Cover image for The Choices we made : 25 women and men speak out about abortion
The Choices we made : 25 women and men speak out about abortion
Bonavoglia, Angela.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, 1991.
Physical Description:
xxxiii, 201 pages ; 25 cm
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HQ767.5.U5 C48 1991 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Every day in America, abortion providers and the women who need them are in danger. First published ten years ago, this collection of 25 powerful stories from contributors both famous and ordinary, privileged and poor, provides often harrowing insights into what happens when women are denied the right to choose. Testimonials from teenagers, college students, overloaded young mothers, and even a retired male Marine put a human face on one of this country's most controversial issues and offer passionate arguments for access to legal and safe abortions.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A collection of reminiscences by well-known women--mostly writers and media stars--who tell of their feelings about and the events surrounding their abortions. Among the testifiers are Grace Paley, Polly Bergen, Rita Moreno, Jill Clayburgh, Ursula K. Le Guin, Linda Ellerbee, Margot Kidder, Anne Archer, and Whoopi Goldberg. The agenda here is set firmly by editor Bonavoglia's strongly worded pro-abortion introduction; otherwise, the individual pieces bespeak the general confusion and (sometimes) ignorance of young people who find themselves in difficult circumstances. Among the expressions of honesty is Elizabeth Janeway's explosion of the myth regarding "back-room" abortions in the 1930s: "[My] actual abortion was comfortable, clean, the absolute tops." One man, syndicated writer Tom Braden, also contributes a personal history. Recommended for current affairs collections. ~--Martin Brady

Publisher's Weekly Review

Amid increasingly strident pro-life propaganda, concerned citizens from the other camp--aged 18 to 90, black and white, and including prominent entertainers and writers along with women's rights activists--here bear witness in support of abortion rights. Compiled and annotated by former Planned Parenthood executive Bonavoglia, these candid accounts cite the diverse reasons for aborting--including rape and incest--and the pain, emotional trauma and stigma (and the many deaths) caused by abortions performed illegally between the 1920s and 1973. Actress Polly Bergen was rendered infertile; actress Whoopi Goldberg riskily induced her own abortion with a coat hanger. While Bonavoglia reviews the controversial medical, political and religious aspects of abortion, she convincingly emphasizes the right and responsibility of women to decide this supremely personal matter. Author tour. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This book brings a human dimension to the debate about a woman's right to choose. Bonavoglia's interviews with 25 well-known people (mostly women, including Rite Moreno, Margot Kidder, Whoopi Goldberg, Grace Paley, Ursula LeGuin, Elizabeth Janeway) show that the decision to abort is never taken lightly and that it should be made privately, without government interference. The courage of those interviewed--who sought illegal abortions or helped others obtain them, chose to terminate pregnancies resulting from rape, and faced the possibility of bearing children with birth defects--is evident. They demonstrate a strong belief in the right to choose. Most had children when they were ready. Unlike Laurence Tribe's legal examination in Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes ( LJ 6/15/90), this book makes real the experience of abortion. Highly recommended for most collections.-- Barbara M. Bibel, Oakland P.L., Cal. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Grace Paley Witty, wry, and beloved storyteller Grace Paley (author of several short story collections-- Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, The Little Disturbances of Man, Later That Same Day --and more, "if I live long enough") was born to Eastern European Jewish parents in New York City in 1922. Today, she resides with her second husband, Robert Nichols, in Vermont and in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, a neighborhood she has lived in for some forty years. Paley has two children, three stepchildren, and a granddaughter. In addition to writing, she has been an activist all her life in the movements for peace and women's rights.                                   It was the late thirties, and we all knew that birth control existed, but we also knew it was impossible to get. You had to be older and married. You couldn't get anything in drugstores, unless you were terribly sick and had to buy it because your womb was falling out. The general embarassment and misery around getting birth control were real.     There was Margaret Sanger at that time, and she had a clinic right here in Manhattan in a beautiful house on Sixteenth Street; I still walk past and look at it. As brave as the Margaret Sanger people were, they were under very tough strictures. It was very scary to go there. I was eighteen, and it was 1940 when I tiptoed in to get a diaphragm. I think I went before I was married and said I was married.     When I was young, it really angered me that birth control was so hard to get. Kids who were not as sophisticated as us Bronx kids just didn't know what to do. But I never felt like this was happening just to me. I had a very good social sense then from my own political family. I also had a lot of good girlfriends, and we used to talk about it together. We had in common this considerable disgust and anger at the whole situation.     I grew up in the Bronx to a puritanical, Socialist, Jewish family. My mother was very puritanical, and all that sex stuff was very hard for her to talk about--so she didn't. My father was a doctor, but we still didn't talk about such things. I really never felt terribly injured by all that. It just seemed to be the way it was with all of my friends. We considered ourselves free thinkers ... in advance of our parents.     Most of my friends married early. I married when I was nineteen, then my husband went overseas during the Second World War. I would have loved it if I had had a child when he went overseas, but we had decided against it.     