Commentary Abortion

Pregnant with an IUD: The Story of My Abortion

NW

I just had the quite bizarre experience of getting pregnant. Bizarre because for the last two and a half years, I've had the Paraguard IUD - as effective as tying your tubes, they tell me. Then one day my period doesn't come. My breasts are swollen, my back aches, and I have the crazy thought that this feels like pregnancy. And, it is.

I just had the quite bizarre experience of getting pregnant. Bizarre because for the last two and a half years, I’ve had the Paraguard IUD – as effective as tying your tubes, they tell me. Then one day my period doesn’t come. My breasts are swollen, my back aches, and I have the crazy thought that this feels like pregnancy. Something is definitely wrong, at least. So I head to CVS to get a home pregnancy test, just to rule it out. We have plans for brunch with friends, so I slip into the bathroom to get the test out of the way while my boyfriend puts away groceries. And then I stare at it. For a really long time. Because that is most definitely a plus sign.

Hmm. That’s odd. Of course I’d only bought one test, so after a moment of staring, we hurry down the street for more. Another, and then another, and this time the digital ones that say “Pregnant” or “Not Pregnant” clear as day. Every one has the same confusing answer. “Pregnant.”

On the drive to the urgent care center, I remember all the mornings in the past month I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at my protruding stomach and half-heartedly thinking: It’s like I’m pregnant. How did I know? My boyfriend drives, one hand resting firmly and supportively on my knee. We joke nervously to distract us from the shock.

In the exam room, the nurse is young and friendly. She admits she’s nervous for me, clearly shaken by the news that IUDs are not a guarantee. I laugh with her to try to make her more comfortable, that makes two of us. We wait and wait for confirmation that our lives are, in fact, upside-down, while a Nickelodeon sitcom plays in the background. Finally an old male doctor comes in and tells me the same thing as the CVS family planning aisle. I’m pregnant.

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It still isn’t clear what I should do about the tiny piece of metal inside me. It seems dangerous now. For so long it was a faithful friend, but now it’s a foreign object lodged next to embryonic cells inside of me—I can’t believe that’s good for anyone.  But the urgent care doctor just says call my doctor and take some prenatal vitamins. And no one else picks up the phone on a Sunday. My IUD is still there, and I’m pregnant.

Safely at home with the reality, the full weight of what is happening finally settles in. I lie down on the bed and am overwhelmed by sobbing, full-bodied I can’ts. I curl into my boyfriend, alternately gasping and apologizing, as over and over I insist I cannot do this. I am not ready. He soothes me with his own admission: You don’t have to. I’m not either. We cling to each other until exhaustion pulls us into sleep.

First thing Monday, I make my calls. I get an urgent appointment Wednesday with a highly recommended ob-gyn who promises to get that meddlesome piece of metal out of me—turns out I’m probably fine, but no use pushing it longer than we have to. While I’ve got her on the line, there are more words I never thought I’d say. Do you have any recommendations for abortion providers? She gives me a list over the phone, and I start to make the calls.

I’m struck by how few really are abortion providers. Out of a list of seven recommended doctors, none of the ones who answer their phones actually offer pregnancy termination. Only two family planning clinics in the area provide the service. I go with Planned Parenthood. I spend so much of my time defending them and giving money monthly, it seems only right to maintain my loyalty in my moment of need. Plus, they can fit me in Saturday morning for an in-clinic procedure. A quick call to my insurance confirms that the federal plan covers 100% of pregnancy, but no elective abortion. I have a hard time appreciating their ideological consistency.

When I put down the phone I’m hit with a wave of relief. This all seems much more manageable now. Something went wrong, but now there are steps to fix it. Yes, I’m pregnant, but it’s a temporary state. I can see the day on the calendar when it won’t be true anymore. I just have to make it through the week. We’ve got a solution, it’s the solution we want, and now we just have to wait until we can act. Wednesday, then Saturday, then freedom.

But that still leaves a week of being pregnant. Time to learn all the practical ways my body prepares to make another. I find myself holding my stomach as I walk, either by instinct or imitation, not quite sensing life inside me, but acutely aware of something different. I never knew pregnancy came with cramps—it makes sense when I stop to think. There’s no explicit morning sickness, but I have no interest in eating either. I avoid caffeine and alcohol, just in case, and also because the thought turns my stomach. I tire easily and walk more slowly—and just six weeks in, I already feel way too big. As I go about my workday, I find the physical experience unsettling me in conversations with coworkers, even when my mental haze recedes. A wave of nausea or sudden loss of appetite reminds me in the middle of a meeting that I know something no one else knows: there’s another person growing in this room.

