Like the rest of the country, I’m obsessed with Netflix’s reality show Love Is Blind. It has everything: an engagement five days after the couple meets; a dog that drinks wine; mountains of fake rose petals; a “rap” performance that propelled me out of my seat and into another room because the secondhand embarrassment was too much. It also has a stark reminder of the importance of reproductive freedom.
In the second episode, Amber is in “the pods” talking to her soon-to-be-fiance, when she tells him the story of her abortion. She explains that when she told her ex that she may be pregnant, he immediately said, “How are we going to fix this?” — first implying that he pressured her to have an abortion, then just coming out and saying it: “Because I loved him so much, I had an abortion.” Amber has since said this unwanted abortion led to depression, which led to her dropping out of school and not being able to work. And all of this stemmed from the fact that her partner put his desires over her bodily autonomy. That should never happen.
Reproductive freedom isn’t only about the ability to access safe, legal abortion. It’s also about the ability to freely decide when and whether to have children. For far too many women, that decision is not their own. They are pressured by their family, by their partners, and even by politicians to make a decision contrary to what they know is best for themselves. When someone — specifically a partner — attempts to control the outcome of a pregnancy, that’s called reproductive coercion.
Reproductive coercion can take many forms, including withholding birth control, poking holes in condoms aka “stealthing,” or forcing someone to end or continue a pregnancy against their own wishes. Not every woman is aware that this is happening to her, which is why Planned Parenthood doctors and clinicians do everything in our power to make sure that our patients have all the information they need, and feel empowered to make the best decision for themselves. Every patient gets one-on-one counseling that includes information about all of their pregnancy options — abortion, adoption, and parenting — and checks to ensure that they’re not being coerced or forced into their decision. Planned Parenthood health care providers are there to provide expert care, without shame or judgment.
In my job at Planned Parenthood, I spend a lot of time talking to patients who want to tell their stories publicly. And their experiences are vast: women whose ability to get affordable birth control preserved their ability to have children; trans people who got affirming, non-judgmental care at Planned Parenthood; women who jumped through all kinds of hoops to get the abortion they needed; women who ended desperately wanted pregnancies because of medical complications. I’m often a sounding board for them as they figure out how to put their feelings into words. It’s not an easy thing to do — by telling their stories publicly, most of them are risking shame and hate from strangers on the internet. As I watched Amber share her story, my heart hurt for her.
Studies show that the vast majority of women report that they do not regret their abortion. Most — 95 percent in fact — report that their overwhelming feeling was one of relief, even years later. That doesn’t take away from the very real feelings of women like Amber who have negative feelings or regrets about their abortions. It just confirms that decisions about whether and when to have children are deeply personal, and no one who is pregnant should be made to feel coerced, shamed, or pressured about their decision.
One in four women in the U.S. have an abortion. It is a safe, legal, common medical procedure, and it should be wholly the decision of the pregnant person to make.
But certain politicians are trying to make that decision for millions of women in this country by making safe, legal abortion nearly impossible to access.
The dangerous anti-abortion rhetoric coming from the Trump administration about abortion has spurred politicians in states including Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, and Missouri to pass the most extreme restrictions on abortion since Roe v. Wade, actually banning abortion before many women even know they’re pregnant. Women in many states have to endure state-mandated waiting periods (basically putting them in time-out once they’ve made their decision), go through medically unnecessary ultrasounds, and listen to counseling scripts designed to shame them out of their decision. In five states, there is only one abortion provider.
Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could make Louisiana the sixth state with only one provider, and pave the way for other states controlled by politicians opposed to abortion to make it all but impossible for women who need an abortion.
Amber’s story is heartbreaking. No one should ever be forced or pressured into a serious decision about their body, their family, and their future by someone they love. Or by politicians who don’t even know them.
Holly Nunn works in communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She lives in Virginia with her husband, her daughter, and the goodest dog on the planet.