Writer with Tender Story Fears Return to Back-alley Abortions

By Mary Roberts

Dr. Voss rolls his chair away from the examining table. “Yes, you’re pregnant.”

It is 1971. I am 20.

Before the 2016 presidential election, Mary Roberts wrote about real estate, her Irish Catholic childhood in Boston and the 13 dogs that have defined the chapters of her life. Now, she writes to say, “Wake up, people!” Learn more about Mary…

When the doctor examines me, he says it felt like the IUD had turned upside down, rendering it almost impossible to do its job—preventing a pregnancy. Even if motherhood were a consideration, the fetus had little chance of surviving. I had a high probability of an ectopic pregnancy but would most likely miscarry.

Dr. Voss’ assistant, Julia, sits to my right and holds my hand while he probes. He is gentle but I am terrified and humiliated, uncomfortable with my body and sex or anything mildly erotic, having spent my childhood in the unforgiving and punishing bosom of the Catholic Church.

He said that he was unable to perform an abortion, or in my case, a D & C., explaining that he was being watched and didn’t want me involved.

“Besides, you’ll abort on your own. I’m sorry, that’s all I can do. Call me when you start bleeding.”  Julie, who I learned was his daughter, gave me a piece of paper with his home phone number on it “in case it happens after hours.” The doctor hoped that manipulating the IUD would encourage the device to perform its job—if belatedly.

Ten days later, I was back with a report of minor spotting and extreme stress. Once again, I lay there. Once again, his daughter held my hand. I noticed there was no one else in the waiting room and no phones were ringing. His daughter spoke quietly, telling me that they expected an arrest warrant to be served any day now and they didn’t want anyone in the office when the police finally came for him.

“But don’t worry, we have the names of other docs who can help.”

What? Who came for him? I still hadn’t understood that this doctor in Colorado, this kind and solicitous man who warmed his hands with a heating pad before touching his patients and treated me with respect and concern, would soon be taken away in handcuffs, have his mugshot taken and be put in a holding cell for taking care of women like me.

I spent those two weeks before the D & C, terrified I was going to hemorrhage in Reporting 101 or in line at the student center bookstore. Or late at night, asleep, waking with stabbing pain and a bloody mattress. Only my boyfriend knew. I told no one else.

The bleeding started on a late Friday afternoon, after hours. I dialed the doctor’s home number and we met at dusk in his office, his daughter handing him the instruments for the D & C while still reassuring me that everything was going well. I would feel a sharp pain and it would be over soon. I did and it was.

A few days later Dr. Voss was arrested. His case led to a change in Colorado abortion laws although the state had legalized it (with daunting restrictions) in 1967. To me, Dr. Voss was a savior—compassionate and without judgment. There have been few people in my life that I can recall with such gratitude. (“Voss,” by the way, is not the doctor’s real name. I changed it out of respect for this kind-hearted doctor and the possibility that he may not want to revisit the past.)

Was he arrested because of women like me, who believed they have a right to maintain control over their bodies?  I technically didn’t even have an abortion, yet I couldn’t help but worry that cases similar to mine led to his arrest.

In 1971, limited access to abortion was available in Colorado with three physicians approving it for the “right” reason. Was not wanting to be a mother a good reason? No. Was mental health a reason? Only if a psychiatrist would state that the woman was emotionally unstable and under a doctor’s care. How about rape and incest? Yes, but not if there was evidence of ‘inappropriate’ sexual conduct on the woman’s part.

Forty-six years later and I believe that this can happen again. I fear that women’s choices about their bodies will be, once again, determined by ignorant men.

I fear that low-cost access to birth control and sex education will be denied and we will, once again, whisper amongst ourselves, sharing the names and numbers of doctors who are sympathetic.

I fear that “back-alley” abortions or recipes for DIY “miscarriages” will appear on the Internet and more women will die. I fear that children will be born to households unable to care for another child. I fear that what we do with our bodies will be determined by old, white men, eager to get back their longed-for authority over women who have had generations of freedom to cast their own destiny and that of our country’s.

I was outraged 46 years ago when what happened inside my womb was someone else’s business. I am outraged now that the progeny of those men and women who struggled to wrest responsibility for my body away from me are back at it again.

It’s time they feared us because we are coming for them. Because now, we have generations of men and women who, like Dr. Voss, understand that an administration that imprisons a man (or woman) for helping the vulnerable is an administration that is destined to fall.

