I pick up my pen to shed the shame and stigma.
I had an abortion.
I don’t regret my decision, but I have not healed from the traumatic experiences anti-choice people, institutions, and policies forced me to endure.
The ride to Planned Parenthood took twenty minutes, which was not enough time to mentally prepare for the upcoming ordeal. The sun beat down on me this early summer morning in southern Arizona. I wore dark sunglasses to hide my thoughts from prying eyes. My heart raced every time I thought about the surgery and being put under. What shot icy adrenaline through my veins, though, were the protesters.
I encountered two of these misguided moralists at my appointment the day before. They accosted me as I walked to the bus stop and attempted to convince me that adoption was the answer to my problems.
They didn’t try to hear my side.
They made assumptions about me and judged me for them.
I worried they’d be back, and that I’d be forced to confront their recriminations of murdering babies. I couldn’t talk to them like reasonable people. They assigned themselves as my self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner.
Planned Parenthood was located on the street behind the old job I had been fired from while I was pregnant, but before I was aware of my status.
The car passed my old work, and turned down the road leading to Planned Parenthood. I could see from down the street there was a crowd of human rights deniers I would have to cross. A dozen or so crowded near the entrance to the Planned Parenthood parking lot. There was no way to avoid them.
I dug my fingernails into the side of my leg to keep my rage inside, distracting myself with the pain to keep a stoic look on my face. They were there to intimidate me, I wanted to fight back. My only weapon was my indifference.
The protesters had a speaker and danced to the music they played while shaking their signs to the beat. They smiled and laughed together. It looked like a fun party. Their signs were a mish-mash of professionally printed signs with photographs containing violent and intimidating messages and homemade poster boards covered in glitter. I got the impression that even the smallest child was a veteran dissenter–well-trained and well-prepared. They brought coolers full of water since it was summer in southern Arizona, and they had set up their signs in the shade of a large tree. They were ready to be present for every appointment that day.
We turned down the road to get to the parking lot entrance and the dancing and partying ceased. Their smiles twisted into snarls and they began spitting out their vitriol and hatred at me. I couldn’t make out what they were shouting, nor did I care about their notions.
Where were they when I lost my job and was struggling to keep myself fed? Did they do anything to make it possible for me to have a child? No. Their condemnation meant nothing.
I flipped them off as we passed, the only thing I could do to express my rage and displeasure. Their convictions choked the air around the parking lot, and I resented that I wasn’t immune to their noxious fumes.
They screamed and shook their signs at my passenger door as close as they could manage. The scene reminded me of the fountain of Diana and Actaeon at the Royal Palace of Caserta in Italy where Actaeon’s flesh is torn from his body by his hunting dogs as he is transformed into a deer. These anti-abortion protesters wanted to destroy me. They wanted to rip my flesh from my skin and punish me like Actaeon was punished. Fuck their judgment, they’re the ones who deserve condemnation.
We parked and one of the volunteer clinic escorts came and guided me from the parking lot to inside the building, telling me to just ignore them when I continued to flip off the protesters as they shouted at me that I was a baby killer.
As I sat in the Planned Parenthood lobby, the faint sound of protesters seeped through the walls. I could hear their music and their chanting, and I just wanted to scream in their faces. I tried to distract myself from the waiting and the protests by considering how I ended up there.
My journey began with a visit to my doctor. My Ob/Gyn and I had set up an appointment to get an IUD inserted to better treat my endometriosis. I had switched into the gown they provided and was perched on the edge of the exam table when my doctor entered the exam room.
“We won’t be doing the procedure today. Your pregnancy test came back positive.”
“I want an abortion, then,” I blurted out.
She let out a quick guffaw and then swallowed it back.
“I can’t do that.”
“Then, can you refer me to somewhere that can?”
“I can’t do that, either.”
“Well, can you just tell me where I can go without referring me?”
“No. You’ll have to search for it yourself. I can’t provide you with that information.”
She gave me an ultrasound to make sure the pregnancy was not an ectopic pregnancy and to see how far along I was. She sent me home feeling scared and without direction.
It was early summer in 2018. I was newly unemployed, nearly homeless, chronically ill, and terrified.
Up until that point, my jobs have required a high level of computer and internet literacy. I thought it would be a simple search. “Abortion clinics near me”. Nope. I was 5 searches in before I finally found a clinic that offered abortion services.
Except, when I arrived for my appointment, the nurse practitioner was baffled that I thought they would do such a thing. Never mind that their website suggested they did: “Abortion: Whether you have already made a decision, or are just looking at your options, we have services to help you.” I made a decision, needed a service, but they did not provide it.
I was upset, but they were kind and at least pretended to feel sorry about their duplicity.
They pretended they were doing me a favor by giving me an ultrasound and listening to the fetal heartbeat with me. They said it would cover the exam needed for the abortion, but that turned out to be a lie. They sent me home with pictures of the fetus and no idea how I was going to find abortion services.
While I waited to attend my appointment at the next clinic I found, I celebrated the 4th of July with a good friend. I invited them to come to spend the day with me and watch some of our favorite shows together since they were a veteran and found the fireworks show to be too triggering.
