In My Skin: Graduate student remembers abortion after 30 years

“It’s not a choice I wanted for myself,” Lori Cole, 51, of Bowling Green said. 30 years ago Ñ a year into marriage Ñ she walked into an abortion clinic. Cole said she was pressured into the decision by her then husband, who said the child would put too much strain on the coupleÕs finances. She said she can still see and hear everything about the experience. Here she poses for a portrait at her home on Thursday. (Brian Powers/HERALD)

Kayla Boyd

Lori Cole had her life all planned out. She wanted to live a little bit, get married and have kids. Children wouldn’t come until she was at least 24 years old.

“Of course that didn’t happen,” she said with a laugh.

Almost 30 years ago, Cole was faced with a situation she hoped she’d never come across.

“I was 21,” she said. “It was my second pregnancy.”

She had a 1-year-old at home when Cole aborted her second baby.

“It was something that I didn’t want for myself but it was because I was married and [my husband] used the excuse financially we couldn’t afford another one.”

The couple lived in Bowling Green at the time and Cole agreed they couldn’t afford a second child so soon after their son was born. Her husband was in school and she wasn’t working.

“Rent was like $150 and we struggled to make our payment,” she said. “He said we could not financially afford it and I think that’s pretty much like he convinced me that that’s what it was.”

Jane Olmsted, the director of the Gender & Women’s Studies Program and a coordinator of the M.A. in Social Responsibility & Sustainable Communities, said she hasn’t noticed a significant change in the discussion surrounding abortion in the 18 years she’s taught at WKU.

“The strategy of the quote unquote pro-life movement has been to chip away at the right to make it increasingly difficult for women and what that means is the women who are affected by it are poor women,” Olmsted said.

“That means we have a high percentage of people of color in this country who are poor, that means that they are impacted more than people who are either well off, and by that I mean can just afford a car, can afford the time away from work to drive to where the closest clinic might be, who have race privilege and class privilege.”

Cole’s was one of the 1.3 million legal abortions reported in 1984 according to the Center for Disease Control. If it had been up to her, however, she would have rather kept the child.

“I gave up my convictions and beliefs and went along with it,” she said. “I was actually ashamed because of the fact that I did something that I said I would never do and you know I allowed another person to have that decision for me. And I don’t do that now but then I did.”

Her embarrassment was long term. She didn’t tell her family about the abortion until just last year.

“I can’t remember if I even told my mom before she passed away so I don’t even know if she ever knew it,” she said. “Now the rest of my family found out last year, we were all celebrating kind of the anniversary of my mom’s death we just kind of got together, drinking, partying, and you know, loose lips and it just kinda slipped out. And of course my sister who’s Catholic looks and me and goes ‘what?’ and my brother just kinda looks at me kinda funny and that was pretty much the extent of it. Nobody pretty much said anything else they were just kinda like, ‘wow, we didn’t know that’ type thing.”

Cole graduated in May 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and minors in social work and women’s studies. She started graduate school in spring 2013 pursuing a certificate in leadership studies and is currently on a break due to health issues. Although Cole is more relaxed now and able to talk about the abortion, she said it’s something she’ll never forget or be able to block out of her mind.

She dealt privately with her grief and has struggled with depression, something she believes was largely due to the abortion. She said her memory of the experience might not be as vivid as it was 15 years ago, but it still hits her every once in a while.

Because there wasn’t a clinic in Bowling Green, the couple traveled to Nashville at the instruction of the health department. They arrived at a small building on Church Street, which Cole described as back alley.

“You hear the stories about the back alley doctors,” she said.

“This little place. It was so dark inside and it was like in this little shabby building. And you walk in and the waiting room is like really small and there’s one person sitting at the desk. And when they call you back you go through a couple of doors and the room that procedure took place in was like really, really dark and kind of spooky looking. When they’re done, of course they take you into a recovery room. There’s no lighting in there at all. When you think about you’re thinking, ‘Man what did I do?’ They were supposed to be a legitimate place but it was like, I’m just sitting there thinking, ‘man, I went to a back alley doctor or something.’”

The clinic on Church Street is no longer there, but Cole remembered hearing that it was picketed and vandalized shortly after her visit.

“I don’t remember how many years it was after that happened but there was something had happened to that clinic,” she said.

“I don’t think it was bombed but I think it had been vandalized and picketed and stuff. I remember it was back when a lot of the stuff was going on with the abortion clinics and stuff and I remember when I heard that I was like, ‘wow, that’s the clinic we went to. Man, it’s a good thing there wasn’t nobody out there when we went.’”

Access to clinics has decreased in the years since Roe v. Wade, Olmsted said. What many people don’t realize is that when the case was passed and abortion was legalized, states were also granted permission to regulate abortion the way they see fit.

Cole doesn’t remember the name of the clinic, but that’s about all she has forgotten about that day in December.

“I still remember the whole process pretty much, you know I can hear the procedure.”

Awake the whole time, Cole said she was given something to numb her but that was about it. The procedure she underwent, known as aspiration, is more commonly referred to as the vacuum method.

“I thought about that too it was like why would they keep a person awake,” she said. “I guess because they just wanted [you] to realize what you were doing. But the point is, you know, once they start, you can’t stop.”

Cole doubts her husband, now her ex, even remembers it happened.

“Now for him, I don’t even know if he remembers that we did it,” she said.

“Because it wasn’t for him, it wasn’t a big deal for him because he didn’t have to go through it. I mean, it would have been nice if he’d had to stay in the room with me while it was going on because then he could have seen what was going on but they don’t do that. They, you know, it’s all on the woman.”

Cole went to the clinic in 1984, a full 11 years since Roe v. Wade was decided, legalizing abortion and allowing states to regulate the procedure. Abortions are now considered to be very common. Planned Parenthood reported that three out every 10 Americans will have an abortion by the time they’re 45 years old.

The topic of abortion, which is discussed every time legislation with the intent of limiting access to clinics comes about, isn’t always handled properly in Olmsted’s opinion.

“As soon as we start talking about rights, when we position discussion about abortion as a rights issue, then we’re always going to pit the mother’s rights against the unborn,” Olmsted said.

“And it’s very difficult to see anyway out of that. Then you have the two sides battling.”

Although Cole said looking back she wouldn’t have chosen to have an abortion, she never felt as if she was committing murder.

“I’m all about it being a choice for people,” she said. “I had a choice but I let someone take the choice away from me. If that’s what you feel like you have to do, then you do it too because I don’t believe that anybody should be able to tell someone that they can’t do something. Especially a woman because it’s her body. And I hate these politicians that try to say, ‘Oh no you can’t do that.’ Really? It’s my body. Why don’t you try having kids, let’s see if you want to complain about what women are doing.”

Cole knows forgetting about her past will never be an option.

“In a way, I think now that because I can’t forget, it’s actually probably a little bit more empowering for me because then if I know somebody that’s maybe possibly contemplating that, if they come to me and say, ‘I’m having to do this, what do you think,’ then I can say look, this is the way I feel about it,” she said.

“First and foremost it’s their choice. And I’m not going to influence anybody to do anything they don’t want to do. But I can tell them how it’s affected me and let them make the decision from that basically. And so if somebody was to come to me I would say, ultimately it’s their decision. And I would foremost tell everybody do not let anybody make that decision for you.”