This story is published at Medium’s Human Parts.
The Weight of the Womb
By Katherine Harvey
I had my first abortion when I was 14. I had been forced into sex I didn’t consent to. I chose to not have my rapist’s child. I terminated the pregnancy at just over five weeks. There wasn’t even a visible fetal poleat that time. I took two pills 12 hours apart, had an awful period for five days, and my life went on.
My first abortion was redemption of my bodily autonomy. It felt like I could have some control over my body. I was relieved when it was over and a home pregnancy test came back negative.
My second abortion was almost 11 years later, to the day. It was completely different from my first. My husband and I had decided to try for a baby; 16 days later, I got a positive home pregnancy test. My husband has a video of me dancing around in my bathroom squealing at the sight of the second line.
This baby was hoped for. This baby was loved from the second it was created. We’d talked about “number two” since the moment we’d had our oldest. It felt like our dreams had come into fruition in the form of this baby.
And then at 11 weeks, everything went wrong.
For close to a decade, I felt immense shame for my decision to not carry a child—while I was still a child.
I went to the emergency room because my hyperemesis gravidarum was so bad that I couldn’t keep water down. I was so dehydrated I felt like a wrung-out sponge. The doctor didn’t find a heartbeat or a baby in my uterus. But I’d had no miscarriage symptoms, so he told me not to worry.
The next night, I went back for a more extensive ultrasound. This time, they found two gestational sacs (this was the first time I found out I was having twins), but no heartbeats. My body had “missed” the miscarriage and continued on with the pregnancy as normal.
My babies had been dead inside me for three weeks. They risked going necrotic inside me, which could endanger me and put my health at risk.
I went to an obstetrician and was prescribed a medication to induce my abortion. I passed my babies at home. I cried for them as they went. I love them dearly, and I would give anything to have them here with me.
Being a woman who has had an abortion is kind of like wearing a scarlet letter. After I had my first abortion, I didn’t tell anyone in my life. My friends and family continued to speak about abortion when it came up politically.
They’ve compared abortion to murder more times than I can count. My friends have suggested to me in discussions that women who have an abortion should have to take sex education classes or have mandatory long-term birth control placed. Once, a family member suggested limiting the number of abortions a woman can have throughout her life.
For close to a decade, I felt immense shame for my decision to not carry a child—while I was still a child. But I never regretted not having the child. Sometimes I would calculate how old the child would have been and cringe at the thought of having a child that age.
In many ways, my first abortion felt like a miracle. But I still struggled with the idea that what I had done was wrong and that perhaps I was morally inept because of my decision and lack of regret.
A good friend told me the abortions I’ve had ‘aren’t abortions.’ They apparently don’t qualify as the type of abortion that she doesn’t like.
What I’ve come to realize is that a womb is a liability. Having a uterus means I am at a disadvantage, unless I have the ability to control it. Because of my feelings toward the subject, I often find myself in discussions, both in my everyday life and online, about abortion. I am always surprised to hear, from friends and family I respect, the slut-shaming suggestion that a woman should “keep her legs closed.” Everyone should be allowed to have a sex drive and a healthy sex life.
I find myself astonished quite frequently by people’s confidence in their ability to judge what kind of abortion is moral and what kind isn’t. In a recent discussion, a good friend told me the abortions I’ve had “aren’t abortions.” They apparently don’t qualify as the type of abortion she doesn’t like, so they’re “okay.”
Though the term has been sensationalized by religion and politics, “abortion” simply means the termination of a pregnancy. Medically speaking, even people who experience spontaneous miscarriage have experienced an abortion. I have placed suppositories near my cervix in the hopes of ending a pregnancy, which means I also have had an abortion. You may consider my abortions acceptable, but that doesn’t mean what I did was any different from people who end pregnancies using other methods or for other reasons.
Despite the controversy, opinion polls show that more than half of Americans believe abortion procedures should be legal in all or most cases. Most actually happen well within the first trimester, the window that many would consider acceptable, with 91 percenttaking place no later than 13 weeks gestation. Early medical abortions (like the second one I had) make up about 25 percent of all abortions. The 1.3 percent of abortions performed past 21 weeks are typically for medical reasons.
