As most of you probably already know, today marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark supreme court decision that legalized abortion. I thought today would be a fitting day to share my story about an incident that made me become pro-choice in all situations, as well as determined to become involved in reproductive justice. I’m going to give a bit of a background story first but if you want to read about my actual experience, just scroll down.
I’ve led a pretty privileged, sheltered life. I come from a well to do family, lived in a predominantly white, affluent, conservative neighborhood, went to a high school where (literally) 99% of the kids went to college, and had attentive parents who always did what they thought was best for me. Needless to say, I was unaware about how hard the rest of the world had it (In this case, specifically in terms of reproductive rights).
I was 12 when I first learned about abortion- from a Catholic church of all places. While my extended family is very conservative and Catholic, my parents are Protestants and a bit more politically moderate. I was forced to go to church until I was 18 and while it wasn’t pleasant, the church typically stayed away from topics like abortion or pre-marital sex.
I was at a fair held by a Catholic church in our area when I came across some teenage girls asking for money to “help save babies.” As a 12-year-old with hardly any knowledge of sex or reproduction, I figured they meant saving living, breathing babies from war, poverty, or starvation. So I gave them some money, as did my little brother, and they thanked us and gave us each a rose in return.
(TW: Mention of rape and incest) I wanted to go on a ride and asked my mom to hold my rose for me to which she replied with a sharp “No.” I asked her why not and my (usually conservative, religious, wary of sex mother) explained what abortion was to me and said “if someone took you into a back alley and raped you, or you had an abusive parent, you would be forced to have a child because of what they did if abortion was illegal.” I looked down at my rose in disgust. None of the girls had mentioned any of that. When we got home my mom put my rose at my breakfast spot, and it made me feel sick every time I looked at it. I promptly threw it in the trash.
Even with that, my privilege and upbringing in a conservative area (as well as lack of sex education) did not make me a die-hard, pro-choice activist during my teen years. Through the messages derived from the media, the abstinence-only education my school gave me, and the sex-negative messages from my mom, I had come to the conclusion at the ripe young age of 15 that abortion was fine in cases of rape and incest, but otherwise the girl should just give the baby up for adoption (Thanks, “Juno” for misleading me to believe that was an easy thing) and shouldn’t be allowed to have an abortion just because she neglected to use protection. (I also am sad to say that I believed the stories of “women use abortion as birth control.”)
Fast forward two more years and I was dating my first real boyfriend. Our relationship was turbulent and dysfunctional, to say the least, but I had convinced myself that we could make it work and in the back of my mind I thought that I wasn’t able to do any better.
It happened October of my senior year of high school. Between college applications, my graduation project, dance, and AP classes, I rarely had time to hang out with my boyfriend and was thrilled when we were alone in his house one afternoon. (Warning: Sexual content) Naturally, we engaged in oral sex (as was usual for us, me not being ready to have vaginal sex) when he took his fingers that had some semen on them and rubbed my vagina.
I freaked out. I didn’t have much of a sex education at the time, but I knew from what I had read on my own time that there was a chance that I could get pregnant from that. He assured me that it was fine, but I was still worried. But eventually, with my busy schedule, I forgot it had even happened. Until my period was nearly 4 weeks late.
My period had never once been late- not since I first got it when I was 12. Needless to say, I freaked out. This was not happening to me. Not me, who everyone called a goody two shoes, who had never gotten a detention, who had nearly perfect grades, who always did what she was told. I had done everything right in my mind- why was this happening to me?
When I told my boyfriend, his first response was “you’re going to get an abortion,” which only succeeded in making me even more upset and stressed. I couldn’t go to my conservative parents- they wouldn’t support me. And even if they did, they would most likely blab about it to my closed-minded relatives. I couldn’t go to my friends- most of them were conservative and pro-life and I didn’t want this going around school. And now the one person I thought I could turn was demanding I do what he wanted.
I knew there was no way I could get out of this unscathed. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to mentally handle an abortion, my state required that I get my parent’s permission to obtain one, and I would have had to pay for it myself out of my (small) college savings account as my boyfriend was from a working class family.
But having a mild case of Asperger’s, sensory integration disorder, Crohn’s disease, anxiety disorder, depression, and a dependency on my several medications did not make me a prime candidate for carrying the pregnancy to term.
I thought about what it would be like. The stares, the whispers, the looks of disappointment. Not being able to continue dancing. Potentially not being able to graduate high school. Not being able to go to college. All of those grades, AP classes, extracurriculars, long nights worked by my dad to save up money to send me to college, and years my mother spent out of the workplace staying at home with me to help me cope with my medical conditions would all be for nothing. I was fucked.
One Friday after school my boyfriend planned to come with me buy a pregnancy test after work. In the meantime, I was helping a mutual friend move into his new house but the entire time my mind was on my skipped period. Was I really pregnant? I had felt a little nauseous in the past week. Had I weighed this much before?
We drove to Wawa to get some food- him a hoagie, me a bottle of chocolate milk. We then went across the street to the drugstore, while he complained about having to go inside and buy the pregnancy test, which I gave him the money for.
I was sitting in that car for what seemed like forever when he came back, amidst more complaining, and drove me to another building to find a bathroom. He waited outside while I waited for the test results.’Please don’t let it be true.’
I had never felt more relieved in my life. I tried to talk about it with him but he shut me down with a snappy “I don’t want to talk about this ever again.”
He dumped me a couple weeks later, by text, for another girl, on a school night. (Looking back, he did me a favor)
Afterwards, I became more involved in reproductive justice. I learned much more about abortion and contraceptives, for starters (Like how 87% of counties don’t have an abortion provider, the expense of and inability to access birth control, what it was like for women before Roe v. Wade). I got involved with a wonderful pro-choice group my freshman year of college, volunteered at Planned Parenthood this past summer, and am aspiring to become a sex educator.
My experience brings to mind something that reproductive rights advocate and National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, Loretta Ross (Awesome woman), said when visiting my college last year, “Any woman who has been through so much as a pregnancy scare knows that it (abortion or carrying the pregnancy to term) is never an easy choice.”
I can’t imagine not having the opportunities I did after high school- meeting my amazing feminist friends, discovering my feminism and myself, becoming an activist, attending college…
I can’t say for sure that I would choose to have an abortion if I ever were to become pregnant, but I can say that I was damn well happy that it was an option when I thought I was. It’s never an easy choice, and hard enough to make without ridiculous trap laws and government restrictions.
So, happy 40th anniversary to Roe v. Wade, and thank you to everyone who works to keep abortion safe and legal and continue the fight for universal reproductive justice.