Breaking the silence about abortion

November 20, 2014

I ENTERED the Planned Parenthood. Was patted down by the security guard. Admitted to the waiting room. Called into the clinic. Put on a flimsy pastel hospital smock. Treated by very professional and compassionate female-bodied doctors. Blood work done. Cold, lubed-up ultrasound. Asked if I was sure this was the right choice for me. Lay down on the operating table.

"What do you like to do?" said the nurse.

Shot of anesthesia. "I am playing Peter Pan. The production opens in two weeks."

Felt tears slide out of my eyes as I fell asleep to the nurse saying: "It's going to be alright honey," underneath a large poster with kittens grinning down from the ceiling.

Suction noise. Woke up. Drowsy. Wheeled into recovery room. Nausea cloud lifted. Looked around me, saw so many of us sitting there. Ate a Saltine cracker. Got dressed. Felt relieved. Didn't know how to feel. Boyfriend drove me home. Felt victorious. Wanted to forget. Feeling still lingers.

Bottom line: We need safe spaces to discuss our abortion stories.

Image from SocialistWorker.org

Last spring, I found out I was two months pregnant. My partner at the time and I decided that abortion was the only solution. This decision was one of the simplest decisions of my life with the most painful aftermaths. As a junior in college with no fiscal stability, I was in no place to be a mother.

I write this open letter because through sharing this experience I realized how many women in my life and at this school have had similar experiences, but have been silenced by a sexist culture of shame. Having an abortion is already a difficult choice, but the loneliness, alienation and reinforced silence add another unbearable weight.

We all have a collective responsibility to dismantle these abusive social constructs of shame, regardless of our personal views. These constructs are suppressive and destructive to women. We need to change the polarizing language of "pro-life" and "pro-choice" and make it about a bipartisan commitment to pro-women's health care. We can't pretend that abortion doesn't happen because there is silence. Just like we can't say sex doesn't happen as a justification for abstinence education in our schools.

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I NEEDED to share my story because the language surrounding this right to abort becomes institutionalized, unfeeling and politically impersonal.

Everyone's abortion story is different. After my abortion, I found myself determined to persevere. I distracted myself from the personal grief and pushed through the semester and claustrophobic depression. In my experience, UMass has been exemplary in supporting me. I dream of the day when letting a professor know "I had an abortion" is like saying "I have the flu." (I am not trying to make this sound casual. This is a matter of normalcy leading to acceptance).

I am pro-choice, but my feelings became complicated. Let me say it again, this is not an easy decision for everyone, and it certainly was not for me. Yet I felt empowered by a state system that honored my rights. I took control of my life. I knew that I wanted a family in the future but that this was not my time.

I was only able to have this abortion because a series of privileges aligned to grant me access to my right:

1. I had the steadfast support, love and respect of my partner and our parents.

2. I was able to secure a free pregnancy test and consultation at Tapestry Health, where the compassionate staff calmly confirmed my pregnancy and articulated my options.

3. The same day, I was connected with Planned Parenthood in Springfield, where I was supported through my ultimate decision to abort.

4. The woman on the phone called it a pregnancy. Not a fetus, or a baby.

5. I wasn't subject to inhumane "waiting legislation," where in some states a woman is forced to wait a harrowing 72 hours after pregnancy is confirmed to make an appointment.

6. My partner had a car and was able to drive me to the appointment.

7. The nearest Planned Parenthood was only half-an-hour away in Springfield.

8. My insurer was Health New England and they covered the cost of the procedure.

9. I wasn't subjected to the abusive requirement of looking at the ultrasound before the procedure. I was given a choice. I said no.

10. I was able to tell my professors and director: "I. Had. An. Abortion. This is a difficult personal/emotional time right now," and they supported me through it.

11. I found myself in the Rand Theater, flying over an audience, playing Peter Pan, 10 days later.

Now, almost a year later, I am left staring at this list thinking how lucky I am. If these things hadn't lined up, I would have a one-week old child in my arms right now. This thought breaks my heart and simultaneously makes me fight harder for my rights because I wouldn't have the opportunities that I have now if I had a child. Access should not be a privilege.

Whether you know it or not, the women in your life are in need of this access. Denying women the right to abortion is like looking your mother, sister, or female-bodied friend in the eye and saying: "I don't care about your health, or your equal right to freedom."

Let's break the silence.
Emma Ayres, Amherst, Mass.

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