When he came back, I was in my late twenties, and in the next couple of years, I had two children. When the children were one and a half and three, I got pregnant again. I don't remember if my birth control failed ... I wasn't the most careful person in the world. Something in me did want to have more children, but since I had never gotten pregnant until I really wanted to get pregnant--I was twenty-six and a half when I had my first child--I had assumed that that general mode would continue.     I knew I couldn't have another child. I was exhausted with these two tiny, little kids; it was just about all I could do to take care of them. As a child, I had been sick a lot, and people were always thinking I was anemic ... I was having bouts of that kind. I just was very tired, all the time. I knew something was wrong because my whole idea in my heart had always been to have five, six children--I loved the idea of having children--but I knew I couldn't have this kid.     Seeing the state I was in, even my father said, "You must not have another child." That gives you an idea of my parents' view. They didn't feel you had to just keep having babies if you had a lot to do, small children, and not a lot of money.     And my husband and I were having hard times. It was really rough. My husband was not that crazy about having children anyway; it was very low on his list of priorities. We lived where the school is now, right next door here, and were supers of the rooming house. He was just beginning his career. He eventually made documentary films, but he'd come back from the army and was getting it all together, like a lot of those guys. So anyway, it was financially hard. But it was mostly the psychological aspect of it that would have been hard for him.      In the 1930s, my late teens, I really didn't know a lot of people who had had abortions, but then later on--not much later, when I was a young married woman in the 1940s--I heard much more. People would talk about it. By then, women were going all over the place, to this famous guy in Pennsylvania, to Puerto Rico. And you were always hearing about somebody who once did abortions but wasn't there doing them anymore.     I didn't ask my father for help. I wasn't really a kid, stuck and pregnant and afraid that the world would fall down on me. I was a woman with two small children, trying to be independent. I didn't want to distress him. He already wasn't feeling very well; he had a very bad heart. And he really couldn't travel; he lived in the northern Bronx, and I was living on Eleventh Street--it would have been a terrible subway trip. I just didn't want to bother him.     I talked the situation over with the women in the park where I used to hang out with the kids. None of them thought having an abortion was a terrible thing to do. You would say, "I can't have a kid now ... I can't do it," and everybody was perfectly sympathetic. They said to me, "Ask so and so. She had one recently." I did, and I got a name. The woman didn't say anything about the guy; she just said, "Call." I assumed he was a real doctor, and he was. That may have been luck.     My abortion was a very clean and decent affair, but I didn't know until I got there that it would be all right. The doctor's office was in Manhattan, on West End Avenue. I went during the day, and I went with my husband. The doctor had two or three rooms. My husband sat and waited in one of them. There were other people waiting for other kinds of care, which is how this doctor did it; he did a whole bunch of things. He saw someone ahead of me, and when he put me in another room to rest for a few minutes afterwards, I heard him talking to other patients.     The nurse was there during the procedure. He didn't give me an anesthetic; he said, "If you want it, I'll give it to you, but it will be much safer and better if I don't." It hurt, but it wasn't that painful. So I don't have anything traumatic to say about it. I was angry that I had to become a surreptitious person and that I was in danger, but the guy was very clean, and he was very good, and he was arrested within the next year. He went to jail.     I didn't feel bad about the abortion. I didn't have the feelings that people are always describing. I may have hidden some of the feelings, but having had a child at that time would have been so much worse for me. I was certainly scared, and it's not something you want necessarily to do, but I don't see it in that whole ethical or moral framework. I guess I really don't think of the fetus as a child until it is really a child.     But you'll hear plenty of abortion stories. I will tell you what happened next after that was over, which is what I really want to talk about. I became pregnant again a couple of years later. I wanted to have the child, but my husband didn't. It was very hard; I didn't know what to do. I was kind of in despair.     I got three or four addresses, again from women in the park. My husband wasn't going to come with me. Partly I didn't want him to come; I probably was mad at him. I had this good friend, and she said, "You're not going by yourself." I was very grateful to her. She said, "I'll go with you," and she did.     I remember very clearly traveling to those places--to the end of Long Island and the end of Queens and the end of Brooklyn. I went to each one of these guys, but they wouldn't do it. One guy said, "Look, if you weren't married, I would risk it, but you're married and maybe you just have to make do." He felt I didn't need an abortion that much. I'll never forget. The only person we could find was some distance away and didn't sound very good to me at all. I was very frightened ... terribly frightened.     Shortly after that, I remember, it was a freezing night, I was visiting people, and I ran home very fast. I was distraught and terrified because I was going to have to go either to Puerto Rico or someplace else. It was late in the pregnancy; it could almost have been the second trimester. That night I ran home at top speed--I can't tell you--in the cold, crying, from about eight blocks away. I ran all the way home and just fell into bed. I remember I had a terrible bellyache from the running.     