'I Got Down to the Basement and Blood Was Everywhere'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader shares a gruesome experience that took place six years prior to Roe vs. Wade:

I am not using my name because my kids don’t know about this, and there’s no reason for them to know. In the spring of 1967, I discovered that the woman I had been with all winter long was pregnant. I was 19 at the time and she was 28, with three kids. She was recently divorced and for some reason we seemed to get along—so much so that we had sex pretty much all the time. It never occurred to me that she was not using birth control. After all, she had been a married woman, and I was a child of the ‘60s; I knew all about the pill (or so I thought) and so I assumed she was using it.

But when she told me that she was pregnant, I was stunned. How could that be? “Well, I’m not using any birth control.” You’re what? I was flabbergasted. But you had been married for seven or eight years. “Yes, but he always pulled out—except for the three times I got pregnant.”

Wow. She said she wanted an abortion. I didn’t, but it wasn’t my choice. I am adopted and have always deal with feeling of abandonment. My adopted mom had died the year before, and the thought of not doing whatever my girlfriend wanted never occurred to me. I asked a friend of mine if he knew where I could take her to get an abortion. He thought maybe Sioux Falls. We lived in Vermillion, South Dakota, so that made sense. Of course abortion would not be legal for another six years. The cost? We didn’t know but we thought maybe $300. Which I didn’t have.

So, at the time, it seemed like the only option was to do it myself.

This was 49 years ago, and I still can hardly type this. I won’t go into the details—suffice it to say, it was awful. As terrible as anything you might imagine.

She did not lose the baby, but a few days later, she had an infection and almost died from the loss of blood. When she started to bleed, it was in the basement of the university theatre. She had been gone for quite a while, and I went to the stairs to ask if she was alright. She asked me to come down. I got down there and blood was everywhere. She had her legs up on a toilet, and thought that this would stop the bleeding.

I freaked, and said we had to get a doctor. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but the ambulance came, took her to the hospital, and the fetus and a giant blood clot came out. She told me to stay away and not be around, because they would figure out what had happened, and I would probably be arrested. So I left.

She was in the hospital for a few days, and when she got out, I went to see her. She told me that her babysitter had told her that she would have adopted the baby. The doctor said he knew what had happened, but there was nothing to be done. She was very lucky to be alive.

I have always supported a woman’s right to choose. I still do, even though I wish that hadn’t been her choice. And I still mourn the loss of that baby.