Is there a good reason to have an abortion?
I do not remember the exact point in time when I realized what abortion was or when I decided to be pro-choice. But I do remember early in high school, my best friend and I started to talk in depth about abortion, and birth control, and why we believed in choice. By junior year of high school, I was extremely passionate about the issue. I lectured my friends in the cafeteria, attended pro-choice rallies at my state’s capital. I publicly challenged the white, male, Anti-Choice speaker who came to my All-Girls’ Catholic High School. Looking back, I am certain that I did not fully understand the nuances of abortion and choice in America. I was only vaguely aware of the racial and socioeconomic disparities within the issue of access to abortion.
Nevertheless, choice remained an important issue for me. Throughout college, it was a movement I was very involved in and something I talked to my friends about often, despite never having one myself. After we graduated, fiery conversations about abortion happened less and less. By my mid-twenties, it no longer seemed like it was top of mind for anyone around me. I stopped thinking about abortion as much.
At 26, I was having sex with a guy I had been seeing. We had an accident, I took Plan B, and went on with my life. Three weeks later, when I still had not got my period; I took a pregnancy test. I was shocked to see a positive result. In less than 20 minutes, I had made an appointment to terminate my pregnancy, for six days later.
Four days before my scheduled abortion, I went to the clinic for a pre-procedure appointment, during which a nurse performed a sonogram on me. She did not see anything. I was very confused but also excited – maybe I was not pregnant after all? I went to the bathroom to take a urine test and it came back positive. She tried the sonogram again, this time at a different angle. Now she saw what she needed to see, explaining that she could not see it the first time because I have a tilted cervix.
Up until then, I had not felt much about my pregnancy or abortion, mostly because I had not thought about either much. I had been on auto pilot: making appointments, getting the money together, taking off work. Talking to friends about it mostly meant investigating the process, asking what I should expect, not unpacking my feelings. Any excess energy I had was given to the man who impregnated me, who I will call, Taylor (not his real name). He was having an especially hard time, which he mostly expressed by ignoring me. I spent a lot of time trying to console him and/or attract his attention. I had not felt much about my abortion, because I had been thinking about the logistics of my procedure and keeping my relationship together. I had not stopped to feel anything.
As the nurse explained what a tilted cervix is, I turned my head to the opposite side of the room and my eyes filled with tears. The reality sank in. For a moment, less than ten seconds, I was filled with emotion. Then I asked her why I had a tilted cervix and I stopped thinking about the embryo inside of me.
I was embarrassed and confused by the tears.
I did not make the decision to terminate my pregnancy because I desperately wanted a child but could not have one right now due to finances, access, resources, health, safety, or because it was not the right time. And while Taylor and I did not know each other very long, our story was not unlike dozens of other stories I’ve heard of couples having kids before they were “ready”. I want to be clear, I chose to terminate my pregnancy simply because I do not want to be a mother. Now or ever.
When considering to have an abortion, I had nothing forcing my hand. While I know this is not the case for most women, this was my experience. I think if you’re ever making a decision completely out of free will, you will inevitably doubt yourself. It is completely unnatural to not have factors like money, time, resources influencing your decision making. This is especially true for choosing to terminate a pregnancy.
Our society has told us that only worthy women can have abortions. Women need to have a “valid reason”. Extreme examples would be rape or health issues. But many believe that a woman should only get it if she can’t support the baby. They make a list of reasons why a woman should/should not have an abortion. And then tell us to not use the word on television, movies, or in public. I didn’t qualify for any sympathetic reason to have an abortion, only that I knew I did not want to be a mother, but society’s judgment crept in my brain and I couldn’t help but feel discontent.
For the handful of days leading up to my abortion, I had similar micro-moments of emotion that I had during the sonogram. When driving to work, I’d be stopped at a red light, thinking about the whole thing. And in less than the time it took for a light to change from red to green, I would experience sadness, confusion, peace, and more. If my mind was ever curious enough to ask, “What if I don’t have the abortion? What if I was a mother?” After picturing the responsibilities of having a kid, mainly waking up early, I stopped considering it.
For the majority of the six days between my pregnancy test and the abortion procedure, I felt a sense of gratitude. A gratitude for the choice I had. I felt so relieved that I had this choice and I don’t just mean that I could legally choose to have an abortion. I mean that I had the means to make the best choice for myself. I had the $400 to pay for the abortion. I split it with Taylor, but I also knew that I could pay for it myself if I really needed to. The clinic was just a twenty-minute drive. I had more than enough Paid Time Off available to me at work to attend all three appointments. For the time first time, I truly understood that choice is more than legal access.
