California San Francisco, said word-of-mouth was a common way to find an abortion provider.
“The first thing women did, when in those days, if you had an unwanted pregnancy, you asked your friends, if you felt if you trusted them enough,” Joffe said.
Maggie’s parents paid for the abortion and drove her to the clinic. She found herself in a small building with beds separated by curtains. Instead of an operating room, she had the procedure in a little cubicle. They used anesthesia so she doesn’t remember much else but she knows her parents drove her home.
“The same day, in the evening, I began to hemorrhage,” she said, adding that at the time she didn’t realize the severity of her condition. “My mother told me later that she just prayed all night.”
But they didn’t seek medical care. She said her mother may have feared someone reporting the abortion and Maggie could’ve faced legal repercussions. Joffe said this was not uncommon. For many, abortions were lonely and dangerous endeavors.
“It was not rare to have complications. It was not rare for some people to have nobody to go to,” Joffe said.
After her abortion, Maggie’s menstrual cycles became abnormal and she saw a doctor. Still, she didn’t feel comfortable telling the staff about her procedure.
Despite her parents’ financial and physical support, there was little emotional respite. They didn’t approve of pre-marital sex and Maggie’s abortion was, to them and much of society at the time, shameful. This tormented her.
“I did this alone, without telling anyone. No friends. My parents clearly were so ashamed and, and felt the stigma so much that they asked me not to tell anyone, not even my siblings,” she said.
But she stood by her decision. Sworn to secrecy and riddled with emotional turmoil, she continued her education and then her career.
In 1973, the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. For Maggie, the decision reflected a changing society.
“Our world, finally, was recognizing women as people responsible, in charge of their own bodies and capable of making their own decisions,” she said.
It was around this time that she accepted she had made the right decision, despite the controversy around abortion.
Later on in life, after she was done having children, Maggie terminated another pregnancy. This time a medical professional legally performed the procedure in a legitimate clinic. This was a far cry from her first abortion.
“I realized that it really was just a quiet routine experience at that point,” she said.
Carole Joffe, the UCSF professor, emphasized the impact Roe v. Wade had on health outcomes.
“The biggest change after Roe was a dramatic, dramatic drop in the number of deaths and injuries, I mean, that it was just enormous,” Joffe said.
Maggie said, for her, the shift in societal acceptance would have made all the difference.
“In 1967, when I had mine, it was an aberration, and something to be ashamed of and therefore, something that put me, my health, my life and at risk,” she said.
According to Joffe, immediately after Roe more clinics popped up — a trend that continued until 1982. But anti-abortion activism and legislation also intensified.
“Ever since then, we’ve seen a steady drop in the number and a number of clinics have closed,” Joffe said.
She said another concerning development is the changing legal landscape. While abortions are now significantly safer, their criminalization is more extreme than even before Roe because of legislation like Senate Bill 8, which allows civilians to sue people who aid abortions.
These changes are also happening at a constitutional level. Last month, a leaked draft opinion in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson indicates the Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade.
“We are already in a period in which pregnancy has been extremely criminalized. And after Roe goes, it will be even more so,” Joffe said.
The final ruling from the Supreme Court is expected this summer and Maggie fears a post-Roe world will once again lead people to seek dangerous, illegal abortions or be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy.
“There will be a young woman just like me, somewhere in Texas, who finds herself alone. In a situation she hadn’t planned without the means of going one direction or another,” said Maggie.