By Laurie Bertram Roberts
The sun was beating down through the car window, my mouth was dry and my legs felt like lead. I was trying to figure out how I ended up here. In my mind I knew how- I was a bad girl I was stupid and careless. I kept telling myself all those things. How did I let this happen? I couldn’t be pregnant now. So there I was 22 years old mother of 5 about to do something I thought I would never do. Have an abortion. See I wasn’t like those other women, you know the ones, the irresponsible ones who didn’t “own their life choices”. The reason I had 5 kids is I owned my “mistakes”.
Abortion had never even been an option for me when I found out I was pregnant at 16. In fact the first place I called to go for a pregnancy test wasn’t Planned Parenthood it was Birthright a anti choice organization that offered services much like a Crisis Pregnancy Center. I couldn’t go to Planned Parenthood when I was 16 because everything in my upbringing had told me they were evil and I had believed them.
As a little girl sitting in the dark stained wooden pews of our fundamentalist Baptist church I often had questions. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t wear pants when I was younger and then when we switched churches God magically changed his mind and I could. Only I still had to always wear skirts to church ALWAYS! That always made me wonder what would happen if I didn’t would God come down and smite me? I mean I was only one little girl in Wisconsin -I always figured God had better things to do. I often wondered why women couldn’t be church leaders or speak in church except during “women’s events”. I was always full of questions. It was never ok to question the good book and the teachings of God. So even though I was a questioning type I never really thought twice about my church’s stance on abortion or all the things I learned as a child and adolescent about abortion and sex. I did mention I was raised fundamentalist evangelical Baptist, right? Think Jerry Falwell, (except oddly my grandmother strongly disliked him) John Hagee and Pat Robinson kinds of ideas. There were lots of rules about life, especially sex and well women we don’t get a say.
Rule one-was sex is BAAAADDDD I mean it bad! It was dirty and bad, until it magically became good when you found the right God fearing (same race) man and got married. Then sex and babies were great- actually required. In fact if you couldn’t have babies you weren’t suppose to be too shocked if your husband wanted a woman who could provide him children. (that is a whole other post) Rule two- If you were a girl who was dumb enough to get raped or slutty and tempted some good man to have sex with you or weak enough to let some bad man tempt you and you got knocked up- tough cookies for you. Abortion was NEVER an option. Not for rape, not for incest, and especially not for slutty girls who should have heeded God’s will and kept their lady parts to themselves (By the way NO masturbation either y’all if you’re horny just PRAY). Hormonal birth control is abortion and abortion is murder. I am a child of the 80s. Anti abortion rhetoric was very popular in my church then. I heard often about the holocaust being committed against the unborn. How I should be proud as the mulatto child of a single mom that she owned up to her sin and had me. I really couldn’t thank people enough for calling me a black bastard baby on the sly. I was 12 when my mother experienced a stillbirth it was one more reason to demonize women who get abortions. How dare they throw away the chance she would give anything to have back. What ungrateful people they must be. I heard over and over how only selfish women chose to destroy the life God had blessed them with. This was usually paired with the story of some good Christian family who was just waiting to adopt but couldn’t. Of course it was because of abortion they couldn’t adopt. More than anything I heard how Planned Parenthood injured, maimed, and killed women. That they didn’t provide real health care and were only out to make money. The accusation that always stuck with me was that they would give you an abortion even if you weren’t pregnant.
I grew up hearing those things until I was 14 and they were still with me as my friend and I walked past protesters who called me a murderer, told me to “be responsible” and they would “help me love my baby” and yelled at me not to “kill my baby”. They didn’t know or understand that I had 5 babies at home to care for-one under a year old-and a doctor who had warned me not to get pregnant for at least two years or it could kill me. I didn’t want to be there but I NEEDED to be there. I hadn’t wanted to go through the state mandated 24 hour waiting period, the informed consent lecture by phone, the stupid video of what an abortion is. Not because any of it made me feel guilty it all just seem like an insult to my intellect. It just drew out the inevitable rather. I knew what I was there for.
So I sat in the waiting room looking around at the other women thinking “I wonder what her story is”. They all looked different some were calm, some scared, some tired, none of us looked like we wanted to be there. Some of them may have been “good girls” who would go back to church on Sunday and act like abortion is evil. I held my friend’s hand and I waited. They finally called me back for my ultrasound. The technician, who had been chatting with me, got strangely quiet and then called the doctor in. The doctor introduced himself and said “Ms. Roberts there is no heartbeat and it seem the embryo stopped progressing several weeks ago- you are going to have a miscarriage. You should go home and contact your regular doctor especially if you don’t start bleeding in a few days. If you don’t have a regular doctor you can follow up with us. We will refund your money on your way out” He smiled at me gently and patted my hand. My mind was blown! They were suppose to be giving me a back alley abortion procedure right then and there according to everything I was ever taught. I had already began to question my views but this meant I had been lied to flat out for years! The morning I got up to go and get an abortion I still considered myself pro-life. I was one of those people that said I would never have an abortion but what you do is your business. That was a big step for me from abortion is always murder and those women are going to hell. Still for me I was not one of them. Those women were irresponsible I had a medical reason that made me different, right?
The truth is, it was that day that I realized I wasn’t different than those women and although I was sent home that day I am no better or worse than the 1 in 3 women who will have an abortion in their lifetime. Had they not sent me home I would have had that abortion and several days later when my body spontaneously aborted I was relieved to no longer be pregnant. I will never apologize for not wanting to be pregnant or willing to take the medical risk at that time to have another child.
I learned far from being crazed money hungry boogie bears abortion providers are compassionate health care providers (not saying there are never bad ones there are bad docs EVERYWHERE). Planned Parenthood took good care of me. They were kind and patient. The exact same things I see every week at Jackson Women’s Health Organization. They also called and followed up with me everyday until I miscarried. They didn’t have to do that. I wasn’t really their problem anymore. After I had almost died during a miscarriage from lack of care at a Catholic hospital this level of care and concern was refreshing and shocking.
The biggest lesson I learned is it’s easy to be pro life (anti choice) until you are the one who needs or wants an abortion. It’s easy to tell other people what to do when you can never get pregnant. It is easy to project your feelings of wanting a child or having lost a child onto another woman’s pregnancy experience (as I did when my mother experienced a stillbirth) when it’s not you who needs one. At the end of the day none of that matters for the lives and choices of individual women and families.
Families just like mine.