It seems that abortion is always discussed in hypothetical circumstances. But what if you became pregnant and the choice actually fell personally on you? Jan. 22, which recognized the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, brought a flurry of articles and public displays featuring both pro-life and pro-choice viewpoints. I wonder whether any of the participants in these demonstrations have actually had to make the decision for themselves: do I keep this potential life growing inside me? It is one thing to say what is moral and what others should do in a given situation, but who knows how you might feel and react when it actually happens to you.
My own sister was almost never born. She and my brother are twins, and somehow my brother was taking all of the nutrients inside the womb, leaving her malnourished and underdeveloped. The doctors told my parents that she probably wouldn’t make it or would be born with severe issues. They wanted to perform a selective abortion: to abort one of the twins and not the other. But my sister was above my brother in the womb; the procedure could have had negative effects on him too. My parents agonized over it: “What if we had a child with these needs, could we deal with this?” They felt that they had the means to raise a special-needs child, should that be the case, and chose not to abort her despite the doctors’ recommendations.
Months later, my siblings were born prematurely via emergency C-section. My sister, who dropped to 1.5 pounds after birth, spent weeks in the NICU, where we could only see her beautiful face through two glass windows. Somehow, by a miracle, and despite doctor’s predictions, that tiny baby fought for her life and grew. Today my sister is alive and healthy; she is almost taller than I am! But this miracle, as we call it, is not always the case.
Abortions do not exist in a vacuum. There are always individual circumstances to consider: money, access to healthcare, timing. If you are looking for an addition to the tired argument of reproductive rights, then stop reading here. Instead, Intermission took the time to document one brave student’s account of her own choice to have an abortion.
Intermission (INT): How far along did you realize you were pregnant?
Student: I realized at five weeks, but was unable to get my abortion until week eight.
INT: What was your first reaction?
Student: My initial reaction was relief because I had been so exhausted and nauseous and emotionally unstable, and my body had gone through so many inexplicable changes; it was nice to at least know that there was a medical cause for my altered state. Finals week was the most hellish experience because I couldn’t keep anything down or stay awake past ten without downing three double shot Tiger Spice Coupas. After a day or two, it really sunk in, and I began to confront the feelings associated with carrying an unwanted pregnancy: guilt, shame, anxiety, etc.
INT: How did you decide what to do? Did you ever consider keeping the baby or adopting?
Student: I had no difficulty deciding whether or not to keep the baby — my family is tremendously supportive and liberal, and this was a topic I had previously contemplated. I knew that not only was I inadequately prepared for motherhood, but I also would be doing a disservice to the child to carry it to term after all of the abuse I had undergone physically in the past few weeks. Obviously, since I was unaware that I was pregnant, I still engaged in social drinking and occasionally dabbled in illicit substances. I never considered keeping it, although my boyfriend and I constantly discussed the hypothetical features and attributes of our child.
INT: Was your partner at the time willing to give you money for the abortion?
Student: My partner was fan-fucking-tastic throughout the whole process and offered to pay for it in full (which I know would have been a substantial financial burden). We agreed to split it evenly, although since I was (fortuitously) enrolled in Cardinal Care, it was entirely taken care of by the university. Other clinics from my hometown would have charged anywhere from $800 to $15,000.
INT: How did you decide where to go? Did they use a pill or do a surgical abortion?
Student: I found out I was pregnant the day before I left for break, so I was obviously eager to get everything taken care of while at home with my family. The decision of where to go was perhaps the most stressful and emotionally taxing part of the whole process. I was surprised to find that my OB/GYN from home, a doctor I’d been a patient of for over five years, had her own hidden prejudices and was disdainful and dismissive when I sought her advice. Many of the clinics in my hometown were either exorbitantly expensive or severely understaffed. Planned Parenthood actually told me that I wasn’t pregnant enough and that I would have to join a wait list because there were other girls further along than myself who needed assistance. I eventually opted to wait another three weeks and get my procedure at Stanford Hospital.
INT: How was the procedure physically and emotionally for you? Who went with you?
Student: I was in school when I got the procedure, and it was stressful trying to coordinate surgery dates while juggling classes. It was also unfortunate that the first time I went, the receptionist at gynecology had scheduled me for a consultation rather than a surgical procedure, so I had to miss more class and return [on another day]. My boyfriend went with me and was absolutely incredible — my still point in a spinning world.
The most emotionally disturbing aspect of aborting an unwanted pregnancy is the stigma that you encounter in casual conversation from unknowing individuals. People seem to be sensitive to issues of race and religion, but dead baby jokes or “clothes hanger” comments are surprisingly ubiquitous. Or offhanded remarks about pregnant sluts, trash, etc.
INT: Would you offer any advice to women considering an abortion?
Student: I would opt to get a surgical abortion even if you are still within the time frame for the pill. The pill essentially induces a miscarriage, and viewing all of that blood may be more traumatic than going in for surgery.
The pro-life group (consisting mostly of men) that sticks hundreds of white roses on the lawn near White Plaza and post banners of mortality statistics intended to gratuitously shock is perhaps the hardest thing to witness and endure. How many women who have terminated unwanted pregnancies bike by that garish display and are reminded that they are “sinners”? It is pretty infuriating, considering women who do earnestly try to protect themselves are still susceptible to becoming pregnant. [The hundreds of white roses] is one of the most visually conspicuous displays by a student group on our campus, and it is tremendously biased.
We all formulate our ‘shoulds’ about situations and sometimes even contemplate what we think that we would do in any given circumstance. This is truly, however, one situation where it is very hard to know exactly how a busy student in particular might end up choosing. Whatever side of the issue one espouses, it seems that a life-changing decision such as this is not always black and white.