by Jane Person
This afternoon I had an abortion. This is not a sentence I ever thought I would utter. I’m pro-choice. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy writing about, advocating for, and protecting a woman’s right to choice. I never thought this would be a choice I personally would make, no matter how adamantly I support other women’s right to make this choice. It was an important issue to me before this point as a woman, as someone who vehemently believes that every single woman can be trusted to make right choices for herself about her own body.
In a culture dominated by patriarchy where women are not yet equal, bodily autonomy is one of the most important issues there is. If we cannot be agents of our own bodies, what rights have we as human beings? Men’s bodies are not similarity legislated, controlled, and shamed.
A few weeks ago my breasts began to get sore. “Great. My period is coming” was the thought I had. But after a couple of weeks they became increasingly sore and my period was late. That’s not uncommon for me. My cycle is very irregular.
But then I started feeling nauseated. I threw up one morning while at work. I couldn’t stand the smells of people on the bus. I couldn’t eat. Everything made me feel sick.
I went to the nearest drug store to purchase a pregnancy test. I still didn’t think I was pregnant. I simply wanted to assuage my anxiety and affirm that my period was simply delayed and my regular menstrual symptoms were just a little more intense this month.
I took the test as soon as I got home. Within seconds of urinating on the stick, a positive indication of pregnancy came up.
I’m sure my daughter heard my shout from downstairs. I didn’t waste a moment after finding out I was pregnant. I knew what I wanted, needed, to do.
First I called the sexual health clinic. They told me I could come by Monday afternoon to get a referral from a doctor, required for access to an abortion in Ontario.
“Monday afternoon doesn’t work for me. I’ve got a job interview.” was my dismayed reply. It was Friday afternoon. I hid the panic I was feeling. I felt a sense of urgency, a desire to handle this as quickly as possible. I asked for alternative options with a calmness I wasn’t feeling.
I then called the university health centre. I made an appointment for Wednesday the following week.
I knew I wanted the referral sooner than later. My preference was for a medical abortion over a surgical abortion, if at all possible. The efficacy of medical abortion decreases as pregnancy progresses.
The four days leading up to my appointment were agonizing. I was sick. My body doesn’t handle pregnancy well. I just wanted this over with.
I made it the agonizing four days until my appointment. I was nervous about how I would be received when I arrived at the health clinic, having had prior negative experiences. They have this policy where they like students to see the same doctor at each visit, but I specifically requested someone different. It couldn’t have gone any better. Not only were both the nurse and the doctor I saw nonjudgmental, they were sympathetic and compassionate. It was a relief.
The referral was put in to the OB-GYN who handles abortion in my region. An hour later I called to make an appointment, and they got me in for an ultrasound the very next day. At that time, I found out I was seven weeks. Knowing that time was getting thin, as a medical abortion can only be performed up until nine weeks gestation (and this particular doctor was known being known for not performing many, and for typically requiring women to be less than eight weeks’ gestation) the kindly secretary scheduled me in to see him within four days. I’m sure she’d have gotten me in sooner, but it was my luck that Monday fell on a holiday.
When I arrived for the follow up appointment, it ended up being a different doctor than I’d initially thought I’d be seeing. He began by telling me my options – and I jumped right in to say that I had reviewed them extensively and wanted to go the medical route. He agreed, although warned me about the decreased efficacy with the number of days’ gestation (56 – one week prior to the cut off, at this time). I acknowledged that I understood and would agree to a surgical abortion were this method to fail. He gave me the prescription and told me to return the next day to have the shot administered.
I was treated with dignity and respect throughout this whole process. I felt I was afforded autonomy and agency as a patient. There was no judgment placed upon me. My experience, I know, does not mirror that of many other women. My wish is that for others going through what I did to be treated with the same dignity and respect that I was, to be afforded autonomy regarding their decision, and to feel empowered throughout the process. This experience has made this issue even more important to me – all women deserve to have the right to reproductive choice. To me that is an unquestionable right. Women should not be shamed for making choices that are right for them.
I’m sharing this because my story could be any woman’s story. Perhaps people will judge me for having refused contraception that my previous doctor tried to force upon me (a decision I made deliberately, with agency, and for good reason). Perhaps people will judge me for being a sexually-active woman of reproductive age. I’m just glad that I had the ability to choose.
And in terms of psychological consequences – often cited as reason for legislating women’s bodies – terminating this pregnancy has caused me no more emotional turmoil than the three spontaneous abortions (i.e., miscarriages) I had prior to this. This was something I knew I had to do. I don’t regret it. I do not feel badly or guilty. On the contrary, to have been forced to carry this pregnancy to term would have been far more physically and psychologically taxing.
I am, quite frankly, just relieved. And I can’t help but empathize with the millions of women who aren’t quite as lucky as I am. The women who live in regions of the world – like our neighbours in the United States, even – who are often denied access to what should be an accessible health service, basic healthcare. I feel for every single woman who has discovered she’s pregnant after doing everything “right”, only to find herself unable to make a choice that is right for her. And for those who didn’t do everything “right”. This experience only reaffirms for me why the right to choice is such an important feminist issue. Women will never be equal until men stop legislating what they do with their own bodies. Women must be given the autonomy and respect to decide what is right for themselves and their bodies.
In the apt words of Ani DiFranco:
“And if you don’t like abortion/ don’t have an abortion/ and teach your children/ how they can avoid them/ but don’t treat all women/ like they are your children.”
Editor’s Note: the post above is by a cis woman sharing her own experience in her own words. Gender Focus recognizes not only cis women can become pregnant and that a full range of reproductive health care – including abortion – needs to be freely available without discrimination to anyone who can become pregnant, including trans men.