Commentary Abortion

‘We Are Beatriz’: These Are Our Stories

Debra Hauser

For months Beatriz was denied the care that could save her life. Her story is her own, yet it is also ours. We are Beatriz.

The following remarks were made by Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, at Tuesday’s “We Are Beatriz” vigil in Washington, D.C.

In 1995, at the age 35, I found myself alone, pregnant, and caring for my six-month-old son. My husband went to work one day and did not return. Weeks passed without word. For more than a month, I did not tell a soul that he was gone. Not my family, my co-workers, my friends. I simply went to work each day, did my job the best I could, and pretended everything was normal. Each evening, I left work, picked up my son from daycare not far from where we stand today, and did my best to care for him without distraction.

Six weeks had passed when I realized I was pregnant.

Alone, with little money and a baby to care for, it was clear to me that I could not take care of another child. I did not know where my husband was. I was unsure of what would happen to my marriage. I was uncertain if I could make ends meet.

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How could I add another child to such an untenable situation? I made the choice that day to terminate my pregnancy. For me, and for my six-month-old son, the choice was the right one.

For more than 15 years I did not share this story. I was not ashamed, nor did I question my decision. But I was afraid—afraid of what others would say, afraid of being judged. Thirty years of anti-abortion rhetoric and fear mongering kept me silent. My silence kept me isolated.

Over the last few weeks, many of us have read, written, and emailed about a young mother in El Salvador named Beatriz. We have shaken our heads, cried to our partners, and shouted out in anger that yet another woman might lose her life, denied the basic medical care she needs—an abortion.

Like so many others among us, Beatriz had become a hostage of political gamesmanship and government intrusion. For months and months her government turned a blind eye to the advice of her doctors. Never mind that without access to safe abortion care she would die, or that the fetus she carried was unviable. Never mind that she was already the mother of a young child.

At first look, Beatriz’s circumstances seem extreme. She has lupus, hypertension, and kidney failure. For the past 27 weeks, she endured a pregnancy both she and her doctors knew needed to end.

Last week, after months of anguish and pleading, Beatriz was finally permitted to undergo a hysterotomy. She delivered a fetus with such extreme birth defects that it only lived a few hours. Beatriz herself survived, but at a cost to her own health. The impact of carrying the pregnancy so long complicated her lupus and compromised her kidneys.

Yes, Beatriz’s circumstances are extreme. But they also shed light on what many women throughout the world and here in the United States endure to obtain safe abortion care. One in three women in the United States will have an abortion in her lifetime. For too many of us, moralizing political rhetoric, onerous government restrictions, and cultural stigma silence our experiences and create costly barriers that threaten our health and endanger our lives.

For months Beatriz was denied the care that could save her life. Her story is her own, yet it is also ours. We are Beatriz.

We are also the teen in Jackson, Mississippi, forced to obtain permission for an abortion from an abusive parent who denies it; the middle-aged mother in El Paso, Texas, with so few resources she can’t scrape together enough money to end her pregnancy but can’t fathom how she can possibly support another child; the couple in Salt Lake City, Utah, forced to endure a barrage of falsehoods about the supposed “side-effects” of abortion and then made to wait three days at a roadside motel before being allowed to return to the clinic for the procedure; the young girl in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, afraid to tell her parents she is pregnant, and instead gives birth in a high school bathroom.

We are one in three. We are Beatriz. Beatriz is us. Each of us knows someone—a mother, a sister, a girlfriend, an aunt. Some of us are “fortunate” to have enough money, lucky enough to live close to provider, old enough not to need a judicial bypass.

But too many of us are like Beatriz, forced to endure onerous restrictions and ugly rhetoric that at best isolates us from one another and at worst impedes our access and endangers our health and well-being.

Beatriz’s story gives us the courage to tell our own—to break through the stigma we are made to feel that silences our voices and keeps us isolated. One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Abortion has always been and will always be a part of women’s lives. Beatriz gives us the courage to end our silence. We must speak up for her, for ourselves, and for our daughters. I too am one in three, and these are our stories.

