Do You Feel Lucky? What Unwanted Pregnancy Meant In the 1960s

By Guest Blogger

The battle between pro-choice and pro-life (or anti-choice) protesters seems to be waging at overwhelming extremes lately. And as an intern here at FMF, I have taken part in writing updates dealing with abortion bills being passed state by state, on a weekly basis. However, of all the writing I have read about abortion and the argument for pro-choice, this article stands in a category of its own.

Guernica, a magazine of art and politics, featured a piece titled “Lucky Girl” by Bridget Potter. Ms. Potter wrote a historical memoir about what life was like in the 1960s, and the segment featured here is about her experience with an unwanted pregnancy at age 19.

Disclaimer: This piece of writing is not for the faint of heart. Some of the descriptions are rather shocking, if not grotesque. But I believe being shocked into reality can be a very effective way to learn and appreciate what we have.

The reason this story stood out to me was because it is a personal account. A stark, honest description of the measures this young woman went to for a solution to her problem. There are plenty of people, especially women, who do not understand why Roe vs. Wade was as monumental as it was, and why so many fight to protect it. This true story might help clarify that.

Because, you see, Ms. Potter’s circumstances were not uncommon for her day. She was not irresponsible about contraception, simply misinformed. Sadly, one mistake led to her unwanted pregnancy, at a time in her life when she did not have the time, living conditions or finances to support a child.

Ms. Potter explains:

“There was also an acute social stigma attached to an unwed mother with an illegitimate child; maternity homes were frequently frightening and far away. All counseled adoption. The only alternatives were a shotgun wedding or an illegal abortion.

According to a 1958 Kinsey study, illegal abortion was the option chosen by 80 percent of single women with unwanted pregnancies. Statistics on illegal abortion are notoriously unreliable, but the Guttmacher Institute, a respected international organization dedicated to sexual and reproductive health, estimates that during the pre-Roe vs. Wade years there were up to one million illegal abortions performed in the United States each year.”

Today, single motherhood is much more common (although often still not desired) and not nearly as frowned upon as it used to be. We are also far better informed about contraception, and have many more options aside from diaphragms (which were only given out by pharmacists to married women at the time) and the suspicious “pink foam” that Ms. Potter used.

However, it is not the facts that got my attention. It was the dangerous, expensive and seemingly hopeless struggle Ms. Potter endured to attain an illegal abortion. How isolated she felt in her predicament, and the countless other women who experienced the same situation then and are experiencing it today.

This story will bring out emotions in you that may contradict each other. And if nothing else, it will make you realize who was considered a lucky girl back then, how lucky we are as women today…and how quickly it can all be taken away.

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