FOR THE past few years, I have often found myself talking with other women about my abortion. This topic has come up at doula workshops, restaurants, ice cream shops, rallies, meetings--even with my own mother, who for so long was vehemently opposed to abortion, until I told her I needed one.
I have come to realize that I enjoy talking about my abortion, and people seem curious to hear about it. I have also noticed that, as I talk about my experience, it enables women to build up the courage to share what they thought was their deepest and darkest secret--that they, too, have had an abortion, and they, too, want to talk about it!
According to Guttmacher Institute, "At least half of American women will experience an unintended pregnancy by age 45, and at current rates, one in 10 women will have an abortion by age 20, one in four by age 30, and three in 10 by age 45."
The Guttmacher Institute statistics only count medically induced abortions, not back-alley abortions or self-induced abortions. With that in mind, it is infuriating to see how silenced women are about their experience when the procedure is so common.
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AT AGE 19, I found out I was pregnant. I was living in Denton, Texas, and attending my second year of college at the University of North Texas (UNT). I was a busy college student who was interning for Texas Equal Access Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides abortion funding to low-income women, fulfilling my role as a student, working part-time, and playing an active role in the International Socialist Organization.
I found out I was pregnant at the same time that Justice for All (JFA), a right-wing, corporate-funded organization, was on campus displaying fabricated images of mangled fetuses on poster boards, comparing abortion to genocide and chattel slavery, and ultimately slandering and shaming women.
I want to note that every semester that JFA makes their way to campus, the UNT counseling office is full of women who have undergone abortions who are seeking advice for feeling depressed, ashamed and saddened, due to JFA's disgusting presence. Because of that, I really think protesting JFA on campus was a great way to release some of that anger and resentment I was feeling after looking at a positive pregnancy test.
INTERNING AT Texas Equal Access Fund prepared me for what was necessary in order to have an abortion--what I needed to do, where I could go, what resources I could get my hands on, etc. I had a list of numbers of abortion providers at my fingertips, access to funds and comradely support.
Despite the fact that I was unexpectedly pregnant, I really felt lucky, and I remember telling myself, "At least I am pregnant while I'm interning at a non-profit that will provide financial assistance for my procedure. At least I can terminate this pregnancy and not have to scrounge up money from friends and family, or sell things, like most poor, working women do. At least I have a supportive community that will hold my hand the entire way."
That's the reality--most poor women don't have access to such funds, nor do they know where to find it. Most women don't have the support that I am so grateful for having during my procedure. Many patients I spoke with as an intern gave me their work numbers, or a random voicemail number to contact them since they could not tell their family or friends that they needed an abortion.
These women were hiding their abortion from everyone they knew, and they were scared. They had no support from anyone other than the TEA Fund workers who were telling them, "You're making the right choice."
According to Guttmacher, the average cost of an abortion at 10 weeks gestation in 2009 was $470. The cost of an abortion will increase every week that a woman is pregnant, and when poor women don't have the funds to have an abortion at the time, which is extremely common, they will have to wait while the cost of their procedure gets more expensive. Sometimes, as the weeks add up, it is too late to have an abortion.
I made my appointment with Planned Parenthood on a Saturday morning, the day most anti-choicers were there to bombard patients with their Bibles and Crisis Pregnancy Center brochures. As I pulled up to the Planned Parenthood with my support, I was approached and escorted by security to the door.
My animosity for anti-choicers made it difficult to resist flipping them the bird as I walked through the door--and ultimately I succumbed to the temptation. After that moment, I felt like a winner. Not only did I get to tell the bigots who disturb Planned Parenthood patients on a weekly basis to fuck off, but I also got to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
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I WENT through the standard Planned Parenthood protocol of signing waiver forms and speaking with a counselor to make sure I wasn't pressured to have an abortion. I was given a sonogram and asked to look at my five-week old bundle of cells, and lastly given my RU-486 packet, otherwise known as the abortion pill. Being asked to look at the sonogram screen is a sick way to guilt women.
The process of getting an abortion is around four to six hours depending on how many women are in the office that day. Being at Planned Parenthood felt like a medical assembly line. Patients are called in one at a time to sign a waiver, then are told to go back in the lobby and wait for the rest of the patients to finish with paperwork. Once that's over, the counseling session starts, etc.
Abortion clinics are known for being cold and isolating places, and you can't blame them for not being able to focus on the comfort of their patients when their funds are constantly being slashed and they are threatened with closure.
I was advised, after I returned home, to take my RU-486 packet and take it easy for the next day or so. I experienced the regular symptoms of inducing an abortion--nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, etc. Due to prolonged symptoms, I had to call into work and was told to put in my two weeks' notice since my manager did not agree with me taking off work for having an abortion.
Not only was I asked to put in my two weeks at a place I dedicated three years of my life to, but prior to that, I was asked to bring in paperwork from Planned Parenthood to prove that I had an abortion. I ultimately think this was done to humiliate me. Now I had to wait to physically heal, and then immediately hit the pavement to find a new job.
I look back at that situation with anger, like, I'm sure, many women--single mothers, poor women, marginalized women--who are fired from their jobs because they had to take off work to have an abortion. Not only is this procedure expensive, but having to miss days of work and possibly pay for travel expenses and hotel costs if there is not a clinic within the surrounding area is not financially feasible for working-class women.
We live in a society that has pushed abortion under the rug, separating it from every other medical procedure, and silencing those who have experienced it. I am ready to pull it out from under the rug and make abortion accessible for all.
In order to do this, we need a movement--a movement centered around demanding free abortion and health care for every single person. We need a movement that works to rid society of sexism and the system that ultimately relies on it.
This is my story. I have decided to share my story to motivate other women to share theirs and feel empowered. I share my story to de-stigmatize abortion. I share my story to help women heal from theirs. I share my story because it's important.