In light of abortion’s recurrent political centrality in the United States, examining abortion narratives remains critically urgent. This article analyzes the abortion narratives found in the 1993 anthology The Worst of Times compiled by Patricia G. Miller, which collects individual stories of illegal abortions from the post–World War II years. It analyzes these narratives in the context of the postwar period’s growing sensational political fascination with abortion pain, alongside the second-wave feminist positioning of abortion as the paramount feminist issue and inherent basis of feminist community. Against these discourses, the semi-anonymous narrators of The Worst of Times disrupt hierarchized, universal, and exclusionary models of pain. Rather, this article argues that, in constructing life writing centered around the painful experience of illegal abortion, the narrators’ experiences cohere into relational clusters that evince commonalities while also maintaining differences. In engaging with their painful abortion experiences, these narratives reshape the medical, national, and feminist power structures that attempted to define the pain that abortion signified. In a moment when abortion legislation faces continued assaults, these narratives invite a consideration of how the embodied, personal pain of abortion can facilitate creative models of community that rethink the power structures that restrict reproductive autonomy.

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