I don’t regret helping my daughter get an abortion

by Laurie Bertram Roberts

“It is always easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them”- Alfred Adler

It was a day I never thought would happen. I thought I had done everything to guard against it. Yet several months ago there I was hearing that my 15 year old daughter was pregnant.

It all seemed so surreal. How could this have happened to us? As I stood listening to her tell me  the test was positive I struggled with the strong desire to scream and cry. In my mind my daughter knew better. She is the homeschooled daughter of the president of the state chapter of a national feminist organization. The first time she ever spoke at the capitol was at a joint Senate and House hearing on teen pregnancy. She was 13 and spoke about the need for comprehensive sex education. She and I along with her sister are clinic escorts. She knows all about birth control, condoms, and Plan B. She has always had knowledge about and access to contraception as well as being encouraged to wait until she is older to have sex.

This was one of those moments in life when I was faced with living my beliefs. I had always said if one of my daughters got pregnant as a teen I wouldn’t flip out and judge her like so many parents do. I would love her, respect her, and let her choose how to handle it. I would support her no matter what. Yet my mind immediately did judge and I wanted to shake her.

I took a deep breath put my arm around her and said “everything will be ok”. Then we traveled down the short hall to the counseling room at the clinic we escort at. I kept telling myself “stay calm, breathe, she needs to know you love her”. As we sat down all she kept saying was “I don’t know how this happened” over and over. The truth was in that moment she couldn’t remember having sex the one time with the young man she was seeing. She isn’t alone this happens to grown women all the time who find themselves faced with unplanned pregnancy. The clinic ultrasound tech peaked in with a soft smile and offered to take her back to see how far along she was.

Left alone with two staff members I broke down in tears saying “she knew better” and “I warned her”. It’s funny how all the rational things you know about teen sex and pregnancy go out the window in a crisis. The truth is my daughter was using condoms. Guess what sometimes they fail. Especially, when children who aren’t educated in their use like my child is are the ones placing them on their penis.

So there we were sitting, waiting. The clinic counselor said I was the calmest parent she had ever seen- so I guess there’s that. Even with that comment I couldn’t help feeling awful. Like I failed.

Like I suspected my daughter returned and said she was 5 weeks pregnant. I told her calmly and plainly she had three options she could parent, she could choose adoption or she could have an abortion. I also told her she had time to decide since she was so early in her pregnancy.

Let me tell you my daughter and I both LOVE babies! She loves kids. She is a great babysitter. She and her sister have a babysitting business. She wants to be a mom. She also helps me as a doula. Yet none of this means she is ready to be a mother at 15.

The clinic was closed the next week so we had over a week to be home with her being incredibly morning sick , unable to eat and asking questions about what it was like to be a teen mom. I was honest with her. I wouldn’t trade my children for anything but it was hard VERY hard. It is nothing like the fairy tale that anti choicers sell  to girls. Yes you can get benefits but you have to tell the state all your business to get them.  I had to work two and three jobs at a time often missing majors parts of my children’s lives. I wouldn’t have made it without my mother helping me every step of the way.

I made plans in my head for each options, if she chose to parent I thought it would be hard but we could do it. I’m a doula who works with teen moms I know the ropes. I tried not to tell her what to do and just gave her simple honest answers to her questions. It was about a day before we addressed the huge issue looming-the fact that my daughter has a illness that is managed by medication that is not compatible with pregnancy. The option for her would be to go off her medication and risk her health severely deteriorating during the pregnancy to the point of hospitalization.  Those are a lot of factors to lay at the feet of a 15 y/o girl but this was not my pregnancy or my choice it was hers alone. She spent hours curled up like a baby as I stroked her hair and after days of quiet reflection SHE settled on abortion as her choice.

So I made sure she received religious counseling pre procedure from Faith Aloud. She read the stories of other women online on the I had an abortion FB page.  I wanted her to know even there was no shame in what she was choosing to do she was walking a road many had walked before her. I wanted her to understand she had control. This was HER decision and she would have to be a parent, she would be the one relinquishing if she chose adoption and only she would be having an abortion, not me. I told her she could change her mind.  She said nope she knew what she wanted to do.

Doing the work I do I already knew the extra hoops parents are required to go through to obtain an abortion for their daughter if she is under 16. Let me tell you that knowing something and living something are two different things. In Mississippi a girl under 16 has to have parental permission from BOTH parents, a picture ID, and her birth certificate (which is redundant if she has a state ID since it was used to get the ID but whatever). It is the first time I was ever happy that Kayla’s father is not on her birth certificate because tracking him down wasn’t going to happen, we barely speak.