Wednesday I beg off work with a cryptic urgent doctor’s appointment, and my boyfriend and I head for to the ob-gyn. Yet again, I terrify the young women doing my blood work and taking my weight. My presence, pregnant with an IUD, shakes their faith. The nurse practitioner, friendly, competent, communicative, says she’s seen about than five cases like this in her career—at least I’m not the only one. Maybe you should stay away from Vegas. I disagree. With this kind of luck, we should have gone for Mega Millions. Since the Planned Parenthood appointment is already lined up, she kindly forgoes the pregnancy spiel. Just a speculum and a quick cough, and the IUD is out. My boyfriend, ever the supportive partner, is by my side to see the tiny copper T we’ve relied on for two-plus years. I can’t believe something that small worked as long as it did. God, I’m glad he’s here.

He’s right next to me too during the ultrasound, watching the dark circle in my uterus on the screen. There it is, says the technician. You’re about six weeks. I expected the visualization to have more impact. It’s just a black circle; it doesn’t make it seem any more real. What the hell are you? You aren’t a person yet. Someone once told me that before modern medicine, you weren’t considered pregnant until it showed. The time between a missed period and a belly was just “abnormal menstruation.” You weren’t not pregnant, but you weren’t yet pregnant either. That’s exactly how it feels. I can clearly tell that it will be something, but it doesn’t feel like it yet.

With the ultrasound over and IUD out, it’s just killing time until Saturday. Our home becomes a nest of orange juice, comfort TV, and quiet, weighty affection. Friday night we fall asleep relieved and ready to act.  Saturday morning I wake up before the alarm, thinking hard. We never talked about the other option, about trying to keep it. We never even talked through the logistics. I suddenly want to do that. I feel overwhelmingly selfish, to be making this choice based on what I want, not what I can handle—we could do this, we could take this on. It seems selfish to defer responsibility based on preference. We could keep it, practically speaking. It might even be good timing, since we do plan on doing this at some point anyway. Our gut reaction was so complete, so visceral – did that make it right?

When my boyfriend wakes up, I carefully lay out this alternate scenario. He listens carefully, calmly. He agrees we could make it work. Do you want to reschedule the appointment?

That stops me cold. I’m still ultimately talking to my boyfriend. We are committed to each other, and we say we will be parents together someday, but we haven’t yet taken that one last step and told the world “This is it.” Who knows when—if—we will take that step. I look at this man, who I know to be kind and sweet and good, who gets so infectiously excited about new plans and dreams, and I know we aren’t there yet. I want to preserve the milestones; I want us to be sure without a faulty copper wire forcing our hand.

No, let’s go. By the time we reach Planned Parenthood, I’m firmly back at certainty. We head in past the single aggressive protester, who seems to think pushing and yelling at us will make us want to take her pamphlet and listen to her crazy. Her invasion of our personal space makes me irrationally angry. It’s all I can do not to engage. But I keep it together and we’re in.

Now that we’re taking real steps again, my mind is clear and calm, and I’ve got plenty of time to consider our waiting room neighbors. There are quite a few young women alone —I say a silent prayer of thanks that I have a partner by my side. There’s a couple who look like high schoolers, affectionate but clearly nervous, just next to the door. A Russian couple barely understands English and pays all in cash, and an older Chinese woman waits patiently for a follow-up after a miscarriage. I look around and am reminded that every woman I know gives money to Planned Parenthood but gets her medical care somewhere else. This clinic serves people with far fewer options than us, for far more than just the abortion services we champion. As I sit there, I feel fiercely proud of Planned Parenthood for providing so much to so many. These people are truly caring for women. My small donations every month feel much bigger in this space, and I want to do more.

The clinic works like clockwork; slow, but well-oiled, with clear steps and constant affirmations. My boyfriend is not allowed in the back; a precaution meant to protect against outside pressure on women’s decisions, I assume. I appreciate the rationale, but every time I leave the waiting room, I wish he could come with me.

First comes a quick blood test to make sure my iron’s up and my blood type isn’t negative. I’ve got yet another technician I get to scare with my IUD story, but by this point I’ve got the joking responses down, complete with strategically placed laughs. Then comes the ultrasound: no, I don’t want to see it, yes, I would like to know if it’s a multiple pregnancy. It’s not, and I’m out of my second “probe” of the week in just a few minutes. On to counseling. Did anyone pressure you into this decision? Are you sure? Do you have any questions? I’m sure. The words are easy, relieving. I’m happy to be moving down the road to a solution.

Finally they call me in to the exam room. The doctor is kind and attentive and very good at distracting me from my nerves. There’s a speculum, and then another and another as they prop open my cervix. The doctor gets me talking about our trip to Peru next month; I share more than I usually would as my head gets lighter and lighter. The doctor puts anesthesia on my cervix and my vision goes almost black with dizziness. Still, I’m awake and talking and the pain is less than I expected. The doctor takes a small hand-pumped suction device with a very thin tube and slides it into me. My insides feel like bellows. I’m nervous about losing consciousness, but the pain remains tolerable—no worse than getting the IUD inserted originally. In three minutes, she’s done. I’m surprised by how low tech it all is and frustrated I couldn’t go to my regular doctor for something this simple, in a comfortable space with my partner by my side. Why such an easy process needs to be done in a special clinic, politicized and alienated from the world, is beyond me.

