Three weeks had passed since Susan's second abortion and she had returned to Washington's Preterm abortion clinic for a following exam. Unlike some Preterm patients, she appeared to be perfectly at ease talking about her abortions and living with the fact of them.
Susan's first abortion took place four years ago, the year when she turned 18 and the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion on a nationwide basis. "It was my freshman year in college," she recalled with a laugh, "the first time I'd ever had intercourse. I had met a guy and I pretty much felt I was ready to become a woman. I was 18 and everybody else had already gone to bed with guys and I sort of wanted to, too, so I let this guy do it.
"I sort of knew I was going to get pregnant, I just had a feeling afterwards, "This is really a bad time in my cycle' . . . I was at a rebellious age and I was sort of rebelling against my parents and I wanted to get in trouble.
"But I had to take care of it myself because the guy wasn't around afterwards," she said. "It happened during a vacation in Florida and I never saw the guy again. I wrote to him, but he never wrote back to me. My parents didn't know and they still don't."
Susan said she took money out of her bank account - "my parents never saw my bank book" - and flew to New York where abortion had been legal since 1969. "It wasn'ttraumatic," she said of the first abortion, " and this time, too, I felt more like I had a tumor that had to be removed, like there was something wrong inside me and I did the best thing I could.
"It wasn't until after the abortion that I started hearing all these things about right to life and I started thinking about "Is it really a life or isn't it?" And I think it isn't. Even if it is - I'll even admit that now - a woman still has a right to do what she wants with her body."
Susan was asked how she felt about abortion before having one.
"I felt it was the right of every person. I never knew anybody who had one. But I'd always felt I didn't want any kids anyway and I still don't feel that I do," said Susan. "Having a kid is a big responsibility."
How did she come to find herself in an abortion clinic a second time?
"I had been using different kinds of birth control. I was on the diaphragm and I'd been using it since about a year after the first abortion. It had been doing well and I like it.
"Without constant reminding, you sort of lose track of (when it's being used right) and I was sick of using the diaphragm all the time and I thought I'd combine it with rhythm - right after the period you're safe a few days," she said, repeating an old wives' tale often heard by abortion counselors.
So Susan was pregnant again.
"The guy I'm living with was raised Catholic, but he felt the same way I did. He has helped me immensely. I think our relationship hinged on this," Susan continued, speaking of her second abortion.
"I feel much better knowing I'm not pregnant, knowing that I can continue what I want to do. I feel much closer to my boyfriend," said Susan. "I feel more stable. There was never any moment when I wanted to have the baby."
For Susan the decision to have an abortion was an easy one. There was no moment of indecision. No thought of a life with a child. For Susan, abortion is a fact of life.
For Elaine and John, however, the decision to abort a pregnancy was far more difficult and painful. They are young. They are in love. They plan to be married in the fall. And they love children.
Elaine is 21 and John is 24. Both live their parents, both sets of whom are fundamentalist Christians, opposed to premarital sex and opposed to abortion.
"We were hoping on the rhythm method." said Elaine, three weeks after her abortion.
"Which didn't work," said John.
The two were asked how they felt when they found out Elaine was pregnant.
"I broke out crying," Elaine said. "I just wanted it to be a happy time. There was mass hysteria. I cried for a couple of weeks. We both really wanted this child and it wasn't easy. We'd both talked about it before and said we'd never get an abortion."
"Boy," added John, "if she was ever pregnant we both swore up and down there wasn't any way on earth we'd get one of those . . . I assumed that if you loved a person enough - I want to have kids . . . I guess it doesn't really hit you what it's really all about until after it happens, and once it does . . ."
"I thought abortion was wrong," said Elaine. "At one point there was this course where they showed you all these horrible movies with babies in garbage cans. Maybe it was a church class.
"I realized the movie was way overdone, but I also thought that if I loved the person, that I wouldn't have an abortion. But this was absolutely impossible. And besides wrecking both out lives temporarily, it would have wrecked everybody close to us."
"Parents," John explained. "We both knew from the beginning that (the pregnancy would end in abortion) but we didn't want to admit it."
The debate only lasted "about a week and a half," Elaine said, "but even in that week and a half I got attached to it [the pregnancy]." She turned to John and said, "You couldn't know," and then continued, " and the more attached I got I realized the harder it would be" to abort.
John and Elaine were both so equivocal that the counselor to whom they spoke at Preterm sent them back home, telling them to think through their decision more carefully. "We were still up in the air," recalled Elaine, "but we knew we had to do it."
"A lot of the time I think she was trying to figure out if there was some way we could keep it, if there was any possible way," John said, "and I just kept thinking of trying to find ways to come up with the money. But even if I got the money, she still has 2 1/2 years of college and I have four . . ."
Elaine said that after the abortion she felt "empty and useless, like I didn't have a purpose left in life and I felt very alone." John was with her, she said, "but I can't help it, I still felt very alone. I'm still feeling it somewhat. I either feel very happy or I'm sad, or mad or irritated at everybody near to me. I'm like fighting out, and I don't know why."
"I feel like I'm the one who caused it," John said, "and it's kind of normal for her to strike at me. I try to take it as much as I can. It's hard. I understand what she's going through. Of course, I wasn't as close to it and I wasn't carrying it and she was. My problems were less."
"Neither one of us think it's particularly right to have an abortion," John said, "but it's not right to have a baby either."
"There's no right way," Elaine said. "There's two bad paths. We want at least two kids," she said. "We both want kids."
They were asked if they could ever put the abortion completely behind them.
"I'm sure it'll always be there," Elaine said.
"A little bit," John said to her, "but once you have your first one . . ."
"Right now." Elaine continued," every commercial with babies in it, or there was a baptism at church this weekend, and songs on the radio . . . I don't know . . ."
"You're thinking about having one, more than about that particular one," John interrupter." You're thinking about a . . ."
"No," said Elaine quite firmly, "I'm thinking about that one, about what it was."
"When we walked through a store, before the abortion, you'd never see baby clothes. No matter what you're doing you bump into something that makes you think," said John. "We wanted it. There wasn't any doubt about that. We'll have another one some day . . . As soon as, we can."