In 1969, one of my housemates, Michelle, and I offered to drive a colleague from Fort Collins CO to Denver. All three of us worked at Luby’s Cafeteria. Michelle and I worked part time because we also attended Colorado State University while our friend, Linda, worked full time. Linda was a 30-something divorcee with two children living in a trailer park with her Baptist parents. She had started dating again and found herself with an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. So she arranged for an abortion and needed a ride and an alibi. The story she told her parents (who would be watching her children) was that she was stepping out for the evening with friends and would crash at our house (we were five women who shared a really large rental home). That was her cover story. The real story was quite different. She could not tell them she was pregnant. Unmarried women, according to her parents, did not have sex, did not get pregnant and, sure as hell, did not have an abortion. Linda was convinced that if they knew she was pregnant, they would throw her out on the street.
So, with the best of intentions, Michelle and I made the one-hour trip to Denver with our friend. She was understandably nervous about the arrangement she made over the phone with a strange man, the abortionist. The plan was to meet him at a motel on West Colfax Avenue, cash in hand, where he would perform her abortion. It’s kind of amazing to think about legislators and antis talking about waiting periods and ambulatory surgical requirements now. Our friend had an abortion on a motel bed without any assurance that the man was a doctor, without any assurance that the man had hospital privileges, without any anesthesia, without any assurances of sterility, without any guarantees that she would live and without any state required speeches about pregnancy options.
I do not recall much of the trip. Knowing the three of us, we likely chatted like magpies. I also loved to drive. So, zipping down the highway was just a way of life for me. It wasn’t until we arrived at the crummy looking motel, that I began to feel afraid for Linda as she got out of the car. She seemed scared. Michelle and I watched her enter the designated motel room and the door close behind her. Our instructions were to pick her up in two hours, as best I can recall.
Keep in mind those were not the days of cell phones. We couldn’t text or call her. And we knew not to knock on the motel door. Instead, Michelle and I went to the local favorite, a coffee shop called the White Spot.
They were all over the metropolitan Denver area and had one of the best waffles around. Whether for greasy comfort food, post party munchies or waiting for a friend, the cheap eats at the White Spot were just the ticket.
From the recesses of my memory, I recall feeling anxious while Michelle, a veteran of abortion, seemed more comfortable. I was 20 years old and naïve. I didn’t know anything about abortions except hushed conversations about girls desperately scrapping together funds to go to Mexico or Sweden. I didn’t know even that much about sex or pregnancy. Thinking about this naiveté (or ignorance) now, as I write this post, reminds me of our 2006 documentary fieldwork with junior high students in Allentown. The kids were making digital stories about issues that impacted their community like speeding, litter, graffiti and recreational parks for kids. In what was likely the hottest day on record, our digital documentary campers were doing fieldwork in downtown Allentown when one of the antiabortion ‘truth trucks’ rolled down Hamilton Boulevard. One of the young girls, a nine year old, saw the truck and said, “That’s why I won’t use birth control.” I was astounded at her misperceptions (but said nothing to correct her because it wasn’t my place). But considering my ignorance back in 1969 and her misperceptions in 2006, there seemed to be little difference in terms of naiveté. But I digress.
After polishing our waffles, swilling gallons of coffee, and polluting our lungs with cigarette after cigarette, we eventually returned to the West Colfax motel. Linda was cramping but seemed otherwise OK. I felt a bit of relief because she was with us.
But by the time we got Linda settled in our house, things took a turn for the worse. She began bleeding really heavily. I drove to the drug store for sanitary pads. But the bleeding worsened still. She soaked through an entire box of super soaker pads in no time. Fortunately, we had enough sense to take her to the emergency room. She survived, thanks to an emergency hysterectomy, a short visit to ICU and several transfusions.
This is before Roe v Wade. Others weren’t so lucky.