I’m extremely light-headed, so I lay there talking with the nurse as she holds a bag by my head, just in case, for another 10 minutes. I even get smelling salts. Then I dress, putting a pad in my underwear (I haven’t done this since middle school) and slowly walk to the recovery room.  Apple juice and a heating pad are waiting for me – both very necessary. The apple juice calms my stomach while the heating pad wards off a sudden bout of chills. I lay still for about 15 minutes, with a nurse checking my vitals every five, until my pulse is back to normal. Then I take my out-patient packet with condoms and antibiotics, and I’m done.

I shiver uncontrollably on the way to the car. My boyfriend holds me carefully as we walk slowly, looking at me with a mixture of relief and terror. I wish he could have been there for the process; it’s hard to explain to him what I’ve just been through. He seems so worried that it was worse than it was. I’m really cold, but otherwise feeling just fine. At home, I huddle under mounds of blankets curled up against him, watching The West Wing and sipping on juice. He holds me tightly all day, kissing my head tenderly. We fall asleep early, wrapped around each other.

And then it’s Sunday and I’m not pregnant any more. We go out to brunch and meet up with a friend at a coffee shop. Sorry we haven’t been around. I’ve been sick, but I’m better now. My boyfriend works on a paper due that night. I chat about authors and law school. And life goes on.

Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.

Commentary Human Rights

The Democratic National Convention Was a Remarkable Victory for Disabled People

s.e. smith

This year's convention included disabled people every evening, as part of a larger inclusive policy that made 2016 a banner year for disability rights activists.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

On Thursday night, Hillary Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Her speech included many of the elements one expects from a nominee, but there were some standout moments—like when she mentioned disability rights, which she did repeatedly.

Clinton integrated disability into her discussion of her record, talking about her work to ensure that disabled children have the right to go to school and bringing up the health-care needs of disabled youth. Her commentary reinforced the fact that she has always cared about disability issues, particularly in the context of children’s rights.

But she did more than that. She referenced shortages of mental health beds. She explicitly called out disability rights as necessary to defend. And at one point, she did not mention disability, which in itself was radical. When she outlined her plans for gun reform and clearly stated that she wanted to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, she referenced people with criminal histories and terrorists, but not mentally ill people, who have been fighting a surge in stigma thanks to perennial (and wildly incorrect) assertions that mental illness causes violence. That omission was clearly deliberate, given the meticulous level of crafting that goes into writing one of the most important speeches of a presidential candidate’s career.

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The nominee’s speech would have been remarkable on its own, but what made it truly outstanding is that it was far from the first appearance of disability at this year’s Democratic National Convention (DNC). The convention included disabled people every evening as part of a larger inclusive policy that made 2016 a banner year for disability rights activists, who are used to being invisible. These kinds of appearances normalized disability, presenting it as a part of some people’s lives and a source of pride, not shame or misery.

On Monday, for example, disability rights activist Anastasia Somoza rolled out to give a sharp, compelling speech that didn’t cast disability in a tragic or exceptional light. She wasn’t the only wheelchair user to appear on the DNC stage—Paralympic athlete Mallory Weggemann led the pledge of allegiance on a different evening. Dynah Haubert, an attorney for Disability Rights Pennsylvania, took the stage on Tuesday. Nor were wheelchair users the only disabled people represented. Ryan Moore, a longtime friend of Clinton’s, spoke about health care and his experiences as a man with spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenital syndrome, a form of dwarfism. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy talked about his learning disabilities. Musician Demi Lovato, who has bipolar disorder, took on mental health.

Former Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, a nondisabled man who played an instrumental role in the push to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, taught the crowd sign language during a lively speech about the fight for disability rights on Tuesday, the 26th anniversary of the landmark legislation.

On Wednesday night, former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) strode out onto the DNC stage in Philadelphia, smiling and waving at the crowd, to make a few short remarks. “Speaking is difficult for me,” she concluded, “but come January 2017 I want to say these two words: ‘Madam President.'” Her speech was about gun violence—a subject with which she’s intimately familiar after being shot in the head in 2011.

This level of representation is unprecedented. Some speakers, like Somoza, explicitly talked about disability rights, putting the subject in the spotlight in a way it’s never been at previous conventions. Others, like Giffords, came up on stage to talk about something else entirely—and happened to represent disability while they were at it. Similarly, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a decorated combat veteran and double amputee, talked about military policy.

