Jennifer O’Neill Story

Jennifer O’Neill
Tennessee, United States

*Craig’s marriage proposal and our engagement gave me a sense of being respected, and along with that came an emotional security that freed me from the dark mistrust that had haunted me with men. Even though the marriage was on hold until his divorce was finalized, I was content just knowing his intentions meant forever. As far as having a child together, I had made it very clear to Craig when we had first become involved, that due to recurrent health problems and the removal of my breast tumor a few years earlier, I could not take any kind of birth control (every method had side effects or dangers for me). He was well aware of how deeply I wanted more children, so it was understood that the contraception issue was his to care for. 
And so it had been. 
   Following his proposal, our time together was better than ever, Craig took no precautions to prevent pregnancy. I talked to my therapist about my fiancé’s new behavior, and the doctor suggested that sometimes people want something but don’t want to admit it, their actions might cause them to actually bring about their repressed desire. If that was the case with Craig, it meant that he really wanted everything with me—marriage and children! This notion filled me with hope, and when I found out I was pregnant, I was ecstatic. I confirmed the good news with my gynecologist, and even asked him write a note on his stationary stating that I was due in the spring, so I could surprise Craig with the good news. I jumped in a cab and met him at his office.

   Laying the note from the doctor on his desk, I could barely contain my grin as I waited for Craig’s response—but when he looked up, I didn’t recognize the expression on his face. Who is this person you’re standing in front of? Why is he glowering over the letter saying we’re expecting a baby?! This can’t be the man you love, Jennifer. The man who asked you to marry him … WHAT”S WRONG!?!

   His words were precise and unequivocal, his eyes cold and lifeless, “I don’t want it. You’re not going to have a baby. You’re going to have an abortion.” 

   Over the next several weeks, my life spiraled down to its lowest ebb so far. At first I told Craig that I absolutely refused to have an abortion as he had so ruthlessly ordered; I was prepared to have the baby on my own. And with that, he shed layers of his former pleasant–personality exposing less and less compassion as he searched for just the right method or threat that would successfully coerce me into following his demand. Still, I wouldn’t budge, hoping he would come around—hoping he really did love me and that he would love our baby. I went to my parents for advice, and they told me to comply with his wishes. “After all,” Mom said, “you don’t want to have a baby with a father who refuses it. Craig is a good man. Marry him, and I’m sure he’ll change his mind later. You can always have another baby when the time’s right.…” 

   “… Besides, Jennifer, it’s not even a baby yet.”

   When all of Craig’s objections failed to convince me, the man pulled out the big guns. His eyes never flickered. His body language was frightening enough, but his chosen words sealed his threat with a promise I knew he could and would keep. “I am going to do everything in my power to get you to abort this thing, but if you insist on having my baby, I promise you, the moment it’s born, I will take it away from you and make sure you will never have anything to do with it. I give you my word that I will prove you unfit and emotionally unstable. I will bury you. Do you understand me?!” 

   And with that, I knew his past professions of love belonged to a prior life and time …I also knew nothing would stop the man from getting his way.

   I was inconsolable as I lay waiting on the surgical table for the doctor to begin the abortion “procedure.” 

   My doctor knew how much I wanted my baby, so he offered to speak to Craig on my behalf “before it’s too late to turn back.” He didn’t understand why things couldn’t be worked out. When the doctor returned from talking to Craig in his office, his expression was grim. It took him a few beats to find the right words before he told me that he was so sorry, but he had never met anyone so unswayable in their decision to abort as Craig was. 

   And then the life growing in me was torn apart, and I watched as it was sucked out of my body along a tube and dumped into the trash. 

   In 1974, I was told that my pregnancy was just a blob of tissue in my uterus, up to three months gestation. “Abortion is like passing a heavy period, that’s all.”  “It’s not a real baby or individual.” “It’s just a mistake, an inconvenience.” “There are too many people in the world as it is.”  “One has no moral responsibility to a blob of tissue.” “It’s just a microscopic entity without a name or a face.” “It’s nobody.” 

   Ignorance on my part about the statements was a weak excuse, but at the time, an accurate one. Despite all the overwhelming pressure from Craig, I was pitiful in my inability to stand up against someone else’s reasoning, no matter how powerful he happened to be. Bottom line, I buckled in fear. I didn’t know where to find the strength necessary to defend my baby or my heart. Deep down, I knew my abortion was wrong, even when everyone was saying it was legal and moral. I hated myself, no question … I hated myself in a way I knew I wouldn’t recover from.

   And nothing was understood, grieved or healed. 

   Following the procedure, after a week of hoping my relationship with Craig could survive such betrayal, I moved back to my own apartment with my daughter from my first marriage. I told my agents I was ready to go to work, but the truth was, all I felt ready for was to curl up in some corner and disappear.

    For years, abortion remained a dark place within me, an indefinable root of my pain because its consequences “didn’t exist” according to those “helping me’ with my bouts of depression, etc.. Unbelievably, abortion was never brought up on any level by my doctors as a possible negative experience in my life, let alone the lynch-pin to my pain. The despair I felt when I had my abortion was “nothing”, according to the therapists, and according to a society that accepts abortion as a legitimate answer to pregnancy. There was no grieving for me because the baby I was carrying was just “a blob of tissue,” “a mass,” “a cluster of cells” that, in my case, was adamantly unwanted by the father. 

      Healing, peace and forgiveness came through Jesus Christ and Rachel’s Vineyard.

*Name changed for privacy