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  • Writer's pictureKaren Rappaport McHugh

My Abortion Story Doesn’t Matter

My Great-Grandmother’s Work as an Abortionist Doesn’t Either


Illustration 114005513 © M-sur | Dreamstime.com

In March of this year, I led a group of female writers through a 10-week program to write a personal story that was a “revelation’ to them. We performed our stories for an audience of other women. At that time, I chose to share my very private experience with abortion. Today (as Roe v. Wade falls), I feel compelled to share it with a larger audience even though it may be too late to matter.




I’m in a doctor’s office filling out a new patient form. The question stares at me, as if taunting me with its accusation. But I dutifully fill it out.


FOUR pregnancies, THREE children. It’s not the only time I think of him.Sometimes around August, I wonder who he might have become. That baby of mine.


He’d be 34 years old now. I imagine he’d have brown hair and hazel eyes. Taller than his father. Maybe with a cleft in his chin, like my husband’s grandfather or a twinkle in his eye like my beloved grandmother.


But no — he’s just a number on a form — my shadow child — the baby I didn’t have.


The one I CHOSE not to have. The one I don’t regret.


But I still remember.


It’s 1987. I’m 23 years old — moving from Los Angeles to New York for graduate school. My summer fling was confused between loving me and his long-distance girlfriend. We weren’t ready.


And, being ready to become a parent, to accept that responsibility, to support another person was part of the promise between me and what was growing inside me.


These are the things I thought about when I called the man I’d been dating to tell him. These are the things I thought about as I dialed Planned Parenthood.


And these are the things I thought about as I reflected on my two previous pregnancy scares. One with each serious boyfriend. Both ended up as late periods. I had been lucky.


But not this time.


I sat in the busy New York City waiting room staring at other wide-eyed women my age. I put my feet into the cold stirrups and focused on the speckled ceiling.


I counted backward from 10 and thought about my great-grandmother. The abortionist.


Taught by a doctor, she took care of women in the back room of her New Jersey home during the depression. My great-uncle remembers the chemical smell and the pale, ashamed faces of women who quietly came and went. My great-grandmother was strong in all the ways I wanted to be now.


When I woke up on a cot, my insides were aching. Alone in a city I didn’t know, I bled for days and didn’t answer the phone. I just listened to messages from the young man I loved who told me he was so sorry.


I married this same man 5 years later. We made a life, a whole life, built on our choices. I don’t regret any of them. I have a beautiful family — my chosen family.


These are the things I’m thinking about now, what I’m worrying about now when I think that the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision may not be legal for much longer. (I performed this story in March and today — June 24, 2022 — it isn’t)


Growing up in small town Texas, I remember my mother taking me to the first National Women’s Conference in downtown Houston. It’s 1977. Delegates from across the state are organizing coalitions of women, campaigning for E.R.A ratification and other important planks in a National Plan of Action for women…for our futures! Reproductive Freedom covered three pages in the “Spirit of Houston” follow-up report. It was invigorating and inspiring!


But where oh where is that spirit now Texas?


Texas has banned all abortions after six weeks. It makes no exception for rape or incest. And allows vigilantes to collect money for informing authorities about anyone who assists women seeking help.


And, our Supreme Court has twice refused to block this Texas law.


If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion.


Recently, author Merritt Tierse, who is also a Texan, wrote a powerful cover story for the New York Times on the abortion she didn’t have. She was a 19-year-old student at Yale Divinity School when she says that her faith trapped her. “I didn’t abort the pregnancy I didn’t plan” she writes, “but I did abort the life I imagined for myself.” Despite having her son, Merritt doesn’t want her children or any woman to be forced into becoming a parent. It’s why she worked for the Texas Equal Access Fund for years and often writes about abortion.


I’m thinking about Merritt and all the women in Texas and across the country right now. As a woman, a feminist, a mother, and a human being, I will fight for reproductive freedom for our daughters and granddaughters.


I will fight because I had that choice when I needed it most.


I can only hope that the re-telling of abortion stories among women creates a cacophony that spurs a tidal wave of action.

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