Why the Republican Party’s wave of anti-abortion restrictions threatens a basic human right.
[Note: The following op-ed from a North Carolinian alludes to suicide and contains a description of sexual assault.]
The steady stream of new abortion restrictions and bans being enacted by Republicans across the country has me worried for the future. So I find myself sharing my own story, with hope it adds to a growing understanding about what’s at stake with the loss of Roe.
I’ve had two abortions and I remain grateful for both, because I know they saved my life. It may be that you read about my experiences and think you would have certainly made a different choice. Maybe so, but choosing and being forced are very different things.
I was born here in North Carolina and it’s always been my home. As a kid I enjoyed school, played sports, and had great friends. By the time I reached high school I had big plans for my future that included both college and law school—I would be the first in my family to attend. Like a lot of my peers at the time though, my parents had recently divorced.
My teen years were increasingly marked with instability and painful family struggles. I love my parents, but they did not manage their divorce well and I experienced my first bout of depression in its wake. I was struggling emotionally and sometimes found myself thinking about ways to end the pain. This is the state my life was in when I found out I was pregnant.
Despite knowing better, I did not use protection every single time I had sex with my boyfriend. I knew it was a risk, though in hindsight my perception of it included a lot of wishful thinking.
I was deeply ashamed to be pregnant and didn’t want my parents to know I’d been so careless, so I kept it a secret. My boyfriend was kind, supportive, and very relieved when I told him I would schedule an abortion. There was no parental permission requirement back then, and I knew I was not prepared to care for a baby. The clinic did not perform abortions before the pregnancy reached six weeks, so I was scheduled for two weeks later.
‘I Have Never Regretted My Choice’
Being forced to give birth would likely have ended my life.
I don’t write that lightly, nor to suggest there weren’t other options in theory. But it was not possible for me to handle the reality of becoming a parent and I would not have accepted being forced to do so. I went on to graduate and attend college, and I have never regretted my choice.
My second abortion was the result of being violently raped by a long-time friend. I was in my mid-twenties, had a good job, a boyfriend, and had been in therapy to manage my depression. Being raped changed everything. I told no one.
I desperately pretended the assault had not happened, as if I could will it undone.
It worked well enough, until I realized my period was late and couldn’t remember if it had been one month or two. It took me a week to get up the courage to buy a pregnancy test and another few days to make myself take it, but I already knew.
My relationship had ended in the aftermath of the assault, and I was struggling to go to work. Once again I found myself depressed and hopeless. Deciding to have an abortion was the simple part.
It took time to come up with the funds needed, since I would be paying out of pocket. The experience of having a surgical abortion after being sexually assaulted was excruciating. I did not disclose the details with any of the medical team, and I was not prepared for how vulnerable I would feel just putting on a hospital gown.
When the doctor saw a previous abortion noted on my chart, he quipped that I had not learned my lesson about birth control yet, and I was humiliated and ashamed.
When it was over, I was so relieved to no longer be pregnant. Though it would take me more than 15 years to tell anyone about my rape, and many more to deal with the trauma itself, that day was the first step in taking back ownership of my own body. I do not regret it.
‘There Is No More Basic Human Right’
These experiences are mine but they aren’t uncommon, just like the multitude of other circumstances surrounding unplanned pregnancies. It’s just not possible to be certain what you would do, when there are no consequences to hypothetical choices.
Seeing more restrictive laws and bans being proposed across the country is devastating. There is no more basic human right than the ability to control what happens within and to your own body.
The exceptions within these laws are often touted as a reasonable compromise, but I hope voters will ask detailed questions of candidates and lawmakers, and read the actual text of these bills. “Exceptions for the life of the mother,” which are supported by a large majority of Americans, almost never include psychological health.
Here in North Carolina the law explicitly states mental health is not allowed to be considered, including threats or actual risks of self-harm.
“Exceptions for victims of rape and incest” also have broad support, but the abortion bans proposed by lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Ted Budd include requirements that are so burdensome that any purported exception is a mirage. There is no question that requiring a police report eliminates that exception for an overwhelming majority of us. Lawmakers know this.
I never reported to police, and my abortion was delayed for weeks because I was so traumatized and overwhelmed. While these narrow exceptions currently only restrict abortions after 20 weeks here, it is very clear more restrictions are on the table, especially if Republicans are able to win a few more seats in the state legislature. There are so many reasons a pregnant person might want or need an abortion, and every restriction chips away at the fundamental right to control our own bodies, to make our own health care decisions, and to choose for ourselves whether and when to have a child and become a parent.
Everyone knows someone who has had an abortion. Everyone loves someone who has made that choice. This matters.