“Getting an abortion in 1953 wasn’t that easy.”


In 1953 Frau Bienkowski’s friend, who was having an affair with a married man, got pregnant. Though she’d had abortions before, she couldn’t get one this time. She had a baby daughter.

The man left his wife. Frau Bienkowski advised her friend not to marry the man. But she did.

After a few years they moved from Berlin to the south of Germany, where his family was from. Frau Bienkowski didn’t like the man. He wasn’t very nice and he drank a lot. He had other children too. Frau Bienkowski and her friend fell out over him for a while.

A few weeks ago, when it was Frau Bienkowski’s birthday, the woman called her.

She’s 89 now and her husband is dead. But the daughter grew up to be a wonderful woman.

“I said to her,” said Frau Bienkowski, prodding her fork into her kiwi cake, “I said, you went through a terrible few years. But look what you’ve got now. A wonderful daughter.”

It all turned out for the best, Frau Bienkowski said. Now she has a diligent daughter – a medical assistant – to take care of her in old age.

Frau Bienkowski and I talked about abortion. I told her it was illegal in Ireland. She had heard about the case of Savita Halappanavar.

Even though her friend now has a lovely daughter to take care of her in old age and her own beloved son died, Frau Bienkowski, 94, and I, seventy years her junior, agreed that Ireland should legalise abortion, and not just if a woman tells three doctors she’s suicidal.

When Frau Bienkowski was young, the pill wasn’t available. “You had to be really careful,” she said.

I told her that when my mother came to Ireland, people went to Georgian houses where doctors illicitly provided them with condoms.

“Contraception is probably still forbidden in Ireland,” Frau Bienkowski said, laughing.

I assured her that, thankfully, it was not.

But I told her that women go to England to get abortions. “Oh, is it legal there?” Frau Bienkowski asked. For her, England and Ireland are pretty much one.

“I’m surprised there’s such a demand for abortion these days though,” Frau Bienkowski said. “With so much contraception available.”

Frau Bienkowski and I talked about men. She knew several who were serially unfaithful.

I said I didn’t like people who wanted to have an exclusive partner and also lots of secret ones. I said I could understand people wanting to have sex with lots of different people, and liking open relationships. But that deceit drove me up the wall.

Frau Bienkowski agreed.

Then she asked: “So how are things with Andrew? What’s the story with his plans?”

“I have good news,” I said.

She looked intently at me. “Yes?”

“He’s moving to Berlin!” I said.

“That’s to my advantage,” she said.

Here eyes were sparkling. “That means you’re staying!”

“It sure does,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere for a while.”

“That’s to my advantage,” she said again.

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7 thoughts on ““Getting an abortion in 1953 wasn’t that easy.”

  1. I found myself reading about Anne Lovett earlier today. That was in 1984. It’s been almost twenty years and one wonders how much progress has been made… Some, certainly, but enough? I think not.

    On an altogether different note, I’m growing rather fond of this Frau Bienkowski.

    • Hi Michael,
      Nice to hear from you. I had to look up Anne Lovett. Very sad. 😦
      Before I moved away from Ireland I didn’t think too much about the country’s crippling hangover from from was essentially decades of Church rule. But distance – and a 94-year-old who’s more enlightened than our politicians – puts things in perspective.

      • It really does. It’s sometimes surprising how enlightened the elderly can be. One wrongly expects them to be arch conservatives for some reason. I remember my grandfather was in favour of priests marrying and female priests – pretty liberal for an elderly Irish farmer!

    • Fantastic, I can imagine the same grin on you 🙂 Sep will be swinging by very very soon!
      I am good, thanks. Bought a small pot of (pink)geranium from the Richmond fair last Sat, quite nice and helps to brighten up the flat. Apparently it’s easy to keep, with minimal maintenance needed;) Do you have any plants in your flat?

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