My Abortion Story



(oil on canvas, 40 ins. x 30 ins.)




I had an abortion.


I’m sharing my story to bear witness for all the women who have ever had to make difficult healthcare choices. For women in the future who will need the full range of reproductive health services, I advocate for you. I bear witness for choice.


Why am I going public now?


In 2022, the ultra-right US Supreme Court supermajority ended a pregnant person’s constitutional right to an abortion. Individual states can now make laws outlawing abortion care based on nothing but the religious convictions of the politicians making state laws, and the people who voted for them. That’s right.


Laws in about half the states now give state lawmakers, and the constituents who voted for them, the right to look over my doctor’s shoulder down the barrel of the speculum inserted into my vagina. Some states must now be sure that none of my doctor’s recommendations regarding my reproductive care/abortion conflict with their religious beliefs.


The metaphor is graphic but apt. The government (in some states) -- not my doctor or me -- gets the final word on whether I can have an abortion.


In 1995, I got much needed medical care, an abortion. Today, I might have been forced to carry a nonviable embryo with terrifying consequences. (My story is below.)


Some state laws now terrorize obstetricians into not giving patients like me the best medical care a doctor is trained to administer. The embryo trying to grow in my womb could not survive. Removing the tissue meant the doctor would have to perform an abortion. In states where abortion is now illegal, I might not have been able to get the medical care I needed.



Does one religious culture have the right to impose its beliefs on a nation’s female population and their bodies? Do other’s morals give them the right to make medical decisions for me and my doctor? How exactly did God assign the final word on abortion to a small subset of Christian devotees? From the Center for Reproductive Rights. “970 million women, representing 59% of women of reproductive age, live in countries that broadly allow abortion.”


Does God really confer decision-making about a woman’s body and her life choices to self-anointed arbiters of what is right and wrong? “Sixty percent of Americans think that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 38% say it should be illegal in all or in most cases.” PRRI. Those wishing to deny women all the reproductive care modern medicine has to offer are in the minority.


Is it so unfathomable that good and principled people can be so, and not share extremists’ beliefs about abortion? Do anti-abortionist think others cannot hear God speak in sunlight flitting through the forest? Or feel an Infinite Presence in a birdsong echoing through a canyon? Is no one whole and perfect who has not prostrated herself on a public altar with a declaration of being saved according to some religions? No one?


God did not make a mistake when It made us, that is, those of us who do not share anti-abortionists’ religious beliefs about conception. We are equal, beloved souls who do not need prayers, approval, forgiveness, blessings. or oversight for the healthcare choices we make.


Would I double over and cramp up in the supermarket? Would my vagina expel tissue resembling blood clots all over the shiny supermarket linoleum floors? Would my two boys ages 8 and 9 at the time be traumatized by the whole bloody mess? All because some lawmakers and their supporters have anointed themselves the morality police to whom we must submit our pregnant bodies.

We share a country. I support everyone’s right to practice religion as they wish. Do the religious support my right NOT to be forced to adhere to their moral precepts? Do I have the right to make my own healthcare choices including abortion care?


I take my cues from Thomas Jefferson. Monticello.org says: “Politically, Jefferson believed that the new nation required complete religious freedom and separation of church and state. Many historians note that the broad diversity of ethnicities and religions in the thirteen colonies meant that religious freedom was necessary if the union was to be successful.”


~


I had an abortion.


To my friends and family who do not support choice, this is my tirade (with love). I know your feelings well. Love me and know mine.


For many of you, my choice comes smack up against your beliefs. This conflict exists in you, not me. Your identity does not live in my uterus and what I do with my body.


I once said in a Moth story share event, I don’t see armor, I see souls. I see you, the spirits I bonded with when we played kickball in the street, cried over a dying pet, held hands in the park, made birthday wishes blowing out candles on umpteen cakes, giggled in church, cut our own hair, drank cheap wine under the boardwalk, played baseball in the cemetery.


I remember the souls I knew before we complicated life with hard and fast rules we believed would help us get our footing and make us feel safe in life. For many of us, religion’s rules served that function. But not for me.


How do my choices about my body harm you?


Oh, I see. They offend your religious belief that life starts at conception.


I do not share that belief. Your beliefs about life and conception are not even shared by many of your Christian brethren. Catholic countries like Ireland, Italy, France offer abortion care. Yet, we, in the United States, MUST abide by your beliefs? Not true, you say? But you would vote for politicians who make laws to control my body. All to satisfy doctrinal myopia? Your God has picked you to decide for the rest of us?


Love the sinner but not the sin, you might think. No. I do not need forgiveness because I did nothing wrong. I have not wronged you, my fellow citizens, or God in any way. You have a belief that says I did. I do not share that belief. It’s just a belief.


