Volume 14 • Number 2 • Fall-Winter 2022-2023

Paul Rousseau

A Time Before Roe

“The telephone rings. “This is Mary. I’m…I’m pregnant.”

My head jerks. “Pregnant? Are you sure?”

“Yes, and we can’t keep it. I have to get an abortion, but we can’t tell my parents.” She is seventeen, I am eighteen.


We are in a warehouse in a small border town. She is lying on a dilapidated exam table. I stand beside her, clutching her hand. A man in surgical scrubs introduces himself as the doctor. He inquires if she has the money. She pulls five-hundred dollars from her purse; he grabs the money and stuffs it into his pocket.

A woman enters the room and identifies herself as a nurse. She appears restless and uneasy. She covers Mary with a sheet and slides a chair in my direction and advises me to sit so I will not injure myself should I become faint and collapse. Then, she places an intravenous catheter in Mary’s arm. The doctor scrubs his hands and forearms, slips on a gown and gloves, and mutters, “I’m ready.” The nurse locks the door, then injects Mary with morphine and a sedative medication. A hypnotic sleep follows. The nurse secures Mary’s legs in stirrups, and the doctor slides between her legs and scrapes her womb like the inside of a pumpkin. He scrapes and scrapes. Then, he stands, unlocks the door, and leaves.

When Mary arouses, the nurse removes the intravenous catheter, places her in a wheelchair, and guides her to the car. Mary is pale and clammy, her words garbled and slurred. She plops onto the back seat and folds into a fetal position. I glance at her pants; they are stained with claret blood. My palms dampen and my heart pounds. “Is that…” “It’s normal to bleed a little,” the nurse advises. She shoves a towel beneath Mary, places a bottle of antibiotics in my hand, and admonishes, “Do not let her miss a dose; she could die.” I slip into the car, turn the ignition, and drive fourteen hours home.


Author’s Note: The swell of partisan determination to proscribe a woman’s right to reproductive healthcare that followed the Supreme Court’s 2022 reversal of Roe v. Wade is frightening. The restrictive laws enacted by many states place pregnant women at risk of physical and mental trauma, including death. Regrettably, backroom, clandestine abortions may once again become a dangerous option for terminating a pregnancy. Lamentably, many will end with tragic consequences.

Paul Rousseau (he/his/him) is a physician, writer, lover of dogs, and occasional photographer published in sundry literary and medical journals. Co-winner of flash fiction competition, Serious Flash Fiction 2022. Nominated for The Best Small Fictions anthology from Sonder Press, 2020. Twitter: @scribbledcoffee