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Remembering the ‘good’ old days

To the Editor:

Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision on women’s reproductive rights, has been in the news related to the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court of the United States. I am not alone when I worry that her record of supporting anti-abortion actions coupled with ultra-conservative social and religious beliefs could result in a vote in favor of repealing Roe v. Wade. I support a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion. Here’s why.  

Full disclosure, I am female and a registered nurse who is just a bit too old to be a boomer. Many readers will be too young to know what it was like in the 1960s, the 1970s and earlier, pre Roe v. Wade. Even if you are a woman of a certain age, you still might not know. People didn’t talk about things like premarital sex, let alone abortions, back then. But trust me, women were having abortions. To help make my point, here are two true yet disguised stories. 

 A friend told me this story two decades after the fact; she had never told anyone before. She was 17 in 1964 when she was awarded a full ride scholarship to a prestigious university to study biochemistry. And then she got pregnant. The boy refused to even acknowledge knowing her (side note: birth control pills could not be legally prescribed to unmarried women then).  

Coming from a family that could never afford her the opportunity to attend college, she made the difficult decision to have a “back alley” abortion. She described getting a first name and phone number from a classmate. She was required to go alone and bring $250 cash (more than two month’s rent back then). They arranged a meeting in a grocery store parking lot. After getting in the backseat of a car, she was blindfolded and taken to an unknown location where the procedure was done. She remembers going down some stairs before the blindfold was removed, finding herself in a windowless room. 

Well you get the picture. The experience was horrifying and filled with risks, known and unknown. We talked about what her life might have been like had she made a different choice. She acknowledged the risk, the loss, the love for her children, and the joy she found in her career.     

One more. Understanding my HIPAA responsibilities, here is a true but masked story about a day in the late 1960s in the ICU of a large city hospital. One of my patients was a teenage girl; I still even remember her name. We were doing everything we could to keep her alive, but were unsuccessful. She died from a tetanus infection after an illegal abortion, probably much like my friend’s in the previous story.  

I was there when this girl died. Her family didn’t even show up to say goodbye. She experienced a horrible death. As I prepared her body for transfer to the morgue, I grieved the loss of this young girl. 

After reflection, my personal and professional beliefs/values about the need for legal and safe abortions landed softly in my heart and have remained there, steadfast.  

If you would never have an abortion because you believe it is wrong, I respect your choice. I respect whatever choices you make and beliefs you hold about your reproductive rights. I am not going to try and change your mind. I speak on behalf of the girls and women who make difficult decisions that you do not understand. 

But my position is clear. We cannot risk going back, because woman will still have abortions. Unless a woman is wealthy enough to fly to another country, abortions will not be done by qualified licensed healthcare personnel. And they will be filled with risk, fear, and even death. Women need and deserve the right to continue to choose a safe and legal abortion.

Elaine Slocumb

Bryson City

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