I know who I am. The beliefs upon which you build your life have nothing to do with me. Once, perhaps, you thought I checked all your belief boxes to make it ok for you to support my life choices. And now I don’t when it comes to abortion. Your belief boxes are your arbitrary boundaries I do not share. None of that judgment has anything to do with me.



I and those like me are NOT asking you to accept our view on what is appropriate reproductive care. We support your right to reject medical procedures you do not want.


We want you to stop being the morality police. We want you to stop swinging your religious bat at our knees to prevent us from exercising autonomy over our bodies. We want you to respect secular laws that govern our multiethnic, multi-religious democracy.


We’re asking you to enjoy the religious freedom this secular country affords you. And, in true American spirit, let us express ourselves as we see fit without being controlled by laws tailored to satisfy your religious beliefs.


You voted to control women’s bodies. So do it.


My abortion story is here. Insert yourself into my business and make your declarations known about how your opinions and beliefs should override MY doctor’s counsel, and MY decisions about MY body in the privacy of MY doctor’s office.


If you did not invite yourself into my uterus with your vote for the right-wing Christofascist agenda, please read my story anyway. I hope you will understand that abortion services are part of women’s reproductive healthcare, and not to be adjudicated by religious zealot justices and lawmakers wielding their power like ministers at the Salem witch trials.


Religion is a personal choice often made for us by our parents. I know many beautiful people who enjoy their childhood religion. They have no need to try to make me bend to their personal views. Spirituality is personal and individual. We have mutual respect for our divergent choices. The Supreme Court ruling ending a woman’s right to an abortion is another matter altogether. The ruling is nothing but narrow religious, generational indoctrination making its way into secular government to persecute the rest of us.


A woman’s body is no longer her own in half the states in this country. This is not over.




~


My abortion story.


I was 41 when I had an abortion. I had an ill-fated pregnancy destined to miscarry according to my doctor. I dug up my 1995 medical records for this portrait story and read my doctor’s notes.


The doctor wrote. Small amt. embryonic tissue; 5-6 weeks; no fetal heart rate; inevitable AB; needs D&E; will do Friday


Inevitable AB,” An inevitable abortion is a medical term used to describe pregnancy tissue that will miscarry. I was carrying an embryo the size of the nail on my little finger. It could not survive in my womb. I had a very necessary medical procedure called a D & E, dilation and evacuation, to remove the tissue cluster. A D&E is an abortion.


I was in trouble. I needed a medical intervention. I was also very sad. Very sad. All our hopes for a third child fizzled.


At the time I did not know that D&E and D&C were abortions. A D&C is similar to a D&E. Both remove uterine tissue using different methods. The D&E was medical care as far as I was concerned. I didn’t care what it was called.


My records clearly say I had a D&E, a type of abortion done at 13 weeks since a last menstrual period. But my records say I was only 5-6 weeks pregnant. Perhaps my doctor saw something he thought required the D&E, and not the D&C, a procedure performed in the first trimester? Or maybe the D&E was my doctor’s preferred method? I don’t know.


The D&C is the procedure I heard so many women in my family, and then my adult friends, talk about. At family picnics it was not uncommon to overhear whisperings about somebody’s D&C. The women spoke pragmatically about the procedure.


For my mother’s generation, birth control was on the cusp of making its way into young women’s lives but was not yet a way of life. 1950s women were pigeonholed into homemaking. They would have decades of childbearing, from teenage pregnancies to later-in-life, perimenopausal, surprise babies. Pregnancies abounded in my Catholic extended family and my friends’ families.


More pregnancies raised the odds of miscarriages happening. This was true for the women in my family too. When I overheard the adult women in my life mention their D&Cs, I never knew what they were talking about. As a little girl, I knew a D&C was a woman thing. And I heard it mentioned a lot. Now I know they were talking about medical care they or women they knew received after a miscarriage.


In 2022 and for always, miscarriage care is identical to abortion care. Restricting abortion jeopardizes women’s ability to seek medical care they need. Restricting abortion handicaps doctors who deliver that care. The NY Times reported. "Surgical procedures and medication for miscarriages are identical to those for abortion, and some patients report delayed or denied miscarriage care because doctors and pharmacists fear running afoul of abortion bans.”


In 1995 my doctor did not need to hedge to buy time to check with lawyers. He did not have to wonder if performing a necessary medical procedure violated state abortion law. He did not have to worry about being prosecuted for giving me sound medical care, an abortion. In 2022, depending on where my doctor worked, he would have.


