When I arrived at the clinic in Washington, I looked for the young woman I was waiting for. Her body was covered with tattoos of birds and stars. She hugged me with a warm smile and introduced me to her boyfriend. He didn’t look at me. In fact, he didn’t look me in the eye for the five hours we sat together in the waiting room.
I assumed it was out of shame until I noticed the white supremacist tattoos on his shaved head, neck, forearms and knuckles. As a black woman, I was scared of him. Yet I felt a bond. They had driven several hours from Virginia to avoid the numerous restrictions on abortions there. He was returning from jail. She already had a child and wasn’t ready for another. I knew the feeling well.
She asked for an abortion doula because she wanted unconditional support, no matter what she decided. She wanted me, a total stranger, to reinforce her trust in herself. After she went to the procedure room, her boyfriend and I went outside, me to make a call, him to smoke. In the elevator down, he finally spoke: “Thank you.”
When I had an abortion, I was 19 and alone. Though I was pretty sure my parents would have supported my decision, I didn’t want to take the risk. So I kept it a secret. My boyfriend at the time dropped me off at the clinic, unwilling to go inside. I walked through the bombproof door, and a kind Orthodox Jewish nurse took care of me. She held my hand as the sedation filled my veins, and offered me saltine crackers and Coca-Cola when I woke up in the recovery room.
These are the realities of abortion.
The need to terminate a pregnancy knows no political affiliation or religious faith. I’ve hugged, cried with and held the hands of hundreds of people who’ve had abortions, many of whom never thought they would. All were thankful that someone was there to provide care, sit with them when they were alone and hold their hair as the nausea took over. All felt the stigma and shame society thrusts on them.
The abortion debate rages on, but the voices of those who’ve actually had abortions are ignored. Few people try to understand our lives. And we are never asked the most simple but important question: Why did you do it?
That’s intentional. It’s easier to strip us of our rights when we’re not treated as humans, when political candidates say we deserve “some form of punishment,” when elected officials vote to define abortion as “murder,”when people call us killers. Language matters and it leads to violence. Abortion providers, and people who share their stories, including me, have received thousands of threats.
But nearly one-third of American women are estimated to have an abortion by 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Sixty-two percent of us are people of color. A majority are religious. We’re trying to make ends meet and can’t afford to expand our family at that particular time.