Women Speak Out: Why I Had an Abortion
This Sunday, I published an editorial in the Albuquerque Journal North explaining why I terminated a pregnancy at 16. I was inspired by Democratic Representatives Gwen Moore (WI) and Jackie Speier (CA) who stood up on the House floor in the middle of an assault on Planned Parenthood and the definition of rape and described their own decisions to end a pregnancy.
I intend to mail a photocopy of my editorial to the Congresswomen.
I hope every woman who has ever faced this decision will do the same. If we refuse to be intimidated or shamed, then we can't be intimidated or shamed.
My public response, which appeared in the Journal North on March 6th follows below. (Sorry, I can't link because I don't have a paid subscription to the Journal online).
Right Declares War on Women
by Lauren Reichelt
When I was 16, I had an abortion. I don't feel guilty. I don't regret my decision.
I grew up in Chicago, the eldest daughter of a single schizophrenic mother. My brother and I struggled as children to keep our family intact. Billy stole deliveries of groceries from other peoples' porches. I cooked, cleaned, tried to make my younger siblings do homework, and maintained a facade of normalcy to fend off the threat of foster care. One day, I decided I'd had enough and walked out the front door.
I was 15.
I slept in basements of friends' homes, periodically calling my aunt in New Mexico so Mom and Grandma would know I was safe.
Sometimes I stayed with a teenage prostitute friend. Sue took drugs and drank, but looked out for me. "You leave Laurie alone and let her do homework," she'd admonish other kids. "She's smart. She's going to college."
Sue had a baby. Her small apartment was filled with castaway children who didn't realize infants must be fed, diapered, held. Nobody knew how to hold a baby. The baby cried incessantly. A few children gave it wine. No one knew babies need breast milk. They were caring for the infant as they had been cared for.
One day a social worker took the baby away.
Whitney Young High School, my school, was a 90-minute train ride from the neighborhood where I lived. It was difficult to sleep in basements or the park --- not to mention home here I still put in an occasional hopeful guest appearance --- and get to my school, so I moved in with my boyfriend. Life was peaceful and quiet. I would cook and do homework. W. and his friends watched TV and drank beer.
Then I became pregnant.
At first W. and I planned to have our baby and move to his Kansas reservation. That strategy fell apart when I caught him in bed with my best friend. "I'm an alcoholic," he tried to explain. "I can't take care of a baby. I don't want to live on a reservation I don't know. I was trying to tell you without disappointing you so badly you'd leave me."
I thought about options. Back then, pregnant girls couldn't remain in school. My Grandma spent her life caring for her mentally ill mother and mentally ill daughter, not to mention my brother, sisters and I. Was I now going to show up on her doorstep with a great-grandchild for her to raise? Was I going to live at Sue's and feed my baby wine? Dreams of Kansas faded away. I was stuck in Oz. I ended the pregnancy.
So many people hoped for me to get an education. Like W., I didn't want to disappoint them. I didn't want to disappoint me! Someday, I would find the right father and I would become the right mother for my baby.
I worked the graveyard shift in a donut shop, going from there to school. Then my long-absent stepfather mysteriously reappeared, offering a choice: I could live in New York with him, or I could live with Grandma. No more street life.
I moved in with Grandma --- and later, after her condition stabilized, with Mom --- graduated and earned a scholarship to St. John's College in Santa Fe.
I loathe the recent epidemic of bills designed primarily to terrorize women.
A Georgia legislator recently introduced a bill subjecting women who miscarry to conviction for murder if they can't prove there was "no human involvement whatsoever in the causation" of the miscarriage. How can a woman prove that? Why should she have to? What does that mean for her doctor?
Bills in South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa declare "justifiable homicide," allowing any third party to murder a pregnant woman's medical provider if they think that provider might harm her fetus: terror, shame and guilt inducement in one bill. Several weeks ago, congressional Republicans attempted to redefine rape (suggesting some isn't "forcible") while eliminating Planned Parenthood's birth control services.
The intent of these bills is clear. They are a means of removing from women all autonomy over our bodies. Rape and domestic violence are tools of oppression. The American right might put religious wrapping paper on their beliefs, but in fact they are using babies to punish women for being women. They are not recognizing children as gifts worthy of love and commitment. Women are being shamed and intimidated.
How does the right differ from the Taliban?
Last month U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., and Jackie Speier D-Calif., shared personal stories of abortion with judgmental male colleagues in the midst of House debate over rape, abortion and family planning. Women all over America should celebrate the courage of these congresswomen by telling our stories in public. Nobody can intimidate us if we refuse to be intimidated.
Reichelt is the director Health and Human Services for Rio Arriba County. The views in this commentary do not represent the views of the board of the Rio Arriba County Commission but are entirely her own.