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I Had an Abortion in the 1980s: My Ex Called Me a Murderer

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I Had an Abortion in the 1980s: My Ex Called Me a Murderer
9 min read | Jul 2022
By:Smart Vandelay
Baby Boomer / Progressive / Freelance Writer, Author

I Had an Abortion in the 1980s: My Ex Called Me a Murderer

I couldn’t carry a baby with a toxic partner and little financial stability. Luckily, I had a choice in the matter.

This Narrative Belongs To:

The sun was too bright that morning, the sky a painful, piercing blue. A nurse in pale green scrubs was arranging tools on a metal tray, the clatter of steel instruments shattering the awkward silence between us. Moments later, a small woman with deep-set brown eyes and a tan complexion entered the sterile room.

"Good morning," she said in a thick accent I couldn't place. "I'm Dr. Srini, and I'll be performing your procedure today. How are you feeling?"

"Please, let's just get it over with," I mumbled, squeezing my eyes shut against the threat of tears.

Gripping the thin sheet that covered my waist, I tried to concentrate on the photo of yellow butterflies above me, but all I could hear was the mockingbird outside screeching at predators that circled her nest.

My Boyfriend Became a Volatile Presence in My Life

I met Joey at a punk bar during my senior year of college in the early 1980s. He reminded me of Emily Bronte's Heathcliff, a lone wolf with dark, brooding eyes and raven-colored hair. I admired his multiple piercings, and he loved my fuchsia hair. We did a few lines of coke in a corner booth before he spun me out on the dance floor, the mirrored ball above us casting rainbow prisms across his sharp cheekbones. When we kissed, I tasted the bitter nicotine on his tongue and pulled him closer. Hours later, after popping Lemmon 714s and drinking vodka shots, I followed him home without hesitation. 

The red flags were everywhere in the early stages of our relationship, but I ignored them, confident that I could fix my moody Heathcliff. He was jealous and quick-tempered at times, but he got along well with my friends, was close to his older siblings, had a great job at the local hospital and adored animals—all characteristics that led me to believe he was a good man with a lot of potential. However, a few months into our relationship, he lost his job and took a few months off to "get his head together." When his rusty Volkswagen broke down, he let it decay in his parents’ driveway and used my car instead, driving me back and forth to work. I didn't mind it at first—we were having fun setting up house together in our tiny downtown apartment. But he started being routinely late to pick me up from work, and once home, I'd find dirty dishes sitting in the sink and overflowing ashtrays throughout the apartment. He was usually drunk or high by dinnertime and made excuses for the dirty laundry that littered our bedroom floor. 

The first time he shoved me against the wall was after our fight over his unemployment. He blamed his temper on the cheap whiskey he drank that day after getting fired from yet another job. It was easier to believe him than face the truth, so I let the incident slide on his promise that it would never happen again. 

And it didn't, at least for a while.

His temper escalated whenever he drank; if someone cut him off on the road, he'd jump out of our car at the next stop light and scream at the other driver. One time, he kicked another’s car door with the heel of his boot and left a dent. If men smiled at me in the bars we frequented, Joey got in their faces and threatened to punch them. He didn't hit me, but at home, he smashed glasses, punched walls and knocked over furniture whenever he was angry. Experience taught me how to defuse the situation by promising him that I still loved him and would never leave, but deep down, I was frightened and wondered if we had a future.

“”

I Made the Difficult Decision to Get an Abortion

Six months into our relationship, my period was late. I knew I couldn't keep the baby when I saw the blue lines on the test stick. Thanks to Roe v. Wade, which had come into effect 10 years earlier, I had a choice. There was no way I could bring a child into the world with an emotionally unstable partner and the financial burdens we faced. The timing was terrible, and I felt there was no other way out but an abortion. 

Joey wanted to take that choice away from me, insisting we keep the baby. He accused me of ignoring his rights as the father and became enraged. He shouted and wept and begged me to reconsider. I assured him we could have another baby when the timing was better and somehow, this seemed to quell his temper. 

It was a two-hour drive to the clinic in the city, and the sun was just rising over the hill like a ball of fire. I tried to sleep, but I thought of the life growing inside me every time I closed my eyes. Even though I was only eight weeks pregnant, I knew I was carrying a girl.

When we pulled into the parking lot, I started to have second thoughts when I saw a handful of protesters standing outside the gate. They carried signs claiming that abortion was murder and held up photos of dead fetuses. My ultraconservative family would have agreed with them and done anything to prevent me from having an abortion. But after a few deep breaths to gather my courage, I entered the clinic amid the shouts from protesters. 

The waiting room was decorated in warm, earthy tones with comfy couches and potted plants in macrame holders. End tables were stacked with celebrity and parenting magazines. A coffee pot gurgled next to stacks of styrofoam cups in one corner. I glanced around the room—there were women of all ages, ranging from young teens to women in their 30s. Some were accompanied by men who looked wide-eyed and nervous; others looked annoyed and impatient. 

Above one couch was the poster of a baby's developmental stages. I glanced at the drawing of an 8-week-old fetus and quickly turned away, my stomach in knots. Another picture depicted a pregnant woman with a cigarette dangling from her mouth, the caption warning about the dangers of smoking during pregnancy. When a nurse called my name, Joey grabbed my hand. "Please don't do this," he said tearfully, but I pulled away, assuring him everything would be fine, even though I felt like I was heading for the electric chair.

