Saturday, May 7, 2022

That Time I Got an Abortion and Didn't Get Arrested because Roe v. Wade Existed

Me in the good old days, back before people knew how to focus their cameras.

It was Fort Smith, Arkansas, somewhere around 1992-ish. I was 16 years old and an A student. I had some extracurriculars I loved, some friends I liked a lot, a grey 1985 Lincoln Town Car I drove to school and back, and a boyfriend I was obsessed with. I'd had an excellent high school health class that had actually taught me how to have safe sex, down to the correct type of spermicide to look for  and the importance of latex condoms over sheepskin.

Because I considered myself a smart girl and had had what I still consider to be good sex ed, I've always judged myself for being exceptionally stupid and careless for getting pregnant. But you know what I'm just now realizing right this second as I write this? Here's what I didn't have: access to birth control pills, access to a medical practitioner to talk with about my specific situation, and reliable access to those latex condoms with Nonoxynol-9 spermicide that I'd been taught to use. I would have utilized the snot out of a Planned Parenthood, unless there were people protesting outside it like there often are at my local Planned Parenthood 30 years later, and then I wouldn't have dared be caught near it.

In Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the late 80s and early 90s, at least, from junior high on, there were a LOT of kids who got pregnant. People pretty much all just kept their babies, too--I knew kids who tried to DIY abortions but that never worked, and I didn't know anybody who carried to term and then relinquished the baby for adoption. We were probably all trash, though, because Matt swears that he never knew of a single kid in his entire education through high school who ever got pregnant. But he grew up in a sweet suburb in the Silicon Valley, and I grew up in a city that was known for having the lowest cost of living in the country, and my high school chemistry teacher would threaten us with future employment at the local chicken processing plant when he thought we weren't studying hard enough.

I didn't want to work at the chicken plant, or the factory that made disposable plates and cups, or the one that made lined paper, or the one that assembled washers and dryers when I grew up, and it felt like just the absolute end of the world when I got pregnant. And I didn't even know how bad it actually would be. I didn't fully realize what the negative impact on my education and economic stability, not to mention my long-term mental health, would be if I bore an unwanted child. I didn't think about how bearing a child into poverty, as a teenager obviously would, would mean that we'd both most likely remain in it, doing blue-collar work and living in subsidized housing and forever struggling to make ends meet, forever a half paycheck from disaster, forever locked out of the benefits of the middle class and unable to build wealth in our own generation, much less advance the quality of life of our descendents. I didn't have any thoughts about forced motherhood as a means of patriarchal control. 

My 1980 Lincoln Town Car, which is still my dream car and the BEST CAR EVER.

I mean, I saw all that played out in front of me, saw literally all of those scenarios among family and friends and acquaintances, but I didn't have the insight to recognize them as systemic or connect them to the myriad of societal factors that caused them and that I also witnessed. Honestly, I just focused on how my unwanted pregnancy would ruin my life right then. I did not want to be pregnant, and I did not want to be a parent. That should be reason enough.

Looking back, I kind of can't believe the level of helpless despair that I shouldered, trying to figure out a solution among my limited options. I can't figure out a way to accurately relay what it feels like, to know this thing is happening to your body, it can't be stopped, it's going to change the entire thread of your life in ways you actively do not want, you are going to become someone that you do not want to be and have a life that you do not want to have, and YOU DO NOT WANT IT. 

Probably the best thing that's ever happened to me in my life so far is that my sole trusted adult at that time, an aunt who came over for dinner one night, heard me sobbing in my bedroom, and did the work to get out of me why I was upset and what I wanted to do about it, agreed to drive me over to a clinic in Oklahoma so I could obtain a proper medical abortion from a licensed medical practitioner. It cost almost more money than I could scrape together at that time, and my aunt and I had to pretend to my grandparents that we were going on a fun weekend trip to get me away from home for the appointment. 

And after all that, the solution turned out to be the simplest thing ever: call long-distance, make an appointment, drive to Oklahoma City, give the receptionist sixteen years' worth of birthday money and two months' worth of school lunch money and every quarter you ever found under a couch cushion, put your feet up in stirrups, breathe the nice gas, and just like that, your life is back online. 

My shining moment of high school glory in my favorite extracurricular.

It sickens me now to think about how hard I struggled to access that simple abortion, how much mental, emotional, and physical energy I devoted to it instead of to my education, extracurriculars, and relationships, how many dangerous ideas I considered. I would never tolerate that amount of helplessness, despair, panic, anguish, and fear in a child under my care, if I had any way to provide a solution. Looking back, I kind of can't believe that I tolerated it as a child, myself, especially when in reality the solution was ultimately so simple. Just a phone call and a day trip and a very fat check.

I am SO glad for that abortion. I've never felt angst about it or regretted it--why would I regret something that I needed so badly and was so desperate to get? I've never been sad about it--why would I be sad about anything other than what a terrified, helpless child I was? I don't talk about my abortion only for the same reason that I don't talk about anything else having to do with my sex life--it's personal, and like all the other aspects of my sex life, generally kept to a need-to-know basis. I think about the abortion I got 30 years ago about as often as I think about the tonsilectomy I got 35 years ago, because the whole situation became a total non-issue as soon as I got caught up on my homework and won my first part-time job because I never want to be that broke again. 

What I do end up thinking about quite a lot these days is "abortion." Abortion, the human right. Abortion, the accessibility to which is crucial for humans to thrive and prosper, to live in safety and security, to be able to own and live in their own bodies. I think about "abortion" in the context of being furious when I see evidence of people being denied that piece of medical care, or being shamed for accessing it. I drive by the people protesting outside our local Planned Parenthood, and I roll down my window and flip them off while thinking how much I hate them for what they're trying to do. I see that leaked decision by the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, and I feel a pit in my stomach at how much harder it's going to be to live our lives while being deprived of yet more fundamental human rights. 

My younger child turned sixteen this week. She and her sister have grown up with lessons of consent, with their bodily autonomy respected, with great sex ed, multiple safe adults, all necessary and requested medical care, and the knowledge that anything they need, whatever they need, will be provided to them with the best of my abilities.

Before she's seventeen, my younger child and her sister may have fewer rights to their own bodies and less official control over their own fertility than I did back when I was sixteen and sneaking across state lines to find a legal abortion practitioner. I hope that they will never be compelled, by force or by legislation or by simple lack of access or options otherwise, to use their uteruses as incubators, or to have their biologically female bodies perform in any way they do not completely consent to. But my ability to maintain their basic personhood is limited, apparently, by the religious tyranny of a minority of politicians, and by Supreme Court justices who flat-out lied during their confirmation hearings. Politicians who do not even have uteruses or medical degrees get to insert themselves into the medical decisions of those who do, and legislate their personal decisions about their own bodies. 

Blessed Be the Fruit, I guess.

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