I felt so empowered, strong, and grateful. At the same time, I also felt an immense sadness for women who did not have the same options as I was currently living. The fact that I have the time, money, and transportation to an abortion comes from the privilege I have as a white hetero, able-bodied woman, who is from and is in a higher income bracket. It is rare that a woman choosing to have an abortion has the same advantages.
At exactly six weeks pregnant, Taylor drove me to the appointment, but I went in alone, as I did for all of the appointments. There were protestors surrounding the parking lot. The clinic staff were incredibly kind and professional. The surgery was incredibly painful (stupidly, I opted out of anesthesia and pain killers). For about three to five minutes I was hot and sweaty, in an enormous of pain. I gripped a nurse’s hand as I cried and screamed in pain. Another nurse put a wet rag on my forehead. Finally it was over. My doctor noted to the nurses how small the tissue was.
After the surgery, I sat in the recovery area. I heard the protestors outside. I heard the woman next to me sob. I heard a woman screaming in one of the operating rooms, just like I had been minutes before. I sat there in the recovery chair just observing what was going on around me. Feeling glad that it was all over. But not sure exactly how I felt.
Taylor was 30 minutes late to pick me up. After the procedure, he became distant, gradually talking to me less and less. When our communication became almost nonexistent and I broke it off with him, he begged for me back, apologizing for his behavior, telling me how hard the experience had been for him. This was a cycle, I am embarrassed to say I repeated at least three times.
For weeks after the abortion, I randomly broke out in tears, feeling that same confusing sadness. Not because of regret, or mourning. I didn’t know why. From the time I became sexually active at sixteen, I never hesitated to consider an abortion if I became pregnant. Why did I care now? Or did I even care?
I had friends who had abortions when we were in college, or right out of college, making it too long ago to conjure up the same emotions I was facing. I did not know anyone who had an abortion recently. I was too embarrassed to explain my confusing sadness to my friends. I felt like I should have been stronger. My emotions embarrassed me. The fact that I wasn’t a rock made me ashamed. I felt like a bad feminist.
I told my therapist. I loved (and still do) my therapist, but I was nervous telling him. Surely, he would not understand what I was going through, he is a white, hetero/cis male, and Christian. My friends who have had an abortion could not even relate to me. Why would he? But he offered the most objective, basic, and most complex explanation to my emotions: My body was preparing for a huge thing, then it ended very suddenly, and my body was jolted. I was healing from the jolt. This vague explanation made sense to me and it eased my concerns about my own emotions.
I was feeling what I was feeling. That’s it. It doesn’t mean that I regretted my decision, which I do not nor have I ever. And it doesn’t mean that I am a weak feminist. I am only a woman who had a safe and legal medical procedure - abortion.
After that therapy session, and eventually ending it with Taylor, I stopped experiencing any negative emotional reaction when I thought of my abortion. I grew to think about the abortion less and less. And I’ve never thought of it as a bad thing for myself, or a bad word.
I don’t want kids, now or ever. I am mature enough to know that I can be a different person in ten years and change my mind about having kids. But the fact that I have the choice to decide if and when I become a mother – that’s powerful. It is a type of power I do not take for granted.
This essay was not intended to speak to the collective experience of having an abortion. This is only my story and I can only speak to my experiences. There are stories out there filled with more barriers, heartache, and constriction. We should absolutely be listening to these stories and building platforms for these women to speak their truth. I also believe that my story has value.
I want people to know that abortion is not a bad word. Or a bad thing. It is not for everyone. But it is a safe and legal medical procedure. And for that reason alone, I am allowed to speak about it.
For women who are confused about how they feel about their abortion, before or after - you are not alone. There are many ways to feel after having an abortion. You do not have to feel a loss. It does not have to be a difficult choice. You do not have to be strong or emotionless as you go through the experience. Because you experience sadness or regret does not mean anything other than you are experiencing those emotions. You are not alone in anything you are feeling right now.
For any woman who chose or will choose to have an abortion – you do not owe anyone an explanation to why you ended your pregnancy. There are no good, worthy, justifiable, bad, or unsympathetic reasons to have an abortion. The only reason to have an abortion should include the fact that you want to have an abortion. You’re only expected to take care of yourself as much as you can during the process.
As for myself, I will continue to be grateful to the women before me who fought for my right to abortion. I will continue to fight against attacks to my rights, and I pledge to fight along with women of color, undocumented women, LBT women, differently abled women, women from low-income communities, and work to create space for their voices, because the same privilege that allowed me to access an abortion so easily, also grants me that responsibility.
Photo Credit Left to Right: ShoutYourAbortion.com & Becca Rea Holloway of @thesweetfeminist on Instagram