This is a striking contrast from the treatment of disability at previous Democratic National Conventions: When disabled people have appeared, it’s often been in the form of a lackluster performance that objectifies disability, rather than celebrating it, as in 1996 when former actor Christopher Reeve framed disability as a medical tragedy.

Disability rights activists have spent decades fighting for this kind of representation. In 1992, two years after the passage of the ADA, the platform included just three mentions of disability. This year, the subject comes up in 36 instances, woven throughout the platform for an integrated approach to disability as a part of society, rather than as something that needs to be walled off into a tiny section of the platform, tokenized, and then dismissed.

In the intervening years, disabled people in the United States have fought for the enforcement of the ADA, and taken the right to independent living to court in 1999’s Olmsted v. L.C., which was namechecked in the 2000 platform and then forgotten. Disabled people advocated to have their rights in school codified with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, pushed for inclusion in 2010’s Affordable Care Act, and are fighting to pass the Community Choice Act and Disability Integration Act (DIA). Disability rights in the United States has come a long way since 1990’s infamous Capitol Crawl, in which disability rights activists dragged themselves up the steps of the U.S. Capitol, pleading with Congress to pass the ADA.

And as activists have pushed for progress in the courts and in Congress, disability rights have slowly become more prominent in the Democratic party platform. The ADA has been a consistent theme, appearing in every platform since 1992 alongside brief references to civil rights; historically, however, the focus has been on disability as a medical issue. The 1996 platform introduced Medicare, and health care in general, as issues important to the disability community, a refrain that was reiterated in years to come. In numerous years, Democrats addressed concerns about long-term care, in some cases positioning disabled people as objects of care rather than independent people. Disabled veterans have also played a recurring role in the platform’s discussion of military issues. But beyond these topics—again, often approached from a dehumanizing angle—and the occasional lip service to concerns about discrimination and equal rights, until the 2000s, education was the only really consistent disability issue.

In 2000, however, the Democrats went big, building on eight years under President Bill Clinton, and the influence of his then-first lady. For the first time, disability wasn’t simply lumped under “civil rights.” The platform explicitly called out the need for protection from disability hate crimes, but it also began to introduce the idea that there were other issues of relevance to the disability with a discussion of the digital divide and the obstacles that held disabled people back. Almost 30 years after the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which barred disability discrimination by government agencies and contractors, the Democrats were starting to embrace issues like accessibility and independent living, which also played a prominent role in 2000.

It was a hint that the party was starting to think about disability issues in a serious way, especially when in 2008, the Democrats discussed the shameful delay on ratification of the United Nations’ Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, took on the Community Choice Act, talked about the need to enforce IDEA, and, again for the first time, explicitly addressed voting rights issues. By 2012, they were also calling out discriminatory voter ID laws and their disproportionate effect on the disabled community.

That’s tremendous, though incremental, progress.

And this week, the efforts of a generation of disability rights activists are on display everywhere in Philadelphia, where Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky observed that accessibility is a top priority across the city. The DNC is providing expanded accessible seating, wheelchair charging stations, service dog relief areas, Braille materials, closed captioning, American Sign Language interpreters, medication refrigerators, and more. That’s radical inclusion at work, and the result of incredible efforts by disability rights organizers—including the 400 delegates who disclosed disabilities.

Those same organizers have been hounding the presidential candidates, holding them accountable on disability over and over again. They’ve brought up concerns about independent living, wage disparities, education, access to services, accessibility, hate crimes, reproductive rights, the “marriage penalty” and government benefits, and casual disablism in campaign rhetoric and practices. Advocates leaned on the Clinton campaign until it began captioning its content, for example. RespectAbility sent journalists out on the trail, #CriptheVote organized Twitter, and Rev Up encouraged people to register to vote and get involved. The disability community may be more explicitly politically active this year than ever before, and the DNC has been responding accordingly.

Clearly in consultation with disability rights activists, the Democrats have brought a host of new issues into this year’s platform, acknowledging that disabled people are part of U.S. society. Some of the many issues unique to this year’s platform include: abolition of the subminimum wage, concerns about economic opportunities with an explicitly intersectional discussion of the racial wealth gap, affordable housing, accessibility at the polls, the role of disability in the school-to-prison pipeline, and the need for more accurate Census data.

Notably, in a platform that has loudly called for a Hyde Amendment repeal and pushed for other abortion rights, the Democrats have also reinforced the need for access to reproductive health for disabled people, a revolutionary clause that’s gone virtually unnoticed.

This is a platform—and convention—of aggressive inclusion, and it reflects a victory for disabled people in the United States. It does still lack some components the disability community would like to see, like a shoutout to the DIA, which Clinton supports. This is, however, the start of what looks like a robust and real relationship between the Democrats and the disability rights community.