Abortions are also more common than you might think given our society’s polarized view of the procedure—current estimates predict that 24 percent of women will have one by age 45. I realized on a personal level how common the experience is when I started talking openly about my first abortion a year ago, before I’d even had the second one. Women I had known for years started telling me about their own abortions. I had a large circle of friends who’d had abortions at some point, and I’d never known because we all share this shame. We had all been hiding our experiences, even from our best friends.
Given the prevalence of abortion, many people who talk about it being “murder” likely know someone who has experienced it firsthand. These people are unknowingly calling their own friends and family murderers for having a medical procedure. The way that we, as a society, have decided to speak about abortion and the people who experience it has shunned people into silence. This has made it harder to normalize it as an important component of reproductive health care.
This stigma just doesn’t happen for other aspects of reproduction and pregnancy. Can you imagine a world where ejaculation is considered the equivalent of a human? Where ejaculation is heavily regulated, and anyone who ejaculates for purposes other than reproduction is shamed? Better yet, can you imagine a world where teenagers go to Washington, D.C., and protest unnecessary ejaculation?
Every mother who has had an abortion for a baby she loved wanted nothing more than a healthy newborn.
In application, that’s what laws restricting abortion amount to: the government stripping people of their bodily autonomy. They are steeped in a history of misogyny and patriarchy reliant on the systemic control of the female form.
The latest abortion outrage has come in reaction to New York strengthening the wording of its abortion laws. The internet is flooded with misinformation about New York making abortion legal “until the day the baby is born.” People are sharing photos of their healthy newborns, outraged at the idea of a fetus being aborted hours before its arrival.
In reality, the law simply safeguards protections already in place under other court rulings, including the right to late-term abortion when the pregnancy is deemed not viable or is endangering the pregnant person’s life. Typically, such procedures happen when something is horribly wrong with the fetus or the baby has died in the womb. In these cases, the baby is wanted. The baby is loved. The baby has a crib and a family waiting for them. The baby is deeply mourned.
New York’s previous law had people in need of late-term abortions leaving the state for the procedure. The update seeks to close that gap and allow anyone who needs an abortion to have the procedure without leaving the state.
This means that sharing photos of a healthy newborn, as a means of protesting laws that safeguard the right to abortion, is horribly insensitive to those who have had late-term abortions. To the parents who have grieved their babies. To the parents who have wept over their lifeless infants. You are suggesting that people who have chosen to end pregnancies so their children do not have to suffer are morally inept. You are blaming these people for birth defects they had no control over.
Every mother who has had an abortion for a baby she loved wanted nothing more than a healthy newborn. She wanted nothing more than to be able to share those same photos of her babies. Instead, she only has ultrasounds. Some of us even have ashes.
Somehow, in our polarization of this subject, we’ve forgotten that at the heart of it are real people. We’ve made a common procedure a dirty word. This is inherently dangerous because we are stripping rights away from women that are one and the same with their personal freedoms.
In states where abortion is heavily regulated, people wind up traveling thousands of miles and paying tens of thousands of dollars to access the medical care they need. In 2016, one Utah woman went public with her storyof waiting 12 hours as her doctors assembled the ethics committee required to approve the abortion needed to save her life.
As for the 1.3 percent of abortions that happen after 21 weeks, nobody hates late-term abortion more than those who have to experience it. Late-term abortion can be performed many ways; the best option for each situation is chosen by a patient and their provider. Nobody is murdering full-term viable infants. We can all agree that would be wrong.
I no longer carry shame for my abortions because I know the hatred comes from misinformation.
In states that restrict public funding for abortion, the already-marginalized are at a disadvantage. This is indoctrination via one’s womb. Some states have effectively outlawed abortions by shutting down almost all clinics performing the procedure, making them nearly inaccessible to large populations.
In 2019, we are still protesting for our right to fully control our wombs. It’s the weight we bear for having a womb; the inherent responsibility of being fertile. I no longer carry shame for my abortions because I know the hatred comes from misinformation. I know I made the right choices for myself and my body.
I never thought I would be someone who could say she has had two abortions. I’m a mother, and I love my babies dearly. I’m a human who has sought out medical care when I needed it. By doing so, I’ve had two abortions. After the second, I realized with certainty that abortion is reproductive health care. It’s a procedure that nobody wants, but some will have to have for a number of reasons.
There is not a shadow of doubt in my mind that anyone, no matter how pro-fetus they claim to be, would be thankful for the right to choose an abortion if they needed it. That if they had been in my shoes, they too would know that abortion is a miracle.