In 1974, the year after the US Supreme Court upheld Roe v. Wade, I was a 19-year old college sophomore. 1974 also marked my initiation as a sexually active woman. A few things that are true… I was in a rebellious phase of young adulthood, and my behavior was often reckless and impulsive. No reader need chastise me for being so irresponsible. Believe me, I have berated myself more harshly than any third party ever could.
After a brief fling with a man who neglected to disclose his marital status, a fling which did not involve the use of contraception, I nervously awaited the arrival of my period. It did not come. One week late, then two. Have you ever experienced a pregnancy scare? You wander through your days, unable to think about anything else. You make bargains with God and… you tell no one. 1974 may have been a time of “free love,“ but unwed motherhood had not reached any level of social acceptance. At-home pregnancy tests did not exist, so I finally made my first appointment with a gynecologist.
What do I remember most about that day? The doctor’s office was 3 miles from my home, but I didn’t take the bus. I walked the 3 miles, alone with my thoughts and my growing sense of panic. What if I turn out to be pregnant? At that time in my life, I knew that I was not ready to become a mother. If my test turned out to be positive, I knew I would choose to end my pregnancy.
That last sentence is key… I would CHOOSE. I had been given the right to decide my own reproductive future. No one could force me to become a mother if I chose otherwise. As I walked through darkening streets on that cold November afternoon, I weighed my options and made my choice.
My gynecologist was a lovely older woman. I gave her a urine sample, and she led me to her examination room. I had never had a pelvic exam, and even though I was sexually active, I was still embarrassed to place my feet in stirrups in my flimsy paper gown while the good doctor gently poked around inside me. Once done, she asked me to dress and wait in her office.
My heart was pounding. I steeled myself for the results of my test.
Negative… my test was negative. I was not pregnant, my period likely late because of my high anxiety. The doctor spoke to me about contraception and STD’s, and I left with a prescription for birth control pills, something that had only recently become more widely available.
My story ends without the need to make the agonizing choice to end a pregnancy, but for thousands of women over hundreds of years, that has not been the case. Roe v. Wade did not usher in the age of abortion. The practice had been done in secret, in doctors’ back alley offices or by desperate women with coat hangers in the darkness of night. Roe v. Wade made abortion safe, legal and available. It gave women a choice.
Recent news photos show people who are choosing to remain unvaccinated holding signs that read, “My body, my choice.” Yes, it is my body. Please allow it to remain my choice.