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Amy Coney Barrett with Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump stands with newly sworn in U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett during a ceremonial swearing-in event on the South Lawn of the White House October 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. The Senate confirmed Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court today by a vote of 52-48. (Photo:Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

What Amy Coney Barrett Needs to Know About the Three Times My Birth Mother Tried to Abort Me

I don’t know how much of the story my birth mother ultimately told me is true. I know only that she was in tremendous pain over what happened to her.

Robert Radin

1. Statement of Facts

I was born in 1962. My parents adopted me when I was three months old. My birth mother was 17 when she had me. I was 35 when I found her.

I’ve been waiting for this day forever, she said. I never held you. The doctor said I could, but my father wouldn’t let me. He knew if I did I’d never let you go.

2. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health: Justice Amy Coney Barrett

I have a question about the safe-haven laws. So the petitioner points out that in all 50 states, you can terminate parental rights by relinquishing a child after [birth], and I think the shortest period might have been 48 hours if I’m remembering the data correctly. So it seems to me, seen in that light, both Roe and Casey emphasize the burdens of parenting, and insofar as you and many of your amici focus on the ways in which forced parenting, forced motherhood, would hinder women’s access to the workplace and to equal opportunities, it’s also focused on the consequences of parenting and the obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy. Why don’t the safe-haven laws take care of that problem?

3. Rule

A safe-haven law allows a parent to bring an infant to a drop-off site — typically a police station, fire station, or hospital. Upon delivering the infant, the parent relinquishes all rights to the child. The child becomes a ward of the state and the state arranges for an adoption.

4. Proceedings

I spoke to my birth mother three times by phone. She never once asked me anything about myself, my wife, my job, my interests. When I tried to get a word in edgewise she spoke over me or insulted me. And so, in our last conversation, when she asked when we would talk again, I was cagey. I didn’t want to break off contact, but I wanted to limit our interactions.

I hesitated. Hurt, she went into a rage and told me about her three abortions.

Her first abortion was when she was eleven weeks pregnant with me. Her father drove her down to Hollywood late at night to a Victorian house with a wrought-iron gate. A woman who said she was a nurse met her at the door. The woman took her to a dark room with a bed and a sink and told her to take off her clothes. Then a man who said he was a doctor entered. He told her he was going to insert a tube inside her that would cause an abortion, and that she shouldn’t worry because he had done thousands of these procedures. He said he’d just done one on a girl who was much further along. Then he filled a pan with hot water and stuck one end of the tube into the pan and the other inside her. She screamed, yanked out the tube, grabbed her clothes, and ran out.

Her second abortion was two weeks later. Her father drove her to a shopping center in Studio City and made a call from a payphone. He gave the phone to her and a man asked for her name and age and the date of her last period. He told her to go to a bar on Ventura Boulevard the next day and he’d send someone to get her, but she had to arrive alone or the whole thing was off. He told her to bring a sanitary pad and $400 in a plain envelope.

She went to the bar and met a man who asked for the envelope. He drove her to a bungalow in Laurel Canyon where she waited in the living room with another woman who told her she shouldn’t worry, that she’d had two abortions and it would be over before she knew it.

A woman in a yellow dress brought her to a room with dark curtains. On the floor were a stained sheet, two desk lamps, a baking pan, and a towel. The woman told her to take off her clothes and lie down and spread her legs. A man wearing a Hawaiian shirt, rubber gloves and a headlamp entered the room. He knelt down and told her everything would be very simple. First he would give her two injections to numb the area and then he’d get the job done.  She heard him rattling his instruments around in the baking pan and saw him raise the hypodermic needle and she started screaming. The woman told her if she couldn’t shut up they were going to have to stop but she kept screaming and the man in the Hawaiian shirt called her a bitch and told her to get the hell out of there.

Her third abortion was at 18 weeks. Her father told her they were going to Mexico. He said there was a clinic where they took care of these things. They drove to Calexico and he turned off the headlights, waited for the patrol cars to pass, then crossed the border. They drove another two hours until they got to the clinic. It looked like a bunker, but inside the lights were bright and it was clean and everyone wore white lab coats. Her father went with her to the exam room — he wanted to make sure nothing went wrong this time. The doctor shook her father’s hand and told him he’d take care of everything. Her father left and the nurse had her change into a hospital gown.

She lay back on an exam table and put her feet in stirrups. They washed between her legs and gave her an injection to numb the pain. When she saw the doctor had a scalpel, she grabbed it from him and stabbed him.

You heard me, she said. I killed him. I have nightmares about it every night.

She was sobbing.

Every single night I wake up screaming, she said.

There was a struggle for the phone. My birth mother’s husband got on the line.

Don’t you ever call here again, he said.

5. Table of Authorities

Argentina legalized abortion in 2020. The argument that ultimately proved persuasive wasn’t a moral one: It was the fact that in 2019 alone 39,000 Argentine women were hospitalized due to injuries caused by clandestine abortions, and many of these women died. Argentine legislators understood — or at least accepted — that abortion access was a matter of public health.

6. Amicus Curiae

As my birth mother told me the stories of her first two abortions I was filled with dread and braced myself for something terrible. These were dangerous places.

It was as if I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was as if I was listening to stories that didn’t involve me.

And then, as she told me about her third abortion, it was like she was describing a doctor’s office or a hospital in the United States, and for a moment she sounded relieved, and I felt relieved too. I couldn’t anticipate the turn her story was going to take.

I don’t know how much of her story is true. I know only that she was in tremendous pain. There was the trauma of each attempted abortion, and the trauma of giving me up for adoption, and the trauma of talking to me and realizing the primal connection she’d dreamed of was, in fact, a fantasy.

There’s something else I know: Her trauma would’ve been less severe if abortion had been legal, if she’d been able to go to a clinic in Los Angeles and learn about her options, no matter what she ultimately decided to do.

7. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health: Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar

I think where the analysis goes wrong in reliance on those safe-haven laws is overlooking the consequences of forcing upon a woman the choice of having to decide whether to give a child up for adoption. That, itself, is its own monumental decision.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert Radin

Robert Radin

Robert Radin is the director of citizenship and immigration services at a social-service agency in Massachusetts and the author of the new memoir 'Teaching English to Refugees' (Ibidem/Columbia University Press). Follow him on Twitter at @RobertRadin1

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