In 1964 I was a junior at Ohio Wesleyan University, studying for a degree in English literature, a degree that has not been particularly helpful or useful in the ensuing 60 years, but it did get me into the Peace Corps (Nigeria), a high school teaching job (English), work in two drug abuse prevention programs, director of Family’s runaway and homeless youth shelter, a state coalition of youth and family services, a housewares and kitchen shop in Woodstock (Homecoming), a jazz club in Mt. Tremper (Stardust), a lovely catering business (Woodstock Moveable Feast) and then retirement, followed by a bout of stage 4 cancer(s). I only mention this history because it would have been radically different and, most likely, awful and possibly tragic had my girlfriend and I not secured an illegal abortion. My classes, my professors and my school offered no help whatsoever for what was probably the most traumatic experience in my life.
In the beginning of the first trimester, junior year, we discovered that “Em”, my girlfriend, was pregnant. We were scared but we both agreed neither of us wanted a child at this time. Terrified out of our minds we asked everyone we thought might have a source for an illegal abortion. No one did. We finally approached a shady student on campus, from New York, who dressed in black every day and was known on campus as “The Phantom”. He said he’d get back to us. The next day he said we would drive to Cleveland where he hooked us up with a nurse from a good hospital. We drove the two hours, found the run-down housing project in a terrible part of town, paid the $500 we were able to scrape up from friends and our meal money, to a woman who I do not believe was a nurse. She inserted a tube in Em’s vagina and told us to check into a specific motel in town and wait for her to abort, then call her with the news. We were unable to sleep and at around 3:00 a.m. Em said the tube had slipped out and there were no signs of the answer to our problem. We called the number she gave us. No answer. In an hour we drove back to the “nurse’s” apartment only to find no one home and all the shabby furniture had been removed. We drove the two hours back to Delaware, Ohio. Fortunately, The Phantom drove because neither of us were in any mental condition to drive. I could only imagine how depressed and frightened Em was on that drive back to school.
Back at school, we continued to ask if anyone could help us find an abortionist. Weeks went by. Em was now at the end of her second trimester.
On Christmas vacation, I saw an old friend and mentioned our predicament. She said she knew a reputable doctor in Ridgefield, New Jersey who did abortions for $600. She had gotten one recently, and some of her friends had also used him.
We got the number, made an appointment, and made the nine-hour drive to New Jersey. The good doctor examined her and told us that she was beyond the point when abortions were usually done. If we wanted him to do it, we would have to pay $1500 because of the added risk.
In 1963, $1500 was an unimaginable sum. The previous summer I had done unpleasant, heavy construction work for $2 an hour. We were barely able to put together the $600 we were planning to pay.
Beginning to really feel terror for the first time in my life, I called my parents’ best friend, a doctor named Paul whom I had always wished had been my father.
He asked us to come to his office in Elmhurst, We did and he’d examine Em. We did. He concurred that she indeed seemed to be at the end of her second trimester.
Surprisingly, at least to me, he said he didn’t know anyone who did abortions, and we’d have to go with the New Jersey doctor whom he had checked out as a licensed ob/gyn.
One condition, he said. He would give us the money, but I had to tell my parents what was happening. I said my dad would totally freak out. He was an M.D., a family practitioner. He was also one of the most rigid, uncompromising and angry men I knew. He didn’t believe in premarital sex, and he didn’t believe in abortion.
I knew he would not take this well. Since we needed the money, I called him. He came immediately. He proceeded to yell at me, tell me I had once again let him down and disappointed him, and that he would have nothing to do with this, and would not let us stay at his house. His exact words were, “I’ll be goddamned if my idiot son will make me lose my medical license!”
Em sobbed quietly in the corner.
On the day of the abortion, we drove to the specified street corner in New Jersey at 8 a.m., where we were told we would be met by a driver in a station wagon, and to be sure to have the $1500.
We arrived early, terrified to say the least, and were surprised to see three other young women also waiting. I was told Em and the other three would return at 4 p.m., and not to panic or “do anything stupid.”
At 4:10 p.m. the station wagon arrived and returned the other three women but not Em. No Em!
The driver said there were some complications, but she’d be back here within the hour. By 5 p.m. I was nearly hysterical. Visions of her lying in a pool of blood, dying in some New Jersey back alley, flooded my brain. I was the most disturbed I’d ever been in my life.
I waited ten more minutes, and told myself that if she wasn’t back in the next ten minutes I would go to the police. Ten minutes passed. When I put the car into gear to drive to the nearest police station, the station wagon appeared.
Em was unceremoniously dumped out on the street, crying. I could see blood dripping down her legs onto the pavement. I helped her into my car.
We drove to Paul’s house. He examined her. He said he had to stop the bleeding immediately, or we’d be in big trouble. He gave her two injections of god-knows-what. The bleeding stopped in a few hours.
It was only weeks later that I came to the full realization of the risks this good man, Paul, had taken to help us. He had been willing possibly to lose his medical license to help us when my own dad wouldn’t.
After a few days, when Em could travel, we drove back to Ohio. I was in a terrible mental state for months. I nearly flunked out of school that trimester. I got three Cs and a D.
Em got four As. She was a remarkable woman. We remained a couple until I left for Nigeria in 1965, and we remained friends for years afterwards.
This nightmare will be repeated innumerable times if Roe v. Wade is repealed, or if a national abortion ban is passed. Abortion will not be stopped. It will merely be driven underground, once again subjecting women to terrible indignities, children born from rape or incest, unsound medical practices, and unnecessary deaths.
We can’t let this happen!