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Having an Abortion Was the Most Unselfish Thing I’ve Done

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I have never said this publicly before, but in December 1974 I had an abortion.

I was 22 years old, living in a cold, dark house in Portland, Oregon, spending my days huddled in front of a wood stove trying to finish my undergraduate senior thesis. I did not want to have a baby. I didn’t know what would come next in my life, but I knew it would not include raising a child. Until the moment the doctor told me I was pregnant—we didn’t have at-home tests in those days—I’d always believed that, although it was perfectly ethical for other women to have abortions, I would never do so. In that electric instant, however, I knew that what I had believed about myself was wrong.

My boyfriend wanted to cheer me up. “Put on your coat,” he said. “We’re going somewhere.” He was a kind guy and we’d bonded over a shared interest in all things mechanical. I’d fallen in love with him a couple of years before when he’d taught me how to replace the ball joints on an ancient Rambler station wagon. I was probably even more in love with his raucous Irish Catholic family, especially his mother, the family matriarch, who’d graduated from Portland State long after giving birth to the last of her own six children.

My boyfriend was sweet, but his emotional imagination was a bit limited. That particular day, his idea of cheering me up turned out to be a visit to a local plumbing store, where we took in the wonders of flexible cables and bin after bin of nicely made solid brass fittings. You won’t be surprised to learn that the excursion left me inadequately cheered.

What he may have lacked in emotional skills, however, he more than made up for in moral sensitivity. Some years later, long after we’d split up and I’d begun my first serious relationship with a woman, I asked him why we’d never talked about the abortion. “I knew it had to be up to you,” he explained, “and I know you usually try to give other people what they want. Once you’d decided, I didn’t want to risk saying anything to change your mind.” Unlike many men, including our current president, my boyfriend believed that decisions about my body were mine alone to make.

Not Bad Luck, But a Bit Sloppy

In some ways, I was lucky. For one thing, early pregnancy made me queasy, so I recognized what was going on soon enough to have a simple termination. That was a piece of luck because I hadn’t menstruated for over a year, so I didn’t figure it out the way most women do—by missing my period.

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