All eyes are currently on Texas, but the Lone Star State isn't the only place where the fight over reproductive rights is blazing. Year after year, abortion is a hot-button issue across the nation — for good reason, as the Guttmacher Institute reports that nearly one in three American women will have an abortion by age 45. The old adage is true when it comes to reproductive rights: It's certainly personal and political.
That's why we've invited five women to tell their stories: a pro-life activist, a pro-choice activist, a clinic volunteer, and women who have had terminated a pregnancy. Whatever your thoughts on the issue, we hope you'll find their stories as compelling as we do — and that you'll share your opinion with us, too. Read on.
When I was 20 years old, I had an abortion. I never thought I would, and up until that point I had identified myself as someone who was very much for the "right to choose" and thought of being pro-life as being absolutely anti-woman. But, I just thought that if I were ever to be forced to make that harrowing choice, I would be fortunate enough to be able to be mobile enough to weigh all options. Which I wasn't.
Let's be clear: I am a vegetarian. I value life in all of its forms. But I am also a rational person, and I understand that a cluster of cells that have lodged themselves in my uterus is not life. Not yet. In a few months, given that the hard-partying lifestyle I had been living didn't take a toll on my body, it would begin to form into some life, but at the moment, it was just a cluster. In my mind I knew this, I intrinsically knew that I was not "killing anything." But when I peed on that stick, I suddenly felt absolutely, horribly dirty. I had fucked up. I am now a statistic. I am now a person who has an asterisk next to her name.
Which is why I have agreed to write this. As I stated before, I had a non-invasive outpatient procedure that eliminated the ability for cells to multiply in my body, but yet, I had felt so dirty. Even today, I feel like "damaged goods" for even talking about my experience, which I do to lessen the stigma that, I promise you, anyone who has made that choice feels. I want to highlight this, and write it in all caps: I felt stigmatized not because I "murdered a baby," but because I am someone who has had a complicated sexual past. Society doesn't like it when women have complicated sexual histories, stories, or identities.
My reasoning for having an abortion isn't really important anymore, but I'll acknowledge it so we can cover that base: I did it because I had no other choice. I was 20, I was in college, I was totally broke, uninsured, and it would have bankrupted me. Also, the guy I was seeing at the time was a drug addict who ended up dying of an overdose a few months later. I vaguely entertained the idea of carrying to term and giving up a child for adoption, but with my intense degree and lack of health options, that didn't feel realistic. And, I know that the guy's family would fight to have that child in their life, forever tying me to someone who was deeply troubled. My life would be put on hold — and this is assuming that those cells were to manifest into a baby, and the argument that "a loving family would be able to adopt a child" didn't wash with me. I couldn't prove that. I didn't know that for certain.
So, the real deal. Yeah, abortion is traumatizing, but I don't think it's as traumatizing as spending nine months hating this thing inside your body. In truth, I have reflected a lot on it, but in the same way that I reflect on death, broken hearts, and mistakes: It's helped me learn and grow. But the actual, physical implications aren't that bad.
You go into a room, they give you an ultrasound, and you literally see that there is a grayish spot inside of you. (I asked for lots of drugs, because, hey, why not.) Then, you lay in an antiseptic feeling room and have someone hold your hand (this is an important part of the procedure, and since I didn't have the dude with me there, I brought my amazing best friend who was like a wall of beauty and strength). There is something cold, and then you cramp a little bit (think: a really bad period). Then, that's it. It's over. You get tea and a cookie to keep your blood sugar up, and you go home to rest. You wear a pad for the next few weeks, and then your body is generally back to normal.
How you handle it emotionally, of course, varies person to person, just like anything else.
You know, I am writing this anonymously, and here's why: I don't want you to Google my name and see that I am footnoted as "abortion-haver." But you know me. I'm a together, funny, awkward, generally intelligent XX-aged woman, no different than you, your friends, sisters, or girlfriends. I don't feel shame in saying, yeah, I've had an abortion. I did it because it was the decision that was best for me, and I am so grateful to have that decision. I did it because I had made a horrible mistake, and I don't want laws or people or pro-life shaming to force me to live with that mistake. I did it because I wasn't ready. I did it because I don't believe I was "killing anything" — except my identity as a woman who didn't have to make a choice. You know what? I made the right one. For me, at least...and I'm the only person whose decisions I can comfortably make.
The pro-life activist
by Lila Rose, President, Live Action
I saw my first abortion at age nine – in a medical book in my parents' study. It was the image of a tiny 10-week-old child, with newly formed arms, legs, and face, torn apart by the powerful suction of a first-trimester abortion. I snapped the book shut, horrified, and ran to my mother. "Is it real?" I asked. "How could anyone do that to a baby?"
