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One month ago, I was pregnant. It was a pleasant surprise; we were planning to hunker down for the long “try,” but we got a hole in one. Pun very intended.
One week ago, I became, very suddenly, not-pregnant. It started inauspiciously, with a little spotting. I wasn’t worried. I had read my single chosen book -- "Our Bodies, Ourselves" -- and knew not to freak out.
Then: a little more blood. Then: the calls to the midwives, who made an appointment for the next day. Then: enough blood to know what was going on.
Our appointment was a sad one. We knew what was up, but the midwives of course couldn’t confirm anything until after the ultrasound. So down we went to the waiting room. The wait, then the warm dark exam room with the soothing ultrasound tech. The gel on my still-flat belly. The pressure of the wand. And then…
“I’m going to have to do an internal exam. You change and I’ll be back in a moment.”
And thus it was, lying on my back in a warm dark room, crying about my lost fetus, my partner’s hands in my hair and wiping away my tears, ultrasound wand shoved into my vagina, that I became a reproductive justice advocate. Again.
To me, reproductive justice is about ensuring everyone has the ability to make informed choices about their reproductive health and has the resources to make those choices reality. Reproductive justice is not only about abortions any more than health care is only about access to flu shots.
1. Reproductive justice is calm, comprehensive, competent care.
When we found out I was pregnant, we decided to go with a midwifery center that cooperated with the hospital all our other medical folks cooperated with. This was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. Before the miscarriage, they were lovely: welcoming and warm, very excited for my low-intervention birth plan, but ready to deal with whatever my pregnancy threw at them.
They dealt with my miscarriage with equal warmth and grace; a little pity, but not more than I could bear, mostly straightforward information and incredibly fast response times. I felt cared for at all times. We called them at 2 am and 3 am and 4 am several nights in a row as I was going through the worst of it and they responded calmly and sympathetically every time.
Their care ensured my good health. Their calm ensured I didn’t freak out. Everyone needs care like this -- competent and minimally invasive -- in every area of our health, but most of all in our reproductive health. I have had, like many folks, excruciating, embarrassing annual vaginal exams.
If I had had one during my miscarriage, it would have done far more damage to my mental health than the late-night cramps. All people deserve competent, comprehensive care, in every phase of their reproductive lives. This is reproductive justice.
2. Any burden is too much burden for a woman who needs an abortion.
One week ago, I had never had a trans-vaginal ultrasound. I have now had two. The wand is much larger than you think: It’s about ½” to ¾” in diameter. My technician was very kind, but she still had to put a wand in my vagina. Once to see if my fetus was dead, the second time to see if everything was out of my uterus.
She put some lube on the tip, asked me if I was ready, then put it inside me. She moved it around. She pressed it against the walls of my vagina. She hit my cervix a couple times. She angled it. She apologized when I started to cry. She asked if I wanted to stop. I did –- but what’s worse than one trans-vaginal ultrasound? Two in one day. I said no.
In three states, abortion providers must perform an ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion and must show the woman an image of her uterus and describe what she’s seeing. In seven more states, abortion providers must perform the ultrasound and must offer the woman the chance to see the image. Several more states have varying requirements for ultrasounds for people seeking abortions.
As the Guttmacher Institute notes, none of these laws require a trans-vaginal ultrasound, but for women early in their pregnancy, like me and the vast majority of women seeking abortions, it is the only way to view the uterus and the fetus.
This is insane. Reproductive justice means creating systems in which people are fully able to make informed choices about their bodies and their reproduction. These decisions, we know, are not made lightly. Burdens on people seeking abortions are not likely to make folks rethink their decision because they were not fully informed. In fact, most folks will just bear the pain and the humiliation.
But these burdens might force people to rethink their decision because some clinics don’t include the price of the ultrasound in the price of the abortion, and many people simply can’t afford the extra cost. And of course, WHO WANTS TO HAVE A FUCKING WAND IN YOUR VAGINA WHEN YOU’RE MAKING THE DECISION TO SEEK AN ABORTION? I’m not even going to talk about rape. Because really.
3. Reproductive justice is about all phases of life and care.
I live in a state with amazing support for reproductive care. I am incredibly privileged: I have comprehensive health care, a more-than-living wage, a supportive partner, and a loving family. A terrible thing happened to me. And people were there to help me.
I have accessed reproductive care throughout my life: annual exams, birth control (pills, patch, Plan B, condoms), pregnancy planning, and miscarriage care. Millions of people do not have my privilege. And millions of people (many of whom overlap with the folks without privilege) suffer from burdens on their reproductive health: lack of access to birth control, no health insurance and no annual exams, no pre-pregnancy care, little pregnancy care, no access to abortion, little post-natal care.
And we know these folks are disproportionately women of color, queer and trans folks, folks with disabilities, and immigrants. This is not how we build a healthy nation. This is not justice.
I had a miscarriage. And it showed me (again) the terrible disparities in our country around reproductive health. Justice now.
Sign up for alerts from Planned Parenthood or NARAL to follow attacks on reproductive justice in your own state. Follow the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum to learn more about national reproductive justice campaigns.