The Albany Times Union ran this story on Sunday, May 22, after Alito’s leaked copy of the Supreme Court’s impending decision on Roe vs. Wade made headlines. Alas, last Friday the “imminent threat” I mentioned became catastrophic reality, and the battle over abortion will be with us for a long time to come. For those who missed it when it first ran in the Times Union, I’m reprinting it in its entirety here.
My abortion story has a happy ending
By Julie Lomoe
My abortion story has a happy ending, and with Roe vs. Wade under imminent threat, I’m compelled to share it. Every woman who chooses abortion has a unique tale to tell, but we usually hide these experiences in secrecy. Meanwhile the public debate rages on, both sides increasingly strident, armed with slogans and generalities.
Personal stories are a powerful way to illuminate the issues, and here is mine. I’ve never publicly shared it, perhaps out of a deeply buried sense of shame. Disclosing my bipolar diagnosis, even writing a novel inspired by it, is much easier than discussing my 1973 abortion, but it changed my life for the better.
I’m 80 years old, and my life’s trajectory has paralleled society’s changing views of relationships and sexuality. At Radcliffe in 1960, I fell in love with a Harvard man, and when he transferred to Columbia, I followed him to New York City and enrolled at Barnard. During the Cuban missile crisis, convinced the world was on the verge of nuclear annihilation, I begged him to marry me, although that was a mere formality since we were practically living together. He complied, in large part to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam. Neither of us were keen on parenthood, so we practiced birth control. I went on the pill as I enrolled in the MFA program at Columbia, determined to succeed as an artist, obsessively painting the Beatles.
When The Sixties turned swinging, our marriage imploded. My husband had been right: we were too young, too inexperienced to settle down. The split was amicable, and I moved downtown to a loft in SoHo. With the sexual revolution exploding, that decade was glorious. For me, it culminated in 1969 at the Woodstock Festival, where I won a prize for my paintings. (Three of them are currently at the Bethel Woods Museum, where they’ll be on display through December).
In 1970, the Beatles broke up. My mother died; so did Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. My world and my paintings grew darker, and I fell into depression. The new wave of feminism came to my rescue; the Redstockings consciousness raising groups I joined may well have saved my life. I’d survived the Sixties with no significant relationships and given up on finding that elusive Significant Other. I went off the pill, virtually swore off men—virtually but not entirely.
In the summer of 1973, when I discovered I was pregnant, I was incredulous. I’d always been careful —on the pill for years, then IUDs. I’d recently switched to diaphragms, which had obviously failed. The father could have been one of two men, but I wasn’t serious about either of them. My decision was a no-brainer: I’d get an abortion. In New York State, abortion had been legalized in 1970. My pregnancy was confirmed at a clinic in Greenwich Village, and with several other women, I climbed into a van for a trip to a medical practice in Rockland County.
I was awake and alert during the procedure. I don’t recall pain, just a sucking vacuum sound and some pressure. After the trip back to Manhattan, I wasn’t ready to go home, so I took in a movie at the art house on 8th Street, then walked the few blocks south to my Prince Street loft. I could think of no one to call.
I wasn’t depressed or traumatized. Instead I felt strangely numb and indifferent. But on a deeper level, something was stirring. The notion that I could bring forth a new life struck me as an amazing novelty.
I’d always been drawn to men who were wary of relationships or emotionally unavailable. But that November, at the hip bar Max’s Kansas City, an attractive man commented on my Pentax camera and said he was writing a book about Pentax. Something clicked, and within a month, we were living together. Like me, he’d married young, had no children, then separated and plunged into the hedonistic Sixties. Like me, he’d become disenchanted with the lifestyle and was ready to settle down.
We decided to conceive a child, and we soon succeeded. We married, and our daughter was born within the year. I was so enchanted with her that I produced a series of watercolors and drawings chronicling our first year together, featured in a one-woman show at a Prince Street gallery. But motherhood was driving me stir-crazy, so I went back to school, earning an MA in art therapy at NYU and embarking on a new career with a more reliable income stream than painting.
We considered having another child, but one felt just right, and I had other goals to pursue, so once again I made a reproductive choice and opted for reliable birth control. I’m grateful I had the freedom to control the trajectory of my life without judgment or intervention from the government.
Thanks to New York State’s laws, I trust my two granddaughters will enjoy the same freedom. But with Roe v. Wade, under attack, I can’t be sure. What is certain is that in many states, millions of women will lose the power to choose their own destinies, and the loss to society will be catastrophic. More women need to come out of the closet and tell their own stories. Maybe that will tip the scales enough to show that abortion is a deeply personal choice rather than an either/or issue controlled by a ruling elite that wants to determine what women can do with their bodies.