NOTE: Trust Women Week overlaps with the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and reasserts our firm commitment to reclaiming the future of reproductive decision-making in 2012. Throughout the week, we will be honoring women’s experiences and voices by featuring a different story from The 1 in 3 Campaign January 21-27.
DEBORAH: Well I can tell you a fairly harrowing story that for many years I didn’t think of as being my story. But, when I look at it in the context of where we are today I realize that it’s my story and probably the story of many other women as well.
In the spring of 1971, I was a freshman in college at the University of Oklahoma and a very dear friend of mine was going to be leaving for spring break, or Easter, one of those breaks where the dorms are almost empty. And she asked me if I would spend the weekend and help out a friend of hers who had just been to have an abortion. She had been to a doctor in a little town outside of the city that our campus was on, and the way he “took care” of her problem was to pack her through her vagina with lots of gauze. Lots and lots of cotton gauze. And then, over the period of a few days, she was to drink some amount – maybe a teaspoon, a tablespoon… I don’t remember – but some amount of turpentine in hot tea. And the purpose of the turpentine was to combine with the packing through her vagina, that the combination of these two things would cause her to miscarry, to abort.
As you can imagine it is pretty challenging to drink turpentine in hot tea. And when I gave her this hot tea – my job was to make sure she was taking the turpentine in hot tea on a regular basis – she would gag and she would wretch because it’s… It was horrible. And she was pregnant and she was afraid and I was afraid. And so, one of my big contributions to this weekend was figuring out that it would be easier to keep this turpentine down if she had it in something that was cold. And so I gave her turpentine and Tang.
Over the course of a couple of days, at one point she was screaming. There was pretty much just us on the floor of the dorm and she was on the bathroom crying and screaming. And she’s bleeding and there’s this white mass of white gauze hanging… And so I begin to just pull – it felt to me like yards and yards and yards… I’m sure that it wasn’t – of this gauze. We continued with the turpentine and hot water. She did a lot of vomiting and was quite sick.
And then on that Monday, her good friend came back and I went back to my dorm, so it was many, many years before I ever saw her for an extended period of time again. But over the course of that next couple of months, we never discussed it. We never had a conversation about it. She avoided me and I pretty much avoided her. And I did not se her again after that for about twenty years. And when I saw her again twenty years later, she didn’t mention it and neither did I.
I can’t say that it necessarily impacted the direction of my life. But what I can say is that one of the hard lessons of that story is that it’s not a matter of whether or not women will or will not have abortions. It’s whether or not they’ll have abortions that are safe and legal, or whether they’ll have clothes hangers and turpentine… And that’s no choice.
The 1 in 3 Campaign is a grassroots movement to start a new conversation about abortion — telling our stories, on our own terms. Together, we can end the stigma women face each and every day and assure access to basic health care. As we tell our stories and support our family and friends as they come forward with theirs, we begin build a culture of compassion, empathy, and support. No one should be made to feel ashamed or alone. It’s time for us to come out in support of each other and in support of access to legal and safe abortion care in our communities.
It’s time to start the conversation.