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Women share their experience of getting an abortion before Roe made it legal

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Worried about the future of abortion rights, many women in the U.S. have been motivated to share their abortion stories for the first time. For those who ended their pregnancies before Roe v. Wade, memories can be traumatic. Lesley McClurg of member station KQED has this report, which includes graphic details.

LESLEY MCCLURG, BYLINE: It was 1963. Pearl Lipner spent a romantic weekend curled up in her Chicago apartment with...

PEARL LIPNER: An extremely exciting young man.

MCCLURG: She was 18 years old, and she was on the birth control pill. So she was shocked when she got pregnant. The young man offered to pay for an abortion.

LIPNER: I was not allowed to bring anybody with me. I had the address of a no-tell hotel in a extremely ugly part of the city.

MCCLURG: When she arrived, she handed over $1,500 in cash. That's about $15,000 today. She then entrusted herself to a man that looked a little bit more like a boxer than a doctor.

LIPNER: And he spent what seemed like hours cramming my uterus full of gauze.

MCCLURG: Gauze packing was a dangerous technique used back then by unskilled abortion providers. After the procedure, the sweaty man called Lipner a cab. She picked up some pills that caused her uterus to contract around the mound of gauze.

LIPNER: If something happened, I was not to go to the hospital because I'd be immediately arrested.

MCCLURG: 24 hours later, she was in excruciating pain alone. Lipner called a friend who didn't arrive for several more hours.

LIPNER: And by that time, I had passed out on the floor. And I was hemorrhaging.

MCCLURG: She was lying in a pool of blood on her apartment floor. The friend reached out to someone else who had been a medic in Vietnam. That person brought over a bag of O-negative blood that he may have stolen.

LIPNER: And transfused me on the floor and saved my life.

MCCLURG: Years later, Lipner intentionally got pregnant, but she miscarried at five months. She was told that her uterus was torn from a prior injury.

LIPNER: I was able to get pregnant again. I spent the last approximately two months of my pregnancy on complete bedrest and delivered a wonderful, amazing child.

MCCLURG: She went on to work for Planned Parenthood, and she continues to fight for women's rights today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Our bodies. Our choice. Our bodies. Our choice.

MCCLURG: Women all across the country marched recently for abortion rights, chanting, our bodies, our choice. A few weeks ago in downtown San Diego, nearly a thousand women packed many city blocks.

DEBRA BASS: We were all talking, sharing our stories today. It was beautiful. It was inspirational.

MCCLURG: Debra Bass carried a sign that read, end the war on women.

D BASS: God gave us body autonomy. He gave us a brain, OK? And we don't need somebody telling us what to do.

MCCLURG: This fight is personal for her. Back in 1969, she desperately needed an abortion. She was a junior in college.

D BASS: I was very angry, and I felt very guilty.

MCCLURG: So Bass told her mother, who had a friend with a legal workaround. It hinged on lying to a psychiatrist.

D BASS: To show that I was crazy and that I was going to kill myself if I didn't get an abortion.

MCCLURG: She says she remembers feeling really small sitting across from the psychiatrist.

D BASS: I just felt like, why does this man have to determine my future? But I put on the show.

MCCLURG: Pretending to be suicidal worked. It was a common strategy. But Bass says the whole experience was a nightmare. Afterwards, she says, she felt alone and isolated.

D BASS: It was very emotionally damaging. I became depressed.

MCCLURG: It was rocky for several years. But she eventually married that college boyfriend, and they had two children. She never told her kids about the abortion, until recently, when she felt outraged reading the leaked Supreme Court opinion.

ARIN BASS: And I was just, like, totally stunned. I had no idea.

MCCLURG: Arin Bass is Debra's 40-year-old daughter.

A BASS: The secrecy, the shame, the terror of being young and not even having that option was just kind of astounding. And I think that all hit me, like, in that moment at once.

MCCLURG: Now Arin is protesting too, phone canvassing and donating money to protect abortion rights. She wants to ensure that Debra's granddaughters have a right that their grandmother didn't. For NPR News, I'm Lesley McClurg in Oakland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lesley McClurg