I’ve been an abortion rights activist for decades. I’ve marched and protested at more events than I can ever remember. I’ve worked with NARAL, Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and many more womxn’s rights and reproductive justice organizations. I’ve worked on abortion ballot measures and elected pro-choice candidates all over the country, but I have never told my own story. I started this particular version on June 24th, 2022, when millions of US womxn lost access to safe and legal abortions. I am finally sharing it this week of the 50th anniversary of Roe – the case that gave abortion rights to millions and as a means of protest to Dobbs, the case that took them away.
I’m one of the millions of womxn who had an abortion. My story isn’t exceptional, which may be why I never shared it publicly. It isn’t unique, but it is still stigmatized – so much so that most will never share theirs. So, inspired by Shout Your Abortion, Abortion Access Front, We Testify, and many other amazing, brave womxn activist storytellers, I’m finally sharing my own.
It was long enough ago that I don’t remember all the details, but I’ll always remember a couple of things about it. It was winter 1989, and I was 22. I had just returned to college in DC at American University after “dropping out” to work on the Dukakis campaign for a year. It was just a few months into the semester. I had been dating a guy I met on the campaign. I was pretty fond of him, but the feelings were not mutual, and he broke up with me. I discovered I was pregnant a few weeks after he ended the relationship. I knew I wasn’t ready to have a child on my own, so the choice – and yes it was a choice, felt apparent, but I still wasn’t sure what to do. If anyone cares, I did use birth control – I was on the pill. I don’t know how or why it failed, but it did.
The first person I told was my mother. I wasn’t sure how she would react, but I needed her support. I needed help paying for it and was scared to go alone. Telling her turned out to be an incredible bonding experience. It was then that she shared with me her own abortion story – something I never knew about before. My mother told me she got pregnant a third time by my father after my younger brother was born. We all lived in Boston, but my father kept leaving for New York to be with a woman he had been having an affair with. This is my story, not hers, but I learned so much about mine from hers then. I never remembered she could not afford the place we lived, so we moved into a shelter. I don’t remember ever feeling homeless – quite the opposite. I thought the YMCA or the “Y” where we lived for some time was cool! There was a pool, a huge gym, and arts and crafts. But for my mom, we were homeless, which devastated her. Her abortion was before Roe, so it was not legal. I still don’t know where she got it or how.
I’m so grateful that my mother empathized and didn’t judge. She never made me feel like I had done anything wrong. She didn’t influence my decision one way or another – she just let me know she would support it.
A side note but worth adding here is I did not have any health care. In fact, I did not have any health insurance for the next decade while working on campaigns. Planned Parenthood was my only healthcare provider. I didn’t get my abortion from Planned Parenthood, but it saved my life by diagnosing my precancerous cyst several years later. It makes me crazy when I see “leaders” working to defund Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health clinics as if they only perform abortions!!!
I had my abortion at Washington Surgi-Center, and my mom went with me. I don’t remember much about it, except it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I remember returning to school the next day with cramps and heavy bleeding. There are a few other things I remember. I did share my pregnancy with my ex. He didn’t stop me or offer to be with me in any way before, during, or after but he was the only person who made me feel guilty – telling me he wished I “kept it” after the fact. Today, he is a big Hollywood movie agent. I still think about him often though I haven’t talked to him in over 30 years.
I was lucky to have a supportive parent – many do not. There are as many reasons womxn have abortions as womxn who have them. Each story is unique and personal. I regret needing an abortion, but I’ve never regretted having one.
Deciding to have an abortion was not difficult for me – but figuring out how to felt hard – and I say that knowing I was and still am a privileged white woman with a supportive family with easily accessible, safe, and legal abortion providers. I am SCREAMING MAD for every woman who will no longer have those options.
Something far more traumatic happened to me less than a year before my abortion. I was raped by someone very senior and influential, who I knew and trusted on the Dukakis campaign. I shared that story publically for the first time on Facebook in 2018. I shared #WhyIdidntreport during the Kavanaugh hearings after so many vilified Christine Blasey Ford for her candid report of his attack on her in high school. I shared it because I know very well that you can remember vivid details of traumatic events while your memory blurs others.
I did not get pregnant by my rapist, but my rape and my abortion have always felt closely connected. Both related to sex and hurtful men in power under a year apart in my life – and for decades, I never felt comfortable talking about either. Watching the SCOTUS Justices, knowing at least two have been aggressive sexual predators, take away fundamental reproductive rights, connected to these personal traumas for me further – but also helped fuel my organizing fire.
I’m so angry that this Supreme court cares more about protecting gun owners than children’s lives. I’m seething that the decisions by a few right-wing justices will harm millions of people – most womxn, disproportionately black and brown womxn, and that many will die. I’m angry that men continue to dominate the decisions of womxn. We’re on the precipice of a real-life Gilead, and it will take millions of us to keep organizing to keep it from happening. Supporting candidates, campaigns, and organizations fighting reproductive justice and abortion access are more critical than ever.
The only way I survived this – and still keep my anger in check is by channeling it into energy and action. If we all put all our energy into organizing, advocacy, and elections, we can win and change the direction of our country and world, but we won’t if we don’t.
I plan to keep channeling my anger into action and elevating others who do the same. I’ve tried to turn my story and privilege into power. This is why I created GAIN Power, Amplify Power, and the Powerful IDEA Awards. It is why I’ll work for any abortion rights campaign or advocacy organization. It is why I focus so much on helping others find their way to becoming and growing as changemakers for womxn in the US and worldwide. I challenge everyone reading this to do the same. Please.