This is the fourth post in the Hard Crackers Reproductive Freedom Series.
The post is an edited transcript of remarks made by women who spoke at the first Abortion Speak Out on March 21, 1969 in New York City. A full recording is available at the Redstockings Women’s Liberation Archive (https://archive.org/details/RedstockingsAbortionSpeakoutNewYork1969March21). A full transcript was completed later. We are grateful to the Archive for permission to edit the transcript and publish it. We’re especially grateful to Jenny Brown for her assistance in providing access to the recording and transcript.
We believe that the speakers are representative of radical abortion rights activists at the time. We don’t necessarily agree with all the views of those who spoke but we think the record of what was said is an important reminder of the power of individuals telling their stories in the context of challenging the existing state of affairs.
First Speaker: All of us are members of the Women’s Liberation Group in New York City. We discovered that by just talking about our own experiences, about our own lives, things that happened to us, things that generally people call personal or subjective, but things that we really knew most about because they were us, that by talking about this, all together in our group, that we were able to find out a lot more about reality than by talking about all those “objective” things.
It was a technique that I think a lot of people who are involved in trying to struggle for their liberation, a lot of oppressed people, have found that the first thing to talk about is their oppression. The first thing was to talk about themselves and we thought that we would use that same technique tonight. Instead of talking about things that were really removed from us, we would talk about our own abortions, what happened, what it felt like, what went on, and then, from talking about this, we would learn much more, really, about abortion. And that was our plan for this evening.
It’s very hard for us to start. I know for me it’s very hard to start talking about it because I never really discussed the fact that I had had an abortion with too many people. When I first discovered that I was pregnant, there was one person, a friend, that I turned to who wasn’t even that close a friend. Even my close friends, I felt that I didn’t want to tell anybody, because it was all right to be sleeping with somebody. That’s fine but when you get pregnant, then there’s something wrong with you, and all the sudden, you’re some kind of creature and everybody’s gonna look at you and then say, “Pregnant!” So I didn’t really want to discuss it or talk about it and, in fact, I have very rarely ever talked about it, and I think that most women don’t really talk about what happened. They block it. They get pregnant and they don’t want to think about it because if you have to think about it, it’s a little horrifying. So you wake up in the morning and you’re scared.
When I got pregnant, I didn’t know what to do, where to go, anything. I was in college at the time. It was Christmas vacation and I returned home and I wanted to go to a clinic to find out if I really was pregnant. I went into a clinic and they said to me, “We can’t give you a test. You have to have a doctor. We can’t give you a pregnancy test. Go and get the doctor.” I didn’t know of any. I was scared to go to the doctor, a private doctor. I didn’t know what he was gonna say to me. He’s gonna think all kinds of thoughts. So I waited until I got back up to school and then I could go to the clinic there. But, for years, I couldn’t talk about it. Something which affected my life for weeks, it felt like a year until it was finally over. I had to block and never think about and never talk about, and not discuss it with the guy that I was going with at the time. It’s just one of the things that happened in your life and you just blocked.
This is the first time that I can sit and talk about all this and one reason why I think it’s important for us to do it is that I’m sure that there are many, many women in this audience that have had the same experience. I’m no freak and it didn’t just happen to me. It’s happened to everybody. So, If I get up and I say it, maybe everybody can get up and say it, and if we all get up and say it, maybe they’ll do something about changing the situation.
One of the reasons that we have to have our own panel tonight is, that I know from my experience in testifying with the Legislative Committee and with another organization when anybody, except the women set it up themselves, what happens is a woman sits down. I sit down. I say, “Well, it’s a very sad story (sigh). I couldn’t get an abortion, I had to have the child.” And everyone says, “Oh, yes, that’s a sad story.” And they neglect to see that it is they who are making this sad story. They’re putting the women who have to say, “Yes, this happened to me,” in a position of being a freak. And the fact is that the only reason that people get into that position is because the laws are not made in terms of a woman.
A woman who, for whatever reason—either she was too naïve to get an abortion, nobody would help her, she didn’t have enough money—decides she’s going to have the child and not keep it goes through a sea in this society, which is unnecessary. The people who make the laws make them so that only a woman who becomes the property of a man when she marries can gain respect with a child. A woman who’s not married and has a child is not part of the system and is a tremendous threat. The laws are made to keep that woman in her place. She can only have an abortion is these men’s laws say, “I give you permission to have an abortion. I give you permission only if you’re crazy.”
A normal woman, and I assume that most women who become pregnant I are normal, who wants to have an abortion can’t have an abortion. If I had wanted to have an abortion, which I did, but because it was a criminal act and I was too young to know how to go about finding an abortionist, I would not have been able to get one because I was sane. So, you have to be a freak, you have to get insane, and there are women in this room who have had experiences with this kind of insanity, which are just horrifying.
I had enough sense to see that a seventeen-year-old girl who gets herself pregnant by mistake because she had not been availed of birth control information is not in a responsible position to take care of a child.
Next Speaker: Barbara and I were two out of three people who testified at this so-called open hearing [held in February of 1969]. The legislators could not understand that we did not want them to hand us our abortion laws on a silver platter. They kept telling us that they were with us, that they were sympathetic, and that they’re doing everything they could to help us. They could not understand that we wanted to legislate our own selves. We wanted to make laws by ourselves for our own bodies.
