Pamela Blair
The Origins of The Reluctant Womb…
The Reluctant Womb dark alley

What did women with unwanted pregnancies do before Roe v. Wade?

The facts that inspired my novel, THE RELUCTANT WOMB, occurred at University of Michigan. In 1963, before Roe v. Wade, two of my very good friends got pregnant at the same time. One chose to have the child and have it adopted, and the other, who’d been adopted herself, chose an illegal abortion. Their lives were inevitably entwined because of this synchrony, creating an unshakeable closeness, the strength of which was tested the week before the pregnant friend had her baby. The different choices these two women made had everything to do with their futures, though they couldn’t have known it beforehand. The book describes the fateful outcomes of their decisions.

These are the facts that inspired THE RELUCTANT WOMB. The novel is fictionalized, but deals with actual events that describe the political and social environment of the early 1960s—civil rights protests, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, to name three. Much of it takes place on the University of Michigan campus during that period.

Students at U. of M. in those years were living through a turbulent time of rapidly changing ideas and mores, not only politically but also around sex. Many women believed they should be virgins on their wedding night. But when the Pill appeared in the early ‘60s, allowing women near-complete sexual freedom, women were confronted with a very big choice: hold onto their chastity until they married, or give up the puritanical post-war sexual mores and join the Sexual Revolution? Each woman dealt with it in her own way, and most joined the Revolution, although guilt for dropping their ‘chastity vow’ plagued many of them.

Despite the Pill and the Sexual Revolution, abortion was still illegal, and the need remained great, because women still got pregnant. Many died trying to abort. Many went “on a long vacation” until their babies were born and adopted, and they could continue with their lives. Many quit school at 14, 15, or 16 to become ill-equipped mothers. I’ve known women who’ve made each of these choices.

In future weeks I’ll examine more deeply what these choices looked like, using passages from the novel.

Thanks for reading!

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