I had never even thought about having to go through the hoops of getting my daughter a state ID. We like many families in poverty who have moved often couldn’t find her birth certificate so I had to send off to her state of birth for that, priority mail. Then there was actually securing the ID. Our vehicle which like many low income families runs when it feels like it decided to break down when we were driving around to get the ID. Thankfully we have friends who could help us not everyone does. We also live in the city were we can get all this done . We didn’t have to drive 30 minutes or more away like many women.

We are fortunate that when my daughter and I couldn’t get through on the NAF hotline for abortion fund help (medicaid only pays for abortion in very rare cases my daughter’s wasn’t one her pregnancy was not a result of rape or sexual assault and she wasn’t about to die), I was give a person to call to get her intake completed. We were fortunate that we are surrounded by pro choice friends who were able to pitch in and help us with the cost of her procedure and take the day off to support her, unlike many of the families we see at the clinic.  Not only was I there on that day but a close friend who is a therapist was there in case she wanted to talk, had feelings to deal with, or just changed her mind and wanted to go home and come up with a different plan.

The day of her procedure she insisted on volunteering as an escort.  Which actually worked out well because when procedure time rolled around the protesters didn’t even notice her.  They were too busy harassing the other women coming and going to notice a regular fixture especially since we had several camera crews on site and they were showing off for them. In fact we were in a group of patients whose feet were filmed receiving the state mandated pre procedure counseling.

Since she is a minor she had the option to have me in the room for her procedure but she wanted to go alone.My daughter received excellent care. The doctor who performed my daughters procedure was caring and polite not only to my daughter but to me.   He asked her again before they started if she wanted to do it and talked to her through the whole procedure (I’ll let her tell her story in her own post).  Her procedure was quick and without complications.

She went home and rested. I felt relieved, she felt relieved. I was happy that she had choices and wouldn’t have to postpone or give up the chances like I did. Happy that she wasn’t being forced to risk her health to give birth. Within a few days she decided she wanted to go back to the clinic and volunteer to escort.  I thought she might want a break that the insults of the anti choice harassers might bother her. Nope, in fact her resolve was greater than ever. I don’t think she ever thought it would be her at the clinic. She says she just wants to help and she does just that.

For me the hardest thing about this whole journey has been living up to the principles I say I live by. It is easy to say we are “pro-choice” or “reproductive justice activists” those are  just words and titles if not put into action. It is hard to live them and let the people we love have autonomy, choice, and honor their decisions as their own regardless of what we think and feel they should do.

I know there are people who want to know if I regret helping my daughter with her abortion NO I DON’T! Frankly if she or one of her sisters were pregnant and asked me tomorrow I would do it again. Why? Their bodies, their reproductive futures are THEIR OWN not mine! They are my children-I do not own them. I guide them, I help them, I love them. That is my job. I am their mother NOT their owner.

I am proud of my daughter for deciding what was right for her and being willing to share her story with others and confront abortion stigma. There are plenty of people who wish to make her be ashamed and remain silent. She is rejecting that. She is refusing to be shamed by those who wrap their shaming in a guise of Christian love too (if she wants your prayer or thinks she needs forgiveness she’ll call you). As a mother and woman of color I will continue to strive to make sure no one ever has the right to tell my children or anyone else when, how, and if they procreate. As a people we have already been there done that and it didn’t work out well.

Below is a copy of the speech my daughter wrote and gave at the rally on 8/17/13. In case anyone asks I advised her against going public with her story but she said and I quote “I want girls like me to know it’s ok and they will be ok”.  Since she has went public the libelous slurs against my daughter and our family have already started. Kayla says she doesn’t care she wants other girls to know all their options and that they don’t have to be ashamed.  That is what she tells girls when they come to her for help. We then refer them where they need to go including if they need a doctor and a doula for their birth. That’s the thing about supporting women’s reproductive health and well being you have to support a range of decisions not just what you would choose.

