This January, Americans will mark the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal nationwide for the first time in our country’s history. Abortion was already a controversial topic prior to the 1973 ruling, but few could have expected the furor with which abortion opponents would fight back. Today abortion remains one of the most passionately debated political issues of our time, despite being an experience shared by 1 in 4 US women. I’m one of those women.
In December of 2012, I married a guy I’d been dating for a few years. From the beginning of the relationship, I had serious doubts about spending the rest of my life with him; he was abusive, erratic, and definitely not someone I wanted to start a family with. I probably shouldn’t have gone through with the marriage in the first place, but leaving an abuser is hard, especially when you’re so financially and socially intertwined. I knew in my gut that things were never going to get better, but the challenge of leaving seemed insurmountable. So we got married.
A few weeks after my wedding, I thought I might be getting sick so I did what most millennials do when they’re sick: I Googled my symptoms. I expected ominous warnings of death or lupus from WebMD, but every single result was from pregnancy sites or blogs. It made no sense. I couldn’t be pregnant. I was using birth control. Maybe something was wrong with my phone? I tried the search again on my computer. Again, the results were all pregnancy blogs. Anxious to prove Google wrong, I dug through the bathroom closet and pulled out an expired pregnancy test of unknown origin. When I took the test, it was positive.
From the minute I saw the positive test, I knew I needed to have an abortion. Aside from the fact that I didn’t want to have a child then, especially not with my new husband, there was no way we could afford to continue the pregnancy or raise a child if we wanted to. While I had a good job with great health insurance, I hadn’t worked there long enough to qualify for FMLA, meaning I wouldn’t be able to take any maternity leave. There wasn’t any wiggle room in our budget for daycare, and we didn’t live near any family members who could help, so I would be forced to quit work and lose half of our income. There wasn’t a single doubt in my mind that I was making the right decision when I called the abortion clinic.
The procedure itself was easy and painless. When it was over, I went home and moved on with my life. I didn’t feel regret or sadness, only gratitude and relief. I knew I was incredibly lucky to have access to one of the country’s top abortion providers in my community and health insurance that covered abortion care. I simply went to the doctor, had a procedure, and moved on with my life. For many people seeking abortions in the US, their experiences are vastly different from mine.
Since Roe was enacted in 1973, state legislatures have passed 1,142 unique restrictions on abortion care — 338 of these restrictions, over 30%, in the last 8 years alone. These restrictions range from requiring parental consent, to enacting mandatory waiting periods, to banning abortion completely after a certain point in pregnancy, sometimes even without exceptions for victims of rape or incest. These restrictions have forced clinics to close and they have made it harder for patients, especially women of color, to access the abortion care they need. In some cases, people are even turning to dangerous DIY abortion methods.
In Ohio, where I live, abortion rights supporters are fighting against abortion restrictions left and right. The number of clinics serving women in Ohio has dropped by about 50% since 2010, leaving large regions of the state without a single abortion provider. On top of the 24-hour waiting period, Ohio legislators have passed a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, a ban on abortion if done in reaction to a Down Syndrome diagnosis, and a ban on public and private insurance companies paying for abortion. They have introduced a bill banning the most common and safe abortion procedure after 13 weeks and they are fighting court battles over laws that make it harder for abortion clinics to keep their doors open. Every time a new abortion ban is introduced, it feels like a punch in the gut to me, and a personal attack on my family.
In the months that followed my abortion, as I expected, my marriage eventually fell apart. I was able to leave about a year later. Since we didn’t own a home or have children, I was able to obtain a divorce without paying for a lawyer, which wouldn’t have been possible. Luckily, I was able to get my life back on track relatively quickly. I landed a great job, bought a house, and got married again. My husband and I had our first baby five months ago. While adjusting to motherhood hasn’t been easy, it’s been enjoyable, and it happened on my terms. I’m completely in love with my son, and not a day goes by that I don’t feel grateful for my decision to have my abortion. I know he wouldn’t be here otherwise.
I can’t imagine what would have happened to me if I had been forced to continue that pregnancy. My career probably would have stalled, I might still be trapped in an abusive marriage, and I’d be raising a child in an unsafe, unstable home with a partner I don’t trust. It would have been awful for everyone. Thanks to the hundreds of laws restricting access to abortion, if I had lived elsewhere, perhaps somewhere in Kentucky or Texas, or had a job without that amazing health insurance, I probably would have been forced to have that child. The quick 15-minute trip to the abortion clinic might have been turned into hours in the car and an expensive overnight hotel stay because so many abortion providers have been forced to close. If, like the vast majority of Ohioans, my health insurance didn’t cover abortion care, I would have been forced to choose between paying my rent and paying for the abortion I needed. I didn’t have to make any of those hard choices, and that’s the way it should be for everyone.
For 45 years, women like me have depended on our right to decide if, when, and how to become parents. It’s vitally important that we continue to protect Roe v. Wade for another 45 years and that we put an end to state laws denying people that right.