It makes your eyes squint. You want to turn away. Look somewhere else. You hold your stomach without realising it. You feel sick as you you listen to the stories of these women talking about the abortions they received before abortions were legal.
One had been raped. She begged to abort the baby. It almost killed her, the procedure, and she could never have children.
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Another wasn’t permitted anaesthetic and was forbidden from screaming.
“They’ll hear you,” her ‘surgeon’ said. The same surgeon who molested her while she was still bleeding, directly after the operation.
The video was created by The Scene and shows the stories of women in America who received their abortion before 1973 when the senate passed Roe v Wade, which legalised the procedure and gave women a choice.
Jane received an abortion in 1968. She had been raped in her final year of college; woken up with a man’s hands around her throat. “If you scream I will kill you”.
She begged for an abortion. She did not want the baby of the man who raped her. She said to the hospital, “I will commit suicide if I do not have this procedure”. They refused. She sought an illegal abortionist – almost suicide in itself.
Three days after her abortion in upstate Louisiana, by a man who said he was an MD, Jane was still in pain. It wasn’t going away as her abortionist had predicted. The pain was getting worse.
Women in these situations – in pain and in danger following an illegal abortion – couldn’t just take themselves to an emergency room. The shame and the stigma and the weight of the phrase ‘I had an abortion’ was so much worse than the procedure itself.
“Being raped was bad. But having an abortion was shameful,” Jane told the camera.
Soon, she had no option but to go to hospital. “It had been a very bad abortion. The doctor had actually left in tissue that had, um, putrified and had caused a massive infection in this whole area of my body.”
Jane was suffering peritonitis – an inflammation of all abdominal membranes due to bacterial infection. She was in hospital for two weeks. The doctor told her she was seven hours away from death at the time she was admitted.
The surgeon who drained her abdomen also called the police.
Then there was Connie who, in 1953, had an abortion when she was 16 years old. She didn’t receive anaesthetic. She was warned not to scream.
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“I was on the table with my legs spread apart and there was this man inside me scraping me out as if I were a piece of fruit of something with this implement,” Connie told the camera.
She described the pain as “outrageous”.
“I do remember leaving my body. I didn’t scream. But I do remember I was out of my body looking down on it,” she said.
After the operation was finished, Connie’s doctor gave her a lecture.He told her she couldn’t let boys touch her. That it was important she remain “pure”. He showed her what he had taken out of her womb.
“And at that point he started to molest me,” she said. “I’ve got blood pouring out of me. I can’t make a sound I can’t call out I can’t do anything.”
When Jane’s doctor called the police, they came to interview her about the man who’d almost killed her. Again, it wasn’t that simple.
“Well, he did almost kill me… So did I want to give his name to them?” she told The Scene. “On the other hand, I believed in abortion and I didn’t want to see this doctor arrested. He was doing me a favour.”
Dr Samuels was a medical intern at a hospital in Brooklyn in 1965. She witnessed many stories like Jane’s. Her account shows just how ‘lucky’ Jane really was.
She remembers the day one woman was rushed to emergency after receiving a coat hanger abortion. The procedure had perforated her uterus and bowel. By the time she arrived in hospital she was in septic shock and she died.
Another day, another woman. This time she’d had an abortion because should couldn’t afford to keep another child. She and her husband were struggling to raise two children; a third would be too much. This time it was a tetanus infection. Again, she died.
Dr Samuels witnessed three deaths from abortion during her internship at that Brooklyn hospital. “It made me think: there must have been a lot more than anybody ever said there was.”
These stories are terrifying. They stay with you and make you realise, more than anything else, the absolute necessity of a woman’s right to choose.
What’s more terrifying is the purpose of this video — that a reminder is needed, 50 years after Roe v Wade, out of fear the current US administration might reverse the ruling that legalised abortion.
In 2012, there were four deaths from abortion in the US. In 1965, there were three deaths witnessed by one intern in a single hospital over a period of months.
There is one thing that is certain. If the ruling is reversed, and the right to choose is taken away, women won’t stop having abortions but they will start dying again.