At 17, Lorena Soto was forced to have an abortion.
"I found I was pregnant shortly after ending an abusive relationship with a young man," Soto, now 42, told Refinery29. "I was scared and confused. But at the same time, I knew I wasn't ready to be a parent."
Soto, originally from El Paso, TX, said she had decided to give up her baby for adoption, even going as far as contacting an agency. But her parents told her it was either having an abortion or getting married, shocking her — she had always believed the procedure was something her family opposed. She was devastated to know they would coerce her to get an abortion against her will.
"After a night of crying and yelling, I surrendered," she said. "I went through the process completely numb."
Years later, at 29, Soto had a son — her choice. And at 35, her birth control failed and she ended up getting pregnant. This time, she was the one who chose to have an abortion.
"I was a willing participant," she said. "What is important for people to know, and what made the experiences so night and day for me, was not that I had an abortion [at 17] — is that the choice then was taken away from me."
You should be okay with choosing yourself, no matter what the looks like.
For Soto, losing her freedom to choose was a "dehumanizing experience." That's why she is participating Tuesday on the 1 in 3 Campaign's Speakout event and Lobby Day in Washington, D.C.
The campaign is based on the estimate that one in three women in the U.S. will have an abortion in their lifetimes. Its purpose is to destigmatize abortion and strengthen support for access to reproductive care. This year, the event is called "Justice for Jane" and will be dedicated to undocumented youth that have been blocked from obtaining abortion care by the Trump administration.
Soto said she can relate to undocumented young women like the ones that were being defended at the Speakout — the Trump administration tried to force them to carry a pregnancy to term, Soto's parents forced her to terminate hers. She said she knows that, right or wrong, her parents made what they thought was the best decision for her. But that can't be said about the Trump administration's meddling in the decisions of undocumented youth.
"The fight for reproductive health, rights and justice is intertwined with the fight for safety and freedom for marginalized communities,” Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, parent organization of the 1 in 3 Campaign, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. “While the Trump Administration and this Congress brazenly abuse their power, young people are stepping up and leading a movement—and they’re bringing everyone forward in the fight to control their own bodies and health."
Another one of the participants, Kush Thompson, remembers perfectly how devastated she was when she found out she was four-months pregnant at the age of 16.
"First, it was going through my head: 'How can you be so stupid?' and 'How could you let this happen?'" she told Refinery29. But as shattered as she was, she was also sure of one thing: She wanted to terminate the pregnancy.
With help from her sister and financial support from her father, the now-23-year-old from Chicago, IL was able to get care and have an abortion under her own terms. After the procedure, Thompson said she was finally at peace.
"It felt like I had gone back to normal," she said. "I wasn't grieving, I felt relief."
Thompson considers herself among the lucky ones. She had a support system that allowed her to obtain the procedure. She's also had hard conversations with her mother about her decision to have an abortion. "Even though she's proud of me and what I've been able to accomplish, she's still doesn't [approve]," Thompson said.
And those debates only strengthened her conviction that women have a right to choose, which led her to participate in the Speakout on Tuesday.
"My purpose today is to create that space for stories to come forward," Thompson said, adding that her decision to have an abortion didn't have some larger reason behind it; she just didn't want to be a mother at 16. "You should be okay with choosing yourself, no matter what the looks like. When we talk about pro-choice we also talk about your choice to keep your child, not just your choice to not be a mother."
Soto agrees with how talking about your experience helps create a system for support for other women. She also has a message for people who have undergone an abortion: "You're not alone."