“Hello my name is Kayla, I am 15 years old and I had an abortion. The day I found out I was pregnant I was scared and ashamed because I was 15 and pregnant. I had a big choice to make-should I stay pregnant, chose adoption, or have an abortion.
I cried because I want to be a mom one day but I was not ready for such a huge step at such a young age. So I chose to have an abortion. I was scared but I knew I was doing the right thing.
Did I feel sad? Yes. Do I regret it? No! Because I know that the spirit I named Mariah will go on to a woman who is ready for her. I love my mom for being so supportive of my choice- I love her for that.
For all the young ladies that might have been or will be in this situation- you are not alone. There are people who support you-always. Even when you don’t know it. Abortion is not a bad thing, it’s a lifesaver! I can now be who I need to be and I know God still loves me! Thank you.”

young fems

Delivering speech at the rally supported by her younger sister and myself-public speaking is scary

Kayla Roberts
JWHO Clinic Escort, Young Feminist

I support my choice

Kayla at rally with a sign she made

 

Five Lessons of a Clinic Escort

By Laurie Bertram Roberts

Most people know that the 22nd of January marked the 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade and, as such, the clinic-and really Jackson as a whole-was under siege by an anti-choice “activist” group named Operation Save America/Operation Rescue. I write activist in quotations because they need to be classified as a terrorist organization. Many incidences of clinic violence in this country have links to their members. Several people who hang out with them are also linked to or members of an extremist group known as The Army of God.

These past few months have marked the first time I have worked as a volunteer clinic escort at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson Mississippi. JWHO is Mississippi’s ONLY abortion provider in the state. This makes them the target of constant harassment from anti choice groups not only local but national. In this time as a clinic escort I have learned some lessons that I will carry with me for life. I have become the keeper of women’s abortion stories and literally used my body as the shield between people who shame and intimidate women when they access legal medical care in a country that guarantees freedom and privacy. These are the five lessons I want to share.

1) Clinic harassment is worse than you think-
When most of people have the occasion to drive past a clinic they may see people standing outside possibly with big bloody signs. Perhaps they notice people praying or singing while holding pamphlets out to patients. To most they seem awkward, maybe obnoxious, even righteous, annoying but not menacing, certainly benign. Yet if you take the time to sit outside the clinic for even a moment you would see a different scene. You would get to see protesters taking pictures of patients and staff going in and out of the clinic. You would see anti-choice protesters shouting at patients, stopping their cars in the street, following them and yelling into their ears as they walk. Calling them murderers telling them they will NEVER be the same, that the clinic wants to kill them and their baby. You would see grown men stalk women all the way to their vehicles after being asked to leave them alone. You would see protesters scream as if they are being stabbed to supposedly mimic the screams of babies. There is the non-stop preaching and singing on most days. They tell women constantly they can help them get forgiveness only AFTER they admit what they have done. Then claim they aren’t shaming them. You would hear anti-choice extremists harass workers and clinic escorts by saying “you will one day be tried for war crimes”, “you have blood on your hands”, “your work caused the school shootings”, and asking “if they wished their mother aborted them” and “aren’t you glad your mother didn’t know you were short she would have aborted you”. There is a protester at the clinic I escort at that routinely tells my teenage daughters and I to commit suicide and to play in the traffic. It never stops rain, shine, heat or freezing cold they are there to shame and demean women whose only offense is accessing LEGAL medical care in America.

2) Anti choicers/Pro lifers use racially biased messaging-
Awhile back in New York City a billboard popped up with the picture of a young African American child on it with the tagline “the most dangerous place for a African American is in the womb”. The billboard funded by a white anti-choice group that found some black spokespeople put it up during Black History Month. This type of racialized conversation around abortion isn’t new. Groups have also placed billboards around Atlanta saying black children are an endangered species. (although I didn’t know we were another species). This messaging doesn’t stop at billboards it is alive and well at clinics EVERYDAY. I know in Jackson we hear it. While white women hear the standard “don’t kill your baby” or are much more likely to hear “choose adoption, let us help you” black women get barraged with “you are HELPING WHITE PEOPLE KILL BLACK BABIES” “DO YOU KNOW 80% OF THE BABIES KILLED HERE ARE BLACK” “do you know abortion is a plot by Margaret Sanger to exterminate black people”. They even have a handout especially for black women citing a study (incorrectly) claiming that the higher incidence of abortion among black women causes infertility. They hurl racial arguments at the black women who work and volunteer at the clinic too. Even though most will openly tell you they don’t support ANY of the programs that help the disproportionate number of poor women of color in Mississippi.

3) There is no such thing as “elective abortion”-
This is a term I have heard for years it is even a term I myself use to use. However, I am here to say I no longer use it and don’t believe in the existence of such an occurrence Each patient I see enter the clinic has a very real, very critical reason to be there. On that day at that time she needs this medical procedure to carry on with her life. Whether it’s because she is too sick, too young, just not ready, can’t provide for another child, or has a non progressing pregnancy on that day she needs this form of medical care. It may seem “elective” to others but it is critical to HER life at that time. She doesn’t owe anyone or any group an explanation. Regardless of what someone may believe about their God, she is not beholden to another person’s belief system or their interpretation of Christian teachings. What she does have to do is what is right for HER family and HER life.

