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)