Abortion stories from years ago. It was always complicated.

At the Gulfport Senior Center painting class on Tuesday, everyone had an abortion story.

“It’s funny, I thought Deer. c. Wade happened before the 1970s,” said 78-year-old Pat Van Leuran.

“It’s just because we all knew people who were getting it before,” Corey Kallen, 70, said with a laugh. “It just wasn’t legal.”

Kallen’s childhood friend in Mississippi became pregnant on prom night, her first sexual encounter. She traveled to Washington, DC, looking for someone to perform the procedure, to no avail. At 19, Kallen said, her friend’s parents sent her to a home for single mothers.

Bonnie Walker, 79, recalled an acquaintance, a divorced mother of three, who had to find several doctors to testify in court that she was ‘unfit to care for a child’ before she could have an abortion .

Van Leuran is haunted by the quiet girl in her eighth grade class whose belly slowly began to grow out of her tiny body, until one day she disappeared.

“I knew the girl didn’t have a boyfriend,” she said. “It had to be family. Grated. And everybody prayed for her, like she had done wrong. I think about it and I can’t believe it. »

The future of abortion in the United States will depend on a decision that is often framed in stark terms – life or death, right and wrong, Roe vs. Wade. Whether or not the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision legalized the procedure nearly half a century ago will be reversed.

But for the elderly who reached majority before the judgment of 1973 and who have seen the law evolve, it is more complicated.

Many interviewees at places where the elderly congregate said they were morally opposed to abortion, citing religious texts or beliefs about the beginning of life.

But they also said they were reluctant to go back to the days before. deerwhile the country looked a lot like what it would be if federal protections for abortion rights disappeared — with access based on where a person lives and what resources they have.

“I just don’t see a good alternative,” said Evon Jones, a retired surgical nurse in Tampa.

Against abortion, with a warning

A group of women left the tai chi class at the Sunshine Senior Center in St. Petersburg on Wednesday afternoon. This was two days after a draft notice was leaked suggesting the Supreme Court had voted to strike down Roe vs. Wade.

“I’m a Christian, so I’m not for abortion,” Donna Lee Ford, 79, said as others hung out in the parking lot. She stopped.

“But I aborted.”

It was the 1960s. Ford was in her early twenties, living on Cape Cod and deeply in love with her first husband. He didn’t want children, Ford said.

They found a surgeon who would perform the procedure in New York and drove to town. Money was no object and the doctor was good, Ford said, but she called the experience an “unpleasant mess.”

Donna Lee Ford, 79, at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club outside the Sunshine Senior Center in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. [ HANNAH CRITCHFIELD | Times ]
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She remembers coming out of anesthesia and seeing a small bloody clump of something in a bucket – and the feeling of gratitude that before was inside her.

“When I look back now, I definitely wouldn’t have,” Ford said. “I wouldn’t have let my negative husband run my life. I wish I had been a stronger woman and had said to her, “If you don’t want it, get lost.

She did not tell anyone in her family about the abortion. During a dinner with her father, she stuffed her bra with tissues to hide her breasts, which were still nursing.

“I would never be pro-abortion,” Ford said. She hesitated again. “But I’m not anti-abortion either. There are circumstances where it is necessary. But it should have a deep meaning – I don’t like when I let my husband put pressure on me. I could have raised that baby.

“It was not an easy decision”

Around the same time, across Manhattan at Hunter College nursing school, Evon Jones, the retired Tampa nurse, was meeting others less fortunate than Ford.

They arrived and needed rescue through backdoors and botched procedures. They arrived when they knew poverty.

“You saw the irreparable damage that was done to the uterus, or the sepsis that happened because of the infections,” said Jones, now 72. “You saw them die.”

Jones, who grew up in Jamaica, is a person of deep faith and believes abortion is against God’s will. But just before she started school, a family member sought an abortion. She fell pregnant just months after giving birth to her first child.

Evon Jones at the Progress Village Senior Dining & Activity Center on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. She was celebrating her 72nd birthday that week.
Evon Jones at the Progress Village Senior Dining & Activity Center on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. She was celebrating her 72nd birthday that week. [ HANNAH CRITCHFIELD | Times ]

“She cried. It wasn’t what she wanted. But she said she couldn’t not do it,” Jones recalled. “It made me realize that it’s not a hard decision. There are reasons, and it is multifaceted.

She continued, “The Bible says you shall not kill. But a woman may really need to have an abortion. If she cries out to God and asks for forgiveness, he will forgive her, I truly believe that. It’s between her and her God.

New York legalized abortion in 1971. Jones graduated the following year and the Supreme Court ruled on Roe vs. Wade A little after. Procedures became safer, and Jones continued to work in an abortion unit at a city hospital.

“I saw how the women were crying,” she said. “Whatever their reason, it was not an easy decision.”

“I’m glad I did”

Back at the Gulfport Senior Center, the women finished their watercolors.

“I’ve always been happy to have sons,” Bonnie Walker said.

“But if your son had gotten a girl pregnant,” Pat Van Leuran asked, “what would have happened?”

“Well,” Walker said, pausing, “he wouldn’t have gone to law school.”

“It feels like we’re going back in time,” said Corey Kallen, whose childhood friend got pregnant on prom night. “And we baby boomers fought for those things.”

Toward the back of the class, a woman in an aquamarine shirt spoke. She remained silent while the other ladies remembered.

“In the 1960s, I got pregnant,” said Marsha Adams, 93. “I already had four children. I was married. I knew that if we had another one, we would have really had a hard time, and it would be bad for them.

Marsha Adams, 93, at the Gulfport Senior Center on May 3, 2022, after a painting class.
Marsha Adams, 93, at the Gulfport Senior Center on May 3, 2022, after a painting class. [ HANNAH CRITCHFIELD | Times ]

Adams traveled alone to Puerto Rico, where a doctor awaited her who would perform the procedure illegally. Her husband stayed with the children.

It was supposed to cost $150, Adams said. But when he arrived, the doctor demanded much more and refused to perform the abortion without payment.

Isolated and 2,000 miles from her home in Michigan, Adams wrote the check.

“I still think about what that child would have been like, from time to time,” she said, a small smile on her face. “But I’m glad I did. Even with the extra money.

Adams looked around the room as several other women wiped their eyes.

“I’ve never said that to a group of people before,” she said.

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