I made my choice while standing outside my (then) apartment building, smoking a cigarette and reading through the different kinds of procedures I could opt for. I forced myself to read through them so that I could make my own, informed choice, even though I had kind of already made it. A few hours beforehand I saw two lines on a stick, and my stomach clenched in fear, but I knew that I was ready to make many choices that would change my life as I knew it. That night, after work, I sat down with the person who was going to become my life partner, and before I even had a chance to say what I had decided he told me that it was my choice and he would be with me all the way, whatever I chose. After he said that I knew we were going to be OK.
The next day I went to Planned Parenthood to confirm the pregnancy, and was also presented with a choice. A box of tissues, and a choice. I could have made an appointment for an abortion there and then if I wanted to, but after blowing my nose I told the counsellor I wanted information on prenatal care, health insurance, and any other help they could provide. Planned Parenthood in NYC does not provide prenatal care, but they do provide counselling and information on prenatal care options in the city. Luckily they had some leaflets for a low cost women’s health clinic in Brooklyn, which I took with me. While I laid down in the soft, warm grass in Washington Square Park with a close friend by my side I called and made an appointment. I had stubbed my last cigarette out hours before and knew I was going to be OK. We were going to be OK.
I mention the word “choice” a lot in this story, and that is because every decision I made was based on my own personal choice. No one told me what I could or could not do, no one tried to push me in one direction or another, and legally I was able to either move forward with the pregnancy, or request an abortion without feeling any shame in doing so. Only three other people knew I was pregnant before I made the decision to keep my child, and if I had decided to go with an abortion, only those three people would have known.
When we, people who can become pregnant, say “my body, my choice” it is because we believe our bodies belong to us, that no one has the right to force us into something we don’t want, or to shame us for our choices. Nowadays there are many forms of contraception available, but they do not always work for everyone, for many reasons, and they are not always universally available to everyone either. I personally opted for an implant in my arm which lasts about 3 years and is supposed to be more than 99% effective, and luckily I have not had to deal with too many side effects. I know that I do not want any more children, but I also know that there is a tiny chance that I could be in the less than 1%. And if that happens, I will face another choice that will be personal. I am lucky to live in a state that still believes I am allowed to make my own choices about pregnancy, birth, and abortion. This implant that I have? One of the side effects is that I don’t really have periods with it. Which also means that if it fails, I won’t know immediately, maybe not for a few months.
When I went for my first ever prenatal appointment I knew I couldn’t be more than at the very most 8 weeks pregnant. My doctor took out a handheld Doppler and said she would try to find a heartbeat, but that it was most likely too early. Lo and behold there it was: a heartbeat. A week or so later I had an ultrasound to confirm my due date, and I was only 8 weeks along at that point, so my daughter’s heartbeat had actually already been detected when I was 6.5 weeks pregnant. I had only found out a week before that I was pregnant – and that was on the early side. I had a friend who was pregnant at the same time as me, and because she had irregular periods and no pregnancy side effects, didn’t find out she was pregnant until she was about 10 or 11 weeks along. If either of us were living in Alabama right now we wouldn’t have had a choice but to stay pregnant.
These heartbeat bills are just another way to control us. My personal situation is not the same as the woman standing in front of me at the store, and hers is not the same as the person standing in front of her. At that point in time I was happy to hear a heartbeat so early, but it could well have devastated me if I wasn’t ready or able to have a child. If you are so hell-bent on controlling our bodies are you also going to work on creating better opportunities, healthcare, education, etc. for all children? Yeah, I didn’t think so. These controlling laws have the aim of criminalizing abortion and are as prejudiced as many other restrictive laws in this country: they directly affect communities of color and those living below the poverty line. These laws have nothing to do with life, safety, or children, but have everything to do with control and the restriction of choice within a society.
