Listen to this story
I missed my period. I was twenty years old and just about to finish my freshman year of college. Telling my mother was easy. I almost enjoyed seeing her reaction to my experiences, and I knew she wouldn’t tell my father; she didn’t want any more chaos in the house than there already was.
My mother and I drove the few blocks to see Dr. Edward Ablon, a well-respected Beverly Hills doctor and family friend. I was six weeks pregnant, and the doctor called my father, whose law office was a few blocks away. I was frightened, so frightened — about everything — but mostly of my father. He liked to punish me every day in one way or another, so this time I was prepared for the biggest punishment of my life.
His reaction wasn’t what I imagined. For a brief second, I thought he would hit me hard in the face with his hand. What he did was no less shocking. He drew me to him and said, “I love you.” For the next hour or so, the four of us sat around Dr. Ablon’s desk discussing my life. My father said that he and my mother would take care of “the baby.” I shuddered thinking about how they had both already failed as parents, and I didn’t want this to be their second chance. I felt hopeless and trapped. I wanted to run as fast as I could from that room, my parents, and all that I knew. Instead, I kept quiet and listened.
Then I heard the doctor say, “Danna should have an abortion. She has her whole life ahead of her, and it shouldn’t be interrupted to carry a baby that she is ill-equipped to raise.” I remember my father’s voice — a quiet one I didn’t recognize — saying, “Yes, doctor. You are right. What do we do?” Dr. Ablon said he would give my father’s name to Leon Belous, a prominent ob/gyn who was performing abortions in the area. The only other option was to fly to El Paso, Texas and drive over the border to Juarez, Mexico.
About a week later, my mother and I were on our way from our house on North Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to the San Fernando Valley, turning into the Thrifty Drugstore parking lot. It was a surreal moment — an ordinary day that was now tilted off its axis. A dirty parking lot in front of a drab building, a place I would never go if I had a choice; my mother silent, biting her lip; my secret exposed, my life about to change. After several minutes, a stranger walked over to my side of the car. Pointing at me in the backseat, he asked, “Are you Danna?” I took a quick survey of him, directing my attention to his hands. Were his fingernails clean, I wanted to know? I wondered because at that point, I thought he was the doctor.
It seemed as if we were driving for a very long time on winding narrow streets, up and down hills until we finally stopped at a little house with a red door and a white picket fence. I’ve wondered if our destination really wasn’t that far and that maybe he had wanted us to feel lost so it would be impossible to find our way back there to expose the scene of the crime. My mother was escorted into the living room, T.V. blaring, while I was led into a small bedroom. There was a single bed with newspapers covering the mattress and two chairs with pillows tied around them for me to hang my legs.
I don’t recall too much about Dr. Belous, but I do know he was undeserving of my unfavorable thoughts. I remember thinking he was a criminal. After all, he killed babies. He had also been indicted by the state Supreme Court for performing abortions. He encouraged me to talk about my classes and my boyfriend and told me he believed I was only four weeks along. Was he being nice or was he trying to keep my focus away from the pain so I wouldn’t scream out from the depths of my soul? And was that why the volume of the television in the living room was turned up so high? To shelter my mother from my pain? It’s likely it was to shield the neighborhood from my cries. I wasn’t given an anesthetic. I needed to keep my eyes open and stay awake in case the authorities arrived to take us all away. Abortion was illegal in 1967.
Driving home down our street, I could see my father pacing up and down as an expectant father would outside a delivery room, waiting for news of his newborn. He was relieved at my return, and we never spoke of it again. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I cried for the first time when I held a friend’s baby in my arms. And I cried again during my senior year, hurt and angry, when I learned that a college friend in whom I had confided spread rumors about me throughout the dorm. Apparently, these girls felt it was all right to have random sex with countless boys as long as they weren’t caught, but it was not okay to make love with a steady boyfriend in an exclusive relationship and become pregnant.
It was also during my senior year that I began to see other more serious consequences of terminating my pregnancy. One day in religion class, I felt dizzy. The room was spinning and turned dark as I put my head down on my desk. The same thing happened a few weeks later, and then again. After four or five more of these episodes, I decided to go home and see Dr. Ablon. I had several tests, including a visit to the neurologist. While she was performing a sensory system evaluation, she asked if there was anything I could think of that might be causing such a strong reaction in me. Right there in the examination room, while I told her about my problems at school, I began to feel dizzy. The room spun, and darkness overcame me. She told me these were anxiety attacks from the emotions deep inside of me rising back up to the surface. What had been such a simple solution to my “problem” had resulted in a very complex response. Yes, I was certain it was the right choice for me. Yes, I would advise my daughters to do the same in similar circumstances. But I have also felt a wide spectrum of emotions in response to what I’d done, what I’d lost, and what would never be.
*The proposed 2017 GOP tax bill has redefined an “unborn child” to mean “a member of the species Homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”