It was 1972 and I was a student at Northwestern University when I became pregnant. I had lost both my parents very young and I was not equipped to be a mother at all. I knew then that I couldn’t let this unwanted pregnancy affect the rest of my life; that I had to write my own story. While the ability to choose an abortion was a year away from being federally protected by: Roe v. Wade, I was able to get one illegally. It was by chance, it wasn’t easy, and it’s a situation I’ve since hoped no one else would ever face when the laws changed. Nearly fifty years later, I can’t believe we’re here again.
I am a longtime film producer and a board member of WIF, and as a woman in the film industry I now share my story to emphasize how urgent it is that women’s health care in our country does not go back to what it was like before roe.
Months before I was even pregnant, I met a medical student at a party who handed out his number to young women in case they knew someone who needed an abortion. He was a real activist, already galvanized. When I took his number, I didn’t realize that I would soon have to use it for myself.
At the time, the only doctors performing “safe abortions” in Chicago were apparently working for the mob, and that’s who the medical student referred me to. The doctor – at least I think he was a real doctor – didn’t ask me any questions. He told me to meet him at a motel near the O’Hare airport and bring $900 cash. It was a huge amount at the time (over $6,000 at today’s value), but I didn’t want to ask the boy who got me pregnant to get involved. I was extremely embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to know except for a few close relatives who had experienced similar situations of their own. It took all my savings, but I paid for it myself.
When I checked into the motel, I used the name ‘Sylvia Plath’. Even then I had a sense of humor. I gave the money to the doctor and he told me to lie on a large rubber sheet on the bed. He had a large needle to numb my cervix. He put it in me and I started to cry. ‘How did I get here,’ I thought, embarrassed. When it was all over, he shoved a pack of antibiotics into my hands and said, “You have to leave now.”
I was in pain, I was afraid and I felt humiliated. But I didn’t die, and I didn’t let it get to me. It even helped me become the wife and mother I am today, proving to myself that I could have dominion over my life. Others were not so lucky.
Five people cannot change the course of our lives. We have to get up. Again. Marching is not enough. As storytellers, we have a responsibility to demystify abortion, to show that it is not an anomaly, but a part of life. We have to control our bodies, and we have to make our own choices and write our own stories. We need to vote, we need to support organizations like Planned Parenthood and we need to keep fighting.
We can’t go back.
Ilene Kahn Current is a board member of WIF, which is: actively updating his list of abortion care resources provided by employers in the entertainment industry.