4) Clinic workers are not evil or greedy
Growing up as a fundamentalist Christian I always heard that people who worked at and owned abortion clinics are greedy, mean, and evil. They would perform abortions on women who aren’t even pregnant. They hated children. They didn’t care if women had problems afterwards they wouldn’t talk to them. They just took their money and tossed them aside. The women and men at Jackson Womens Health Organization are nothing like that. I have watched staff talk women through being scared after losing their paperwork post op. I have heard our counselor on the phone with patients who had procedures weeks ago answering questions and making referrals. Unlike crisis Pregnancy Centers that call and call women to see what they decide, if women chose not to have a procedure the clinic wishes them the best and gives them referrals for resources. They don’t badger them to change their mind. I know clinic staff have come together to help women who are $30 or $40 short for their procedure so they don’t have to resort to some unsafe way of termination. Most are mothers, fathers, loving aunts and uncles so they don’t hate children they love children. Rather than mean, greedy ,evil people I have seen compassionate, caring, ethical people.

5) There is no compromising with anti choice protesters
When people see clinic protesters they often think these people must be the radical fringe of the movement. However, they are not. At the clinic I volunteer at many of our protesters are leaders in not only the pro life movement but the Mississippi Tea Party and the Republican party. This is important because they are also people with whom compromise is impossible. They truly believe that abortion is murder and have told me that I am an accessory to the American holocaust (I always want to ask why they think abortion is just a US problem). For them there is only one way to save ourselves and that is to stop legal abortion and of course to worship the Christian God in the same way they do. When you are dealing with religious zealots reason, logic, and science are all useless.

I find my volunteer work extremely rewarding. I get the privilege of helping women during a scary and emotional time. I get to hear their stories offer them a smile or a laugh, sometimes a hand to hold. I often have patients and their families ask me why I would volunteer to be harassed by strangers. My answer is simple. If I can take some of the harassment so patients don’t have to then that is fine with me. I remember what it was like to walk through protesters to access a clinic. Those people knew nothing of my life but felt qualified to condemn me. No one deserves that. What they do doesn’t bring women closer to God in fact it drives them away. Patients just want to be left alone. They have prayed, cried, chanted, meditated or whatever it is that works FOR THEM before coming that day. They aren’t stupid and don’t need saving.

Lastly, I think whether you believe abortion is right or wrong we should all be able to agree harassing, shaming, and intimidating women accessing LEGAL medical care is not right. It is not a symbol of God’s love and it shouldn’t be allowed in a free country.

Who’s Moral Now?

Laurie_Bertram_Roberts_TB_2012_t180by Laurie Bertram  Roberts

In my last column, I wrote about the importance of Medicaid expansion to our state–and specifically to me. Sometimes we pay a price for publicly sharing a story; my price was being told that I have no right to health care from complete strangers on social media. I have been told repeatedly if I am too poor, too stupid and too fat to be healthy, that is my fault–and if I die then that’s just too bad.

These people are echoing the private and public statements of many lawmakers. It is strange to be attacked by the same people who claim to be moral standard bearers for everything from guns to my uterus in Mississippi. Most will tell me they stand on the side of the Christian God, yet, when it comes to policies affecting their fellow citizens’ health, they seem to have traded Jesus for Ayn Rand.

One bright spot has been watching video of events in North Carolina, which has a lot in common with Mississippi, politically. It has a GOP-controlled House, Senate and governor’s mansion, just like us. North Carolina’s Republican elected officials are absolutely against expanding Medicaid, and they rail against Obamacare.

The difference in North Carolina, though, is that every Monday since April, faith leaders and community members have held protests against these policies. They’re calling the days Moral Mondays, directly challenging the GOP’s assertion that it is the party of Christian values and morality.

To Moral Monday protesters, it is immoral to disregard the condition of your fellow citizen. Instead, they believe the Christian God directs us to care for the least among us.

For those Mississippians who believe that the GOP lawmakers in control don’t speak for them, it is time to speak up. Let Republicans know they aren’t the only voice for morality in this state. Lots of us–from theistic and non-theistic beliefs–believe it is immoral to let working Mississippians go without health care. If you believe that these policies are wrong, write letters, make phone calls and start organizing. It’s time to put boots on the ground.

There is an old saying, “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” Lawmakers can’t hear what we do not say. When we don’t have money or a lobbyist, our power is our bodies and our voices. It’s time we use them, Mississippi.

 

*original published in the Jackson Free Press.