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Cherry's Story (before Roe v. Wade)

I was 18, single, and pregnant in 1971. I was taking birth control pills, but something went wrong. The father was a college student whose parents were Canadian diplomats and were back in Canada. My mother was a widowed, abusive alcoholic. I had been emancipated by the court when I was 17, and since the summer after my junior year in high school, I had been in a work study/career training program at the Pentagon. I roomed with another woman who also worked for the government.

My long-term career goal was to go to law school as my deceased successful attorney father had planned for me. Unfortunately, his death from lung cancer when I was a young girl and my mother's subsequent "nervous breakdown" had sunk my mother into a deep depression and into the arms of predatory men. My college funds were depleted, and so was my lifeline to any help from home. I had to work to support myself and to work my way through college. A pregnancy would prevent me from reaching any of these goals. And, what about the child? What kind of life could I offer it? I would have lost my job if not from the pregnancy alone (in those days job discrimination laws were not what they are today) but from lack of sick leave. I did not want to end up like my mother had. And I could not go back and live with my Mother and her alcoholic life style.

Abortion was mentioned as an option by some close friends. My boyfriend and I talked it over, and it seemed like the only way out for both of us. It was very early in the pregnancy, just a couple weeks after my missed period. We were referred to a "safe" doctor in Washington who would help us out in his office. I contacted the doctor, asked about the procedure, and was told it was a simple scraping of the uterus (dilation and curettage, or "D&C"). I was told that I would have anesthesia. and that it was safe. I was scheduled for the procedure in 2 weeks. We were asked to bring payment in cash to the office.

My boyfriend and I went to the doctor's office. We were asked to pay the cash when we walked in. I asked again about anesthesia, and I was told of course, not to worry. On the table, undressed, I was given a shot in my thigh and told it was anesthesia. It turns out that it was actually a strong antibiotic. I was held down by the nurse, with a gag in my mouth to "bite down on." With my legs in the stirrups, the doctor performed the D&C. It hurt unbelievably and I screamed into the gag as the nurse held me down. I saw the nurse carry the bloody bowl out of the room. I was given some pills to take at home and I was told not to call any other doctor for 2 weeks.

My boyfriend was anxiously waiting for me in the waiting room and he told me that he had heard the muffled screaming. He asked what was happening to me, and he was assured I was fine.

After going home, within a few days, I had a raging fever and severe pain. I went to my mother's obstetrician who said I had a very serious infection, probably from the operating conditions. He did some scraping in his office, and I was given heavy doses of antibiotics.

I married my boyfriend after the abortion. He died of a rare form of testicular cancer 10 months later. His oncologist told me that it was a good thing we hadn't had any children.

Thankfully, I am remarried with two of my own natural children, so the procedure did not leave me infertile. I consider myself blessed.

My story of an illegal abortion before Roe v. Wade is one of terror and pain, and I hope with all my heart that no one has to go through it again. Abortions will not stop if Roe v. Wade is overturned. My experience will be repeated in doctors' offices throughout the country and secrecy and illegality will lead to mistreatment and death of countless women. Women who cannot afford the cash payment upfront will resort to home methods of coat hangers or pills.

This cannot happen again. Would these legislators want their daughters to go through what I went through? The reality is ... their daughters, and perhaps also their wives, will.
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