A Letter to the Editor I wrote about abortion access in Missouri and crossing state lines to provide care. https://www.stltoday.com/opinion/mailbag/patients-seeking-abortion-forced-to-go-to-illinois/article_18121018-fe6a-5eba-a4d1-770861f915d9.html
Content Warning: sexual assault, violence, pregnancy, mental health.
Facebook has a way of reminding you of how much you’ve changed.
I graduated from high school in 2012. Throughout my teenage years, I was passionately pro-life. I went to Catholic school for thirteen years, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
I was raised on anti-abortion talking points from the Catholic Church, the Catholic school system, and the conservative parents/families of myself and nearly all of my peers. “Abortion is murder”, I thought, “abortion is the murder of unborn babies.” I believed that “late-term abortion” or “partial-birth abortion” was a common practice among abortion providers.
Facebook has a way of reminding you of how much you’ve changed, and who you used to be. The other day I saw a Facebook post from seven years ago. This post was by me, an 18 year-old senior in high school about to go off to college. The post reflected my thoughts at the time, that abortion was the “easy solution”, that people needed to “take responsibility for their actions”, and that people who are having sex should be prepared to have a child. Reading this was unsettling to me. I knew this is the person I used to be, and how I used to view the world, but seeing that visual reminder of how I used to think caught me off guard.
When I was a teenager, I had a very negative relationship with sex. I was sexually assaulted before I had the chance to become sexually active. I was thrown into a situation that I was not able to handle, yet had to deal with every single day. I felt alone throughout my high school years, and developed a lot of internalized shame surrounding my own sexuality. In retrospect, it would appear that I grasped onto any supposed sexual immorality of another person as a way to make myself feel better. I felt alone, completely empty. I thought sex was a horribly negative part of life.
Seven years later, I work for an abortion provider. I am routinely in the OR with patients, holding their hand and providing them emotional support before, during and after their abortion. I have seen hundreds of procedures and helped thousands of people access abortion services. I have supported loved ones through the process, I have helped people seeking to carry their pregnancies to term plan for the future. I work with pregnant people to help them fully understand all of their options, and help them make the choice that is right for their lives. Abortion is just one option a person has, but it is an important option. An option I see people struggle to obtain, an option people toil over and shed many a tear over. This is a decision that most people I meet have limited support in.
“So, what changed?” – Well, I moved out of my family home, I went to college, I got involved with intimate partner violence and sexual violence prevention services. It was through working with other survivors and dealing with my own challenges in my personal life that I wanted to see sex as something positive. I wanted to see what healthy sexuality looked like. I started learning more and more about sexual health, getting involved in sex education for others, and really embracing the idea that people have a right to know how their bodies work. Through my work with survivors, I believed in rape/incest/abuse exceptions for abortion. I thought if a person had been assaulted, that person should be able to choose whether or not to continue the pregnancy. I still thought abortion was wrong, or sinful, but I genuinely believed that the “sin” of the abortion would be the rapist’s sin to answer for.
Early in my college career, I felt as though I was having an identity crisis. I was working to educate others about relationship and sexual violence, and I was surrounded by feminist campus leaders and pro-choice organizers. I loved my feminist community, but I still felt very attached to my views on abortion. It felt like a core component of my identity before these new experiences, and that core component of my identity was being challenged.
I slowly worked through my identity crisis, feeling very alone in all of my social circles, and then one day I had a realization. I believed in women’s rights, and I realized that I viewed abortion as acceptable in cases of violence. I really took the time to think about why I believed in rape/incest/abuse exceptions. I had been learning about best-practices for working with survivors of violence, and learned how important it was for individual’s healing to help the survivor feel in-control of their life and their decisions.
I asked myself: Why does someone have to be assaulted, to have their autonomy disrespected, and to suffer abuse, in order for that person to be justified in making their own decisions? That question fundamentally changed me as a person. I was still uncomfortable with abortion but I had a different perspective, and that perspective inspired me to step outside of my comfort zone, and participate more fully in difficult dialogues. During one sexual health class I was in, abortion was the topic of discussion for the day. I almost skipped class that day, but I am glad I didn’t. I wanted to learn more about abortion, so I sought out more and more information. I began to differentiate between myth and fact about abortion, and undo a lot of my anti-abortion programming I’d been raised with. I continued to challenge myself, and learn from others. I learned that the vast majority of abortions take place at or below twelve weeks gestation. I learned that third-trimester abortions are almost non-existent. I learned about fetal development. I learned about why people chose abortion.
I stopped passing judgement and started listening.
I continued to grow intellectually and emotionally. I taught many classes, and abortion would come up, and I was able to lead group discussions on abortion. In undergrad, I organized two counter-protests of anti-abortion groups on campus for passing out inaccurate information. I wanted to combat the lies with medically accurate information. That is still my goal.
Based on my own experiences and my values, I place high value on autonomy and self-determination. I decided I wanted to continue my career in sexual/reproductive health, as I have a knack for discussing taboo/stigmatized topics. In college I decided I wanted to see what abortion care looked like first-hand. After graduating, I started doing patient support as a volunteer, branched my way into patient education, crisis intervention, and community education. I see how stigma directly impacts vulnerable individuals trying to decide whether or not abortion was the right choice for them. I think abortion stigma needs to rapidly vanish, and we need to have open conversations about all things sexual/reproductive health, especially abortion. Abortion care is compassionate, life-affirming care. I am so glad to have made it out of my echo-chamber.
I’m grateful for all the people who have been patient and understanding of me during my journey, you all helped me learn and grow. You helped me become a better person and find my passion. Thank you, sincerely.