LGBTQ

I'm About to Have an Abortion

When I went looking for other women's stories, they were all about the aftermath. What about the week before?

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

I’m pregnant. I just found out. I’m having an abortion on Saturday at 10 a.m.

Those are three text messages I sent to my closest friends, in that order, last weekend, a few hours after I went to the Rite Aid near my boyfriend’s apartment to buy an at-home pregnancy test. I’d walked to the pharmacy in a pair of awkwardly fitting denim cutoffs and the shirt I slept in the night before, with the singular goal of ruling out pregnancy as an explanation for why my period still hadn’t shown up a week after it was supposed to. I had all my usual pre-period symptoms — cramps, sore breasts, insatiable hunger — but no period. I assumed the lateness had something to do with my horrific and sporadic eating habits, as I subsist mostly on Hot Cheetos and red licorice. That probably seems delusional; it probably seems less so when I mention I’ve had a copper IUD for a year.

So, no, it didn’t seem outrageous to think my period was just reconfiguring itself, as it has many times in the past. What did seem outrageous, though, were the two blue lines that showed up on the first pregnancy test I took when I got home — the ones that indicated I was pregnant, making my heart start pounding so loud I really could hear it in my ears, just like in the movies. I left the bathroom with the test in my hand and went to go show my boyfriend, who held me while I cried and shook and tried to catch my breath. I took the second test to be sure, then sent those first two text messages to my sister and my friends. I sent the third one after I went to Planned Parenthood to book an appointment I hoped I’d never have to make.

*

Those three text messages are also the sentences that best describe my current situation, in the days before I’m scheduled to have an abortion. I’m pregnant. I just found out. I’m having an abortion on Saturday at 10 a.m.

I have no idea what Saturday will be like because it’s not Saturday yet. Just as I’ve had no psychic abilities at any other point in my life, I have no way to predict what I’ll be thinking or feeling immediately before or after my arrival at the clinic this weekend. I assume I’ll wake up early, wonder what I should wear because I’ve never had an abortion before, pick something in a rush and then hold hands with my boyfriend as we make our way to Planned Parenthood. I’ve stopped trying to think past those mundane actions, though, because no amount of surmising will get me any closer to knowing how Saturday will feel before it’s Saturday.

And, it seems, no amount of background information — no critical mass of other women’s stories or screenings of “Obvious Child” — will give me much insight into how I, Jenny Kutner, will feel about my abortion when it happens. Still, I have been looking for background information, and I briefly tried to defy my stubbornly non-psychic brain by reading what other women have written about their abortion experiences.

There is, of course, a sort of collective narrative that has formed, especially amongst pro-choice women like myself. Here’s what I noticed about that larger collective narrative: It contains very few stories about what women experience just before their abortions. Mostly we only hear about a procedure in its aftermath. Right now, I do need to hear about the aftermath. I need to be reminded that on Saturday I will wake up pregnant and on Sunday I will not; I need to be reminded that my life will go on once I carry out this decision that is totally and completely right for me, not everyone, and that is totally and completely right for so many other women who have made or will make the same choice. But right now I’m not in the aftermath. I’m in a part of the abortion experience that feels just as crucial as the abortion itself.

I understand why people might not want to write about this part. To talk about having an abortion before it’s happened is to open oneself up to personal attacks at an already vulnerable time. After all, to tell any part of a personal abortion story is to portray oneself to anti-choicers as a “baby-killing slut,” as one friend put it. That shouldn’t be. But, what’s more, the crux of pro-choice thinking is that what a woman does with her body is personal and private and subject to no one else’s input. As Internet trolls will inevitably offer their thoughts, an abortion story told in advance of an abortion might seem a plea for another opinion, which undermines the pro-choice logic behind it.

I’ll say now that I’m genuinely not seeking out or accepting additional input, just as I don’t think any other woman who tells her story is asking for the two cents of hostile strangers. No thanks in advance for any efforts to make me change my mind, “choose life” or what have you. I am resolute in my decision, because it is the right decision for me.

