No Choice

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There are few published first-person accounts of the experience of having a back room or self-induced abortion and its aftermath. No Choice is a new book about just that.

By giving voice to those who have been too often silenced, and by placing their words and their lives in front of readers today, the editor, The Childbirth by Choice Trust, has rescued women's experiences with illegal abortions from the dark alleys and back rooms. This compelling and extraordinary book will shame those who still want the abortion issue to just go away.

The testimonials of the sixty women portrayed in the book are painful but poignant to read.

"My pain around abortion is not in the decision, but in the degrading, frightening and high-risk process which was required to implement the decision," says one woman.

Readers will find themselves captivated by the striking narrative of the women's suffering, their loneliness and their strength.

Telling stories leading up to 1969, when abortion became legal under certain circumstances (in 1988 was completely decriminalized), the book starts with an Alberta woman in 1909. No Choice looks at the historical treatise of the times, and the experiences of Dr. W. McCallum who provided illegal abortions in the fifties.

Haunting and compelling, the stories each give voice to a time when terror, rage, shame, panic, depression, isolation and depersonalization went hand in hand with an unwanted pregnancy. The women portrayed wanted to terminate their pregnancies -- their attempts to get an abortion led to their suffering.

From a variety of ages, marital statuses, locations, social and class backgrounds, religious beliefs and political affiliation, the women in the stories show that abortion is an issue woven throughout the social fabric of Canadian society.

Knowing it was common that women butchered themselves makes it all the more powerful. "She used a firecracker or something like that, in order to open up her womb," describes one of the narrators.

Often women induced their own abortions or relied upon an informal network to find an abortionist. Sometimes their stories read like a spy novel: waiting by a phone, being picked up in an isolated location, blindfolded and alone. They were often assaulted.

And the procedures were unsanitary, expensive and primitive.

The graphic descriptions of the torturously painful procedures will outrage readers today. No Choice makes the case that a dignified approach to abortion is the only answer to the complexities of unwanted pregnancies.

"There is still no access to abortion in Prince Edward Island and in many rural areas of the country."

The Childbirth by Choice Trust has added a powerful voice to the chorus of women's health activists making sure that choice replaces no choice.

Irene D'Souza is a freelance writer and book reviewer.