It was sometime around the last half of the 1960's. I was out of college, probably 26. I was living in New York. It wasn't legal to have an abortion in NY at that time, or anywhere. It was definitely not something people talked about.
I started casting a net to find resources, which were hard to find. I called an editor at the Village Voice-- I remembered he had done an article about a saintly doctor in Pennsylvania named Dr. Spencer, whose daughter had been the victim of a bad back-door abortion and had died. Dr. Spencer had devoted his life to performing safe abortions and to being kind of a network for people who were seeking abortions. Dr. Spencer was no longer performing abortions himself, but referred me to a doctor in the NY area.
A very good friend of mine came with me. I remember that it was all very subterranean. We were to meet a driver at the New Yorker Hotel. The mystery man arrived and put us in a car. The windows must have been shielded-- I have no idea where we went. My friend wasn't allowed to be in the room with me but she was waiting outside. Meanwhile, I had written letters to my family and everybody that I cared about in the event that something went wrong. You know, it was a huge risk to take. I felt pretty good about the referral, but nonetheless, this was not legitimate. I may have been mildly sedated and I just went back home when it was over, by way of the driver.
One thing that I would add to what I've said is that at some point in the late 1960's, I was called for the first time to jury duty. It turned out to be an abortion case. They were trying a doctor who was accused of having performed illegal abortions. At the time, the NY state law had already been changed but not gone into effect. So everybody knew that within a matter of months, even if he had done what he was accused of doing, it would have been legal from that point on. They were doing this trial on old stuff.
Somehow I got myself onto that jury! The jury was a whole microcosm of New York City-- everything from a publisher at a major news magazine, a secretary at a prominent foundation, a postal worker-- the whole spectrum. And I was the only person who kept reminding people that you were innocent until proven guilty. It was absolutely astonishing to me that even people who were highly sophisticated hadn't internalized that concept. So I hung the jury. It was never tried again, I found out. The doctor went free. And I often wonder about the other people on the jury... how they tell that story now as things keep changing.