For about three months in 1980, when she was 20 years old, Nora took the birth control pill. She started it because it seemed to her like a convenient form of contraception; it’s easy to take a pill once a day and not have to worry about it otherwise. The pill was popular among her friends at the time. Though throughout the 1970’s there was some discussion about the safety of the pill following the 1969 publication of the book The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill by medical journalist Barbara Seaman by the early 1980’s, 10.7 million American women were on the pill (Timeline). The pill was perceived as a huge breakthrough. “An enabler for women’s freedom,” Nora said.
“There were a lot of people who did the mainstream thing – [the pill was] convenient, they didn’t think about it too much,” Nora said. “I was very health conscious, and I was concerned about [the pill] not being natural. There was this foreign thing in my body that was changing me. It made my mood go all over the place.”
Nora stopped taking the pill soon after starting it, and never took it again. Though she never chose hormonal birth control for herself, she is not against it. She believes access to birth control is liberating, and that everyone needs to find their own way to prevent pregnancy. But she sees fault with the birth control options available – particularly the unnaturalness of it. She is disturbed, for example, that some women who use hormonal birth control don’t menstruate.
“You miss that part of being a woman. [Menstruation] is messy, but it’s basic,” Nora said. “You miss out on the common experience of women across the world, throughout time. It seems very unhealthy. I am appalled that in all my years there isn't better [birth control] – there isn’t something easier and less harmful to women. There’s significant side effects if it's hormonal, the IUD can be painful, with diaphragm and condoms, you have to pay attention, it’s messy. It’s up to the woman to deal. The burden is always on the woman.”
Rather than taking the pill, Nora used the diaphragm as her main form of birth control throughout her adult life. She also read a book about the fertility awareness method, where she learned how to track her cycle to know which times of the month she was most fertile. She knew it wasn’t a fool proof system, but she thought it reasonable. And she knew she could have an abortion if she needed; abortion was legalized when she was young, and she came of age considering them to be accessible and uncontroversial. And by the time she was in her late twenties, she thought if an accident did happen, she was mature enough to have a baby. When she got pregnant at age 29, though, she realized she wasn’t ready.
“When the time came, I was like, oh, there’s other things I want to do,” Nora said. “You get some experiences in your life that are learning experiences, and they’re such big ones that your intellectual ideas don’t hold much relevance anymore. That's what I thought before I had any clue what I was talking about. I thought, in this situation I’d do this, but [then I was] in that situation and that’s not at all what I would do.”
At the time that she found out she was pregnant, Nora was getting ready to move to India for a graduate program. She was not yet married. She confided in her friends, a few of whom had had abortions. In the eighties, abortion was relatively common in the United States, with over 1.5 million legal abortions performed each year (Diamant). One of Nora’s friends described abortion as “an easy solution for a big problem.”
“It was a time when abortions were very easy and very legal,” Nora said. “There wasn’t too much stigma around it – at least with my people. I had the choice; I thought I’d take my choice.”
Nora did not make the decision lightly. She understood that even though abortion was legal, there could be spiritual ramifications. She spent time contemplating and meditating. She leaned towards Tibetan Buddhism.
“From a Buddhist point of view, and if you have an abortion, that being moves on,” Nora said. “They have a short life, and they move on to their next life. My spiritual research was helpful. I wasn’t getting any sense that this baby was desperate to come through at that moment. I am a big believer in not bringing children into the world unless you really want them. That was the era we were in – what works for the woman, because we have options.”
Nora had an abortion. Her doctor was good to her. She had thought through her decision carefully beforehand, so she did not struggle emotionally afterwards. She continued using non-hormonal forms of birth control for the next few years. After she finished her graduate program, and did more traveling and exploring, she married her boyfriend. They decided together when they were ready for a baby, and she had their first of two sons when she was 34 years old. She feels grateful that the timing was her own, and she is grateful she had the choice.
“This whole overturning of Roe v. Wade, it’s a travesty. An absolute travesty. It’s a huge step back,” Nora said. “50 years ago, [Roe v. Wade] changed everything. It gave women autonomy. I do have respect for those who believe a life is a life from the moment of conception. Their belief is what it is, and that’s spiritually hard for them. But it needs to be balanced by the mothers life. She’s a living person, and she has to be looked out for as a living person.”
*Interview conducted February 2, 2023 by phone
“A Timeline of Contraception.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service.
Diamant, Jeff, and Besheer Mohamed. “What the Data Says about Abortion in the U.S.” Pew
Research Center, Pew Research Center, 13 Jan. 2023.
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