And we heard in the course of this hearing about some of the reforms, the changes that were to go into this new bill, if it ever comes about. It was as discriminatory as the laws were ten years ago when I had an abortion. The laws did not cover me then and they don’t cover me now. If I were to get pregnant tomorrow, I would not be able to get an abortion. I would have to have the money to get two psychiatrists to say that I was a little “sick”. As far as I’m concerned, I’m physically and mentally very healthy. It’s society that’s sick when they tell me that I cannot do with my own womb what I want to and I think that it would be important for us to talk about why. What are some of the reasons that men make these laws for us to follow?
Speaking about abortion and how it feels, and the ways that laws are occasionally written up, when I went home for my Christmas vacation this year, my parents were listening to me rapping about the need for changing abortion laws and they said, “Well, Mississippi just changed their abortion law. And, you know, it’s really a step towards real liberal legislation because now they have a board and if you’ve been proven mentally ill or you’ve been raped, you can get an abortion.” And I thought about it for a minute and it occurred to me that no upstanding white southern gentleman would think that his Southern belle should have to go through that.
And it’s really interesting to go into what this liberal legislation really has behind it. It’s not really in the interest of women in general or women at all. It’s still within the man’s concept of the woman.
Next Speaker: Gail asked a question before, “Why do men make these laws?” Why are there abortion laws. And before, someone had said something about, “Well, a woman can sleep with as many men as she wishes as long as she doesn’t get pregnant, cause once you get pregnant everyone knows you’ve screwed around.” You can’t hide it. You can’t tell your mother that you stayed over your girlfriend’s house when …. (audience laughter). You know, there it is. “Look, Mom. I’m not that little nice virgin anymore.” There’s the proof.
But I want to go further than that. You know, there were these hearings a few weeks ago [the ones mentioned above] and some of the women went down there. And something was said that completely shocked me. Some judge in the age range of late sixties to seventy was one of the experts on abortion.
He got up and talked about his ‘great reform’. This was his reform. After a woman has paid her debt to society and has had four children, if you have had four children and you were pregnant with the fifth, guess what? You can have an abortion. That is after you’ve paid your debt to society. And this is the way women are thought of, that we have a debt. We have no debt, and I just want to say that. The only people who can know what I’m talking about are the people in this audience and more than likely, if you look at your neighbor, she had an abortion. She doesn’t want to say anything (applause) but I would like to have fifty cents for everyone here that’s had an abortion (audience laughter).
What I want to talk about is something that we call a therapeutic abortion. Therapeutic? Hmm! I don’t know. I’ve been trying to think for many years what that meant, but all I know is that when I went to get this therapeutic abortion, I knew what was happening, that I was going in and telling this psychiatrist that I was insane because that’s what you have to do. You have to tell them that you’re going to commit suicide, but you can’t just say, “I’m gonna commit suicide.” You have to bring a razor or whatever, you know (audience laughter). “If you don’t give me, If you don’t tell me I’m gonna have an abortion right now, I’m gonna go out and jump off the Verrazano Bridge,” or whatever. I knew what I was doing then. When I had that therapeutic abortion, it cost me more for the therapy after the therapeutic abortion (audience laughter) than before. This is the truth.
When I got pregnant, I had a sister who was a nurse, and I was fortunate because unless you know how to go about doing things, it’s very hard. My sister said, “Well, look, go see this obstetrician and talk to him.” And I saw him and he said, “Well, you’re pregnant. What do you want me to do?” And I said, “Well, I don’t want to have the baby.” And he said, “Do you have some money?” And this is the truth, I’m not making this I said, “Well, I don’t have much.” I didn’t have any, but I was figuring out what the friends I had could give me. This one could give me fifty dollars, twenty-five and I could sell my body for the rest. That’s what happens. I couldn’t get pregnant again. So I told him that I had some money and he gave me the address and said, “Go see these two psychiatrists.” I won’t mention their names, but if you want to ask me that, I’ll tell you. I went to see them. The first one I saw for approximately eight to twelve minutes. There wasn’t too much to it. And he said to me, “Yeah, you’re pregnant and you want an abortion. Do you have any history of mental illness? Were you ever in a hospital for the insane?” And I said, “Well, I …” He said, “Why don’t you want this baby?” and I told him why: that I just didn’t feel at that time that I could be a mother and I couldn’t see carrying the pregnancy and then have to give the child away because there was no need for them. He came out and said, “Well, what are you going to do if you don’t get an abortion?” And I knew what he wanted me to say, and that was, “Well, I’m gonna kill myself.” And I said, “I’m gonna kill myself” (audience laughter).
And he wrote it down that I was gonna kill myself, and he said to me, “Sixty dollars.” And I said to him, “I don’t have sixty dollars.” And he told me. This is the truth. He said that if I didn’t give him the sixty dollars, then to come back and give it to him. He would not write the report that had to be given to the obstetrician, then presented before the board. That was only one that I did. Then I saw the other one and it was pretty much the same thing. And he said, “Well how much did the other doctor charge?” (audience laughter). This is all the truth. I said, “Sixty dollars.” And he said, “Well, I usually charge more for this kind of consultation.” He said, “It’s very hard for me to write the report.” I said: “Can I write the report?” (audience applause).
