I had an abortion.
There it is, in black and white, in print, forever. It is there for my family, my friends, my past, present and future employers. It is there for my children, my students, my neighbors, my community, my church and for anyone else who happens upon my words, whether by chance or purpose.
I am thankful to have had a choice, and I worry that young women won’t have this choice in the future. Abortion allowed me to return to college in the fall. It allowed me to finish school, grow up, start my career, marry the love of my life and eventually give birth to a son and daughter while in a loving relationship with their father.
My first visit to the abortion clinic was in my early twenties and six weeks pregnant. It was the 1980s and even though terminating a pregnancy was my legal right, I walked through a tunnel of insistent protesters with graphic photographs on poles who told me how much God loved my baby. Inside the clinic, I met with a counselor and was told to return at eight weeks because pregnancies at that time couldn’t be terminated prior to then.
I walked through a gauntlet of spittle and slurs on the way out of the clinic that day. I guess the protesters assumed I’d had an abortion while inside. Earlier assurances of God’s love turned into name calling, my soul’s damnation and so much hate. So. Much. Hate. None of the people yelling at me cared that I’d been religious about birth control, or that I wasn’t capable of providing for another human being, or that my mother was terminally ill and my father profoundly disabled.
I realized I couldn’t even afford the fee. The “father” said it wasn’t his, but his mother gave me the money because she knew better. Even though I can never repay her kindness, my mother and I sent small checks to her in the years that followed.
My abortion, two weeks later, was solemn and solitary. I faced my reality. I had no insurance for prenatal care, no job, no co-parent, no well-baby insurance, no education, no prospects for a home or life with an infant. I found myself in rooms of women facing the same reality. Poor and young was the chorus sung by most of us, not callous and inconvenienced.
I understood the gravity of the choice I made. The cells inside of me had the potential to become a human being. Some women have the will to carry the potential life of their rapists or men with whom they thought they’d make a life, but we are not all equipped, prepared, or supported in such a way that every pregnancy, every potential life, should be allowed to result in a child.
I shut out the noise and wagging fingers on the way out of Planned Parenthood that day. The angry red faces I encountered on the other side of the door fall silent in my memories. I chose my path. I will be forever thankful for the right to shape my life. I walked out with the steadfast knowledge that one day I’d have babies who enjoyed the love and support of two parents and that I’d be mature enough and financially secure enough to care and provide for them.
Almost ten years later, my son was born. The day he was born into this world he had two parents that were already in love with him. He had a home and a crib and diapers. We had already picked out his pediatrician and signed him up for our health insurance and were paying to hold his spot in a wonderful childcare facility where he’d get amazing nurturing at the end of my eight weeks of paid maternity leave. Three years later, our family was completed by the birth of our cherished and beloved daughter.
Looking back, thirty years later, I can assure myself and those around me that my choice was the right one. During my lifetime I have mentored countless young people, made significant contributions to my community, and held the hand of so many young women as they have had to make similar choices to my own. I have supported women who chose to have an abortion and I’ve gone to the baby showers of those who chose to give birth alone or in grievous situations.
My goodness and my “will to mother” were never in question, only my will to survive, to thrive. I don’t know what other women should do and for me, that is the point of choice. Here is what I do know. Women who walk this earth are more than “heartbeats.” Women are more than potential life. It is undeniable that we are already persons and that our lives have value. Women’s lives cannot be reduced to only our reproductive possibilities. Women, like men, should continue to have the right to honestly and humbly determine our own paths.
I had an abortion. I will not be shamed.
Jo DeLosSantos is the Director of Strategy and Communication for Women AdvaNCe and a member of its Leadership Team. She is a seeker, educator and staunch support of a woman’s right to choose.