Published On: Tue, Jun 18th, 2019

What was abortion like before it was legal?: Over 50 years ago this woman had an illegal abortion. Now, she’s telling her story.


Carla Nordstrom was 23 years old when she found out she was pregnant. Now, years later, the 74-year-old New York native is sharing her story as states across the country pass anti-abortion bills that activists hope will be the catalyst to possibly overturn Roe v. Wade

Nordstrom, who first penned her story in a piece for HuffPost, told CBS News she discovered she was pregnant in the late 1960s, before the passage of Roe v. Wade — the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made it legal for women throughout the U.S. to end their pregnancy within the first three months

Nordstrom said that once she decided she would need an abortion she wasn’t able to think about how she was feeling — just that what she was going to do would be against the law.

“You know you’re doing something illegal. And, you know, I’m the type of person — I grew up my whole life, I don’t do things illegal.” Nordstrom said. “I cared very deeply about the fact that I was — It’s just such a big lifetime decision, to make a decision to end a pregnancy and I felt so cheated, because I felt like I didn’t have the opportunity, because it was illegal, to really think about how I was feeling about it.”

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Carla Nordstrom, pictured around the time of her illegal abortion.

Carla Nordstrom


She began to look at the “very few options available” to her and discovered an organization called “The Clergymen’s Committee.” The group was comprised of clergy — ministers and rabbis — who arranged safe abortions for women. The committee set the procedure up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one of the locations where they had a relationship with a doctor. 

Nordstrom said she was “very fortunate” because her parents were supportive and helped her pay for the procedure — which she estimated was about $400 or about $3,000 today, according to the bureau of labor statistics inflation calculator.

While her friends were “very supportive” as well, she said she felt she needed to go through it on her own. “I didn’t want to take any friends along, because I was too afraid that they would be implicated and this was my situation,” recounted Nordstrom. So, she boarded the one-hour flight to Pittsburgh alone.

Once she arrived in the city, she took a bus to the center of town to meet the doctor at a hotel where the procedure was to take place. “He answered the door, he was the only one there — an older man. You know, from what I understood, he had a very important position in a hospital in Pittsburgh,” she said. “He was very nice and he explained exactly what would happen.” 

While Nordstrom described the man as, “professional,” she did notice one detail that she remembers over 50 years later. “It was true, I looked down and saw that his, you know, the equipment that he used was wrapped in a soiled cloth.” However, she still went through with the procedure.

She said the doctor used what she called the “suction method,” also known as Vacuum Aspiration. The procedure, which now is typically performed with local anesthetic, is commonly used within the first five to 12 weeks of pregnancy. This form of abortion utilizes a syringe or tube attached to a bottle and pump to provide a gentle vacuum to remove tissue from the uterus, according to the University of Michigan children’s hospital. She also explained she went through a Dilation and curettage or D & C, which uses a sharp metal instrument to clear tissue from the uterus.

“I had to do it without any anesthesia,” Nordstrom recounted. “I just basically got on a hotel — you lie down on the, on the table and he performed it.”  While Nordstrom remembered the pain as “excruciating,” she said the procedure was over quickly.  “It was very fast,” she said. “It was the type of thing that needed to be fast.”

After the procedure was over, she recalled being given antibiotics and leaving right away. “It was so fast that it was the same bus driver that brought me into the hotel who was driving the bus back,” Nordstrom said. “As I got on the bus he said, ‘Oh, you’re not staying very long are you?’ I assumed he knew what this was about.”

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Nordstrom said she had an illegal abortion without anesthesia.

Carla Nordstrom


Once she arrived at the airport, Nordstrom said her body began to react negatively to the procedure. “My body just turned to ice,” she recollected. “My body just started to fall apart, because it’s a big shock when you have an abortion.”

She feared the worst, but decided not to ask for help from someone on the ground, as she worried the doctor could be implicated if anyone discovered what had happened. 

On the flight, Nordstrom said her body began to calm down and she recovered. 

“I was so incredibly lucky,” she said. “Because I had the support of so many people. I had the support of my parents, I had the support of my friends.” 

Years later, at 38, Nordstrom gave birth to her daughter. “I always knew, my whole life, I knew I wanted to have a baby. That was probably the most important thing to me, but I had to, at that point, I couldn’t do it.”

While she may have survived her procedure, she said she knew of many women who did not and wanted to share her story to tell other women what could happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned, with the wave of anti-abortion legislation being introduced and passing in states across the U.S. Five states have passed a “fetal heartbeat” ban, which would prohibit the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected, including Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio.

“It’s every woman’s problem. It’s not only single women who have abortions — it’s all women who are in that situation,” she said. “You can’t just say, ‘Well, I’ll be ok, so everything’s fine,’ because our society will suffer from it.”

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Carla Nordstrom pictured today.

Carla Nordstrom




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