Until today I have never had the courage to admit publicly that I had an abortion. But I know, once you release a closely guarded secret into the air, the disgrace begins to float away. The shame dissipates and a kind of power takes its place. I am the woman angry protesters point at and call a Godless Feminist, irresponsible with her body. In 1972, I had an abortion that doubled as backup birth control. I also happen to be a Christian minister.
There—I said it.
I might have a tiny bit of understanding for those who want to ban abortions if getting pregnant, for the young and fertile, was complicated or involved a series of careful steps. Like buying a house or getting a degree. But it doesn’t. It can happen in a fleeting moment and then your life is changed forever. I was twenty years old, a sophomore at college and in a tempestuous relationship with Nik. We had unprotected sex one night and a microscopic egg and a microscopic sperm met inside me.
Was that a foolish mistake that Nik and I made or God’s will?
When the nurse at the clinic told me I was pregnant, I’d always believed that terminating a pregnancy was an ethical choice for other women, but that I would never have an abortion myself. In that eye-opening instant, though, I knew that what I had believed about myself was untrue.
It was the summer of 1972, just months before Roe but in the midwestern state where I went to school, the only way I could obtain a referral for an abortion was to claim insanity. I told the doctor I was suicidal, which was sort of the truth but still felt like a lie. Nik and I drove across three states to New Mexico where I received a D and C on August 18. The physician wore a turquoise watchband, and all I felt were cramps from a bad period.
My unintended pregnancy forced me to grapple inside that grey area where all the available answers to a question bring sorrow. This, for me, became a most profound place to wrestle with God. So many questions and no real answers. I had cried a thousand tears of agony over what to do.
But if what I had done was so horrible, how was it that I felt such relief afterwards? I stepped away from the stirrups with a merciful second chance, a new day. Isn’t that what God offers?
Does that decision dehumanize the potential life I carried or affirm mine?
Even after the decades of silence that had separated us, your voice is familiar. There came the surprising sound of your voice, wafting through the phone’s receiver saying, “I’d like to talk with you for a minute.” You are calm, collected, as if this phone call of yours is an everyday occurrence and not something that’s been rehearsed with fierce planning. You wait a beat. Suddenly there is urgency in your timbre, a different register in your tone that distresses me. Sends off warning sirens for what is coming.
There is something you want to get off your chest, you tell me. The burden has been plaguing you for how long? Really? That long? Ever since you found religion. (It’s hard not to notice that you said “religion” and not God.)
You get right to the point. Don’t waste any time. What we did was murder, you say. Of course, you have already admitted your sin and been forgiven. You belong to a church where real religion is taught. You are a father now with a loving Christian wife and three fine boys and a little girl, too. You gave up studying Philosophy, and finished your degree at the ag school near Lincoln. God has been so good to you. But all these years, you’ve wondered and worried. What about Linda? You feel some responsibility, you say, for the state of my soul. What you are waiting for, what you want, is to hear me confess. Then you clear your throat and keep talking. You refuse to accept that my abortion is a private matter between me and God. Will you never understand? It’s the foundation of faith. Individual conscience.
Nik and I had been two idealistic brainiacs, enthralled with Tillich’s ground of being, Kierkegaard and the Russian mystics. After the abortion, we remained friends, but our relationship changed, our passion cooled. We had decided, one spring night in Old Main’s creaky library stacks, that it wasn’t right to bring a child into the world which we were hopelessly unprepared to love and care for. But we never really decided to ever break up. We just drifted apart and avoided saying goodbye. Our young love that ignited the day we sat next to each other in Belief and Unbelief 101 just wasn’t strong enough to survive after the abortion. But what are the odds that we both found religion—God, even—but ended up with such drastically different conclusions about a woman’s (God-given?) right to choose.
Our phone call will be the last time we ever speak. I didn’t need to confess to Nik. I did need to say what I’ve said here. I thank God that I had a choice. I pray that right will remain a safe and available choice for all women.
About the Author
Linda Petrucelli (she/her) is a writer obsessed with short-form fiction and CNF. Her latest essays appear in The Mindful Word, Gulf Stream Literary Magazine, and Barren—forthcoming in Permafrost and Parhelion. For a portfolio of her publications, visit Lindapetrucelli.com.
Supporting Reproductive Rights
This is a critical time in our fight to preserve access to abortion and reproductive healthcare. We believe that every action counts. Here are three things you can do.
- Fight stigmatization by sharing your story and/or supporting people who have shared their stories. Supportive comments and likes make a big difference to the people who have chosen to share their personal experiences.
- Reach out to your representatives on the federal, state, and local levels and tell them that you want them to pass legislation that protects reproductive rights including abortion access.
- Donate to organizations committed to protecting access to safe and legal abortions. This writer recommended Planned Parenthood for the work they are doing to ensure access.