 

For more information

The issue of a woman’s right to govern who her own body has been a complex controversy since the Supreme Court recognized abortion as a constitutional right four decades ago. The constitutional right has never been under attack as it is now in the Trump administration and the Republican congress. This is evidenced through such actions as Trump’s assault on Planned Parenthood and his appointment of Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court judge. Learn more by clicking on the green links. For historical background, click here.

“I want to stab him in the testicles a million times”

By Mary Roberts 

“What do you think we are? Cattle?”

I’m caught in a tight scree of human flesh, all pretending we aren’t pressed up against each other’s bodies — fleshy, rib thin, and somewhere in-between. Boston’s old subway cars weren’t meant to hold this many people. The cattle remark is in my head. I can’t say it. I’m afraid I’ll stutter or people would laugh at me.

That’s when it happens.

Before the 2016 presidential election, Mary Roberts wrote about real estate, her Irish Catholic childhood in Boston and the 13 dogs that have defined the chapters of her life. Now, she writes to say, “Wake up, people!” Learn more about Mary.

Someone reaches from behind me and slides his hand down the front on my pants. Both of my hands are gripping the overhead strap and my legs are parted to steady myself from the stops and starts of the jolting train.

“Hey!” I let go of the strap with my left arm and squeeze it between two of my neighbors but the hand is gone before I can grab it. It is 1970. I am 19. I burn in shame.

I had returned home after one year of college in New York. Home was Needham, a small town 10 miles west of Boston. Long island, N.Y., was not where I wanted to be. I didn’t know where I wanted to be. I had no plan or ambition, except to star in Broadway musicals but I was afraid to speak and couldn’t sing. I had also broken my kneecap twice in high school. My one year as a drama major ended in disaster when I couldn’t manage the role as Marat Sade’s mother. And she was a stutterer.

Mom’s friend got me a job in Medical Records at Children’s Hospital and I went to night school at Boston College. From the hospital, I took the Green Line to the BC stop. Three hours later, I’d head home to the Newton Highlands stop where I would take a bus to Needham Square. I didn’t drive and we didn’t have a car anyway, so the MBTA was my constant companion, riding its street cars and buses four times a day.

“I won’t do this anymore.”

I hated the way men looked at me when I’d make my way through the construction sites that littered the streets and sidewalks along the way. I’d veer out to the road followed by the whistles and calls for blow jobs from the guys with hard hats. I wore glasses, no makeup and baggy turtlenecks with the mandatory skirts but it didn’t matter. I was young.

After the subway incident, I went in to the manager’s office and told her I was done. “I can’t do this anymore,” I told her, “I won’t do this anymore.”

Two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, 1970, I was on an airplane with my sister who was headed back to Colorado State University after Christmas break. She and I were never the best friends we should have been, only 18 months apart, but it was better than spending the rest of my life terrified of crowds and the subway. I was already unable to drive after a traumatizing car accident. A good sturdy bike would get me where I needed to go in Colorado.

“A bloated, orange-tinted mass of pulpy flesh”

Forty plus years later and Donald Trump is caught saying ‘grab them by the pussy’ and I am outraged. More than outraged.

I am indignant, incensed, I am horrified. In my dreams, I want to stab him in the heart and testicles a million times then write my name — and the names of all women who have been assaulted, grabbed, diminished, denigrated — in his blood as it slowly leaves his body, leaving a bloated, orange-tinted mass off pulpy flesh and pockmarked bone. Again, fantasies in my dream land, not for advocating violence against a president or anyone.

Does such a dream make me a terrorist? Did I break the law by entertaining fantasies of hurting the president?

I don’t harbor those fantasies because I disagree with his policies (which I do) or think that he is a disgrace as a president and a human being (which I do). I harbor those fantasies because he is a predator and a sexual bully. Every woman knows what that is and the women who voted for him have neatly compartmentalized that fact somewhere in their emotional body where it will fester and eventually destroy them.

“Was I that fragile?”

At 65 years of age, I now understand that I left Boston because someone grabbed me by the pussy. I left behind the love of my life, the ocean, my mother, the home I was raised in and the New England I still yearn for—just because an asshole grabbed me and I felt powerless and ashamed and scared that it would happen again.

Was I that fragile? Was I that sorry-ass wimp of a girl? Without the backbone to give the construction guys the finger and yell ‘fuck you’ back at them? Without the courage to call out ‘help’ in the subway car? Yes, I was.

Years later, I hug my dogs tight when I hear the President’s voice over the radio. I’m already considering a replacement for the third dog I just lost to a painful disease. Two is good but three — three is impenetrable.

