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Commentary: Abortion must remain legal in the U.S. — I should know because mine wasn’t

Planned Parenthood's "Bans Off Abortion" rally at Centennial Regional Park in Santa Ana on May 14.
An anti-abortion protester is surrounded by those attending the Planned Parenthood’s “Bans Off Abortion” rally at Centennial Regional Park in Santa Ana on May 14. A columnist shares her experience getting an illegal abortion in 1969.
(Raul Roa)

The Supreme Court has overturned the 1973 ruling in Roe vs. Wade that made abortion legal in America. Over 36 million women in 26 states will soon find that abortion is illegal where they are. Women will face life-threatening obstacles to getting the medical care they need.

I know what’s coming, and what women will go through, because I have experienced an illegal abortion.

A complex decision, but mine alone

In 1969, I was a young mother in Orange County with two children under the age of two. Our family, like many others, was already struggling to make ends meet. We were renters on a single income and one car between us.

I was also pregnant again. My husband and I both knew that we could not financially or emotionally handle another child. We decided on abortion, but doing that safely was easier said than done. Our family’s primary care physician refused to do the procedure. Same with the doctors at our local hospital.

Finally, through a family connection, we found a licensed doctor who agreed to perform an abortion on a Saturday when his office would be closed. We paid $200 cash for the procedure, which was a lot more money back then. My husband and two sons sat in the waiting room until I woke up from anesthesia.

I bled heavily the next two weeks. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. I felt like a criminal, because technically I was a criminal for getting an abortion.

We could not have provided for our sons the way we did unless I’d had that abortion. I could not have pursued the career I did later. But years down the line, I still wrestled with guilt, shame, anger and sadness over the experience, all because I could not walk through the front doors of a clinic and get a simple medical procedure. My complex decision was all the more emotionally and physically draining because of the onerous restrictions I faced.

People will die

My abortion, though illegal, was safe. Unfortunately, my college roommate was not as lucky.

In 1963, my roommate at UC Berkeley — who lived with me in a co-op where we all worked many hours every week on top of our studies — found herself pregnant. She could not afford an illegal abortion with a licensed doctor in the U.S. She and her boyfriend were forced to drive to Tijuana for an illegal abortion in a backroom facility that was not sterile or medically sound.

She was bedridden afterwards with multitude infections and complications that she would not have experienced had she been able to obtain a safe, legal abortion. The only reason she’s alive and traveling the world today as a loving mother and grandmother? Her medical student boyfriend was able to secretly give her treatment. Many more young women in this situation have died. Many more like her will die again if Supreme Court takes away the right to a legal abortion.

My journey to get an illegal abortion was complicated but did not end in tragedy. Many women in the same situation did endure tragic results. The choice to have an abortion should be a patient’s alone — not their partner’s, not a religious leader’s, not their neighbor’s and not a politician’s.

Abortion must remain safe and legal. Silence is not an option, and now is the time for action. Join me by donating to your local Planned Parenthood chapter to help provide care for patients who, like me and my roommate in the 1960s, will need to travel for abortion. Join the fight to reverse cruel, inhumane restrictions elsewhere while keeping California a reproductive freedom state.

Flo Martin is a retired educator and currently resides in Costa Mesa.

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