After 10 years working as the head of Live Action — even as I confront and talk about and battle abortion every day — I still retain a bit of that disbelief. But, more profoundly, I see it in the eyes and hear it in the voices of the hundreds of post-abortive women I've talked to over the years.
As I was preparing for a national news appearance, the woman doing my makeup told me that she had had an abortion many years ago, and she was still hurting from it. "It's something you live with the rest of your life," she told me. "Who says I couldn't have made it being a single mom? I know I could have!"
Another time, I talked with a young woman who shared that her doctors had diagnosed her baby with Trisomy 18, a condition that can kill shortly after birth. The doctors recommended abortion. But, she told me that despite her pain, she wanted her baby to die with dignity and in the arms of those who loved her.
This young woman refused to abandon her child to the abortionist’s forceps and curette. She wanted to embrace her child for whatever time she had on Earth. It turned out little Emma was born perfectly healthy — she had been misdiagnosed. But, even the babies who aren't born healthy deserve to be loved and treated with dignity, no matter their condition.
I’ve talked to men, too. Once, at a pro-life conference attended by over 1,000 youth, I met a young man who said his girlfriend had recently had an abortion. Breaking down into tears, he told me how much he regretted suggesting it. How he wishes he could go back in time and do everything he could to help his girlfriend, and save his baby’s life! The wounds this boy already had at age 17 broke my heart — wounds that many of our teens carry today.
We must always remember that the women who have been told to abort are victims, as their babies were, of a system that pushes quick fixes at the expense of human lives, and of an abortion lobby that commands men and women not to grieve for their lost children. We have to treat these women with love and compassion. But our children deserve our compassion, too, and most of all, they deserve the protection of their most basic human right — life. We have to be firm in making the case that killing a child is never a good choice, no matter the circumstances. It violently ends one life and damages another. Women and children deserve better.
My boyfriend suspected I was pregnant before I did. I was almost a week late, but because I have an irregular cycle, I wasn't worried. I'd even taken a test three days after my 28-day mark, just to put my mind at ease. It came back negative, so when I laid into my fourth bowl of Rice Krispies and declared, "Man! I just can't stop eating this stuff," I thought nothing of his arched eyebrow. Three days later, I took another pregnancy test, "just to be sure." When I looked for that one little line that would reassure me, I found two.
The thing is, we had always been crazy careful with contraception. Always. This was because I really, truly, deeply did not want to become pregnant — or to ever have an abortion. But, all contraceptives have a failure rate, and my trash bin had five positive pregnancy tests to prove it.
My boyfriend promised to support me in whatever decision I made, and so we talked (and talked, and talked) about whether to have a baby. We loved each other, but we'd just moved in together — what if we were incompatible and couldn't provide a stable home for each other, much less a child? Our life together was still on its wobbly fawn legs, and I didn't think it would be fair to bring a baby into a promising but uncertain situation. For that and other reasons, we decided that we weren't ready. Making that choice was one of the saddest and most sobering moments of my life, but it felt like the right decision.
I decided to do a medical abortion — that's the kind with a pill that you take at home. Anyone who thinks this sounds like the "easy" way to go is sorrily mistaken. The pain and cramping was so intense that at one point, I was simultaneously bleeding, vomiting, and shitting. A few hours later, it was over, and I was filled with a previously unknown blend of relief and sorrow.
More than a year after my abortion, I don't regret the decision we made. That doesn't mean that I don't feel sad about it from time to time, though. It's not as though I'm thinking, "Yay, I'm so happy that I didn't have a child with the man I love." It was a heartbreaking situation, but I did what was right for me and my partner. I'm hoping that when we do decide to have a baby, we will be that much more grateful to welcome a (wanted) child into the world, and we will be ready to provide for her.
In re-reading what I've written, these are the words that keep coming up: choices and decisions. I wish I hadn't had to make a choice, but I'm endlessly grateful that I was able to. But, I also know that what felt right for me might not be right for another woman in a similar situation. That's why I believe the right to choose is imperative — choice being the key word. You may disagree with my choice, and I may disagree with yours, but those decisions are ours to make and live with.
The pro-choice activist
By Gaylon Alcaraz, Executive Director, Chicago Abortion Fund
When I think about why I do this work, why I am such a strong advocate for abortion access, this is what comes to mind. In our society, we are often critical of paternalistic forces around the world when it comes to women’s rights. In fact, we will go into an uproar over the treatment of women in oppressive countries because they have to stay covered in burkas, and they cannot drive or walk down the street alone. Of course, this is oppressive, and it upsets me when any woman or girl is not treated like a human being. Yet, we ignore the cries of injustice when it comes to the rights of women in the U.S., the land of the free. So, my question is this: How can we be critical of the oppression in other countries, when we don’t value the lives of women here?