Since very early on in my pregnancy I had tried to cope with the Hyperemesis Gravidarum–endless vomiting–and I was weak from not being able to keep food in my stomach. I was malnourished and dehydrated. I was so dehydrated I nearly fainted, and we had to call for an ambulance to take me to the hospital. At the hospital, the attending doctor wouldn’t take my inability to hold down any food seriously. I tried to explain to him that I hadn’t been able to keep any food down for weeks, that I had lost nearly 20 pounds already. I was concerned about my health because I have multiple chronic health problems that make my pregnancy automatically a high-risk pregnancy. I didn’t feel like the doctor understood the gravity of the situation. He thought I was wasting his time, so he did the bare minimum of giving me an IV of fluid and then sending me home. My friend couldn’t come to the hospital with me, and couldn’t drive to pick me up, so after I was treated at the hospital (my body drank that IV so fast) I had to take a bus home at 9 o’clock at night. I watched the fireworks reflected in the window of the bus and thought about how my humanity had been denied to me this entire pregnancy, and that I wasn’t really free in this country as a woman, especially as a pregnant woman. Somehow, I made it home that night, exhausted and completely disillusioned with this country.
The second clinic I went to was worse than the first. It was a nicer facility, but my experience was terrible. The doctor that saw me explained to me they didn’t provide abortions because it was a religious facility, even though the website’s wording made it seem like they would.
The doctor urged me to keep the pregnancy because it was a healthy pregnancy and I was healthy, despite the fact I had lost 20, nearly 30 pounds from the constant vomiting. I was under the impression that significant weight loss during the first trimester was the opposite of healthy, but I’m not a doctor. He just kept telling me I was healthy as I explained that I was too sick to even look for work, that I had lost my job and was at risk of becoming homeless if something didn’t change, and fast. They performed an ultrasound to check the health of the fetus and to listen to the heartbeat. They sent me home with pictures of the fetus and a pitiful bag of ginger candies to “help” with the Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Once again, I was left wondering what I should do next with no guidance.
I learned my lesson after the two fake clinics and looked up the nearest Planned Parenthood. It was a city away, but the bus system was decent and could get me close to the clinic without having to walk too far. I would have to find someone to take me to the appointment for the surgery since I wasn’t allowed to take myself, but I could take myself to the initial appointment required by law.
Going to Planned Parenthood was such a relief. They didn’t question my motivations (except to make sure I wasn’t having an abortion because of the race of the fetus, as required by law). They gave me an ultrasound and listened to the heart of the fetus as required by law 24 hours before an abortion, told me what to expect for the procedure the next day, answered all the questions I had, and sent me home feeling relieved for the first time during my entire pregnancy. They were the first place to show me the compassion I had been promised and denied everywhere else.
I was brought back to the present when the nurse called my name and took me back to a different kind of waiting room, where I’d wait for the medication to kick in before they performed the procedure. I was there initially with one other woman, but there were a total of three of us that morning getting the surgical procedure. We talked about the food we would eat once we were no longer pregnant and could eat whatever we wanted. I was excited by the prospect of not being nauseated any longer. We also discussed our anger at the protesters outside. They didn’t know us, didn’t know the reason why we put ourselves through such a procedure, nor did they care about us. We were just three women doing what we had to do to survive, to thrive, to make our lives liveable. I appreciated that the nurses who were watching over us gave us a safe space to express our frustration.
The medicine kicked in for me first, so they took me to the room where they would perform the procedure. I don’t remember what else happened from that point on. I remember coming to, I remember being guided to a chair to sit and wait for my ride to arrive and take me home. They told me the medication made me hallucinate and asked if I remembered what I saw. To be honest, I think I was hallucinating reading articles on one of my favorite websites. Not very exciting. Very ‘me’, though.
My abortion was the right decision for me. I have no regrets about the decision I made. I feel very grateful that I was able to get the procedure done. It was my decision to make, though. It should have been a short discussion with my doctor the day my test came back positive, the way any other routine medical procedure is treated. It should have been covered by my insurance or provided free of charge because it is a routine medical procedure. The fake abortion centers shouldn’t exist. I shouldn’t have had to fear for my safety while getting the care I needed. No one should feel threatened or intimidated for undergoing a routine medical procedure. That is the bare minimum that all people who can get pregnant deserve.
I will not quietly sit by as my rights are stolen from me and hundreds of millions of other people in the United States. We must come together to demand our rights be restored. For longer than I’ve been alive, our rights have been chipped away at by people disinterested in fully understanding the issue. Abortion is a fundamental right and must be treated as such. That means it must be free and on-demand. No more compromises.
About the Author
Megan McCarthy is a disabled feminist author from sunny southern California. Whether she’s writing fiction or nonfiction, her inspiration comes from the real world. When she’s not writing, she’s exploring the city or hiking with her two dogs. Follow her writing journey: Website: https://meganmccarthyauthor.wordpress.com YouTube: https://youtube.com/MeganMcCarthy Twitter: https://twitter.com/ImMeganMcCarthy
Supporting Reproductive Rights
This is a critical time in our fight to preserve access to abortion and reproductive healthcare. We believe that every action counts. Here are three things you can do.
- Fight stigmatization by sharing your story and/or supporting people who have shared their stories. Supportive comments and likes make a big difference to the people who have chosen to share their personal experiences.
- Reach out to your representatives on the federal, state, and local levels and tell them that you want them to pass legislation that protects reproductive rights including abortion access.
- Donate to organizations committed to protecting access to safe and legal abortions. This writer recommended Planned Parenthood for the work they are doing to ensure access.