Submitted by: Felicia Mancini, CNM, MSN, MPH Nurse Midwife, University of New Mexico Hospital, Division of Urogynecology & Bella Mancini Pori, JD

This letter is provided as opinion/commentary from the author.
You can submit your own: editor@abq.news

I remember sitting around the dinner table at the age of nine eating pizza and listening to my parents argue about abortion. This argument was unique because my parents didn’t usually talk about politics. My mom, then 33 years old and raising five kids between the ages of 1 and 12, usually agreed with my dad’s politics or held her tongue. This was different. This was something that was important to her.

My mom’s passionate defense of a woman’s right to be in control of her body lead her to take me to a march honoring the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage, “Women’s Strike for Equality.”[1] In addition to celebrating the right to vote, this Women’s Strike was calling for free abortion on demand, equal opportunity in the workforce, and free childcare.[2] It was August 26, 1970, and we boarded a bus in Rockland County, New York and headed to Washington, DC. Title IX prohibiting sex discrimination in any educational program was two years away, Roe v. Wade was three years away, and in my town, girls had to wear dresses to school every day except Fridays when we were allowed to wear pants.

I remember being in the crowd and listening to the women on the platform share their stories of almost dying from an unsafe abortion. I looked over at my mom and saw tears streaming down her face. It took 22 years before I learned why those stories moved her so deeply.

My mother almost died from an illegal abortion when she was 20 years old. In the spring of 1956, she was sharing a studio apartment on the Upper East Side with her cousin Joan and working as a secretary, when she missed her period. Nervous, she went to a doctor, who gave her a shot and told her not to worry. Another month, another missed period, and she began to panic.

A young woman in her neighborhood knew a person who performed abortions. The two of them boarded a crosstown bus and showed up to a dirty apartment on the Upper West Side, each clutching $500, the cost of the procedure. My mom waited outside as they took the other woman back first, becoming more afraid with each minute. It didn’t inspire confidence when the young woman left, white as a sheet, and my mom caught sight of the bloody medical instruments in the other room.

Terrified, my mom laid back while a man inserted those same instruments into her uterus. She hadn’t been given any pain medication and the process was excruciating. When he was done, he told my mother to go sit on the toilet until something came out. Nothing did, so he sent her home. And then two days later, she started bleeding and didn’t stop, passing fist-sized clots in her apartment bathroom.

Like good New York girls, my mom and her cousin took a cab to the hospital. My mom lay in a hospital bed all night, bleeding, afraid, and alone. By morning she was so weak and unstable, that she was brought to the operating room, a procedure was performed, and she was given a blood transfusion. She survived, but the experience left its mark on her. She became a supporter of abortion rights, but was plagued by shame, and didn’t tell a soul about her abortion for over thirty years.

When she finally shared this story with me, I was 31 years old, married, and starting nurse midwifery school in San Francisco. My then-husband and I were trying to get pregnant. Upon hearing this story and remembering her tear-soaked face, I shared my story of getting an abortion in Seattle, Washington in 1981. Like my mother, I was 20 years old and not married. Unlike my mother, I had a clean, safe, well-run clinic to go to. The clinic had an all-women staff and was affordable.[3] I received pain medication and was treated with compassion, dignity, and respect. It was not a traumatic nor life-threatening event. 

A friend from my college went with me that day. She also had an abortion. In fact, many of my friends had abortions. Together we talked about our decisions, and shared tears, sometimes from sorrow but frequently from relief.

My mother and I were both so grateful to tell each other our abortion stories. I wanted my mom to know, and she wanted her daughter to know. We shared the family secrets that previously held so much shame and blame. The suffering that humans endure for the gift of bearing life. I became pregnant soon after and gave birth to my first-born child at home surrounded by love and hope.

I continued my mom’s demand for reproductive justice and free abortion on demand, both in my career as a midwife and in my personal life. In 2003, President Bush signed a dilation and extraction ban into law.[4] This law, incorrectly referred to as a “partial birth abortion ban” banned a vital medical procedure for people seeking abortion care.[5] The 2004 March for Women’s Lives was scheduled to protest this ban, and other Bush-era anti-abortion policies.[6]

I had an idea to gather up a group of midwives and their children to march together, recognizing that abortion rights are an inter-generational fight. My daughter was ten, close to the age I was when my mom took me to my first abortion protest. The opposition to abortion has become more aggressive in the intervening years, and we were met with counter-protestors as we marched, who screamed things like “what if your mom aborted you” to the children in our group.

But other things had changed too. My daughter did not grow up with shame and secrecy around abortion. Instead, she saw how having an abortion allowed her mother to finish school, travel the world, build an impressive career, and have a family when she was ready—not a moment before. Because her grandmother survived an illegal abortion, my daughter can learn from her today, as one of my mother’s twelve grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. My daughter saw how critical bodily autonomy is for people who can have children. It’s why she went to law school, and it’s why she now works as a reproductive rights attorney. 

Abortion has positive impacts through generations. My family is living proof of that. And all three of us, my mom, my daughter, and me, will not stop fighting until all people can obtain safe, legal, and accessible abortion on demand and without apology. 

[1] Dismore DM. When Women Went on Strike: Remembering Equality Day, 1970. Ms. Magazine.https://msmagazine.com/2010/08/26/when-women-went-on-strike-remembering-equality-day-1970/. Published August 26, 2010. Accessed November 14, 2021. 

[2] Dismore DM. When Women Went on Strike: Remembering Equality Day, 1970. Ms. Magazine. https://msmagazine.com/2010/08/26/when-women-went-on-strike-remembering-equality-day-1970/. Published August 26, 2010. Accessed November 14, 2021. 

[3] Henshaw SK, Forrest JD, Blaine E. Abortion services in the United States, 1981 and 1982. Fam Plann Perspect. 1984 May-Jun;16(3):119-27. PMID: 6468641.

[4] Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, 18 U.S.C. § 1531.

[5] Tanne JH. US Supreme Court approves ban on “partial birth abortion”. BMJ. 2007 Apr 28;334(7599):866-7. doi: 10.1136/bmj.39192.397338.DB. PMID: 17463433; PMCID: PMC1857800.

[6] Toner R. Huge Crowds in Washington for Abortion-Rights Rally. The New York Times.https://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/25/politics/huge-crowds-in-washington-for-abortionrights-rally.html. Published April 25, 2004. Accessed November 12, 2021.