Every few months, the abortion debate comes back into focus in the mainstream media — like it did a few weeks ago, when the news broke of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, and her mother’s stance on abortion rights. That’s when I started feeling guilty, and angry.
The circumstances of my abortion were incredibly mundane. I was 19 years old, a junior at a college in Boston, deeply in love with my boyfriend (J.), and doing well in school. I worked full-time at our school newspaper, heading there daily after class and staying regularly past midnight. I was taking birth-control pills, but my schedule — which forced me to value every last moment of sleep — made me irresponsible about taking the pills at the same time every day. Sometimes I would miss doses entirely and take two in one day to make up for it. Occasionally, I would have (what I didn’t really think of as) unprotected sex; I believed I was protected not only by my inappropriately administered Ortho Tri-Cyclen, but also by young-adult invincibility.
I found out I was pregnant on a Sunday, thanks to a home-pregnancy test that I bought at CVS after discussing with J. that my period was late. I don’t remember being nervous about taking the test. But when I saw the results — positive — I left my dorm suite bathroom and literally crumpled to the floor just outside the door, weeping out of fear and for the decision I knew I would make.
I wasn’t ready to have a child. That’s it. Not financially, not emotionally. There was nothing else to think about. I called J., called Planned Parenthood, and scheduled my abortion for Halloween 2002.
My memories of that day are unformed. They aren’t fuzzy, or hazy, as people describe memories; I believe they literally never took shape. I know that we walked to the Planned Parenthood clinic across the street, and made our way past the protesters who stood — only a few strong — in a cluster outside the state-designated “buffer zone.” Inside, I found out that I was approximately six weeks pregnant. I know that a Planned Parenthood doctor gave me one RU-486 pill at the clinic, and another to take at home. (I’d decided to have a medical abortion, rather than a surgical one, because I thought it would be less physically painful and less invasive — more private. Also, I was within the eight-week time frame when it’s still an option.) She warned me that shortly after taking the second pill, I would experience some pain.
Back at the dorm, hours later, I know that I writhed in my twin bed, suffering from debilitating, convulsing cramps. My roommates, best friend, and boyfriend hovered around; they brought me pain killers, Tiger Balm, hot-water bottles, and applesauce, and all the while they stroked my head and conferenced in the background about how I was doing. I bled profusely as my body rejected the fetus that had been described to me as “the size of a grain of rice.” I threw up. And finally, I fell asleep.