And I feel like I’m telling a joke, but let me tell you something. It’s no joke … that two psychiatrists wrote that they agreed I should have an abortion. This was weird for me. I called up the obstetrician and I said to him, “What’s happening?” I was in school, I was going to college and working, supporting myself, not living at home. Meanwhile, I kept getting bigger and bigger. And he said to me, “It has to be brought before the abortion board at the hospital, and we’ll let you know.”
Well, one day I was at school. At that time my school was on strike. I was standing outside and my sister came, and just saw me there, and she said, “Come on.” And I said, “Really? Don’t!” She’s like, “You have to go to the hospital right now.” Just like that. I had my books. I went to the hospital and was brought up to the labor room. Meanwhile I hear these women screaming and yelling. They were going to have their babies. I just didn’t know what was happening. The nurse comes and she shaves me, and she sticks a needle in your arm and the bottle is hanging there. And I said, “Maybe they’re gonna kill me” (audience laughter). It’s not funny. I honestly thought that maybe this was real. They were really gonna kill me. I didn’t know what was gonna happen when I got in there.
Then the doctor came and I was really crying and he said, “What are you crying about?” I said, “I’m scared.” And he said, “You’re scared. You’re fine. My job is to bring life into this world, not to destroy it.” And this was a sympathetic obstetrician who was giving me a therapeutic abortion because I was insane. But he “handled it very well.”
Then you have the abortion, which is a very simple procedure. This is something that should be understood. It’s a very simple procedure. Takes the doctor twelve minutes, if it’s done in a hospital. If it’s done in the back room of some hotel, it’s not such a simple procedure.
And then you’re put up on the maternity ward. It isn’t at all therapeutic. This is all torture. This is planned torture. You just had an abortion; you’re put on the maternity ward; they happened to find me a room right next to the nursery—a private room right next to the nursery and all the little babies crying. They bring out the little babies to their mothers and you have to see all this.
The nurses come in and say, “Oh my goodness!” And when you go into the operating room, there’s a bulletin board, a blackboard, and it’s written, ‘Therapeutic A-B-O-R’. And this is the procedure for a “therapeutic” abortion.
The reason we have the laws that we have now is because men want to make women suffer for their sins, because it’s a sin to get pregnant. And women are forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy. If you do not want the pregnancy, you are faced with a very clear reality, and that is you are sacrificing your life when you go to a hotel or when you get into a car on 54th St. and Lexington Avenue and you’re blindfolded and taken someplace, you don’t know where. You’re not given an anesthetic. The instruments are not even sterilized. You wind up with an infection. You can wind up never being able to have children. And this is what women have to go through. This is our debt to society.
As I said before, we owe society nothing. Society owes us something, and that is to give us the right to decide what we want to do with our own bodies. The man is the one that screws you, and then when you turn to him and say, “Hey, look sweetheart, I’m pregnant,” he responds, “How do you know it was me? You never slept with anyone else?” (audience applause). He holds his head and he says, “What am I gonna do?” “What is he going to do? What am I going to do?” The man’s not the one that has to have the abortion or have the kid, yet we have a panel of ten expert—one man and a woman—a nun! Is she an expert? (audience laughter).
These are the experts: the people that are sitting here, the people that are in the audience who have had the abortions. But no one wants to listen to us (audience applause).
This is why we’re here tonight: to make things come home, not to discuss the philosophical aspects of it, not to talk about the religious aspects of it. These things do not exist. We exist. Each one of us exists. We are the ones that have had the abortions. We are the only experts. A priest, a rabbi, a minister, a nun- No one is the expert unless they have had the abortion in life or let’s say, might have to have it. These are the people that become the experts.
Next Speaker: This is all women! (audience applause).
Next Speaker: I just want to say one more thing. I’m just washed out. Many people, and I’ve heard this said, feel that abortion is an easy way out. If we legalize abortion, then everyone’s going to have an abortion. You will not want to accept responsibility for your actions. This is a misconception that people have about motherhood and the way women feel. At the time when I had an abortion, I did not feel that I could handle having a child. I wasn’t ready for it. I had things that were so much more important to me, to my own development. I was working out a lot of things for myself and I couldn’t in any way manage to bring up a healthy child, which is hard enough to do if you are married and don’t have additional problems.
Well, that was at that time. Then I became pregnant a second time and circumstances were different. I felt that I had worked out a lot of my own feelings, conflicts, whatever, the whole thing, the whole traumatic experience of having an abortion and what not. But I was working these things out. Then I got pregnant the second time and I felt that I could, at that, time, handle having a child.
And I did and I have a daughter. She’s thirteen months old. This is the greatest thing. And I am a mother, I have all the feelings of being a mother, but that doesn’t mean that when I had that abortion that I was negating my responsibility. I had no responsibility to that thing that was inside of me. The only responsibility I had is when I made that decision to keep the pregnancy. Then that was my responsibility, and I made that decision without anyone forcing that on me. And this is the way every child should be born into this world: as a wanted child. And if people are so concerned about the life or the religious aspects of this thing that’s inside of a woman, then certainly we should recognize if the pregnancy is not wanted, the child becomes an unwanted child. I think every human being has the right to be wanted, and every woman has that right and should make that decision, and no one else (audience applause).