In the U.S., reproductive rights for women have been denied through state-by-state restrictions and laws. Women here cannot determine when they can have families. They cannot be trusted to make the best decisions that will impact their lives. If I, as a “free” human being, cannot decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term or to terminate that pregnancy, how am I really free? If I do not have the basic right to govern the body in which I live, what does this say about my “freedom”?
Abortion — a legal medical procedure — has become essentially illegal and inaccessible for many vulnerable, marginalized, and poor women. Since when did the number of children I want become a game of political football? Since 1973, when abortion became legal here, there has been a constant and all-out assault on the reproductive rights of women. Let’s be clear, the anti-choice movement’s efforts to turn the clock back on abortion access have absolutely nothing to do with “babies.” In fact, if their argument were truly about “babies” and “saving lives,” they would be doing it without attempting to control the wombs of women.
In the face of injustice, their argument does not hold up. If these so-called caring individuals really cared about the sanctity of life, there would be some very basic and essential steps they would take to protect life already in existence. For example, saving lives and caring for children — especially poor and vulnerable children — means supporting their healthy growth. Every time these individuals don’t stand up for supportive programs (pre-school or after-school programs, free/reduced lunch programs, affordable housing, food supplemental programs) that would help families, they go against the very basic principle they say they believe in.
This is why I do the work I do. This is why I work at an abortion fund. I don’t do this work because I’ve had abortions. I do this work because trusting women to make the best decisions for them and their families is not only the right and humane thing to do, it is also essential to the healthy lives of women and their families. In a country where the rights of women are devalued, disrespected, and demeaned, I find I must stand up for the very basic right to have an abortion if a woman needs to. I trust when a woman tells me she cannot raise another child. I trust when a woman says she cannot afford another child. This is not rocket science...and it is surely not my business or anyone else’s.
The clinic escort
I’m a volunteer clinic escort. I walk patients into the clinic, providing a buffer between them and the protesters who show up with children and crucifixes, graphic and medically inaccurate posters in tow, to shout at, intimidate, and otherwise harass patients entering the clinic. The patients demonstrate a gamut of emotions — fear, rage, quiet sadness, cocky indifference — and the protesters alternate between making threats ("You'll suffer in Hell for this!") and promising salvation ("Jesus loves you and your baby!"). In the quiet moments between patients, the protesters distribute propagandist literature to passersby and make attempts to convert me. When unsuccessful, they call me an escort of death, a baby killer, a lost sinner, a confused little girl.
Some background: Shortly after the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I had an abortion. For me, there was never any other option. Staying pregnant was absolutely out of the question.
Arriving at that decision was far more easy than the actual process of scheduling an abortion. My insurance company didn't have a list of abortion providers and couldn't guarantee confidentiality. I called dozens of places I thought were abortion clinics, only to discover they were not. One receptionist was so disgusted that she hung up on me.
It was hours before I was able to secure an appointment. I knew I was never not going to have my abortion, but still, even the smallest impediment to ending an unwanted pregnancy is a mountain. It is an Everest of uncertainties, a million little traumas to endure.
The protesters know this. They rely on it.
On the day of my abortion, there were only two protesters outside the clinic — the national March for Life was that weekend, which probably thinned their ranks. One told my partner and me that all babies are a precious gift. Another pleaded with us to believe that we were already parents. Their words stayed with me, but not in the way they hoped for. Instead, I kept thinking: Who are you? What do you know?
The procedure itself was unremarkable, and I recovered quickly, both physically and emotionally. My story contains no dramatic pause wherein I recognize and connect with the life that grew within. The closest I came was when I was so nauseous with the morning sickness that I held myself in agony. Feeling a heartbeat, I lay completely still, awe-struck, until I realized my embryo wouldn’t have a detectable heartbeat for many more weeks; it was only my own that I felt. Mine was the life that was calling out to me for protection.
In other words, this is my life and no one else’s. I get to decide what's best for me. Everyone should be able to do the same. I am a clinic escort because I truly believe that no one — especially not these protesters shouting otherwise — knows what's best for our lives, bodies, or families but us.
For me, abortion can never again be merely an abstract political issue. Because abortion — along with my first kiss and college major and favorite book and loves and losses and so on — is a part of my life, a piece of my history that helps make me who I am and who I will become. I want to honor that, so when I escort a woman seeking an abortion past the protesters preaching their hate, she will know what I know: We are good and we will be okay.
Designed by Peter Karras