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Hidden Abortions

The changing political winds around abortion have led so many women to keep their abortions secret, including both those who got illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade, and those who legal abortions afterwards, for reasons to do with shame and social expectations. But since the right to abortion is now in question in many places, those same women are now choosing to speak out — equating secrecy with silence, and openness with defiance. This episode tells intimate stories of women who spent years keeping this chapter in their lives secret — the toll of that secrecy on relationships and self-esteem — and what changed their minds.

Gloria Steinem in 1972.
Warren K. Leffler
Library of Congress
Gloria Steinem in 1972.

We meet:

Wendy Sibbison, a retired human rights lawyer in Greenfield, Massachusetts, who had an illegal abortion in the 1960s and only spoke about it after joining the women’s movement of the '70s. She had a second abortion years later, and approached it much differently.

A 50-something woman named Rachel, who had abortions in the 1980s but, despite their legality, felt so ashamed she couldn’t talk about it. Until the Dobbs decision turned her into an activist (though she still prefers to keep her last name out of it).

And Smith College professor Carrie Baker, who is an expert on feminist and abortion history, including how secrecy has been weaponized by opponents of abortion and women’s rights in general.

The Secrets We Keep is written/produced/hosted by Karen Brown, edited by Sam Hudzik, with music by Katie Semro.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.