Ellen's story is collected especially for the SHHH project. All informants and stories in this project have been anonymised. All names are changed.
I have experienced an illegal abortion, at the time when abortion was still punishable by law in Norway, as well as a legal abortion approved by an abortion commission. The illegal abortion, in 1968, was a lonely experience. I just wanted to forget, so I didn’t talk about it for nearly 50 years. The meeting with the abortion commission in 1975, on the other hand, made me furious, even if I ended up getting my abortion approved.
I was in the hospital, in the “corridor of shame”, alongside all the other women facing the commission that day. We were placed in a row with our number in hand. A young girl had brought her mother with her. Nobody spoke. We waited for hours before we were called. I had gotten pregnant despite my IUD, a short time after giving birth. My doctor had applied for an abortion for me. I was sure I would be granted an abortion, since I had done all I could to protect myself.
My turn came around. Into the doctor’s office. A nurse asked me to remove my underwear. After that a man in a white coat came in. I stood there, naked from the waist down, feeling humiliated, and was supposed to introduce myself to the chief physician. He was to undertake a gynecological exam. After that there was more waiting in the corridor, until one by one we were called into the commission meeting with two doctors and a social counselor. The rest of us watched each woman come out of there: some came out crying, others looking relieved.
A faulty IUD is not grounds for abortion in itself, the chief physician explained when it was my turn. He was the only one who spoke. Doctors were undecided on whether it can be considered an indication for abortion, he said. “But what about the fetus that’s carried in the uterus with an IUD in?” I wanted to know. To that, I got a reply that awoke my rage - and my will to fight for women’s right to self-determined abortion for the rest of my life. He replied that doctors were undecided on whether it was medically responsible. They were undecided! He sat there with the power to deny me an abortion. He had the power to send me home to give birth to a child I didn’t feel like I could take care of, and who might have birth defects! Over the course of a few minutes, he had the power to make the most important choice of my life - on my behalf. And against my will.
After the abortion I went home with a deep determination, that with time grew into a big rage: Just you wait, I’m going to get you!
I became part of the new women’s rights movement. We stopped the secret whispers. We began to talk. And not only talk: we called out, sang and screamed. We protested and made trouble and demanded the right to choose. And we found out that women had fought for this right since 1913. Why was women’s history erased? We made movies and wrote books. We were not going to stand for it any longer. We were simply furious. And the women’s rights movement made us brave.