Next Speaker: I always thought I knew a lot about birth control, and I used birth control, and yet I became pregnant two times and needed two abortions. And I think, the first time I became pregnant, I slept with a guy during my period and no one ever told me that you could become pregnant when you had your period. The second time, the guy said, “When I come the second time, the sperm is [inaudible] (audience laughter) and you won’t become pregnant. And here I was, very hip, very informed, and I didn’t know.
Next Speaker: And pregnant!
Previous Speaker: No one ever told me those things. The thing about the second abortion that I remember most was this “marvelous” doctor who I walked in and there was Muzak of Maurice Chevalier going on, and he counted the money about five times. He was looking at it. Seven hundred dollars. And then when I got on the table, I went. And he said, “You’re no nigger, there’s no reason to scream,” which [sarcastically] put me at ease with the nice type of man that was giving me the abortion. And then he didn’t give me any anesthetic and I didn’t want to get up from the table, and he said, “Look, I have five patients waiting out there.” And I got up from the table and all I felt like doing was being by myself. I locked myself in the bathroom and he sent the nurse in and kept saying, “Look at all these people waiting outside. You must get out of my building.” I mean, he was just so concerned with all the other women and all the money he had to make. Finally, he got the guy who’d gone with me to convince me to come out of the bathroom.
About my first abortion: I thought that my parents were very liberal. My mother had told me that she had had an abortion, so I told them when I became pregnant and they sort of tried to act cool. Only my father got so upset he wouldn’t come with me to the abortion because he was just so frightened (audience laughter).
Next Speaker: Mention that he’s a doctor.
Previous Speaker: Yeah. He’s a doctor (audience laughter). The other thing was my mother kept saying, “I don’t understand you, Ross. You must go to a psychiatrist. I mean, you’re not taking this seriously enough. You’re denying the whole experience.” They made an appointment for me to see a psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist was only interested, I remember, in how many people I had slept with. Then, when I started counting on my fingers, he said, “Please!” (audience laughter).
And then my second abortion, I was back at class an hour and a half later, but my parents were so afraid that I had to stay home for a week, Notes were written to the school about how I was some feeble person and I couldn’t take gym, and I couldn’t make my bed and … (audience laughter). It’s really a simple procedure except for the way you feel about it. The other thing was I kept thinking about motherhood and I was so afraid that there wouldn’t be anything else besides motherhood that I could do. That’s what made me so upset.
Next Speaker: I was also seventeen when I got pregnant the first time. And, like Ros, I was pretty sophisticated. I knew about contraception and the atmosphere that I was raised in was sort of permeated with this new sexual permissiveness, the so-called sexual revolution—except that it’s a male sexual revolution and not a female sexual revolution (audience applause).
I was sophisticated and I knew about contraceptives too and I went right out and got pregnant. Now, nowhere, I’ve never heard anyone accounting for those subtle things that go on inside a young woman or even a young man, when their minds just go blank and they forget everything they’ve known before, and create a child. When I got pregnant, fortunately I had wonderful parents. They helped me, and we found a wonderful doctor who helped me, who did not want me to go through a compulsory pregnancy, which is actually what it was—a compulsory pregnancy. He realized that for me there could be another kind of life, and he wanted to help me fulfill that life before I had to take on the responsibility of a child.
Next Speaker: I just remembered something about the guy’s reaction. It was really funny. My first reaction was, “Get this child out of me,” and his reaction was, “Isn’t it romantic?” Like playing house. His mother wanted to buy me a maternity dress and I mean … it was six weeks. And he thought the whole thing was just so beautiful and romantic.
Next Speaker: Can I just say one thing? I don’t know the name of the woman who spoke. What is your name? “Elaine.” I responded a lot to what Elaine said, not so much about the feeling on the tables or in the operating room, but on some of the feelings that you have during this experience, which is like she said, it’s not funny at all. To a lot of people here, I guess, men and I guess women who never had abortions, that there’s something a little bit like another world. This stuff about being blindfolded and paying all this money–the whole thing seems sort of weird and in another world. It just doesn’t come into your own experience in any way. It’s the sort of thing that happens to other people.
But the funny thing is that I, and I guess everybody here, was really the same way. I mean, I’m a regular middle-class girl. I never did anything illegal like that. But what happens is that, and I guess it’s the way this abortion law is so crazy, you’re just going along (laughs) being like a regular college student and was middle class and did everything regular. And then you find out that you’re pregnant–but you didn’t do anything strange or unusual. You didn’t make any decision. You didn’t change in any way; you were just going along and then you find out that that you’re pregnant. I was living with a guy and my life is really the same as his life. He was a middle-class guy going along, and it seemed like we had all the same experiences. I didn’t understand exactly why this was so much a thing for me. And then it’s very, very frightening and you’re really, extremely alone. The biggest feeling is of that aloneness. You talked about that a little bit, Helen. I don’t know why friends don’t help that much. I guess it’s just something that you have to- to go through and you don’t really share it very much with anybody. It’s you alone. It really, really is.