The Day of the Abortion Was Devastating

I was ushered into a small office for a brief counseling session with a psychologist who wanted to ensure I was emotionally prepared for the procedure. I pasted on a smile, told her I was OK with it and promised there would be no regrets, but they were empty words to mask the fear and guilt eating away at me. 

After the session, a nurse pricked my finger for a blood test and handed me a plastic cup to collect my urine for one last test. I was then seated in a small, dark room with several other women in identical hospital gowns and paper slippers. We watched a film about the abortion process that included diagrams of the procedure. Bile rose like bitter ashes in my throat as I fought to keep from vomiting. 

When it was my turn, another nurse led me to a small, stark room where classical music played softly in the background. I recognized Bach's “Prelude in C Major,” one of my father's favorites. Tremors took hold of me as I gripped the arm of the counselor sitting beside me. I heard what sounded like a vacuum starting up and then felt a tugging in my uterus as if my insides were being sucked out of my body. Flooded with sudden regret, I wanted to stop the horrible machine from obliterating the life inside me but knew it was too late. Tears ran down my face as the vision of a little girl appeared before me. She had thick black hair similar to Joey's and dark, feathery brows like angel wings above her deep brown eyes. She was the child I had just aborted. 

The machine finally stopped, but the vision remained, and I knew the girl's face was one I'd never forget. 

Joey was anxiously waiting in the reception room, his eyes red-rimmed from crying. We walked in silence until we reached the car. He started to ask how I was, but his words dissolved into tears. I leaned against him and sobbed for what seemed like hours before we left the parking lot.

“”

My Boyfriend Struggled to Accept My Decision to Leave Him

My physical recovery was quick—I was back at work the next day, but emotionally, I felt the loss like a deep hole that threatened to swallow me in its dark embrace. Joey was home less and less, which I was grateful for. He had become more sullen and distant and often shot accusatory glances my way. The few conversations we had were peppered with insults—he accused me of being cruel, reckless and ruining his life. Most nights, he came home coked-up or drunk and would usually pass out on the couch. 

When I finally confronted Joey about his drinking and drug use, he yelled that it was all my fault, that I drove him to madness after killing our baby. He then snatched my car keys and ran outside. I chased him to the parking lot and tried to grab the keys from him, but he balled his hand up into a fist and punched me. I fell backward on the hard asphalt, shattering my elbow. Joey hesitated for a moment before hopping into my car and speeding out of the lot. 

A friend drove me to the hospital to get patched up, and when I returned later that night, Joey was there, full of apologies and promises that it would never happen again. But I knew better this time and asked him to leave. Refusing, he grabbed a knife from the kitchen and locked himself in the bathroom, where he threatened to kill himself. Finally, the police came, and hours later, Joey allowed himself to be committed to a psychiatric hospital at the urging of his parents. I packed up my belongings and, within a week, moved to another city where my parents lived. After that, I had to put as much space as possible between myself and Joey. 

There were still a lot of stigmas surrounding abortions in the ’80s, and shame prevented me from telling anyone what I had done, including my parents. I knew I needed to move on from it, but I felt as if I'd given away a piece of my soul, the guilt eroding whatever peace I had hoped to find. 

It was this vulnerability that Joey preyed upon. After he was released from the hospital, he tracked me down and followed me back to my hometown. Like many abusers, he told me he'd changed, that he had forgiven me for the abortion and asked for a second chance. But when I told him it was over between us, he told me I was going to hell for murdering our baby. He then stormed outside to the courtyard of my workplace and shouted to the world that I was a baby killer. 

And it didn't stop there. Joey did the same thing at a shopping center days later when I stopped for a haircut at the salon. I begged him to stop, but he refused unless I agreed to move back home with him. I explained that he needed to move on and put the past behind him, but my attitude only added lighter fluid to the flame. Joey followed me to my parents’ home that day and stood in the driveway, where he yelled, "You're a murderer! You killed our baby!" My mother heard him and looked at me questioningly. Strangely, it was a relief to be able to confide in someone else, but I saw the hurt in her eyes when she told me I should have come to her earlier. Although she was stung by my decision to end the tiny life that had been growing inside me, she understood my reasons and supported me with love. 

Joey finally left me alone when he realized I was never coming back. Despite his violent temper, a small part of me understood his grief since I had stolen his dream of starting a family together. For that reason, I could forgive him and accept some of the blame for our toxic relationship. The day he hopped on his motorcycle and left town for good, I was able to start healing.

I’m Grateful I Had a Choice to Have an Abortion

It’s been over 40 years since my abortion, and with the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, my heart hurts for the women who no longer have the freedom of choice that I did. If I'd gone through with the pregnancy, I would've been tethered to Joey and his violent nature forever. Fortunately, I was given a choice, although there is still a shadow of guilt that lives inside me.

In my mid-20s, I met an exceptional man who was gentle, loving and compassionate. We have several adult children and grandchildren who I love deeply and cannot imagine a life without. But every January, the month my first baby would have been born, I still think of the dark-haired little girl with wispy eyebrows and deep brown eyes. I hope she forgives me for not bringing her into the world, but I know I made the right decision. It’s a choice that I'm grateful I had the freedom to make.

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