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How Having an Abortion in Texas Strengthened My Fight for Reproductive Rights

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Written by Emily Rooke-Ley for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the  original post.

When I decided to come to Austin for a summer internship with NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, I knew I was signing up for an interesting few months. Although I had been working in the field of reproductive rights throughout high school and college, I was raised in Oregon—the only state in our nation that has yet to pass abortion restrictions in the 40 years since Roe v. Wade. And I attend college in New York, a state where there are no abortion restrictions prior to the 24th week of pregnancy. Before June, I had never been to Texas, let alone to the South.

I had read about the shaky state of reproductive rights in Texas, but I did not anticipate that I would be fighting tooth and nail with anti-choice legislators attempting to hastily and unfairly pass some of the most extreme and draconian abortion bills in the country during a special session, with the two-thirds rule conveniently suspended. I did not anticipate having to beg privileged legislators through my public testimony not to violate my privacy in their attempts to “help” me by doing what they think is best for me. (These legislators ultimately cut off my microphone and walked out on my testimony mid-sentence.)

And at 20 years old, entirely alone in a new city, I certainly did not anticipate having an abortion myself.

I found out I was pregnant on the first day of my internship. Contrary to common rhetoric, my choice to terminate my pregnancy was not the most difficult decision I have ever made, although don’t mistake this for carelessness. I had thought through this scenario before and was sure of my choice before I ever needed to be. Nevertheless, the process of having an abortion was, indeed, quite difficult—Texas law made sure of that. I knew Texas’ abortion restrictions: a 24-hour waiting period, a medically unnecessary sonogram, and a slew of propagandized literature lacking medical evidence. With the follow-up exam, that’s three visits to the clinic. These were all things I would have avoided in Oregon or New York, but doable for me, only because I had some money and my family’s support.

As I entered the clinic parking lot, I was greeted by a few protesters—all white, male, with Bibles in hand—attempting to shame and scare me in a moment when I most valued my privacy. I recall sitting in the NARAL office on the day before my procedure—the day after I’d sat through hours of heated public testimony on SB 5—when our office received a call from the very clinic where I had my appointment, alerting us to the aggressive presence of anti-choice protesters and the desperate need for clinic escorts. I had to excuse myself and went into the parking lot, where I sat behind a car and cried. I was terrified. I had previously thought about what it would be like to have an abortion, and I knew that, for me, it would be difficult. But, naturally, I had expected it would happen in Oregon or New York and, thus, be difficult because of whatever personal reasons, not because I would have to run the gauntlet of aggressive protesters.

Lying on the reclining chair in the clinic office as the sonographer prepared me for my ultrasound, cold jelly on my belly, I felt tears silently running down my face. I kept thinking to myself, I am the victim of a political game. My body is the victim of a political game. There was absolutely no medical reason for this ultrasound. It was lawful intimidation. I chuckled through tears when the doctor told me, as per Texas law, that an abortion could increase my risk of breast cancer and/or infertility. I knew this was anti-choice politics at play—but what about the other scared young women who came in and didn’t know this? What a terrifying thing to hear. I couldn’t imagine that fear being added to the already difficult situation. As the sonographer rubbed the transducer over my slimy belly, I prayed that she would see the image; if she did not, Texas law would require that I be penetrated, against my will, with a transvaginal ultrasound—which is also medically unnecessary. I was horrified at this prospect, but committed nonetheless to terminating this pregnancy no matter what. Thanks to the excellent care of my doctor and the clinic staff, I was able to do so safely.