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Commentary Abortion

Women Are More Than Their Ability to Reproduce. That’s Why I’m Sharing My Abortion Story.

Jo DeLosSantos

Our lives have value, and we have the right to determine our paths.

Only those of us who have considered an abortion, whether we ended up securing one or not, can truly understand the terror of being newly pregnant without means and support.

I am so grateful for my abortion in the late 1980s. It allowed me to return to college, graduate, and, ten years later, meet a committed partner and give birth to two children when I was better positioned to raise them.

Decades of gratitude motivated me to publicly tell my abortion story this year. My personal abortion story was published in July by the North Carolina nonprofit Women AdvaNCe during its monthlong #MyBodyNC campaign. After my abortion story went live, I expected some criticism and disapproval from the people in my life. Disapproval showed up most often as silence. Much of the support I received took the form of private phone calls and texts from folks who didn’t feel comfortable sharing their gratitude on social media.

With the ongoing legislative attacks on abortion, we need open and frank public dialogue that takes into account the diversity of women’s experiences. Telling our abortion stories can do that, if enough of us speak up.

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My abortion happened during my early twenties. I was six weeks pregnant. Although terminating a pregnancy was my legal right, anti-choice protesters outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Petersburg, Florida, held graphic signs and, as I passed through them, told me about how much God loved me and my “baby.”  The counselor I met at the clinic told me I would need to return at eight weeks because pregnancies couldn’t be terminated before then at that time.

On the way out of the clinic, as I explained on the Women AdvaNCe site:

I guess the protesters assumed I’d had an abortion while inside. Earlier assurances of God’s love turned into name calling, my soul’s damnation and so much hate. So. Much. Hate. None of the people yelling at me cared that I’d been religious about birth control, or that I wasn’t capable of providing for another human being, or that my mother was terminally ill and my father profoundly disabled.

When I returned two weeks later, my abortion was solemn and solitary. As I wrote in the piece, “I faced my reality. I had no insurance for prenatal care, no job, no co-parent, no well-baby insurance, no education, no prospects for a home or life with an infant. I found myself in rooms of women facing the same reality. Poor and young was the chorus sung by most of us, not callous and inconvenienced.”

Like so many women who’ve had abortions before and after me, I understood my decision. “I chose my path,” I wrote. ”I will be forever thankful for the right to shape my future. I walked out with the steadfast knowledge that one day I’d have babies who enjoyed the love and support of two parents, and that I’d be mature enough and financially secure enough to care and provide for them.”

There are so many valid reasons why someone may choose to have an abortion. No woman wants to have her future decided by a broken condom, an antibiotic rendering her birth control less effective, rape, or because her body, for whatever reason, is in jeopardy due to pregnancy. Telling our abortion stories makes public dialogue about the value of accessible abortion services possible in the age of 140-character tweets and sweeping generalizations by those without the experience.

My choice to have an abortion was not unique. Around 1 in 4 women will have had an abortion by the age of 45. And yet, abortion restrictions are rapidly advancing across the country, making it even more difficult for women, trans, and gender-nonconforming people to access this critical health-care service. The South, in particular, is a hotbed of anti-abortion advocacy. Fake pregnancy clinics, commonly referred to as “crisis pregnancy centers” or CPCs, have sprung up where abortion clinics are located, spreading misinformation and blocking people from accessing the care they need. The American Medical Association has gone so far as to say that CPCs’ “propagation of misinformation should be regarded as an ethical violation that undermines women’s health.”

Anti-abortion lawmakers across the nation, have been unrelenting in their efforts to fund CPCs rather than the health-care providers who deliver life-saving reproductive health care. Targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP) laws that make abortions more complicated for providers add to the obstructionist trend characterizing state regulation of legal abortions protected under Roe v. Wade. Currently and into early 2020 many extreme abortion laws are set to go into effect. Although those laws are being challenged in court, should they take effect, states where abortion is already difficult to access will become “abortion deserts.”

As someone who sought an abortion at six weeks, I’ve been particularly troubled by embryonic or fetal heartbeats being markers of life in the national debate. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists contends that lawmakers’ assumptions when making these laws are “not reflective of fetal development or science.” Sure, some believe embryos with electrical pulses are alive, but we should all agree that women are already alive. Women’s wills and futures should take precedence over an electrical pulse in a cluster of cells.

Most women of childbearing years who have undeniably achieved personhood are also clear that when we are without a job, an education, a home, health insurance, or any way of affording to care for a child for at least 18 years, the price to pay for potential life is too high. Research even supports our decision to have an abortion. A 2012 study found that women who were in control of when and how many children they give birth to have an increased chance of achieving economic security as compared to women who had little to no control over reproductive factors in their lives. Despite these factors, women are still fearful of admitting they have sought abortions, even if doing so is a perfectly reasonable and legal act.

Now more than ever, we need to tell our stories. With the stacking of conservative judges on the highest courts of the land, and the election of conservative lawmakers to state legislatures, it is our duty to speak out as the benefactors of Roe v. Wade. Our stories of the ways abortions have allowed us to live our own lives serve as critical reminders of what’s at stake as reproductive rights are under threat. They also show everyone that there are more of us who have benefitted from the legal right to abortion than we think, and that our health care can’t be taken away without far-reaching consequences.

It’s been more 30 years since my abortion, and I am confident it was the right choice for me. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to mentor young people, contribute to my community, assist women who’ve decided to have an abortion, and attend baby showers of those who chose to parent.

Women are more than our ability to reproduce. Our lives have value, and we have the right to determine our paths.

I had an abortion. I will not be shamed.

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