Vats of ink have been toppled trying to determine whether the next right-wing Supreme Court majority will overturn Roe vs. Wade. The truth is, we just don’t know; it all depends on what’s in the hearts and minds of five very conservative anti-abortion men. If I was one of them, I would definitely go for the hold deer and let it hang in the wind. Overturning precedent could wake up the majority of Americans who want to keep abortion legal. Right now, many pro-choicers still pay no heed to restrictions on abortion, no matter how stringent, as long as the procedure is technically legal and available to them personally.
How can I know? Abortion is already heavily restricted in many states and unavailable in large swaths of our huge country. Also, many women can’t afford abortions, and that’s not the only problem. Some don’t realize they’re pregnant until it’s too late. Some can’t cope with the screaming crowd – I mean kind grannies who just want to hand them a brochure – outside the clinic. Some fall into the hands of crisis pregnancy centers, which feed them lies to scare them into maintaining their pregnancy or delaying surgery until it’s too late. Some cannot make the long trip to the clinic or miss work for three or four days to meet a mandatory 72-hour waiting period. Some are undocumented and cannot travel long distances without risking arrest and detention.
And here’s the rub: we’re so used to thinking of abortion simply in terms of rights on paper that we don’t think enough about what women are going through right now to end their pregnancies. As long as they succeed in the end, the difficulties along the way don’t matter. But why do we accept that women should to find difficult to? Don’t anxiety, stress and fear count? What about loneliness and lack of support, even from the people closest to you? What about stigma and shame?
We Testify, a National Network of Abortion Funds program led by phenomenal reproductive justice activist Renee Bracey Sherman, promotes storytelling as a way to broaden understanding of abortion experiences, especially those of low-income people of color. . Here are some of their stories:
In 2008, Stéphanie, 16, pregnant from a sexual assault, wanted to have an abortion. Since she lived in Florida, that meant she had to tell her parents, who were deeply religious and wanted her to have the baby. Additionally, because the clinics were under such pressure from anti-choice activists and the state, Stephanie had to bring a relative to the clinic to prove her identity. She had an abortion, but afterward her parents refused to let her use birth control (she was on their Medicaid, so they would know). His father told him to close his legs. The following year, a condom broke and the pharmacist was unwilling to sell her 18-year-old boyfriend emergency contraception, which underage Stephanie could not buy without a prescription. (The law was changed soon after.) It took her three weeks to navigate the state’s court-bypass system, which ultimately allowed her to have an abortion without telling her parents.
Kelsea had two abortions, one in Florida and another in North Carolina under very different circumstances. The first time, she was surviving on $800 in unemployment benefits and was about to lose her apartment. Her mother and her boyfriend were very supportive, but “I deeply hated myself for needing an abortion,” she recalls. “Even in the pro-choice community, there’s a stigma: why have you been so negligent?” Kelsea tried herbs and vitamin C, which didn’t work, and eventually found her way to the National Abortion Federation hotline, which helped fundraise. She chose medical abortion and found it painful. The second abortion, also medical, was completely different. She could afford it; she had overcome the stigma and felt surrounded by love and care. The abortion itself was no worse than an ordinary period. “I believe that stigma and shame make abortion more painful,” says Kelsea, who now works at a clinic in North Carolina. “One Saturday, no protester showed up. It was such a good day! The patients did not feel as much pain. They were calmer; sedatives worked better.
Aimee had an abortion in Texas in 2003, when she was 25. “I started telling my story in order to challenge the anti-abortion movement’s claims that abortion causes mental health problems,” she says. “When I got pregnant I was still a student because I spent years in a manic-depressive cycle. I was self-destructive; I couldn’t stay on track. I was bipolar, undiagnosed. The abortion itself was very easy—at that time, Texas had very few restrictions—and it was the turning point in my life. My abortion restored my health—and I am! had the baby, I wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t be in a healthy relationship with my partner. I wouldn’t have graduated from college and gone to law school. I wouldn’t have helped take care of my father during his brain tumor, and I would not have had two children when I was ready and able to make it my priority.
Aziza had an abortion in Chicago in 2012, aged 33. “I had never even been afraid of pregnancy,” she told me, which is why she didn’t think she could get pregnant. She couldn’t afford to have a child. Without a job, without health insurance, she called many clinics, but $400 was too much. But for 75 dollars, she was able to have an abortion in a public hospital. It was a “less than stellar” experience: “We were like cattle – a line of women meandering through the bowels of the hospital, ending up in the basement sitting on metal chairs.” Aziza now talks about it with humor, but “it wasn’t compassionate care.”
Whatever the future holds, that’s how too many of us are living right now. It doesn’t have to be like that. Get informed, contact your local abortion fund, volunteer, get your friends involved, donate. Contact the National Network of Abortion Funds for more information: abortionfunds.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly placed Kelsea’s second abortion in Florida. It was in North Carolina. The text has been corrected.