Click on “Follow” at the top of the right column to receive posts from Writers With No Borders by email.

“I want to stab him in the testicles a million times”

By Mary Roberts 

“What do you think we are? Cattle?”

I’m caught in a tight scree of human flesh, all pretending we aren’t pressed up against each other’s bodies — fleshy, rib thin, and somewhere in-between. Boston’s old subway cars weren’t meant to hold this many people. The cattle remark is in my head. I can’t say it. I’m afraid I’ll stutter or people would laugh at me.

That’s when it happens.

Before the 2016 presidential election, Mary Roberts wrote about real estate, her Irish Catholic childhood in Boston and the 13 dogs that have defined the chapters of her life. Now, she writes to say, “Wake up, people!” Learn more about Mary.

Someone reaches from behind me and slides his hand down the front on my pants. Both of my hands are gripping the overhead strap and my legs are parted to steady myself from the stops and starts of the jolting train.

“Hey!” I let go of the strap with my left arm and squeeze it between two of my neighbors but the hand is gone before I can grab it. It is 1970. I am 19. I burn in shame.

I had returned home after one year of college in New York. Home was Needham, a small town 10 miles west of Boston. Long island, N.Y., was not where I wanted to be. I didn’t know where I wanted to be. I had no plan or ambition, except to star in Broadway musicals but I was afraid to speak and couldn’t sing. I had also broken my kneecap twice in high school. My one year as a drama major ended in disaster when I couldn’t manage the role as Marat Sade’s mother. And she was a stutterer.

Mom’s friend got me a job in Medical Records at Children’s Hospital and I went to night school at Boston College. From the hospital, I took the Green Line to the BC stop. Three hours later, I’d head home to the Newton Highlands stop where I would take a bus to Needham Square. I didn’t drive and we didn’t have a car anyway, so the MBTA was my constant companion, riding its street cars and buses four times a day.

“I won’t do this anymore.”

I hated the way men looked at me when I’d make my way through the construction sites that littered the streets and sidewalks along the way. I’d veer out to the road followed by the whistles and calls for blow jobs from the guys with hard hats. I wore glasses, no makeup and baggy turtlenecks with the mandatory skirts but it didn’t matter. I was young.

After the subway incident, I went in to the manager’s office and told her I was done. “I can’t do this anymore,” I told her, “I won’t do this anymore.”

Two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, 1970, I was on an airplane with my sister who was headed back to Colorado State University after Christmas break. She and I were never the best friends we should have been, only 18 months apart, but it was better than spending the rest of my life terrified of crowds and the subway. I was already unable to drive after a traumatizing car accident. A good sturdy bike would get me where I needed to go in Colorado.

“A bloated, orange-tinted mass of pulpy flesh”

Forty plus years later and Donald Trump is caught saying ‘grab them by the pussy’ and I am outraged. More than outraged.

I am indignant, incensed, I am horrified. In my dreams, I want to stab him in the heart and testicles a million times then write my name — and the names of all women who have been assaulted, grabbed, diminished, denigrated — in his blood as it slowly leaves his body, leaving a bloated, orange-tinted mass off pulpy flesh and pockmarked bone. Again, fantasies in my dream land, not for advocating violence against a president or anyone.

Does such a dream make me a terrorist? Did I break the law by entertaining fantasies of hurting the president?

I don’t harbor those fantasies because I disagree with his policies (which I do) or think that he is a disgrace as a president and a human being (which I do). I harbor those fantasies because he is a predator and a sexual bully. Every woman knows what that is and the women who voted for him have neatly compartmentalized that fact somewhere in their emotional body where it will fester and eventually destroy them.

“Was I that fragile?”

At 65 years of age, I now understand that I left Boston because someone grabbed me by the pussy. I left behind the love of my life, the ocean, my mother, the home I was raised in and the New England I still yearn for—just because an asshole grabbed me and I felt powerless and ashamed and scared that it would happen again.

Was I that fragile? Was I that sorry-ass wimp of a girl? Without the backbone to give the construction guys the finger and yell ‘fuck you’ back at them? Without the courage to call out ‘help’ in the subway car? Yes, I was.

Years later, I hug my dogs tight when I hear the President’s voice over the radio. I’m already considering a replacement for the third dog I just lost to a painful disease. Two is good but three — three is impenetrable.

Click on “Follow” at the top of the right column to receive posts from Writers With No Borders by email.