Commentary Abortion

If I Got Pregnant Today, I’d Choose Abortion and Here’s Why

Leah Berkenwald

With plenty of life left to live before becoming a mother, Leah Berkenwald finds comfort in her ability to choose abortion if she became pregnant today. Eventually, she'll have children, but not yet. Not until she's truly ready.

Cross-posted with permission from Role/Reboot.

As a 16-year-old, I knew that if I got pregnant by accident I would have an abortion. Ten years later, I am in a completely different place—a place where I could, realistically, support and parent a child—and I would still choose abortion.

I believe in the power of telling stories. With the 80 new restrictions on abortion rights enacted by state legislatures in 2011 and more coming every day, I believe it’s especially important to tell stories about abortion and the role it plays in creating an egalitarian society that allows women, and men, to control their destinies. Until recently I felt like I didn’t have a story to tell because I haven’t had an abortion. I cannot speak to the experience of making that decision or undergoing the procedure. But I realized that I do have a story, a story that has grown with me as I matured from a 16- to 26-year-old adult who could, if I chose to, be a mom.

The story begins when I was 16, before I had sex. At this time, abortion wasn’t super relevant to my life. I was pro-choice and that was enough. Still, I didn’t rule out the possibility that I might want to have sex in the near future. (If I’m being honest, I wanted to have sex with my high school boyfriend but he wanted to wait. How often do you hear that narrative in the media?) I started using birth control at 16, and I knew that if I did start having sex and got pregnant, I would choose abortion.

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At 16, there was no ambiguity for me. I knew that I wasn’t ready to be a parent and I knew my parents would agree and support my choice. I was headed for college and whatever bright future that entailed. I would not, under any circumstances, give up the liberal arts college experience I had worked so hard to secure. It may have been selfish but it’s a kind of selfishness that’s developmentally appropriate for a teenager, not to mention prudent. I still don’t apologize for putting my own future first. At that point, like I said, the decision to choose abortion was easy because things were simple. I wasn’t even having sex.

Then, in college, I started having “the sex.” I don’t think I’m shocking or scandalizing anyone by sharing that information (although this article probably won’t make it into my dad’s scrapbook—sorry, Dad). Now that getting pregnant was actually possible, the abortion question became more real, but my decision remained the same.

As a college student, I was completely dependent on my parents financially, emotionally, and almost every other way. I was no more ready to have a child in college than I was in high school. Besides, at the time, my primary objectives were to enjoy the “college experience” (complete with sexy escapades and public drunkenness) and graduate summa cum laude. Thanks to birth control and Plan B (the morning after pill), I did both.

Once, the condom broke the same week I missed three days in a row on my birth control pill schedule. I was glad to have affordable and convenient access to Plan B at my college health center, but I still knew that if I had gotten pregnant I would have chosen abortion. This incident, though fairly insignificant in retrospect, made me really think about the logistics of an abortion for the first time. Where would I go? How would I get there from campus? Would my health insurance cover it? Would my parents find out since I was covered by their insurance plan? How much would it cost if I paid out of pocket? Would I have to ask my parents for money? Would I tell my parents if I had the choice? Would I tell the guy? Would I tell my friends? Luckily, there were lots of resources at my college and I knew that if I were in that situation, there were people to go to for referrals, support, and advice. If I could have one wish, it would be that every young person felt so secure knowing that there were resources, options, and non-judgmental help available to them.

Then after college, I met someone with whom I imagined having babies. Yep, I fell in love—real, consuming, hardcore love. For the first time in my life, I entertained the idea of a future with someone. I imagined marriage, kids, and growing old with this person. The choice to have an abortion was suddenly a lot more complicated. If I had gotten pregnant at that time, a part of me would have wanted to carry the pregnancy to term. It wasn’t until after we broke up that I realized just how much I had hoped to procreate with this person.