People might say, “Oh, how awful,” but saying, “Oh, how awful” really doesn’t help in any way. It doesn’t help with a single thing. There’ really not much anybody can do. You really feel extremely alone, and you drop out of life. You can’t continue doing schoolwork; you can’t really do very much at all. You stop thinking about anything. Your life exactly stops at that moment that you discover that you’re pregnant and you know that you’re not gonna have a baby. I remember I just stopped and I would just think about it all the time. I was working part-time. I remember I couldn’t talk about it to anybody but I was shaking. The thing about suicide is very interesting because I’m not suicidal, but I told them that. But the thing is that when you’re so frightened and so alone, and you’re having a very, very hard time just making it in life as it is, just managing is so hard and really an enormous struggle just to manage with life. And then all the sudden this thing comes. It really does seem like it’s a little bit too much.
It took all you had just to keep going along, and now there’s this other thing, which is a little devastating. And you find that when you cross the street, you stop looking at the cars. You start having fantasies about suicide. You never think, “I’m suicidal.” That’s something with other people, but you start thinking, “Oh I can’t handle it. I talk too much. I, you know, I was so unhappy before. What must I be now?” I think you become very, very careless about your own life at that time.
Next Speaker: I also had two abortions and the first one made me scared about the second one. The abortionist gave me pills to take. And I didn’t know what they were. All I knew was that they were some sort of abortion. I don’t know what it’s called. They put something inside you and then it dilates the uterus and then they scrape it.
And that hurt very much, and I had to walk around with this thing in me for twenty-four hours and it had been very painful the first time when he put it in. I was really scared for the pain again. So I just took the pills again, and I remember thinking to myself. I knew that the doctor was crazy. I mean, he was crazy. There was no doubt. He was crazy because he would talk endlessly, on and on, very weird, strange stories, and he fell asleep in front of me in the room, and I was with a girlfriend who came with me and he thought it was her that was gonna have the abortion.
But I said to myself, “I don’t care what these pills are.” I thought, “I know I don’t know what these pills are, and I know this doctor’s crazy, but I don’t care because I’m not gonna be pregnant and have a kid.” So that suicidal thing was very real because I thought to myself, “I could die from these pills, but I don’t care.”
Next Speaker: The other thing is about the criminal thing that happens. You have all these feelings but you still have to get an abortion. So you call up your friends, you know? You’re in college with a lot of your friends. You call up and they give you names of these doctors who were mostly in West New York, a city in New Jersey.
You call up this doctor in New Jersey and it’s like an answering service. It’s difficult. They start to make arrangements and you’re not allowed to ask about where you’re gonna park the car. It has to not be on the same block. All the sudden you’re involved in these kind of criminal, illegal things. The main thing is that it doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with you. It has nothing to do with your life. I mean, it’s not you in any way. You’re the kind of person who goes to the hospital. If you got sick, that’s what your parents always did with you, when you were little. Now, you are bargaining about money on the telephone.
Next Speaker: You must sign a statement saying that you are having a polyp removed (audience laughter).
Next Speaker: I had two abortions, like many of the people here, I went through the typical stuff. Blocking the fear that comes forth. One of my fears was, instead of being suicidal, I felt sure I’d be hit in a car accident and I’d be paralyzed and have to have the baby. I was told the wrong price, so I had to go drive and come back the next day with an extra hundred dollars because they wouldn’t accept it any other way.
He was a “very lovely” doctor; he had a crucifix in every room. He had a picture of his wife, his family, all the Italian-American societies in West New York, New Jersey and his wife with a Madonna around her neck. They were very sweet. They were very kind and it only cost nine hundred dollars.
I’m still paying it off. I went to the bank and I got a vacation loan (audience laughter). And I’m still paying off that. I became very involved in women’s liberation and I and I really had my heart and soul it. I also had birth control. Unfortunately, if the device malfunctions, “We can’t do anything to help you, dear. It’s your problem, dear. We can’t help you.” And all the sudden, there you are. you’re a patient in a clinic and you’re a criminal. You’re just a criminal because of a malfunctioning device. You’re one of the 2% or you are one of the 10%, and that’s your problem. You’re a statistical error and you’re a criminal because you’re a statistical error. But luckily, I had been involved in a women’s liberation group and I’d been involved in a lot of these demonstrations.
My first thing was I wanted to get that clinic. They’ve got to be made responsible. The women’s lib I was involved with, we went up to the gates and we said, “You’re responsible. You’ve got to be made responsible.” They gave the same old rigamarole. They even began asking about other things like, “Why don’t you tell women about what the pill can do?” ” If we told you about that, you’d never take the pill.” “Why don’t you give some information? Why don’t you tell them?” “Well, you know. Everyone must know.” “Where does your money come from?” “Drug companies.” All this sort of stuff.
Next Speaker: If we lived in a decent society, everyone could have children, they’d be taken care of. The family wouldn’t be responsible. There wouldn’t be anything like this. Women’s liberation is working to liberate women, which would mean the liberation of all society, and people could have children and they- It wouldn’t, “Oh, disgusting burden of raising-” I mean, one child wouldn’t be put on one poor family. People could do what they wanted. You know, it’s not women that are sick or these children that are sick, it’s society that isn’t taking care of those children. Don’t put it on the children.
Next Speaker: I had mentioned before that if people are so interested in this thing that’s growing inside a woman, then this is the logical conclusion: that a pregnancy is forced if you must carry through this pregnancy, and that is where you have the problem. That is where the unwanted child comes from, because it was an unwanted pregnancy. And if we had abortion, if abortions were legalized, there would be no unwanted children. Every woman would want that child. And this is the reason for unwanted children. It’s not the children’s fault.