“I have always been pro-choice, but I never imagined I would face the choice that I did. The pregnancy that I terminated was very much wanted and planned. But at 16 weeks, an ultrasound showed that there was not enough amniotic fluid. I spent the next couple of weeks on bed rest, but to no avail. By 19 weeks there was basically no amniotic fluid. No amniotic fluid means no lung development. Even if I had carried that fetus to term, there’s no way she could have ever breathed on her own. The choice that I faced was between waiting for stillbirth, possibly 20 more weeks, risking infection and my future fertility, or terminating the pregnancy at 20 weeks, getting back on my feet, getting back to my job, and getting back to being able to care for my toddler. It was only after it was all over that I connected that experience to the word “abortion.” As a younger woman, I wondered what choice I would make if faced with an unplanned pregnancy (and was diligent about birth control to reduce the chances of that). When my time in fact came to face my choice, I was and am still very grateful that it was just between me, my husband, and the medical professionals who advised us. And that is what I want for every woman: the freedom to choose, in privacy and without stigma or pressure.” —Anonymous (as read by Kimberly Inez McGuire)

“I had an abortion when I was 19 years old. I am not ashamed or apologetic or confused. I do feel sadness for the girl I was; for I was very much alone and afraid.” —Anna (as read by Shivana Jorawar)

“My name is Stefanie. I am 51 years old, a minister, married with three step-children, and have had two abortions: one at the age of 18 and the other at 21. Both pregnancies were the result of rape. In both instances I was in such denial about what had happened and about the potential for pregnancy that I did not seek medical attention or counsel until it was almost too late to make a decision about what was going to be happening to my body and to my life. I chose abortion over suicide. Twice. Those were the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made. I commemorate them each year with great sadness—but also with tremendous gratitude for having had the freedom to make those decisions for myself, and for having had access to impartial/non-moralistic/safe medical attention. I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I did. But I want all women to have the freedom to make their own choices about anything that affects their bodies.” —Stefanie (as read by Lisbeth Melendez Rivera)

“I had my daughter, and then nine months went past and I got pregnant again. And that was a big shock. I wasn’t contemplating keeping the baby, but this would have been my first abortion and I was very scared. My daughter’s father and I didn’t have any money. Abortions cost money. A lot of money. $350 is not cheap when you’re 19 with no job and a new baby, and the baby’s father is halfway trying to support us. We had to go borrow money from two different family members. We didn’t even have any money to get the abortion. How could we not have any money to do that, but we would have money to raise another child? So that day, we rushed around, we got our money, and we went to the clinic.” —Alex (as read by Amanda Keifer)

“Pre-Roe v. Wade, my abortion was a cloak and dagger affair. I was lucky, though. I connected with a true abortion mill run by midwives who obviously had connections to someone who could supply drugs that hastened the procedure and fought infection afterwards. I counted nearly a dozen women with me in the waiting room of the dingy second-floor apartment in a horrible part of town. They took us one right after the other into a room with an operating table and you could hear what was going on with each procedure. I only had nitrous oxide during the operation to dull the pain. It was 1969, I was only 18, and it was extremely scary, dangerous. But I have no regrets.” —Anonymous (As read by Angela Ferrell-Zabala)

“About five years ago, I got pregnant. I was in a committed relationship and I loved my partner—now we are married and the parents of a beautiful 19-month-old boy. But five years ago, I knew I wasn’t ready to be a mother. I believed then, and I still do, that bringing a child into the world is a tremendous, unspeakably important act that requires incredible will and love and intention. I didn’t feel ready to commit myself fully to that act five years ago, and I was afraid that doing so without full commitment or will would damage my relationship with both my partner and the child we would bring into the world. So I opted to end the pregnancy. It was a sad, strange experience, and while I don’t think back on it with fondness, I do not regret my choice one iota. As a mom, I know now just how hard and brilliant and intense motherhood is, and I am proud to have exercised my right to choose—twice. Once it ended a pregnancy. Once it brought a beautiful boy into the world. No regrets.” —Sarah (as read by Kate Stewart)

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.