I shouldn’t have been pregnant. I was on the pill.
And yet, I knew that I was because I could feel my entire body rebelling against me—I was no longer in control.
A trip to the drug store, and three minutes later I had confirmation that the dizzying nausea, the feverishness, and the aching were not the result of the flu-bug that was going around, as I had hoped. Instead, they were the horrifying conclusion to a regrettable night.
I had just finished grad school and moved upstate from New York City to Albany to start a year-and-a-half long newspaper fellowship. I didn’t have friends, but I did have an OkCupid account. I met a nice enough guy there, and we dated for a few weeks, until he bought a house and a puppy and made clear that he was rapidly heading toward settling down. We parted ways, but a few weeks later, on yet another friendless Friday night, I asked him out to dinner. I drank too much. I don’t especially remember how, but we wound up back at his place. I do remember asking him to wear a condom. I also remember being too out of it to effectively protest when he declined. The next day, I made an appointment for an STD test, blocked his number, unfriended him on Facebook, and sincerely hoped to never see him again.
Getting pregnant was one of the darkest points in my life. I was broke from quitting my job, going back to school, and then accepting a low-paying fellowship. I was alone and living in a brand new city that I hated. When I did get an abortion, just a few weeks into my pregnancy, I had to ask a coworker I barely knew to fulfill the requirement of staying by my side for the brutal hours after I took my abortion pill. If you’re still within nine weeks, the pill is a non-invasive alternative to a surgical procedure that lets you have an abortion from the comfort of your own home, but it comes with a small risk of excessive bleeding. I offered my coworker pizza and booze in exchange for coming over to make sure I didn’t accidentally pass out and bleed to death while curled up in pain on my bathroom floor.
In the days leading up to my appointment at Planned Parenthood, where I would be given a prescription for the abortion pill, I would wake up in the middle of the night, my pajamas soaked in sweat from nightmares that somehow the abortion didn’t take, leaving me stuck with a baby I didn’t want and couldn’t afford, linked forever to some guy I’d met on OkCupid who refused to use a rubber. This fear was only exacerbated when, one night while trying to binge-watch my troubles away, I saw an episode of Private Practice about a woman who thought she’d gotten an abortion and later found out that the doctor had botched it. I envisioned having to quit my fellowship and move home to California, since there was no way I could handle a baby in my current situation. I worried that my life was over. The pregnancy itself made me physically ill, and the worrying only made me sicker.
But once I got an abortion, suddenly, everything was fine again.
My life went back to normal—actually it was better than that. I had imagined, in distressing detail, the life that I had planned for myself completely unraveling. But I had handled the situation and taken back command of my own body and life. I felt powerful, as if there were no obstacle I couldn’t surmount. I felt a deep sense of freedom, knowing that my only responsibility was to myself. I was overcome with gratitude and optimism and a new-found sense of control. I felt awesome.
So naturally, I rolled my eyes at recent comments from Allan Parker Jr., a lawyer with the anti-abortion group the Justice Foundation, in The New York Times.
“The abortion industry is trying to make it sound like abortion is a joyful experience,” Parker told the Times, just days before the start of the biggest abortion case the Supreme Court has heard in a quarter century. “But even women who say it was necessary say it was not joyful. It is a grief and a blackness, and it changes you.”
My abortion did change me. The ability to choose for myself when and if I want children was empowering—it affirmed for me that I am in control of how I choose to live my life. There are plenty of situations in life in which control is out of our hands, but thanks to laws that recognize my right to do what I want with my own body, this was not one of them. Becoming pregnant was a grief and a blackness. Getting an abortion was just a relief.
As the Supreme Court gears up to hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a challenge to a Texas law that threatens to shutter the vast majority of the state’s abortion clinics, anti-abortion activists have shifted tack, moving away from demanding that states protect unborn babies and instead demanding protection for mothers.
This is extremely clever politicking, playing into our deeply embedded cultural tendencies to protect women. Whenever anti-abortion activists argue that women are just too vulnerable for abortions, as Emily Bazelon recently wrote in The New York Times Magazine, despite the lack of supporting evidence, “the alarms ring, playing into our usual assumptions that the impulse to protect is benevolent and, perhaps, that women are especially deserving of solicitude.”
My abortion did change me. The ability to choose for myself when and if I want children was empowering—it affirmed for me that I am in control of how I choose to live my life.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the swing vote on this week’s abortion decision, himself troublingly hinted at this line of reasoning in his last opinion on abortion back in 2007.
“Some women come to regret” their choice of abortion, Kennedy wrote. “In a decision so fraught with emotional consequence, some doctors may prefer not to disclose precise details of the means that will be used.”
At the root of this argument is the retrograde idea that women like me need legal protection to make sure that we don’t accidentally make the wrong choice and wind up in some sort of emotional tizzy. This sentiment, of course, reeks of old-school paternalism. As Bazelon points out, there is no equivalent to “damsel in distress” for men, nor such a thing as legislation intended specifically to protect them. My abortion wasn’t the wrong choice, but even if it had been, I would have figured that out, too. Honestly, guys, I’m doing just fine on my own.
I will never forget the feeling of panic and terror that comes with the sensation that you are losing control of your own body. It feels like being invaded. You feel powerless, helpless, defenseless.
Certainly, for some women, the decision to get an abortion is difficult and going through with it can be equally traumatic. For me, though, it was neither. I never wavered in my decision and I have not once regretted it since.
The right to make that decision—to take control of my body and my life—allowed me to pursue the life I wanted, and to become the person that I wanted to be.
I wouldn’t call that dark or painful. Actually, I think I would call it a joy.