~


In 1995 I knew I was pregnant. My breasts swelled to the size of water balloons. In one month, I put on 10 lbs. None of my clothes fit. I was exhausted. I felt more nauseous than I did with my first two pregnancies. So much more. I could barely drag myself out of bed. It had been 8 years since I birthed my last baby. Could 8 years make such a difference in the way I felt as a pregnant person? How was I going to do nine months of this? Nevertheless, I soldiered on straight to my obstetrician’s office.


My husband and I wanted this baby but the final decision was all mine. “Up to you, T-Bone Lovebird,” my husband said. He was (and is) fearless. He loved (and loves) our children. And he loved (and loves) me. Adding another child to our family was just fine by him. But this baby would need my body to be born. That gave me the final say according to my husband. I agreed. My decision. I wanted a third child.


I remember that day. As sick as I was, my husband and I sat in the doctor’s office like gleeful newlyweds having their first child. We knew this was our last chance to have another baby. I was 41. This would have been our third child.


The doctor entered the treatment room, sat on the stool, swiveled to face the ultra-sound image then spun around to face me directly. He did not equivocate. He did not look at my husband. He did not hedge. He looked me straight in the eyes. “No.”


I remember feeling confused and scared. “No…No?” I thought. I’ll never forget my doctor’s gaze – direct and urgent. “No.” But I was a birthing machine. Full term. No complications. “No?”


It was clear my doctor was saying the pregnancy was not viable. He did not go into the details because I did not ask. I was numb. I trusted my obstetrician and followed his lead. He was a respected physician at a center city hospital specializing in high-risk pregnancies although I was never a high-risk case. More than that, my doctor had seen me through two pregnancies-- every cramp, swollen limb, and baby’s kick. When the treatment room door closed, my doctor placed all his attention on me and what I had to say. He examined me as if I were the only patient he was seeing that day. I loved my doctor. He had earned my trust. And now his concern and resolute face told me I should listen. I did not overanalyze or second guess.


I did not realize until decades later that my doctor was referring to abortion when he asked, “Do you have an objection?” I certainly did not. I knew I needed a medical procedure to avert what could have been a very painful and traumatic spontaneous miscarriage. In medicine the correct term for the colloquial miscarriage is spontaneous abortion. A label would not have made a bit of difference to me. I welcomed the procedure, a D&E. I had a medical problem needing immediate attention.


~


In 1973, the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. In 1995, my doctor could give me his best medical care without fear of losing his license. In 2022 the US Supreme Court rescinded that right. States can now decide to outlaw abortion care and make criminals out of our doctors.


If I lived in a state with an abortion ban in 1995, I may have had to wait until a hospital’s legal team – not my doctor -- determined my health and life were sufficiently threatened to get medical care i.e., abortion.


How long would I have had to carry a dead fetus before the anxiety jeopardized my mental or physical health enough for the state to authorize an abortion? Or I would have had to endure anxiety and fear waiting for an unmanaged miscarriage my doctor saw coming. If things went wrong, would I have to bleed out and be close to death for doctors to declare that an abortion was necessary to save my life?


Would I double over and cramp up in the supermarket? Would my vagina expel tissue resembling blood clots all over the shiny supermarket linoleum floors? Would my two boys ages 8 and 9 at the time be traumatized by the whole bloody mess? All because some lawmakers and their supporters have anointed themselves the morality police to whom we must submit our pregnant bodies.


~


When the far-right politicking finally started making headway into policies outlawing abortion, I thought about this last pregnancy. I had had an abortion! I had not realized my medical care in 1995 was an abortion. I really had no idea. I needed care and I got it, excellent care for which I am very grateful. I know I’ve said this so many times in this essay, but I did NOT know my medical care was an abortion. I’m making the point that medical care is medical care is medical care.


Christian anti-abortion forces played a long game in getting Roe v. Wade overturned. The Religious Right moved from Sunday church services to the political frontlines. Their push for Christian nationalism took off in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. The conservative Christian fringe moved mainstream with Donald Trump’s presidency. In a speech Trump said, “Christianity will have power.”


Christianity will have power.” Political power to make laws that align with Christian morals and beliefs. Power. Enough to make any political movement salivate.


Christian voters ignored the sexual assault allegations against Trump, the 3500 times he weaponized the justice system to squelch his adversaries, the three marriages and two divorces. The promise of power outweighed the ethical dilemma. Values be damned.


Once in office, Trump delivered for anti-abortionists. Trump appointed three United States Supreme Court justices giving the Court’s conservative voice a supermajority – meaning, there are enough conservative votes on the Supreme Court for the Christian Right to look forward to many rulings advancing Christian nationalism.


On June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court released its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning the constitutional right to abortion. Explainer from The League of Women Voters.