By Carolyn Alder Porter
It’s 1968 and I’m in Nursing School at Emanuel Hospital. Earlier in the year Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. Today Robert Kennedy was assassinated. I am in shock, crying with a few other nursing students in the lounge. I’m a good Christian girl going to a good Christian nursing school. After a while there are only three people in the room. Me and my friend Dee, and a girl I didn’t know very well I will call Alicia.
Alicia is distraught, I think it’s about RFK, but then I think maybe there is something else. I ask her what’s going on. After a long pause she says she’s pregnant and doesn’t know what to do. I tell her she should just tell her parents. She says she can’t, her Dad’s a minister like mine and he will throw her out of the family. I tell her to get married to the guy. She says there really isn’t a guy and besides that she would be kicked out of nursing school because in those days you couldn’t be married and be in nursing school, much less pregnant. She says she wants to get an abortion. I am horrified. From my upbringing you just don’t do that. But I also see the dilemma she is in. We talk a bit more. We don’t even know where she could get an abortion. There is no Planned Parenthood and abortion is illegal.
I am so conflicted. I want to help her but it is against everything I was taught, but she clearly has made her mind up. We brainstorm. Suddenly we remember the African American women in the Albina Health Care Clinic where we work. We know that they will know where to get an illegal abortion. We had seen first hand that the women there were having too many babies. One woman had 6 children and she had such bad varicose veins in her legs and even on her labia that the Doctor had told her that she shouldn’t have anymore children or she could die. And she was pregnant again. The Doctor asked her why she had gotten pregnant. He had prescribed birth control pills. She said she didn’t take them because her husband beat her when he found them. She didn’t have a choice.
I told Alicia that even though I was against her having an abortion I would go with her to the clinic to support her asking around. We did that and she found somewhere to go. I decided that I wouldn’t go with her. When she didn’t come back after a few days I started asking around about her. I found out that she was in another hospital. I figured something had gone wrong with the abortion so I went to see her. What I found out was horrifying. When she had the abortion her uterus had ruptured and her amniotic fluid had somehow gotten into her bloodstream. She was in ICU. They let me in to see her. It was one of worst things I had ever seen. The amniotic fluid had poisoned her and all her skin was falling off, she was unconscious. She died later that day.
Most of you have only lived during the age of legal abortion. Most of you as women have more choices now than we had then so you don’t really know what might happen if abortion is made illegal or even the access to it is restricted.
Today all over American ProBirth/Anti-Abortion protests will be happening. Planned Parenthood has asked that we not counter protest. But we can counter protest with our dollars and make a donation to Planned Parenthood. Do it for Alicia and all the women who didn’t have a choice. Do it for yourself so you continue to have a choice. It’s really important. Women’s lives are literally at stake.
About the writer
Carolyn Alder Porter worked as a Registered Nurse for 45 years. She served as the first woman and first nurse on the Board of Directors of the Community Hospital in Oregon where she was the Nurse Manager of The Same Day Surgery Department. While she was there she was honored to be the Nurse of the year.
She fought for and got improved patient care, and for better working conditions and pay for the nurses. She is now the grandmother of five amazing children and is currently an activist fighting for women’s rights, affordable health care and equal rights for everyone.
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