Every few months, the abortion debate comes back
into focus in the mainstream media – like it did several weeks ago, when
the news broke of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, and her mother’s stance on
abortion rights. That’s when I started feeling guilty, and angry.
circumstances of my abortion were incredibly mundane. I was 19 years
old, a junior at a college in Boston, deeply in love with my boyfriend
(J.), and doing well in school. I worked full-time at our school
newspaper, heading there daily after class and staying regularly past
midnight. I was taking birth-control pills, but my schedule – which
forced me to value every last moment of sleep – made me irresponsible
about taking the pills at the same time every day. Sometimes I would
miss doses entirely and take two in one day to make up for it.
Occasionally, I would have (what I didn’t really think of as)
unprotected sex; I believed I was protected not only by my
inappropriately administered Ortho Tri-Cyclen, but also by young-adult
I found out I
was pregnant on a Sunday, thanks to a home-pregnancy test that I bought
at CVS after discussing with J. that my period was late. I don’t
remember being nervous about taking the test. But when I saw the
results – positive – I left my dorm suite bathroom and literally
crumpled to the floor just outside the door, weeping out of fear and
for the decision I knew I would make.
wasn’t ready to have a child. That’s it. Not financially, not
emotionally. There was nothing else to think about. I called J., called
Planned Parenthood, and scheduled my abortion for Halloween 2002.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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memories of that day are unformed. They aren’t fuzzy, or hazy, as
people describe memories; I believe they literally never took shape. I
know that we walked to the Planned Parenthood clinic across the street,
and made our way past the protesters who stood – only a few strong – in
a cluster outside the state-designated "buffer zone." Inside, I found
out that I was approximately six weeks pregnant. I know that a Planned
Parenthood doctor gave me one RU-486 pill at the clinic, and another to
take at home. (I’d decided to have a medical abortion, rather than a
surgical one, because I thought it would be less physically painful and
less invasive – more private. Also, I was within the eight-week time
frame when it’s still an option.) She warned me that shortly after
taking the second pill, I would experience some pain.
at the dorm, hours later, I know that I writhed in my twin bed,
suffering from debilitating, convulsing cramps. My roommates, best
friend, and boyfriend hovered around; they brought me pain killers,
Tiger Balm, hot-water bottles, and applesauce, and all the while they
stroked my head and conferenced in the background about how I was
doing. I bled profusely as my body rejected the fetus that had been
described to me as "the size of a grain of rice." I threw up. And
finally, I fell asleep.
later, I showed up for work at the newspaper as though nothing had
happened. In some stroke of truly black comedy, we had an
editorial-board discussion that very night about whether or not to run
a pro-life insert that would bring in a ton of money, but go against
our editorial stance. I felt sick. We opted against running the insert,
and I can’t remember if I even offered an opinion during the
conversation. That’s the last thing I recall in the days immediately
Now here I am, almost
exactly six years later. My abortion made me practice safer sex, and it
introduced me to the pro-choice movement. It put a strain on my
relationship, which broke apart eventually. It made me feel scared, and
relieved. And it puts me in a group with the 40 percent of American
women who have also had abortions by the time they’re 45 years old.
That’s a lot of women. But we’re rarely the ones you hear about.
pundits and politicians debate abortion, they often bring up the most
unfortunate cases: rape or incest victims, or women with medical
problems. The fact that these women risk losing the right to govern
their own bodies is outrageous. So we end up fighting for those
worst-case scenarios, which somehow makes what we might call the
"normal" cases seem more cavalier. As if some cases are less essential,
and therefore less justifiable, than others. Let’s be clear – it’s the
circumstances that vary, not the validity of our decisions, nor our
need for access to safe, legal abortions.
Years later, my experience still causes me to
feel guilty that I lived in a state where no one, other than those who
were directly involved, questioned my decision. It makes me somehow
embarrassed to admit that all I had to do was cross a street, while
others have to bridge state lines, family boundaries (I still haven’t
told my parents), and financial constraints (my boyfriend put the
procedure on his credit card; I paid him back for half as soon as I had
the money). Essentially, I’m sorry that I was more privileged than
other women who are in similar circumstances.
is my story, and mine alone, and the one I’ll carry with me forever.
But the fact is, most women’s stories are more like mine than they are
like the extreme scenarios that are bandied about when politicians —
and even regular people — talk about abortion. So where does that leave
women like me? Should we feel ashamed? Does anyone think about us, the
people who have actually gone through with an abortion, and come to
terms with it, and accepted that it was the right decision, for
whatever reason, at that time?
Some of us don’t feel safe, mentally or
physically, sharing our stories, because they are not the extreme. We
are not the women who needed a medical procedure to save our lives, or
whose bodies were violated by strangers or loved ones. Our decisions,
therefore, seem less ethically justifiable in today’s society. Yet we
chose what we did for our own reasons, which sound trite and selfish to
many, but which speak volumes in our heads every time the debate comes
up in conversation or the news. The law has been interpreted to protect
us. We shouldn’t feel so alone.
Why am I anonymous?
The women in Jennifer Baumgardner’s book are
so brave and confident. I’m not quite there yet. I do tell some people
about my abortion, if it’s relevant to a conversation I’m having. But
because of the stigma that still exists, I haven’t yet told my family
and I’m not sure if or how I’m going to do so — and I know that I don’t
want to “tell them” in a newspaper that thousands of people read each
week. So why tell my story at all, especially to run alongside this
other, about a book that encourages openness and attempts to challenge
the very stigma to which I’m falling prey? Because I believe that any
narrative, even a nameless one, helps take away some of the mystery and
shame associated with abortion. Because I want to remind people how the
public political debate can sometimes have very personal ramifications.
And because I’m committed to fighting this battle, even if it’s from
This article was first published by the Portland Phoenix.