I wasn’t sure that I was going to join the group Medical Students for Choice when I went to medical school. I knew that I wanted to provide abortions in my future practice, whether I was a family practitioner or an Ob/Gyn. But, I was afraid to sign up for the club. I was afraid of what it would “say” about me when I applied for elective rotations and residencies. I was afraid of what my fellow students would think of me. It was going to be hard enough to fit in, since I am ten years older than most of my classmates, with two kids. I felt like that was an obstacle enough, and that being labeled as a radical feminist would let my freak flag out of the closet, if my bad art school tattoos didn’t already give me away.
But, I found myself on their website before school even started, trying to find out if there was a chapter at our school. And today, I stood up, with my hands shaking, and asked my neuroanatomy professor if I could borrow the microphone to address the class, who was chattering away during one of our breaks.
“Today is the 35th Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade,” I said, and the classroom fell to a hush. I announced that medical Students for Choice would be having a lunch speaker, and invited the classes for “dialogue.”
We had a wonderful pair of speakers from a nearby abortion clinic. When the first one, the founder of the clinic, was done speaking, she asked us to speak about why we were so personally involved with choice, and why we were members of our organization. I had been excitedly discussing the NEJM article about antidepressant evidence suppression with the other club members while we ate our pizza, before the meeting started. “How about you?” she said brightly, and pointed right at me. She made a joke about how vocal I was, and I flinched. So much for hiding it!
“Unlike most of my classmates, I have two children. I know what it is like to carry two pregnancies to term, to give birth, to become a mother, and raise children. It is a big deal. I love my children and think motherhood is wonderful, and I don’t want that to be forced on any woman or child. A new life, a child, is too sacred to be a punishment for someone who doesn’t want to have a baby.” I also rattled off some numbers (I am a stats girl) about maternal mortality in countries where abortion is illegal, unplanned pregnancies, and how many women around us have had abortions, and complained about how easy it is to be lost in the discussion of abortion as it is now framed by anti-choicers, which mostly involves slut shaming.
What I didn’t do is say what I was screaming in my head. What I wanted to say in front of the class with the microphone. Which I want to say to my family and not be afraid or ashamed to say.
I had an abortion. I had an abortion when I was seventeen years old. I was a throwaway at the time – my mother kicked me out of the house after reading Tough Love a little too zealously. Ironically, she was upset that I was sleeping with my high school sweetheart. He treated me with respect, waited six months for me to have sex with him without ever pressuring me (well, not much anyway…) and always used a condom. She found out we slept together by reading his letters to me from college. I ended up bumming rides and sleeping at friends’ houses. One of the people I bummed a ride from was a friend of a friend. He did pressure me, he didn’t take no for an answer, and he didn’t use a condom.
Now, I would call it date rape. Then, I had never heard the term. I wasn’t drugged, I wasn’t beating him off, but I was crying and saying no. I stopped saying no after a while and just let him have his way. I had only been with my boyfriend before this, and he had always put on a condom first. When Chris was finished, I opened my eyes and said “You weren’t wearing a CONDOM??” and he said “You’re not on birth control?”
I could go on and on about what bad parents we would be, about how I was thrown out of the house and had no insurance or income, how I had great grades and a bright future. But all that really matters is that I was fully cognizant of the gravity of the situation when I finally figured out that my period wasn’t going to come, and I never once considered keeping the baby. There is no need test, no “bright future” test, no slut test anyone should have to pass.
I love my boys and feel incredibly lucky that I was given the opportunity to be their mother. Every pregnancy and event of a woman’s life time fertility is a total crap shoot. I have been pregnant four times, each of them unplanned. More than half of the pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, which is a ridiculously high number. The time with Chris was the only time that I wasn’t using birth control. It was also the only time I chose to have an abortion.
I cannot imagine what would have happened if I was forced to carry the pregnancy to term. There was no parental consent law at the time in Florida. There is one now. I would probably have gone to court to get a judicial bypass, but I didn’t even figure out that I was pregnant until I was almost a month along. My mother gave me books about Jerry Falwell’s maternity home when I was growing up, and I knew she would never consent to my having an abortion. As far as I know, she still doesn’t know, and neither does any other member of my fairly conservative family.
But, I don’t share that story. Because whores have abortions. And only stupid sluts get pregnant four times without meaning to. I hear it. I hear it every day from my classmates, from my family, from the media. No one says that they are one of the 40% who has had an abortion. They just talk about people they know who had them. That girl from high school. It is rarely a flattering story.
So the shame is still there. I will be a member of Medical Students for Choice. And all two people who read my blog now know that I have had an abortion, along with my husband an a few chosen friends. I don’t think any member of my family reads here, but we shall see.