That’s not to say I don’t feel as if I’m between a rock and a hard place. I don’t want to have an abortion, which is why I got an IUD — to give myself a 99 percent chance of not having to consider the procedure for a decade, or ever. (Clearly the IUD failed, so I guess I’m the 1 percent.) What I definitely, definitely don’t want, immeasurably more than I don’t want to have an abortion, is to be pregnant or have a child.

So I’m not going to. At least, not right now.

*

I was always going to have an abortion in the case of a hypothetical pregnancy. Now, I’m having an abortion in the case of a real one. There is nothing, logistically or financially, getting in the way of me having the procedure, something I kept reminding myself while I sat at Planned Parenthood last weekend. For too many women, mine is an unimaginable opportunity. That’s especially true in Texas, where I was born and raised, and where some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the country have decimated access to reproductive healthcare. That’s why, after having the initial thoughts of, How the fuck did this happenand Why me, why me, why me, my only other thought was, Thank goodness I’m not at home.

I moved to New York nearly a year ago, but before that I lived in Austin for four years. Last summer, on a day at the end of June not long before I moved, I waited in line for a gallery seat inside the Texas Senate chamber, where Wendy Davis had spent nearly 11 hours filibustering a bill that would require the state’s abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. The bill was intended to force abortion providers to close their doors, and was then the latest in a series of right-wing efforts to prevent Texas women from accessing healthcare. Two years earlier, during the previous legislative session, Governor Rick Perry had signed a coercive “emergency” measure requiring women to submit to invasive transvaginal sonograms and patronizing explanations of fetal development 24 hours before getting an abortion.

The sonogram bill, along with H.B. 2 — the bill that was eventually passed after Davis’s filibuster — diminish the rights of more than 10 million Texas women. I was at the capitol last summer, wearing orange, because I am a Texas woman — but I could not consider myself one of the women under attack. In a practical sense, H.B. 2 never would have limited my access to an abortion because of privilege.

When H.B. 2’s requirements go into effect in September, only six abortion clinics will remain open in Texas, all of them concentrated in the major cities east of the Panhandle, West Texas desert and Rio Grande Valley. I lived in one of those cities; my parents live in another. Women who live in those three massive, unserved regions, however, will have to travel several hundred miles for two appointments in two days to get an abortion. Many don’t have cars; I did. Many can’t take off work; I could have. Many can’t find or afford childcare for their kids; that wouldn’t have been one of my concerns. The restrictions make getting an abortion financially and logistically unfeasible not for someone like me, but for women who are without the money, support, transportation and proximity to a major city that one needs to meet state requirements. I was at the capitol last year to stand in solidarity with them.

*

If I still lived in Texas, I would still have access to all those same means. So I’d face fewer impediments to an abortion than most, but that doesn’t mean I’d face zero. I would still have to have a sonogram, and I would have to hear about the development of the zygote inside me.

As I waited to speak with a counselor at a New York Planned Parenthood last weekend, I felt a wave of relief at the thought of being so far from home. Really, it was relief at the thought of being trusted to make my own decision, at being able to avoid having a probe shoved inside me in an effort to make me question, regret or alter that choice. There are no mandated ultrasounds in New York; no condescending scripts for the doctors to read; no increasing shortage of clinics because of legal entrapments that endanger women’s health. I thanked my lucky stars, for maybe the first time in my life, that I was not in Texas.

Just as I did, a counselor called my name and asked me to follow her down a hall to a small, carpeted room with a desk and no windows. On the desk sat a plastic-encased model of a ParaGard IUD, the little copper “T” with which I had entrusted my reproductive health for exactly a year. I stared at it while the counselor confirmed that I was, indeed, pregnant — about five weeks, judging by the start of my last period.

She then presented me with several options. I told her I wanted to have an abortion. She did not tell me that I would have to come back for another appointment before the abortion and she did not try to talk me into another course of action. Instead, she asked when I could come in for the procedure and put it on the calendar. Then she sent me on my way.

