Caroline's Story
30 years and 2 worlds apart

My name is Caroline, and 30 years ago, I had an abortion--back alley, of course--when I was 15 years old and 12 weeks pregnant. Yesterday I took my 15-year-old daughter to an abortion clinic and held her hand while her 12-week pregnancy was terminated. Despite being the same age and the same number of weeks pregnant, our abortion experiences were 30 years and 2 worlds apart.

We're telling our stories here in hopes that people will understand how important it is to keep abortion safe and legal. When I was 14, I had unprotected sex with an older man whose name I didn't know and whose face I never saw again. 10 weeks later, on my 15th birthday, I had been throwing up in the mornings, my breasts were tender, and my very regular period had not come since 2 weeks before the intercourse. I didn't even have to take a pregnancy test to know the awful truth. I desperately asked around and was finally given the name of a man who did abortions in his basement late at night. I had to empty my savings of the $500 it contained and wait a week and a half because he was so busy. Finally, at 3:00 in the morning on the day the abortion was scheduled for, I snuck out of the house and hurried the 3 blocks to where he lived.

He demanded the money immediately when he answered the door, then led me to his dark, musty basement. A old, rickety wooden table dominated the small room, and a cart on wheels with various items on it was sitting next to a stool at the end of the table. The man ordered me to take off every stitch of clothing I had on, which I did, slowly and shakily. When I was completely nude and shivering from the cold, he instructed me to lie down on the table. As I did I heard the unmistakable sound of a zipper. Before I could process what was going on, the man was suddenly above me, forcing my legs apart, and penetrating me with his penis. I wanted to scream out for him to stop, but something told me that if I wanted the abortion done I had to lay still and let him do what he wanted. It was the longest and most painful 15 minutes of my life--up until that point, anyway.

When he was finished, he sat on the stool at the edge of the table and told me to slide down as far to the end of the table as possible, with my knees bent in the air and my feet flat on the edge. When I was in the awkward position, he pushed my legs apart, and my entire body turned red, embarrassed at the exposure even in the dim light of the basement. The man placed a flashlight between my legs, partially illuminating my vaginal area.

From there the man rudely separated my vaginal lips and inserted a pair of tongs, like those used in cooking and grilling, into my vagina. The were cold and hard, and there was an incredible amount of pain and pressure as he opened them inside of me, using something--I never found out what--to lock them into place when I had been stretched at least 2 inches open. Next came a thin pencil, which the man shoved into my cervix to begin dilating it. Other pens and pencils of increasing width were forced through my cervix, each of them causing me to wince in pain. When the man was satisfied that I was open enough, he inserted a coat hanger, the triangular part bent into a straight line, through my cervix and into my uterus. I moaned with pain as he began jabbing it around, hitting my uterine wall I don't know how many times before he finally pierced the fetal sac.

The pain from that was like nothing I had ever felt before. An immense wave of cramping began as fluid began rushing out of my uterus and into my vagina. I stopped even trying to control my sounds of pain as the man removed the coat hanger and inserted a long, narrow, hollow tube into me. The tube was connected to a hand-operated pump of some kind, and the man moved the tube inside of my uterus while manually beginning to suction out my pregnancy. I felt like I was being torn apart deep inside, and I couldn't stop moving or groaning in pain. When the sucking sound finally stopped and the man removed the tube, he roughly shoved my closing knees apart and yelled at me to hold still or it was going to hurt more. He added that he bet I hadn't complained like that while I was getting pregnant. I have never felt so humiliated before or since then.

Finally, the last step of the abortion began. The man put a knife into my vagina and inserted it up into my uterus, scraping out all of the remaining tissue that the suction hadn't been able to get. The pain was so intense I couldn't even scream. It lasted for what felt like an eternity, but suddenly it stopped, and I felt the tongs being pulled out of my vagina roughly--the man hadn't bothered to close them first. It was the worse experience of my entire life, but it had served its purpose; I wasn't pregnant anymore. I passed missed bits of material out of my vagina for a week afterwards, and was sore for several weeks. I have never forgotten the experience. When I took my daughter to the abortion clinic yesterday, I was so relieved she did not have to experience what I did.

Karla was greeted warmly by everyone we saw and was taken to a small procedure room by a nurse, where she was instructed to undress from the waist down and cover herself with the drape sheet provided. A few minutes later the man who would do her abortion entered, and he was very nice and gentle with her as he introduced himself and briefly explained what would happen. He had her lie back then, instructed her to move to the edge of the table, and gently lifted her legs into the knee rests. Making sure Karla was ready, he slowly lifted the drape sheet. Karla gripped my hand and her face flushed as she became exposed to the abortionist, but he arranged the sheet so that her vaginal area was no more revealed than was absolutely necessary.

The abortionist turned on the exam lamp suspended from the ceiling and directed it between my daughter's legs, then sat down on a stool between the knee rests. Two gloved fingers probed gently inside of her vagina while his other hand pressed lightly on her abdomen, and he announced that Karla was about 12 weeks pregnant. The abortionist inserted a warmed, lubricated speculum into her vagina and gently pushed it inside, slowly opening the blades, making sure that it wasn't open so far that she was in pain. When it was in place he filled a syringe with lidocaine and warned Karla that she would feel a brief sting, then carefully injected the lidocaine into 3 different places around her cervix.

When the lidocaine had taken effect a brief moment later, the abortionist inserted a tenaculum into Karla's vagina and attached it to her cervix to steady her uterus during the abortion. My daughter made no indication that she felt any pain. He began inserting narrow, metal dilator rods into her cervix then, gradually widening her to the appropriate width, again apparently without pain. He then told Karla that the next step was to rupture the fetal sac and officially begin the abortion, and that she might feel some cramping. When she said she was ready, he slowly inserted a sound through her cervix and up into her uterus, tearing the placenta almost immediately. Karla gasped slightly as cramps set in, but it was evident that the lidocaine was doing its job and preventing her from feeling the worst of it.

The sound came out then and the abortionist inserted a cannula into her vagina, attaching it to the suction machine once the cannula was inside of her uterus. A low sucking noise filled the room as the machine was turned on and the abortionist swept the cannula around inside my daughter's uterus. Less than 5 minutes later he turned the machine off, removed the cannula, and replaced it with a curette. It took only a minute or so to scrape her uterus of the remains of her pregnancy. When he was done, the abortionist carefully watched inside Karla's vagina for 2 minutes, making sure there was no abnormal bleeding. He then carefully closed the speculum and pulled it out of her vagina, covering her thighs with the drape sheet. He instructed her to lie still for 15 minutes, keeping up an easy stream of small talk for the duration. When the time was over he reached under the drape sheet, his fingers gently reaching inside of her vagina one last time to make sure everything was as it should be. It was, and Karla was taken to the recovery room. She looked as relieved as I had been after my abortion--and in significantly less pain.

The differences between our 2 experiences speak for themselves. If abortion is made illegal again women will be reduced to the horrific procedure I had done. By allowing women control over termination, pregnancies can be aborted safely, legally, and in significantly more humane settings.

Thank you, FWHC, for your website and for letting my daughter and I share our abortion stories.

Caroline Y
11 May 2000

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"Few decisions are more personal and intimate, more properly private, or more basic to individual dignity and autonomy, than a woman's decision whether to end her pregnancy. A woman's right to make that choice freely is fundamental."--U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, 1986