I had an abortion in Alabama when I was 14. If the state’s laws had been the same then as they are now, my whole life would be different.
Almost 30 years ago, I was a frightened teenager. For a few days, I’d been having abdominal pain and extreme nausea; my breasts ached. I happened to be staying with my father for the summer, and he drove me to the emergency room, where the staff confirmed that I was pregnant.
Arrangements were made for me to stay with my aunt Deedee, who lived about six hours away in Florence, Ala., and for my mother to meet me there. Dad, who would later become a Christian minister, was unhappy with the plan. He wanted me to stay with him or to raise the baby himself, though he already had seven children of his own, with five different mothers. When my aunt came to pick me up, he pleaded with her to make sure that I didn’t have an abortion.
Aunt DeeDee, though, wanted to inform and empower me. She discussed abortion matter-of-factly, providing me with brochures and pulling out the encyclopedia so I could read the entry on Roe v. Wade. I was terrified of ending up like so many other girls I knew, dropping out of school to take care of a baby, having one right after the other. I wanted to graduate from high school, go to college, explore the world. Learning about my options made me feel a sense of hope. My aunt called the clinic in Huntsville, Ala., and she and my mother accompanied me to my appointment.
We found the pathway lined with screaming protesters. One man, blind with anger as he shouted down my aunt, crossed over the property line and was arrested. A woman yelled at my mother that she should be ashamed, and my mother yelled right back. Once we were inside, however, the clinic was quiet and the staff pleasant. For them, this was just an ordinary day.
The doctor was kind. While taking the ultrasound, he said that I could look at the screen if I wanted to — that, in fact, it might make me feel better. I’d had little in the way of sex education and could barely conceptualize what was happening in my own body. Was there really a baby inside me? What I saw was gray and cloudy, a barely perceptible swirl of cells. That simple encouragement has stayed with me to this day. The doctor knew that an abortion was a routine medical procedure — he wanted to reassure me, to give me a sense of normalcy, to inform me about what was happening in my own body. The procedure was over before I knew it, and we were soon on our way back to Florence.
Today, I live in Texas with my three children, where in my spare time, I volunteer to drive people seeking abortion to and from their appointments. When I began to see headlines saying Alabama was considering a ban on abortion, I was stunned. It’s infuriating to realize that there, and in many other states, it’s harder to get an abortion now than it was in 1990.
For years, lawmakers have been coming up with new ways to block abortion access. In 2019, 13 states have passed or are considering bills that make abortions illegal after six weeks of pregnancy. Still, this Alabama measure came as a shock: It was so extreme, and had been passed and signed into law so quickly. It prohibits the procedure outright, at any stage of pregnancy. By design — the better to challenge Roe v. Wade — it makes no exceptions for rape or incest. A physician who performs an abortion could face between 10 and 99 years of imprisonment. Outside the Senate chambers on Tuesday, men exchanged fist bumps and handshakes.
Those celebrating this new Alabama law — and another cruel one in Georgia, which would imprison women for having abortions — seem to think they’re stopping flighty young girls from avoiding the “consequences” of their actions. (The men responsible for unplanned pregnancies are always left out of this discussion or the blame.) From my own experience, having two more abortions after I became a mother, and from my volunteering, I know the reality of the procedure. Nearly 1 in 4 women has terminated a pregnancy by age 45, and more than half of women who seek abortions are already parents. They are intimately familiar with responsibility. Many of the patients in my car tell me about their kids and about how ending their pregnancy will help them provide a better life for the children they already have.
Even if legal challenges ensure that this ban will never take effect, the laws on the books make getting an abortion extraordinarily difficult in Alabama. The state requires that a patient receive mandatory counseling designed to dissuade her from obtaining an abortion, and it also imposes a 48-hour wait period before the procedure.
When I think back to that summer, I feel fortunate that such obstacles didn’t exist back then, when I was a scared kid with few adults in my life I could rely on. I also feel a burning hot rage that our leaders want to drag us backward.
As told to Post editor Sophia Nguyen.