I feel that it is important to explain the numerous obstacles I faced trying to receive a legal, medical procedure. And, even more importantly, how I was almost tricked by anti-choice “pregnancy care centers” even being a reproductive rights advocate. Being in a strange town removed me from all the resources that I had. And, had more strict waiting periods been law in the place that I was, it would have dramatically affected my ability to get timely care. Furthermore, the right-wing, anti-choice agenda had so polluted my mind, that I found myself face to face with my own internal stereotypes. This is my story.
Several months ago I had gone into my local Military Treatment Center because I felt that my IUD string was longer than normal. They wasted a whole bunch of money to do an ultrasound to tell me “it’s still in your uterus, so it will still work.” Obviously it was still in my uterus because the string was still there. However, it was sitting low in my uterus. They swore it would still work and wouldn’t replace it. Fast forward about 3 months and my period is a week late. I’m on leave for Christmas, in town with my ultra-religious parents without a car.
Suddenly my mind is racing. I have 3 days left before I have to leave to go get on a plane to return to military training. I know when I go back I won’t have the opportunity to get an abortion, let alone care for a child. I also am aware of the Hyde Amendment, which will prevent me from terminating the pregnancy at a Military Treatment Facility.
I google “abortion” and look for providers. Luckily, I know to be on the lookout for anti-choice centers, but even with this knowledge, I have to wade through several websites to find one I think would actually provide abortion services. I finally settle on one that has a bunch of pro-choice materials on the site, but still I wonder before if it is really legit.
I put the address into my GPS and navigate to the clinic. As I pull off the road, I see a big sign that says “women’s clinic.” I’m almost fooled. I double check the address on my GPS and realize this is an anti-choice pregnancy center set up to trick me.
The correct clinic is much more hidden: definitely no advertising with big signs. As I walk in, a sign warns me to leave all purses and backpacks outside for “security purposes.” I go put my purse back in the car hoping today won’t be the day that an anti-choice fanatic chooses to shoot up this clinic. The woman at the counter asks me when I took a positive pregnancy test. It occurs to me that I’ve been so busy worrying how I was going to be able to get an abortion that I hadn’t actually stopped to see if I was pregnant. Of course, I was. The test was barely positive and they think I couldn’t be more than 4 or 5 weeks. In fact, they aren’t even sure if they will even be able to do the procedure because of this.
Cue more stress. What if I can’t get the procedure done in the next 3 days? I call the Military Treatment Facility at my base and ask them how I can work this into my life as a student in training. They say they can put in a referral for me to have the IUD removed, I can file a complaint against the doctor who did not fix my misplaced IUD, but “there is no way on God’s green earth that TRICARE will pay for this while the Republicans are in office.” Direct quote. They tell me about the Hyde Amendment (of which I was well aware). I knew that even though my pregnancy was caused by their mistake, I would be paying for it out of pocket.
But I wanted to know how this would work into my life. How could I get the procedure done while being in a training status. The answer? I would have to put in for my own leave (not medical leave), which would have to go through the chain of command at my school and at my company. So in total, would have to be explained to approximately 6 men, going up to the highest ranks on both sides, yes an O-5 would be signing off on me taking leave to go have a medical procedure. Infuriated, I decided to go ahead and put down the non-refundable $160 (not the full cost) to cross my fingers that it wasn’t too early for the procedure to be done the next day.
They gave me a number to the National Abortion Federation that I could call to try to receive some financial assistance. I called the number non-stop for about an hour straight and didn’t get through. Then tried it all the way up until 11pm that night and again in the morning. It was busy every time I called. I finally decided that I was probably not in as much financial need as others, and that since I did have a credit card to put this on, I would just stop trying.
