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Despite Regrets, She's Still Pro-Choice

March 11, 1989|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Twice--under very different circumstances, 14 years apart--Kelley became pregnant.

Both times--for very different reasons--she made the difficult decision to have an abortion.

Now 42, Kelley, who lives in San Clemente, longs to experience pregnancy and childbirth "the way it's supposed to happen." She, her husband and their doctors have tried "every possible procedure" from in vitro fertilization to fertility drugs to various surgeries, all without success. Although the couple adopted a baby girl 2 1/2 years ago, they are still trying to have a child.

Which is not to say that she has had no regrets about her own choices; she has, although she has long since made peace with herself about them. "But it still comes down to the fact that I had a choice and I made it," she says. "At least I had a choice.

"It makes me so angry to see all these men in Congress and the Senate and these anti-abortion men feeling they have the right to decide these issues for women. They have no right."

Abortion, she believes, "is an individual question. Period. The only way to happiness and peace of mind is for each and every one of us to take responsibility for our own lives, for our own happiness, for our own sadness. I live with the consequences of all my decisions, most of them right, a few of them wrong. But whatever, they were my own."

In the past 2 weeks we've heard from both sides of the abortion issue, with our readers overwhelmingly in favor of legalized abortion. But Kelley's story doesn't fit easily into any category. Her two abortion experiences raise the issue of abortion not only for personal reasons but for medical ones as well.

Kelley was 23 and engaged to be married in 1971 when she became pregnant. The news was a shock, because her doctors had concluded a year earlier after extensive diagnostic tests that she would probably never become pregnant.

"I had a very strict upbringing and couldn't face telling my family I was pregnant," she says. "There was also not the open attitudes about pregnancy before marriage then that there are today. I was frightened and so very sad that this happened to me. I had always been the perfect 'good girl.' "

After she and her fiance decided against having the baby, Kelley went to her gynecologist, who diagnosed her as "mentally incompetent" so that she could have the abortion at a hospital (it would be 2 more years before the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision made abortion legal).

"There was no counseling or referrals, so I never considered other options," Kelley says. "I had no one to talk to about it. It took all my life savings ($1,200) and used up all the money I had saved for my wedding."

Kelley drove herself home from the hospital. "It seems I cried for 2 months straight. I have grief and a sense of deep loss for that child to this day. It would be 18 years old now, and I am really sad that I was not able to tell my family or friends or maybe (I could have) seen other options. I have always wanted children."

There were complications, and Kelley's honeymoon 2 months later was cut short when she began hemorrhaging. After a second surgery, she recovered, although she remained "very sad." Four years later, the couple divorced.

"I am and always will be forever sad about the (first) abortion and the child I could have had then," Kelley says. "Especially in view of my inability to have a child since then. I will always feel it was a mistake, but I made it and I have to accept that."

Kelley remarried in 1984. "I was 37 by this time and never lost the hope that I would someday have children. We began immediately to see a fertility specialist after our wedding. I had not used birth control for a year before our marriage and never got pregnant."

Tests showed that one of Kelley's Fallopian tubes was blocked, possibly the result of her previous abortion or the subsequent surgery. But the other tube was open and Kelley began taking fertility drugs. Six months later, she became pregnant for the second time.

"Because of my age, I had an amniocentesis," Kelley says. The test, which involves taking a sample of the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus, showed conclusively that the baby--a girl--had Down's syndrome, a form of mental retardation. Further tests found a severe heart defect as well.

"It was for both my husband and me the saddest time of our lives."

After consulting with their minister and genetic experts, Kelley and her husband decided to terminate the pregnancy at 22 weeks.

"I was devastated. I was the happiest I had ever been when I was pregnant, and when this baby died, some of the best of me died with her.

"That child was so wanted and loved, but she would not have had a happy life. She would have suffered endless pain and surgeries if she lived at all, and would have faced living in an institution some time in her life as we got older. . . . It was out of complete love for her that we made the choice we did, and thank God we had a choice."

After the second abortion, Kelley and her husband immediately began trying to adopt a child, even though it was "probably too soon in the grieving process." Agency after agency turned them down because they were "too old." Doctors and friends were discouraging. They consulted an attorney and sent out hundreds of letters and pictures to obstetricians.

In October, 1986, they adopted an infant daughter and are now looking for another child to adopt.

Kelley now volunteers with Support for Prenatal Decision, a peer counseling group for parents who have terminated a pregnancy for medical reasons. "We have no position on whether anyone should or should not abort for any reasons," she says. "We are simply a safe place for people to share their grief."

Meanwhile, Kelley underwent an experimental technique in December, 1988, to open her blocked tube. She is still taking fertility drugs.

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