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  • Writer's pictureWendy Sibbison

I talk about my illegal abortion in the '60s at Generation Ratify Amherst's demo-- 11/27/21.

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

Generation Ratify is an inspiring youth-led movement to ratify the ERA. The Amherst, Mass., branch,, invited me to be one of the speakers at their well-attended reproductive rights banner drop today. (That's me on the left in shades, holding a coffee cup),

Here's what I said:

Hi, I'm Wendy Sibbison. I had two abortions. Today I’m going to talk about the criminal one.

Believe it or not, when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, you could get a legal abortion in Washington, D.C. All you had to do was pay two psychiatrists to say that you planned to kill yourself because you were pregnant and then pay the equivalent of $6000 in today’s money. Or you could pay a doctor to take blood from your arm, squirt it in your vagina, and send you to the hospital for a legal D&C to finish your fake miscarriage. Or you could fly to Scandinavia or Japan.

People with resources could lie or pay their way into safe abortions, and everyone else risked their lives. In 1963, I was in the second category: 16, pregnant, and crazy with despair for the 4 months it took to find an illegal abortionist. I’ve written a novel based on that time in my life, called Helen in Trouble. Like Helen, all my shiny hopes and dreams were about to turn to dirt. I didn’t know enough to be afraid of the procedure. The only thing I feared was getting caught and being forced to have a baby. I was lucky. I lived.

Others weren’t so lucky. They paid for their abortions with the death penalty. It’s all there in D.C. hospital records, like the 26-year who, after having the same kind of abortion I did, suddenly dropped dead from a heart embolism. I started writing Helen in Trouble for personal reasons, but now that I’m finished it feels especially urgent to show what it feels like to be trapped in a pregnant body with no safe way out. If the forced birth movement has its way, there won’t be fewer abortions: desperate people have and will always find a way. There will be more pregnant corpses: people who died trying to save their own lives.

I am really moved that, sixty years after my ordeal, you young people of Generation Ratify are on the front lines with Planned Parenthood in this seemingly endless war over a basic human right. It’s still my dream that we’ll win this war in my lifetime. For starters, let’s hear it for Misoprostol for all! If you like, you can reach me through my book’s website, Right now I am filled with hope, standing here with a new generation of ass-kickers! Thank you.


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