Next Speaker: Talking about this unwanted child and what you said before about the men becoming very romantic, I know that I tried … every means possible to obtain an abortion when I became pregnant, except that I was totally dependent on the guy who was eighteen, and I was seventeen. And we’d make appointments to go to the abortionist, and I’d wait outside. I’d wait some more. Finally at five o’clock if the appointment was at one, I realized, he’s not going to come. And finally, I realized the point was everything was set up to make me get married and have a child and that would end all my adolescent problems.
But the thing about it that I really feel irked about is that I never got any attention for, like good things that I did. Nobody ever said, “Wow, she wants to be a painter. That’s nice,” or, “She’s gonna go to school. That’s a good thing.” But when I was pregnant, suddenly I got so much attention. Relatives I hadn’t seen in ten years said, “I’ll take the child.” Everyone was taking care of me. You know, suddenly because I was fulfilling my biological function, which seems to be the only one in this society that gives you your validation, you get lots of attention. You’re a big celebrity when you fulfill your biological function.
And this is one of the things that makes me most mad, because this is the reason that I had to have a child. Nobody would help me to get out of that thing which was defining me: my biological function. And when I finally did decide that I’m not going to keep this child, what happened was, because I was negating a function on which the society rests, that women are defined in service roles, in nurturing roles, and maintaining roles- When I decided that I’m not going to take that function on now, suddenly nobody was my friend. The family who had been so willing to take care of the child if I would keep it, they weren’t my friends anymore. The people, the social workers who were supposed to help me make this decision would sit there and try and convince me that I’m doing something to wrong myself, and they really worked on me to the point where I felt ashamed that I wasn’t taking on the role that was expected of me, that I was doing something unnatural, that there was something shameful in giving up the child.
I don’t even know if it would have been as shameful if I hadn’t had an abortion, which I couldn’t have. It’s illegal, it was criminal. I didn’t know how to go about getting one myself. But the point I’m trying to make is that the only time that I was recognized was when I was in this situation of what, I guess, amounts to being kind of helpless.
Next Speaker: At this moment we also have alternate ways, without dealing with the system, because that’s going to be obviously very slow to change. If there’s a woman in this audience or you know of a woman who needs an abortion, we can refer her to somebody immediately. I mean, this is part of what we want to do, to disseminate information. I don’t believe that they’re going to give us our abortions and even if they do change the abortion law, it really isn’t gonna change women’s status at all. We have a whole lot more to do than just change the abortion law, and I think that even if they did pass a repeal bill, which they’re not even talking about.
Next Speaker: You’re saying why don’t women put themselves on the line. When I was asked to speak here, I needed to think about it. I want to teach in the New York City school system. Whether you know it or not, there’s a clause there that has to do with, uh, morality, or they call it character. By coming here tonight, by talking about my abortion openly, by talking about the fact that I am a mother and I do not have a husband, that I am jeopardizing my future, that I can be denied a license by New York State because I am an unwed mother with an illegitimate child.
All the women here who are speaking tonight, putting themselves on the line by having relatives find out, by having their parents find out if they don’t know about it, by having people that they work with find out about it. There are girls here who were on television and have had all kinds of reprisals. Their co-worker says, “Oh, you had an abortion. Oh well.” You know, these are the things. It’s not such an easy thing to say, “Well put yourself on the line,” because who’s going to support me and my child when I can’t get a license or when nobody wants to hire me.
There’s another point involved here that was brought up, and this is that women are used as a tool in a power structure. People don’t want to legalize abortion because then there’s a breakdown in the power structure. Women are a tool. Women are possessions. We are owned, and the thing that we carry is also owned. And if abortion is legalized, there’s no longer the threat. A man can’t threaten you. Excuse me?
Next Speaker: I’m not gonna argue that. All we are asking is to be allowed to make a choice. It’s up to the women up here to speak and say that they have had children, that they enjoy being mothers, but then at other times in their lives the thought of it was just devastating. Maybe men don’t understand that.
Next Speaker: If a man is involved in the debate, what do you think the man should be able to say?
Next Speaker: Wait a minute. Didn’t we decide that we were gonna, for one night, just talk about women and not about men? I think that communities should control the schools and the police, and I think that women should control their own bodies. And even if the man wants to have the baby, it’s ultimately, unfortunately, the woman who’s gonna bear the brunt of it. If we didn’t have to raise the children and if the state or men did raise the children, or shared it, then it wouldn’t be our responsibility. But since not only do we carry the child for nine months, but then usually for at least twelve or fifteen years, we do more than carry the child. We care for the child. The decision about our bodies is ours, and I would say that women have the ultimate control of their own bodies (audience applause).
Next Speaker: I would like to just say one thing about this. People have asked me what does abortion have to do with the Women’s Liberation Movement? What is the connection? First of all, one thing that you should realize is that the Women’s Liberation Movement is very new. In this country, it’s only about a year and a half old.
We’re women up here who’ve had an abortion. You have to realize that when each one of us had an abortion, it didn’t feel like something that was being done to women. You experienced it as, “Oh, what a horrible misfortune to happen to me! What a terrible thing has befallen me! How will I possibly get out of this horrible situation that has happened to me?” Maybe you’ve had a friend and it happened to her. You know it doesn’t happen to boys. It only happens to you and your friends. But essentially, you feel like it only has to do with you.
