The House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood for everything, not just abortion, and members of the House publically disparaged women who have had abortions during the debate. Congresswoman Jackie Speier courageously admitted to having an abortion in front of her colleagues on the floor of the House of Representatives, televised to the citizens of the country, and the world. I suspect that most women who have had abortions are deeply afraid of how they would be seen, how they would be treated, and the damage to their reputation should they come forward with their abortion story. It is because women stand silent that myths about the kinds of women and the reasons for abortion are allowed to fester. Women who have had abortions need to follow Jackie’s lead and come forward with our stories.
I say our stories because I had an abortion and I would like to share my story. I hope when the end of this article is reached, no matter how the reader feels about abortion, there will be some context for their decision; a true story to refer to and consider.
When I was fourteen, I had just six months before, returned to live with my mentally unstable grandparent’s home. Two years earlier, my grandparents had become overwhelmed with the rigors of raising two young girls. The straw that broke the camel’s back was our audacious consumption of pickles in the living room and she sent my sister and I 1,500 miles away to live with my alcoholic, criminal, violent mother; the mother who had abandoned us with her. It turned out our mother was the least of our worries. Her husband, who we had never met, beat my mother and sister on regular occasion, only striking me occasionally. He left the special torture of rape for me.
We spent few nights at home, running for our lives to neighbors and friends who never called the police or Child Protective Services on our behalf. After calling the police over a hundred times in a year and a half in a situation I can best explain as combat, we were finally removed from my mother’s care and sent back to live with my grandparents.
My first serious boyfriend and I were loving at first, or at least as loving as I thought I deserved. My curfew was 5pm, which I thought was unreasonable, so I began to sneak out of the house to spend time with him. It was not long before our sexual activity became a bit reckless and our relationship became dangerous.
He began to get possessive and angry if I hung out with any guy except him. He never laid a hand on me, but once he cocked a gun and pointed it at me. I am ashamed to admit, that was not enough to make me leave. I was pregnant.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was not surprised but I was devastated and a bit humiliated that I allowed myself to get pregnant. I knew this was not just the choice to have a baby, but a choice to be connected to a man who saw me as expendable for the rest of my life and to give up on my own future, to return to a home where I was beaten and raped, or to have an abortion. The fetus inside of me caused my body no distress, but the choice for me was life or death.
How I got pregnant was irrelevant, I had the face the truth of the situation now that I was pregnant. It was a sad decision, but it was not a hard one for me, and took little time to make. I had spent my entire life fighting to live and I was not going to stop now.
Planned Parenthood was there for me in ways that my family, the police, my teachers, and other adults in my life had never bothered. In a time of tremendous crisis, they did not abandon me to another agency or belittle me. They gave me good advice and saw me through a painful and challenging time in my life.
The nurses recognized signs of abuse and encouraged me to leave. They encouraged me to come forward and get help. When I told them about my previous sexual abuse, they reported it to appropriate authorities. Later, when I entered foster care, it is because they reported the abuse that I was not sent to live with my mother and her husband again. They were the first group, person, organization, agency that ever put my needs before anyone else.
Even more directly, they helped me keep my life, and gave me an opportunity to seek my dreams. They provided me with an abortion.
Had I brought the baby to term, that baby would be the age now that I was when I got pregnant. It caused me to reflect on what my life would be like had a made a different choice. I am certain that I would have dropped out of school to take care of my baby, because I did not trust that the father would have done anything to help. I am sure I would be a poster child of domestic violence. I would scrape, scrimp, and struggle every day. I would be lost, soulless, and afraid. My child would probably be a victim of abuse; as stuck as I was at their age. They may even be in the same position. Or I would be dead.
I have never, not even once, regretted my abortion. I deserve to live and I deserve to have a life. I am not ashamed that I put myself first. I am not ashamed that I could not imagine a life with a baby, and I am not ashamed of my abortion.
In the world of politics, a public admission of such a controversial act could leave Speier unemployed, shamed by right wing media, publically ridiculed, called names, and the subject of undeserved discussion. It would seem counterproductive to say so directly, and to speak so honestly about having an abortion. This is especially true when she speaks after Congressman Smith, who belittled and attempted to shame women for having an abortion.
More women must come forward so that the idea of abortion is not a vague idea; that when it is discussed, it is not an amorphous idea but an issue with a face and a consequence. Had the House decided to defund Planned Parenthood before my abortion, I fear I would be dead. The choice of the House is not just a choice to stop killing babies, it is a choice to start killing women.
It is because women still feel the need to hide their abortions because of shame, fear, social repercussions that members of congress can move to end funding for the services that have saved so many women’s lives and that has been essential to quality life for so many women. I speak not only of abortion, but the counseling provided, the health planning, the contraceptives and the safe place they provide.
That disgrace is counterproductive. Women who have had an abortion need to come forward, speak up, and tell their story. It is only when we dispel the disturbing myths about abortion that we will change the minds of the people who influence politicians – the voters.
I stand with Jackie. Will you stand with me?