Opinion: Readers are telling their abortion stories. Those from pre-Roe days are chilling

A hand holds up a hanger with the words "Never Again" glued to it, at an abortion rights demonstration  on May 3
Abortion rights demonstrators gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3 after a leaked draft of a decision that would overturn Roe vs. Wade was posted online.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

If letters to the editor can be divided into two broad categories, it’s these: letters from readers just sharing their opinion on something, and letters from readers sharing their personal experience with the major story of the day. Obviously, that major story today is abortion, with a leaked draft of an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito indicating that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon strike down Roe vs. Wade and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, two landmark decisions that recognize the constitutional right to an abortion.

Since Alito’s draft opinion was first reported Monday, we’ve received hundreds of letters on abortion, the vast majority of which favor upholding Roe and Casey. Among these are letters sharing readers’ personal and, in some cases, harrowing experiences with abortion, including from the pre-Roe days before 1973, when abortion was illegal in much of the country.


To the editor: I am 73 years old. When I was 16, I was taken advantage of by an older man who forced me to have sex with him. I found myself pregnant from the encounter. I was terrified that my parents would find out.


My best friend at the time emptied her bank account to pay for a back-alley abortion. Once at the “facility,” we handed over $500 to someone who was supposedly working for the doctor. After waiting for what seemed to be an eternity, my friend and I realized that a doctor wasn’t coming. I was the victim of a scam.

One morning after that, I was awakened and found my mother, father, uncle and aunt in our living room. They were all furious. The doctor who had administered my pregnancy test showed up at the house, in a misguided attempt to “scare me straight.” My parents, not knowing how to adequately deal with the situation, took me to the police station to be lectured by a very stern officer.

This was all too much for me to bear. The doctor talked me in into going to a psychiatric hospital that his friend owned, where I lived for more than a month.

Still pregnant, I was taken to Tijuana by my compassionate aunt and uncle to have the abortion. While alone in a room and waiting for the doctor to come in, three male “assistants” began to grope and sexually molest me. I was unable to fight back, as the anesthesia was starting to take effect.

When I returned to the psychiatric hospital after the abortion, it was discovered that I had an infection. I had to be transported to a regular hospital to receive proper treatment.

Eventually, I moved into an apartment that my father owned. Soon after, he came over with groceries for me. It was the first time we had seen each other since that horrible, confrontational day when he learned that I was pregnant. From this day on, my pregnancy was never mentioned.


As a woman who experienced a traumatic and dangerous abortion, it is my fervent hope that no woman should ever have to go through one. I feel fortunate to be alive.

Steffi Gaines, Los Angeles


To the editor: On a cold, windy, gray March day in 1986, my mother and I drove my high school senior daughter 200 miles to the only abortion clinic in the state. The decision was hers. The boy and his family took no responsibility.

We had no idea what to expect when we arrived at the clinic, which was surrounded by antiabortion protesters carrying signs with lurid photographs. As I got out of the car, a man with a plastic doll nailed to a cross and splattered with red paint confronted me. The words he screamed weren’t Christian.

Inside the clinic, we waited with the other patients. The staff was kind and caring. When it was time for my daughter’s appointment, we hugged and kissed her. We watched her walk through the door. My mother broke down. I held her hand while we waited.

The crowded waiting room was full. There were a few very young girls, with a mother or a grandmother waiting with them. Some women were alone or with a friend. A woman with two little children sat across the room from us. I was the only man in the room.


When my daughter’s procedure was over, we had to push our way back through the chanting protestors again and listen to their insults.

Our long drive back was quiet. When we got to my mother’s house, my daughter went to bed, and my mother and I held her for a long time. I was sad and outraged at the protestors.

My daughter graduated that spring with honors. She went to college in the fall and eventually earned her degree. She’s been a school teacher and a high school counselor. She founded an organization for girls’ empowerment and organized summer camps for girls.

As busy as she was, she raised three children. All three are thriving. My daughter recently went back to school and is now a practicing family therapist.

I’ve always been proud of her, but never as proud as I was on that cold day in March 1986.

Robert Van Klootwyk, Camarillo


To the editor: I write now especially outraged about the possible loss of abortion rights for women.

Shortly after my husband and I married, and before 1973, I found I was pregnant. We were just starting our doctorate studies at the University of Wisconsin. We drove to Pennsylvania in the dead of winter for an abortion by a real physician, Dr. Robert Spencer, whose obituary later appeared in Newsweek and Time.


I have never regretted it, and of course we had two wonderful children, now adults, who know about this (as do their children).

Yes, it is time to stand up.

Karen Leonard, Los Angeles


To the editor: Shortly after graduating high school at 17 years old, I woke up to two detectives at the end of my hospital bed. I had just undergone emergency surgery after an illegal abortion.

My abortion took place in my boyfriend’s kitchen, where I sat with my feet on two chairs as the woman who stole the instruments from the hospital where she worked performed the illegal abortion.

One week later, I was rushed to the hospital, where I woke up to the two detectives at the end of my bed. They informed me that if I did not help them put this woman behind bars, I would become a ward of the state until I was 21, and my boyfriend would be sent to prison for statutory rape.

Both of us went to court to testify against her.

The idea that 55 years later, women across this country could find themselves in this position sickens me. We cannot allow the right of a women to choose what happens to her body to be taken away.


Rhonda Papell, Los Angeles