When I woke up the next morning, I was bleeding fiercely. It seemed to me I was having a miscarriage. I'd had another miscarriage, and both my children were born early, so it was not a weird thing that this would happen to me.     So I called this doctor I'd been to several times before, and he said to me, "Did you do something?" I said, "No! It's just like the last time I had a miscarriage. I'm bleeding." And he said, "Call somebody in your family. Get some ergot [a drug that stops uterine contractions]." I said, "Don't you want me to come over?" and he said, "No! Don't come."     By this time my father had had heart attacks, so I didn't tell him anything about it. I continued to bleed. I bled and bled, for days. I was really in terrible shape, and I couldn't get anyone to take care of me. On about the third or fourth day, my doctor finally said, "Come over." He had to do a D&C.     Sometime after that, when I spoke to my father about it, he said: "That doctor was being watched. There's no other explanation. He was a kind guy. He knew you. He must have recently done something, and he was scared."     These things are not talked about a lot, this kind of criminalization of the medical profession, the danger these doctors were in. It meant that they could not take care of you. It's not even about abortion.     A good friend had an even clearer experience with this. She also was bleeding at the wrong time, and it didn't stop. She went to the emergency room here at a Catholic hospital, and they refused to take care of her. They just flatly refused. They said she had to have a rabbit test to see if she was pregnant, and the results would take a couple of days. They would not touch her because she might be pregnant, and they might disturb the child. She continued to bleed, and they would not take care of her. She was a little skinny woman; she didn't have that much blood. Well, she wasn't pregnant. It turned out she had a tumor. It was an emergency--she had to be operated on immediately.     Your life, a woman's life, was simply not the first thing that they had on their minds at all. Not only that: Even if the doctor had compassion--and in my friend's case, one of the doctors was very anxious about her--they couldn't do anything unless they were willing to risk a great deal.     I think women died all the time when abortions were illegal. The horrible abortions were one way; the other way was the refusal of institutions--medical, church, and state--to care for you, their willingness to let you die.     It's important to be public about the issue, and I have been for years. I helped organize one of the first abortion speak-outs in the country, which was held at the Washington Square Methodist Church in New York City back in the late sixties.     But I'll be very truthful. I never liked the slogan "Abortion on Demand," and most of my friends hated it. We'd go on marches, and we could never say it. It's such a trivialization of the experience. It's like "Toothpaste on Demand." If somebody said there should be birth control on demand, I would say yes. That would make a lot of sense. If I ask for a diaphragm, if I ask for a condom, I should just get it right off the bat.     But an abortion ... After all, it's a surgical procedure and really a very serious thing to undertake. It's not a small matter. Just because I didn't suffer a lot around my abortion, suffering is not the only thing that makes something important. I didn't suffer, but it was important. And when you say "on demand," it ignores the real question, which is: Where are you in your pregnancy? If you're in the sixth month, it's probably not wise, not good for you. Not that I think if a woman goes to a clinic and wants to have an abortion, she shouldn't have it when she needs it. It's just that there's a lot of stuff to think about.     The last demonstration I went to was in Montpelier, Vermont [Mobilization for Women's Lives, November 12, 1989]. There were about twenty-five hundred women and men. The governor spoke, a woman governor, Madeline Kunin; and, one of the great highlights, an older woman--older than me, even (I'm sixty-seven)--from Catholics for a Free Choice spoke wonderfully; and I spoke.     I said that abortion is only the tip of the iceberg. These guys who run at the clinics--and by the way, our Burlington clinic was really raided, with people knocked down--are point men who make the noise and false hypocritical statements about human life, which they don't much care about, really. What they really want to do is take back ownership of women's bodies. They want to return us to a time when even our children weren't our own; we were simply the receptacles to have these children. The great novels of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were often about women who knew that if they took one wrong step, their children would be taken from them.     And another point I made is that abortion isn't what they're thinking about; they're really thinking about sex. They're really thinking about love and reducing it to its most mechanical aspects--that is to say, the mechanical fact of intercourse as a specific act to make children in this world, and thinking of its use in any other way as wrong and wicked. They are determined to reduce women's normal sexual responses, to end them, really, when we've, just had a couple of decades of admitting them.     My generation--and only in our later years--and the one right after mine have been the only ones to really enjoy any sexual freedom. The kids have to know that it's not just the right to abortion which is essential; it's their right to a sexual life. Copyright (c) 2001 Angela Bonavoglia. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Gloria SteinemAngela Bonavoglia
Forewordp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
Introductionp. xix
The Illegal Daysp. 1
Grace Paleyp. 3
Elizabeth Janewayp. 11
Kay Boylep. 17
Polly Bergenp. 23
Jim Friedlp. 35
Rita Morenop. 41
Jill Clayburghp. 51
Nora Sayrep. 59
Ursula K. Le Guinp. 67
Barbara Cordayp. 73
Linda Ellerbeep. 81
Danitra Vancep. 89
Margot Kidderp. 95
Anne Archerp. 101
Patricia Tysonp. 109
Whoopi Goldbergp. 115
Judy Widdicombep. 123
Norma McCorvey (alias Jane Roe)p. 137
Dimensions of Legal Abortionp. 145
Byllye Averyp. 147
Rayna Rappp. 155
Bess Armstrongp. 165
"Kathy"p. 169
A Father's Storyp. 179
Kathy Najimyp. 185
The Reverend Christine Grimbolp. 193