It happened when I got my period for the first time after the breakup. An emotional wreck, I felt as though my imagined, future children were literally being drained from my body. I sobbed for the hypothetical babies that would never be; I mourned the loss of my fantasized future family. In that irrational moment, it would have been very difficult to choose abortion. But the moment passed, and the rational, bigger part of me knew that I was still very young, single, underemployed, living in my parents’ basement, and not at all ready to be a mom. I still would have chosen abortion, but it would have been an excruciatingly difficult decision to make.

About a year later, I got my first grown-up, full-time job. I moved out of my parents’ basement. I had my own health insurance. I could pay my own bills. I can’t pinpoint it, but there was a moment when I realized that my salary, meager as it was, could support a child; plenty of women did it on less. Scary! Up until this point, abortion was the obvious choice because it was the most responsible. Once I could financially support a child, my reasons for choosing abortion sounded less convincing and less politically correct. I could no longer say I was doing this for the sake of the hypothetical child because I could raise said hypothetical child. If I became pregnant, the choice to abort would be about me and only me. It would be “selfishly” made (as some would argue) so that I could continue on the path I had planned—a path where adventures, career, and marriage came first in the order of operations.

Within a year, I decided to go back to school for a master’s degree. I dropped to part-time at work, and my salary dropped accordingly. Over the next two years, I saw my student debt triple. Once again, I had to lean on my parents for financial support. I remained steadfast in my decision to choose abortion because I knew that I wasn’t ready to give up on future opportunities to advance my career, have adventures, or make my contribution to the world as a single, un-tethered person. And now that I’ve taken advantage of some of those opportunities, I’m no longer financially capable of supporting a child. I was able to make these choices and sacrifice my financial stability because I knew that I would—and could—choose abortion if I needed to.

This year, my close friends started having babies. The faces of two beautiful little baby girls now grace my refrigerator door. Both of them were unplanned. These days dozens of baby photos clutter my Facbeook news-feed, babies both planned and unplanned, their parents both married and unmarried. I now read my friends’ pregnancy and parenting blogs, look through whole albums of baby photos, and comment earnestly with the usual “How adorable!” and “S/he’s getting so big!” Contrary to popular belief, pro-choice women are not baby haters. Nor do they disapprove of other women’s choices to carry unplanned pregnancies to term. I am proud of my friends for making that choice, and feel nothing but joy for them and their families.

I am sure that some of my friends have made different choices. Only one person has shared her abortion story with me, but if one in three women have an abortion in their lifetime, it’s likely that a number of my friends, classmates, and acquaintances have had abortions. I am equally proud of them for their courage and deeply respect their reasons for delaying, or in some cases, rejecting parenthood, whatever they may be.

Someday, I will be a mom. Ideally, it will happen five to 10 years from now when I’m well-traveled, happily married, financially secure, and wildly successful in my career. It might not happen the way I envision and I’m OK with that, but only to a point. I’m not going to have a child until I’m ready to have a child. I’m still not sure exactly what magical criteria will have to be met before I’ll feel ready, but I know that today is not that day.

I recently met my good friend’s two-month-old baby girl for the first time. In the two hours we spent together, I probably took 200 photos of her little face, her little feet, her gurgly smile. As I held her, her teeny hand clutching my finger, I felt those pesky pangs of maternal longing and the urge to procreate, to nurture, to love and be loved unconditionally…but as I left my friends, their daughter sleeping soundly in her bassinet, I knew my own parenting journey was still years down the road.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” Robert Frost wrote. “But I have promises to keep.”

I have promises to myself—to finish my master’s degree, to backpack across South America, and have a fabulous, exciting career. Just knowing that abortion was accessible, safe, and legal has given me the freedom to pursue my dreams. If we truly believe in egalitarianism, we must protect women’s right to self-determination—her right to choice. Choice does not only benefit pregnant women; it bestows upon every woman the freedom to be the architect of her own life. Even though I have never been pregnant, I have been able to choose abortion and that choice has granted me the courage and security to take financial risks, to love fully with body and soul, and chart my own course in this world. Someday I will make a different choice, but I have miles to go before I leap. And miles to go before I leap.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.