Now, what came out tonight, as we were all talking, what became apparent is that being pregnant and having to have an abortion and going through these kinds of experiences isn’t just a terrible misfortune that has fallen on one person or two people or three people or four people. This is a situation in this country right now where women are really victims. Men do not have this experience. They do not have to have illegal abortions. It’s one experience where women are victims. I think that consciousness among women now is rising. Still, in all, when women find themselves in intolerable situations, women still tend to feel, “Oh, what a horrible situation has befallen me!” It is just another one the ways in which women are victims in this society. And what Women’s Liberation’s about it is that this is first of all not an accident, that women are victims, but that this is a real oppression of women. But especially that women have got to get together and have got to organize.
It is not a horrible situation that has happened to Ros, and a horrible situation that happened to one person and a horrible situation that happened to Helen, but it’s a horrible situation that is happening to many, many women, and horrible situations that are happening to all women in this country every day. It’s one of the ways women are victims, and Women’s Liberation is saying that women have got to get together and organize to change it, to overthrow it. And what Cindy was bringing up was very important–women have got to begin to get out on the streets and begin demanding this change. And that, I think, is the best connection that I can make (audience applause).
Next Speaker: I’d like to say something to this woman. Whenever I talk to women, girls, or other people who feel bad that abortion’s done, the first thing I get from that group is, “But I’m for motherhood.” And I’m saying, “Well, I’m for motherhood.” Why is it that whenever you’re for something, there’s always an inference made that you’re against something? I’m certainly for motherhood. Of course, I’ve had a daughter, a lovely person. That’s my point of view anyway. But I resent the implication that the moment you are for abortion on the basis of principle, logic, and necessity, people automatically assume you are against motherhood, you are not feminine, that you don’t like men, blah, blah, blah!
One of the other things that perturbs me is that our society has so many double standards, and unfortunately the double standards are inflicted on women.
When I was talking to people they said, “Ah, bunch of lezzies. After brunch they make out.” (audience laughter). I came out to Women’s Liberation and I was very surprised to find that these so-called dykes were the majority married women. You just heard a woman speak now. She is a married woman; she is not a dyke. Her daughter is sitting up here next to her. This is the hostility that exists. When a woman has an abortion, it is because she has had sexual intercourse. Not with another woman (audience laughter). She’s had sexual intercourse with a man. After the abortion, she does not run out and buy a suit. She does not turn dyke. After my abortion, I don’t hate men. This is the whole thing. I love men. I love having sex. I’m not a dyke, and I don’t think any woman up here is expressing this hostility, that they hate men. All we are saying; well, let me personalize. All I am saying is that all people have to be made aware of the fact. The men have to be able to somehow empathize with our feelings. You have to be told the nitty gritty of what it’s like to become pregnant, to have the abortion, or to bear the unwanted children. We do not hate men. All we’re saying is that you have to understand.
And this is why we’re here tonight–not to condemn the men, to make you understand and to make you realize that we need your support because we are not the legislators. And this is the problem that we have.
Next Speaker: And no woman can be liberated alone unless every woman is liberated. No one can until all men are liberated. There’s no liberation; no one can liberate themselves if there are un-liberated other women. We all have to work for everyone’s liberation.
Next Speaker: Judith, for me, right now, this whole evening was really summed up. I took a look around the room, I happened to pick out a familiar face, the father of my child. The father who does not recognize his child. He’s here tonight. And I wondered how a man can get up and say, “Well, the man has some responsibility!” The point is when a woman confronts a man and says, “I am pregnant it is your child”, he does not want the responsibility and it is the woman who bears it. The man that is here tonight and is the father of my child has not had restless nights to think about. Doesn’t have to worry about the babysitter. Doesn’t have to worry about what’s gonna happen when the kid gets bigger. Doesn’t have to spend days in clinic with the kid. He’s free and out fucking all the women that he wants! But I have the responsibility.
If any man has the nerve to say, “Well, we should have some responsibility”, you want the responsibility, then you accept it. And the responsibility that you have is to recognize us as the ones who decide our future. You fuck us up, but we’re the ones that raise the kids! That’s the only responsibility you have! We have all the rest. And our responsibility is to decide our future and whether or not we are going to carry a child. You have nothing more to say in this!
Next Speaker: When I moved to the city and I got pregnant and I wanted to get an abortion, I was really in a bind. My family is working class and couldn’t help. I was working then for a civil rights organization so I had contacts. I had a legal abortion but it wasn’t very nice.
I couldn’t do it the way some of the other women have done. They’re really beautiful and I wish I could do that, but I can’t. But I had ugly, ugly things said to me and they were not being very cool about it. But I couldn’t talk about it because it was really a rough kind of thing. Ugly thing! You don’t talk about those kinds of things. ‘m sure some of the other women had sadistic things done to them, too.
I applied to 11 different hospitals and it was the 11th that finally accepted me. They all have a board of men. There were no women on the board. Those men have the power. I couldn’t have an abortion if I wasn’t sterilized.
Next Speaker: I didn’t feel very good. I could tell you some other things that don’t have to do with abortion that brought me this morning to the speakout. Things that happen to every woman. Maybe it’s a change of attitude, but when you begin to look at your life and see who’s pushing you around, it’s often men. And they’re usually in power. And there are a lot of women who are beginning to realize this. I would say that I think that I have hated men. I have really hated men, and that is probably one of the sanest things that has ever happened to me (laughter). Most people who are oppressed, and I’m a woman and I’m oppressed, get to hate their oppressors.
