IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Was Forced to Travel Out Of State for an Abortion
In 1997, when I was 26, I was involved with a man who lived in Raleigh, North Carolina. I moved there from Boston, and it was, simply, one of the stupidest things I've ever done, but that's another story.
We dated for some time, and used protection, but not as religiously as we should have, and at Christmas that year, when I went home to visit my family, I had a stomach flu that only seemed to manifest itself in the morning.
I was tentatively happy about the pregnancy. He was not; he was in fact so angry about it that he broke up with me, told me he would never pay support, and indeed would deny it was his, since we didn't live together, and who knew what I was up to when he was gone. (He cheated our entire relationship; I did not).
His vehemence convinced me -- I did not want to be tied to this emotionally abusive man through a child for the rest of my life. When he offered to pay for an abortion, I took him up on it.
Abortions in North Carolina 15 years ago were almost impossible. I do not drive and there were no clinics in Raleigh at the time. Trying to find a clinic was an uphill battle –- the Internet was not as searchable back then, and with the rash of firebombings, shootings, pray-ins and harassment, most clinics were so discreet they were almost invisible. Planned Parenthood was able to give me a list of clinics, but it was not up to date. Clinics often didn't answer their phones, leaving me dependent on them deciding to respond to voicemail.
And the clock was ticking.
Eventually I managed to make an appointment. We had to drive all the way to the only clinic in NC, in Charlotte, 170 miles away. They required a 24-hour waiting period –- not by law, but for their own protection, as antichoice people had been trying to get access to the clinic, posing as a pregnant person.
I showed up at the unmarked office in a run-down office building, and checked in with a nurse through a metal grate. They told me nothing, except to return the next day and not to eat beforehand. The next morning, I was made to wait 3 hours, before the doctor would see me, alone.
He grilled me about my "condition" for about 20 minutes, before refusing to perform the abortion, because I was crying. (Starve a woman who is having hormonal issues anyway, make her wait, bully her, and then when she cries in an emotional situation, punish her. I am quite glad that doctor did not perform my abortion). His reasoning was that he did not think I really "wanted" the abortion.
Does any woman actively want an abortion? We seek them because they are needed, for whatever reason we need to seek them for. We seek them with resolve, we seek them with sadness, we seek them with anger or pain or desperation. We seek them because we need them, and want isn't in the cards for most.
I was nearing the voodoo 12th week when "Bad woman! No abortion for you!" was coming, and I was back to the drawing board, with an outdated list of mostly shuttered places. I started calling friends in Georgia, in Virginia, trying to find any options for ending the mess I had found myself in.
Near the 12-week-mark, I finally found another clinic, in Richmond, Virginia. It did not require a waiting period. The RN I spoke to on the phone assured me they would take a medical history but I was not going to need to justify myself to them.
We got to the clinic to find it surrounded by protestors who were breaking their restraining order by trying to keep people from entering the parking lot. A man screamed at me not to murder my baby. I remember thinking, “He is so angry at me, and he's never met me. He hates me.”
I had never felt that the protestors at abortion clinics had a woman's best interests in mind, but it had always been intellectual before. Feeling that hatred directly focused on me was oddly clarifying. So many of the problems I'd been having with the decision went away, as I realized that the argument of "the other side" had nothing whatsoever to do with me.
In the clinic, I was specifically asked if I needed my support person with me. I received some counseling; and I'll be honest, I don't remember much of it, but I remember the counselor said to me, “Even if this is something you need, you will feel sad. Please seek help if you need it. It's a sad choice to make even when it's the right choice to make, sweetie.”
Even now, writing that sentence out, I get teary -– not because I am sad over the abortion, but because that was the first time, in weeks of thinking about this, planning, it, trying desperately to find someone to help me, that someone looked at me and told me that what I was feeling was OK. The boyfriend had been angry, the Planned Parenthood people had been clinical, the clinic in Charlotte was under so much fire that they treated everyone, even women seeking their help, like a potential enemy.
Exhale, the post-abortion support group, didn't exist when I had my abortion -– they were started three years after I needed it. But I don't know any woman who has had an abortion who didn't understand the name as soon as it's said. You spend your time before it happens almost frantic, and then...it's over, and you can breathe again. Dear god, you can finally breathe again.
I did not have support resources. I lived in a place where there wasn't even an option to get the services I needed to begin with -– there was certainly no aftercare help. I had a breakdown about 4 months later, and it happened not because I had the abortion, but because I had spent weeks just trying to get it over with. I have never regretted the abortion, but I regret deeply all the pain and suffering I had to go through to just have this legal procedure that I had decided to have done.
It stretched out what should have been a timely, easily obtained procedure into a hellish month for me, and at the end of it, I broke.
Since then, abortion services have become more accessible in North Carolina (though I am not accessible there; I left in 1998. I have refused to set foot in it since, even to the point where when a road trip went through the northwest corner of it, I refused to get out when they stopped for snacks).
This week the Republican state senators made a rather cowardly bid to force Planned Parenthood's ambulatory care centers out of business. During the floor debate, Senator Martin Nesbitt said, “We’re sitting in here tonight, and you’re going to win this debate and feel really good about yourselves, because you -- all you big grown-up gray-haired men -- have beat three women. I want to see what you do with about ten thousand of them, ’cause they’re coming. They’re coming.”
I cannot come to the statehouse, so instead I wrote my experiences down.
So, North Carolina: You will not be able to stop women from getting abortions. It is the law of the land, and I am proof that women will get them regardless of how you try to force us to carry to term against our will. You will successfully stop women who did not have my resources. You will stop poor women. You will stop women who don't have a way to travel out of state. You will stop women from being able to get it done safely. You will keep women from having the support afterward to help them get on with their lives.
But you will not stop abortions. And you will not stop women.