I wasn’t sure what to feel after I made the appointment, so I just stood still on the sidewalk for a few minutes and cried. I cried because I was overwhelmed and confused, although I wasn’t at all confused about my decision. What I felt most strongly when I left the clinic, aside from the need to pull it together and go take a nap, were two feelings that have stuck with me all week. The first was acute anxiety that seven days was too long to let two incompatible objects (an IUD and a zygote) occupy my uterus at the same time. The second was complete certainty that I was making the right decision. I don’t want a child yet, and I’m not at all ready to have one.

That’s why an abortion is the right choice for me, and I don’t think much else matters. I keep repeating that and it’s not because I’m insecure, but rather because I doubt I could be more firmly convinced. Thankfully, in addition to feeling so strongly about my choice, I have received all the support I could possibly ask for — from my boyfriend, who is in complete agreement about my decision, but also from my sister and my parents, my aunts, uncles, friends, co-workers and even two relative strangers I met at a picnic on Sunday.

Several of the people I’ve told have made this one obvious observation over and over: I took strict precautions not to get pregnant. They’ve reminded me that I did what I could by getting an IUD — did more than many women do. But, by some strange fate or rearrangement of the universe, doing what I could wasn’t enough. So, of course I’ve decided to have an abortion — duh! What’s more, it’s okay that I’m having an abortion, since I made clear long ago that I don’t want to have children anytime soon. I’ve already tried to prevent that from happening, so an abortion is just one more step in that prevention process — one I’m more entitled to take because it’s a process I’ve already begun.

Wrong. Having an IUD that failed without my knowledge does not make me any more entitled than any other woman to terminate a pregnancy I don’t want. When I hear people raise the point that I did what I could, it sounds to me like a justification, but it’s not one you’ll ever hear me offer. I’m more than willing to explain why I’ve decided to have an abortion, because my reasons are justified on their own. Nonetheless, an abortion isn’t something that needs to be justified. Women are entitled to the procedure if they decide that having one is right for them — all women, not just the ones with ParaGard, Mirena or Implanon, NuvaRing, birth control pills or the Depo-Provera shot.

I am no better or worse than, say, a woman who gets pregnant when she wasn’t on the pill, had sex without a condom and, for any number of reasons — lack of information, lack of transportation, lack of funds or just plain old stigma — didn’t take Plan B. She is just as entitled as I am to make my same decision or a different one, and she deserves the same access to a safe abortion that I do if she chooses one, free of judgment — because this is not a question of who is better or worse. It’s a question of who should get to exercise their rights, and the answer is every single woman.

*

Despite all the support I’ve received, I have walked around furious for the past week at the thought of those anonymous people who would tell me I’m wrong not to stay pregnant. I’ve tried to analyze my rage in an effort to cope with it, and I’m sure it has something to do with my ardent conviction that women deserve the right to choose what happens to their bodies. Usually, my rage compels me toward something productive. But I don’t have time for that at the moment, because I’m having an abortion on Saturday at 10 a.m.

So being angry hasn’t done much for me this week. I’m still pregnant and don’t want to be. My IUD still doesn’t work and needs to be removed from my uterus, and I still don’t know what my next form of birth control will be, or if I’ll ever feel comfortable trusting any contraceptive again. I hope this experience will make me a better activist, but I can’t foresee if it will just yet.

Right now I don’t feel like an activist at all, just a woman who’s having an abortion. I’m a woman fortunate enough to have so much love and support I don’t know how to process it all. That’s rare and special, but still it feels like no one can help me much at the moment. This weekend the people who love me will sit in the waiting room while I walk into my abortion by myself. I don’t know what comes next, how or if this will change who I am. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. I can’t know that now. It isn’t Saturday yet.

 
 

Jenny Kutner is an assistant editor at Salon. Follow @jennykutner or email [email protected].

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