And men who get up here and accept the hostility that they have for women, that’s what oppressors do, you know. Oppressors oppress people and then they hurt other people and it comes back on them. You know they accuse people that they oppress of being unreasonable.
Next Speaker: Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful!
Next Speaker: I’m gonna address myself to this young lady here. I’m constantly amazed by my patients who have who have tried to talk to their children about their fathers. “Can I talk about daddy?” And that’s the last time they ever saw him. Or mommy went out with him two or three times on a date and nine months later, or eight months later, you arrived. How can I answer them? And this is really horrible and selfish. What is this doing to the mother?
Next Speaker: I’ve never seen anybody on this panel before. I just came because I had an abortion about three years ago and I think I’ve suffered since. Financially and every way possible. And when you have an abortion you have to pay $700, go through this cloak and dagger business and the guy finds you some guy willing to stick a hangar up you. How can you not be hostile towards a male? My god, this guy is saying, “I don’t care about your life!” And then you’re supposed to say, “Well, that’s okay!” For two years after the abortion, I remained friendly with the person but finally I just said, “Get the hell outta my life” and “You don’t exist!” And then I began to recover. And I stand here tonight, heart pounding, my hands sweating because it wasn’t until after my abortion, I found out that it happened to other people. When I had it, I thought I was the lowest of the low. That I couldn’t get any lower and that I was the worst human being in the world. To find out that my mother, that my cousins, that people I was close to, had had abortions, helped me more than most of the therapy that I had to go through. And I’m sure there’re women sitting out here right now who are feeling the same thing that I’m feeling. So stand up, do something! Just rid yourself of this horrible stigma!
Next Speaker: I’d like to also answer your question. You asked, “What is the responsibility of the man?” None! None! In my case, which is the only one I can speak personally of. First of all, when I mentioned birth control, he said, “Oh don’t be ridiculous, everybody knows it’s the woman’s responsibility.” Second of all, when he found out that I was pregnant he said, “Oh God, you know, I’m gonna have to sell some of my stock!”
When I finally found out where to go to get one, I was given two alternatives–Puerto Rico or England. Fabulous! I only had two days to do it in. After I found out where I had to go, and how much it was gonna cost and all that, I said, “Will you go with me?” Because I didn’t really picture going to Puerto Rico on a weekend alone for an abortion. I’d never been through it, and I happen to be a little bit afraid of operations. He said, “No, I don’t think so, that’s silly. All kinds of women do it every day. No. I don’t have time. I have to go to class” (laughter). So, that’s part of his right, right? He has a right to keep going to school because that was his important function in life, but … When I got through and I got back in one piece, he called and said, “Listen. Did you get the birth control pills yet?” (laughter). I must also add that I said, “I don’t want to see you again.”
Next Speaker: May I just mention that the reason why we’re getting together and talking about this issue in the first place? I want to make it clear to everybody that the whole time women had thought that there’s something wrong with them, that they had to have an abortion, that here they’re odd-balls, they’re freaks, they’re psychiatric cases because they don’t want to have a child. The reason for bringing that up, and talking about it, is to recognize that it’s a social problem and it’s not a personal problem. I think that’s very important. And anyone against that particular kind of exposing of the truth, I question, very much.
Next Speaker: I feel that one of the reasons that, the abortionists who are indirect victims, whereas women are the direct victims, become these crusaders is that people still don’t listen to women. They’re not important enough. You need a man to get up there and end your whole night of talking before it becomes a real problem. When you walk out with a satisfied grin and say, “Yeah, I’m one of those liberals, like those people are. I’m really progressive; the whole world depends on me”. Men and women are both great, we’re all great, we’re lovely, we’re wonderful, we’re doing good all the time every day, all the time. We’re gonna go to the next meeting for abortion repeal and we’re gonna be just great.
I think it’s about time we end this shit. Like men are suffering, we’re all suffering and you know maybe men should start analyzing it from that angle for a change. You might come up with a lot of answers to things that were very hard to understand before. This is not an accident this abortion thing, this is one of many, this is a whole pattern here. This is one aspect of it. Women are controlled, women are owned by men. That’s the only way they have a victim’s society. Anything else they do is incidental. We want to change that; we want to change it from a radical perspective. This will go hand in hand with a lot of changes. One of the things that has been brought up I think is that motherhood is something that women don’t owe anybody. If they do it, they do it, I think they ought to be paid for it personally. I think that society should recognize that women are doing something for this society. It takes a lot of labor. If you want us to do that for you, well by god, you can pay us for it, or some other way make sure there’s child pay. I mean that’s just another angle on it, and you may not agree. I think that women should debate about this.
Any women who are interested, the group that put this on is Red Stockings. It’s a new, militant feminist, radical feminist group. An orientation meeting was announced but I don’t know the exact date.
Next Speaker: March 30th. If you want to come and talk about it and see where you fit into it, come to that orientation. All new people will form new groups and see there’s many different shades of opinion within this movement. It’s a large movement. We’d like to thank you for coming. And I hope that some of these are things that people start to think about, seriously from a new angle!