I call the clinic at 9:30 the next day to see what time I had to go in for the appointment. They tell me to arrive at 2 that afternoon. I arrive and the parking lot is full, but luckily, no protesters. I walk in and take a seat in the waiting room. I don’t know why, but I am surprised. There are women of all ages, races, and walks of life. Some with husbands, boyfriends, friends, and some alone. I sit in a seat next to a very attractive, younger-looking woman. She looks calmer than any of the rest of us. She has her hair curled, and is even wearing heels and skinny jeans. Another women is holding her husband’s arm tightly, she appears to be in her mid 30’s, and her husband looks more terrified than she does. Another woman is whispering to her boyfriend “I’m scared” and sheds a few tears. I’m not even sure why this is emotional to me, but I feel her pain. It’s scary because we’ve been bombarded with messages about how evil women are who KILL BABIES, but not one woman I see inside this room is evil. Every one of us is doing what is right for us, and there is no shame in that. In that waiting room, I feel the shame I had been trying to squelch disappear because I see women who “don’t look like women who would have abortions” sitting right next to me. I don’t even know what “a woman who looks like she would have an abortion” is, but I think it was planted in my head by the anti-choice movement.
The nurse calls me back and tells me to sit and wait for the doctor. Suddenly my heart jumps. Of course I’m nervous. I don’t know why, but I guess I’ve heard so much anti-choice rhetoric that I expect a vampire to appear to me as my doctor. Not so. A man walks in. He looks pretty normal, too. I think, “He doesn’t look like an abortion doctor.” Again, I don’t know what that looks like but for some reason I had a mental picture. He asks me if I have questions. I say, “No, I’m just a little nervous.” He tells me that I’ll be fine and the nurse comes and takes me into the procedure room.
I go into the procedure room and, shocker, it looks like a doctors office. I imagined it would look like a torture chamber. Of course, it looks like a doctor’s office because I’m getting a medical procedure done. Oh yeah. And, just like every other gynecological procedure, I am instructed to lie on the table and put my feet in the stirrups. The doctor determines he is able to do the procedure. I am excited, and the nurse, holding my hand gives me a big smile and a thumbs up. She offers me some gas and the doctor numbs my cervix. He then removes my IUD. Then, I feel some sharp pains as he inserts the instrument into my cervix and begins to remove my uterine lining. I won’t even pretend it didn’t hurt. But I try to make small talk during it, while my voice is thick with laughing gas. I scream a little. The nurse good-naturedly tells me to “soldier up,” but she holds my hand the whole time. Then, thankfully, he removes all foreign objects from my uterus/cervix and it is done.
I am led into the recovery room, where the same attractive looking woman I had been sitting next to in the waiting room is sitting in a recliner. I had come into the recovery room moaning a bit because I was still in some pain. I feel the strength of this other woman as she just quietly observed me gasping and moaning. After a moment, my cramps subside and I try to pull myself together.
As I lay there in a recliner, sipping ginger ale, with a heating pad on my tummy, I realized the wall was lined with paper hearts that had messages from women who had previously been in that very recovery room. A lot of the hearts had messages of hope and strength. All of them stated that the woman knew she was doing what was best for her. To me, it was ironic because a lot of the messages talked about God’s forgiveness. The Christian-right’s rhetoric has so invaded our views on abortion that it is evident even in the messages left by women who had just had the procedure. So many stating they knew that God would “know their hearts and forgive them.” I am not a Christian, so I didn’t think I needed god’s forgiveness, but I had allowed the Christian-right’s narrative about abortion to hype me up and freak me out and scare the day lights out of me.
I felt a bond with the women who I was there with at that moment, the women who were there before me, the 1 out of every 3 women who will have this medical procedure done for one reason or another in her lifetime, and especially my foremothers who fought for me to have the right to a safe and legal abortion. But then I realized the women who have yet to come are facing greater danger to being able to access abortion.
Before my abortion, I had always been somewhat indifferent about abortion. I was pro-choice, I was pro-woman, but I would always say that I wasn’t “pro-abortion.” I thought I could understand why it was such an emotional topic, and I think I even felt some stigma about the topic. I had preconceived ideas of what women who got abortions were like, about abortion facilities, about abortion providers. I didn’t know because no one talks about her experience with abortion. The people who are shaping the rhetoric around abortion are the anti-choicers, not women, not women who have made the choice themselves. So, today I speak out, and I leave behind my words of solidarity for the women who follow on my paper heart in that recovery room:
“I have always been pro-choice. I have always been an advocate for women’s reproductive rights, but it was not until I was facing an unplanned pregnancy that I truly understood the importance of being able to access a timely, safe, and legal abortion. I am in training that will advance my life, and that makes having a child impossible right now. I did what was best for me, and I am thankful to still have that choice. And now I see how important this is for all women. It is important for us all to stand together.”