Today marks the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when women gained the right to safe, legal abortion in this country. 38 years ago this month, I was born. It has always meant a lot to me that I was born in the month that Roe v. Wade changed women’s history in the United States. Choice has been one of my fundamental issues as an activist, and it has been increasingly difficult to watch the continual attack on our hard-won right to have the freedom to choose what we do with our bodies.
Many anti-choice activists portray women who have abortions as irresponsible, thoughtless, heartless sluts who use abortion as birth control and only care about their own self interest. While this stereotyping of women compels much emotional uproar, making it easy for some to argue that women should not be trusted to make decisions regarding our own bodies, families, and health, this argument oversimplifies the complexity of womens’ experiences. Never in this discussion of women’s bodies are the men involved in creating a pregnancy indited for their selfish, thoughtless behavior. The discussions of women who are raped or live in violent domestic situations are limited to short statements at the end of a longer discussion. Rarely, in fact, do we hear women’s own voices about their experiences of choosing (or not being able to choose) abortion. Our voices are apparently not crucial to the discussion when national legislation is involved.
I have been meaning to write about my own story for a long time, to bring it up from the depths of my past, where it holds a place of shame and darkness. Now seems like the right moment to do this work of uncovering. If ever there was a moment when women need to tell our own stories about abortion, it is now.
When I was a sophomore in college, I met an older man who was in the graduate program where I studied. I was 18, he was 29. We started spending time together and soon became a couple. I had only dated one other man before–for about a month. My first sexual experience verged on rape. There was certainly not consent. Needless to say, I did not have many skills to navigate this new relationship with someone who had been in significant relationships before. We had been sexually active–mostly protected–for about a month or two. I had an appointment to go to Planned Parenthood to get on the pill in a few weeks. One night, for some reason, we had unprotected sex. That night, a few weeks before my nineteenth birthday, I got pregnant.
I was from a lower-working class family who did not have the money to pay for my college. I was on grants and work study, earning about $3,000 per year. I was barely getting by. I had nothing to fall back on. After the confirmation of a pregnancy test on Valentine’s Day, I called my lover to tell him the news. I hadn’t really considered my options aside from knowing that I could barely support myself, and could not imagine how I could ever support a child. Not to mention that I had reservations about my own fitness to be a parent at all. He said that he would pay for the abortion, that he would go with me. I knew that this was the right decision for me, for my life, and probably for that child who could have been mine.
Even despite my resolution to go forward with the abortion and my clear understanding that it was the right choice for me, I still felt extremely sad and heartbroken that I was making the decision to have an abortion. I know that I would not have made a good mother at that point in my life, and I had no resources to take care of a child, but I still feel sadness about that part of my life. I feel sadness for the girl I was, not knowing how to ask for what I needed. I feel sadness that I didn’t really feel that I had a choice–that my own financial and relationship situation made motherhood nearly impossible. I wonder sometimes how my life would have been different. Would I have finished college? Would I have loved being a mother? What would my 18 year old child be like?
Now, at 38, I know that I will not have biological children of my own. I do not regret this. I do not regret having an abortion. I know that I did what I had to do to survive at that moment in time. I wish that I had been a stronger young woman with more of an understanding of my own power and strength. I wish that I had said “no” to that one evening of sexual pleasure. I wish that I had never had to make the choice I made. But here I am, twenty years later, a queer woman with a deepening spiritual practice that teaches me to have compassion for that young woman I was. I am grateful to be here, grateful to have been able to grow and change, grateful to have found my voice and my strength. All women have the right to decide the course of our own lives, however winding or strange that course may be.