“Pro-life” (aka pro-birth, anti-abortion) activists don’t believe in choice. They believe those of us who can get pregnant must remain pregnant no matter how the pregnancy was conceived, no matter the health of the mother or of the fetus, no matter the potential dangers to the mother or the fetus, and no matter whether the person is ready, able, or wants to be pregnant and have a child. Pro-choice activists believe it is the pregnant person’s choice, and that no one else has a say in the matter. Being responsible for the care and upbringing of a child is HARD and requires so much from a parent, for many years. Who are we to decide this for someone else? As I peruse Twitter I regularly read idiotic comments such as “well she should have kept her legs shut then!” (Why is it never “well he should have kept his dick in his pants”??), or “there are so many people waiting to adopt a child!”, or “stop using abortion as contraception!” Abstinence-only education has never been a viable option against unwanted pregnancy. And abortion is rarely used as a form of contraception, despite what “pro-lifers” want you to believe.
Every year in the US about 135,000 kids are adopted. However, only 59% of those adoptions come out of foster care.* In 2016 over 400,000 kids were in foster care in the US, so there are obviously more than enough children waiting to be adopted by loving families, many of whom will most likely age out of foster care without ever being adopted. Forcing a woman to have a child that may just end up in the system at birth doesn’t really seem like a real solution for anyone to me. And don’t even get me started on rape and incest victims… A double violation of our bodies, predators in different cloaks. I recently read a remark that said something along the lines of not punishing the child for the sins of the parents. This infuriated me, because by forcing the pregnant person to carry and birth a child conceived against their will is effectively punishing both child and parent, neither of whom asked to be violated. If an act of rape or incest results in conception, the pregnant person should never be forced to do something against their will. Trauma layered upon trauma.
Restricting and banning abortion practices is obviously not about maintaining and cherishing life, or even about birth. It is not about the existence of a child either. It is all about control. I find it interesting that so many right wing anti vax activists protest against the government forcing them to vaccinate their kids against deadly and highly infectious diseases, but are fine with the government restricting abortion rights. You can’t have it both ways, complaining on the one hand that the government needs to take their hands off our bodies for one thing but not for another. Then again both movements are filled with so much misinformation, ridiculous claims, and contradictions it would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.
Whether you believe that life starts at conception, or a heartbeat, or not, whether your religious or personal beliefs are against abortion for any reason, whether you believe abortion should be unrestricted and covered by insurance: I don’t care. These are your personal beliefs that should not be controlled or governed by another. This is what being pro-choice means: every person who can become pregnant has the right to make their own decisions about their bodies without being pressured, forced, or restricted in choice.
I chose to have my three children, but I don’t know now what I would choose now if my contraception failed. No one ever wants to have to make this choice, but for many different reasons they often do. Restricting and banning abortion just pushes it into back alleys and danger zones, it doesn’t stop it from happening. And despite what anti-abortion zealots keep proclaiming, we don’t use, or think of using, abortion as a form of contraception. For each and every one of us the choice is a difficult one that we will never forget. Then again, the reality doesn’t really fit the narrative of controlling us, does it?
Maintaining a strict divide between church and state is so important, and it works to the benefit of all. Abortion is not a political issue to be raised over and over again, it is our personal, very personal, choice and right, and belongs only to us.
Side note: The most recent season of the TV show Call The Midwife focused on abortion laws in the UK, and on illegal abortions. While it did somewhat sensationalize backstreet abortions provided by untrained professionals, and didn’t highlight the many doctors and nurses who safely performed illegal abortions at the time, it did bring up some very important points. Abortion was legalized in the UK in 1967, and most abortions are covered by the National Health Service, something that has never been the case in the US.
Side note no 2: Gosh it feels like we are constantly fighting for the rights to keep your hands off our bodies! I wrote this one in 2012, and this one in 2016. Sometimes when I reread content I wrote a few years ago I have to cringe a little, but I refuse to edit as, with anything, learning is a path. I now know to be more inclusive in my writing, something I know that I have failed to do in the past. The gist is the same though, my body, my choice, and none of your business!
*Numbers taken from the most recent AFCARS Report.