My Catholic school teachers taught me as early as seventh grade that abortion is a sin — an egregious, nearly unforgivable act in defiance of God’s will. It was the first time I’d heard the word. They also called it murder.
I was skeptical. Somehow, the evidence they cited to illustrate the perils of reproductive rights was less than convincing. It often included tales of the Virgin Mary descending from the heavens to warn some anonymous woman that the child destined to cure cancer had been aborted.
Contrarian that I was at 13, I protested these ideals almost reflexively, without a full understanding of the hill I was suddenly willing to die on, or what it meant to choose to end a pregnancy.
A decade later, I learned:
My choice meant years of shame and guilt.
It meant relief that I could keep working two jobs to afford food, a home and transportation on $20,000 a year.
It meant heartbreak and hiding from my loved ones.
It meant a chance to pursue a career I love.
It meant the implosion of my relationship with my closest childhood friend, who responded to my confession only with coldness, and the end of a budding romance with a good man I could no longer bear to face. He didn’t come with me to the procedure, he later said with remorse, because he couldn’t miss class.
It meant an unshakable conviction that if hell exists, it’s where I’m heading.
It means knowing I gave myself the best chance I could live and thrive.
Until this year, I never realized my right to control my body was so tenuous, even as news reports sounded alarms about anti-abortion proposals in Southern and Midwestern states and relentlessly warned the conservative-stacked U.S. Supreme Court could ride roughshod over women’s bodily autonomy by rolling back almost a half-century of women’s rights.
The news left me angry, unsettled and depressed, sometimes for hours or days. I sunk into willful ignorance. I wanted to believe it was clickbait that would only widen political division and unnerve the pro-choice contingent; which, by the way, is more than 60% of Americans.
I wish it was fake news. But now — as revealed by Politico in a leaked draft opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito — the country’s highest judicial authority appears poised to obliterate the ability of millions of women and people with uteruses to regulate their own health.
If the majority opinion holds, the ruling would overturn the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision that enshrined constitutional protection of women’s reproductive freedom. The draft isn’t final until it’s published, but Politico reports that justices in a secret vote in December chose to rescind federal protection of reproductive rights, and volley such decision-making back to state governments.
Twenty-six states would severely outlaw or limit access, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a Washington-based reproductive health policy organization. In Texas, my abortion at seven weeks would make me a criminal. Abortion would remain legal in Maryland under a state law approved in 1992 by referendum, with 62% supporting and 38% opposed.
But access is not so great in many parts of the state. I was lucky to have the resources that I did in Baltimore. Two-thirds of Maryland counties, as of 2017, did not have abortion providers, according to a report released that year from the Guttmacher Institute.
Millions of other women aren’t so privileged. Low-income women and people of color — marginalized groups that already face barriers to healthcare access — will be most affected by dissolved reproductive rights, health and policy experts say.
I have diligently muzzled the hurt I’ve carried for more than four years. Few friends know I’ve had an abortion. I’ve told no one in my family. My mother, to my mortification, discovered my secret months later only when she read our health insurance bill.
But I have never regretted my choice.
Not even when the words of my Catholic teachers creep to the forefront of my brain. Not when I’ve sat silent listening to debates over my autonomy and under what circumstances I’m justified to exercise it, or when irreverent drinking “buddies” joked casually about “baby killing.”
Not when a woman told me I know so much about abortion, I must have had one at every stage.
Not when on the day of my procedure I brushed past the old men who stand outside Baltimore’s Planned Parenthood, every day I’m told, who offered me snacks with a slip of paper assuring me that God loves me. It made me feel sick. I ate the granola bar in the waiting room anyway. They ignored me when I left in tears, alone, to meet my friend at her car.
And not when a coworker who I respected told me matter-of-factly that women who choose abortion are careless, stupid and ignoring the consequences of unprotected sex.
Abortion is my consequence, I wanted to say: a physically, spiritually and emotionally painful one, in my case.
These feelings are neither universal nor unique. Not everyone experiences that level of pain after an abortion, and that’s okay. For others — even those who weren’t indoctrinated via parochial school for nine years — it’s common to experience relief, grief and guilt, even all at once.
Regardless of what comes after, reproductive freedom is our right.
I’m giving radical vulnerability a shot by writing this. News of the looming Supreme Court decision lit a fire in me to defend our bodies against subjugation. But I’m a journalist, and our standards preclude us from protesting or donating to certain funds. What else can I do but reach out and hope my words touch someone?
I’ve felt especially alone during the last couple years of nonstop reminders that I made a choice that sometimes still feels like a burden. One in four women have had abortions — but where are they? How will we find each other if we aren’t open to each other? If we want to be united, we need to share our experiences.
If there was ever a time to speak up, it’s now. Reproductive justice, a term coined by a group of Black women activists in 1994, is not just about our bodies. It’s racial justice. It’s economic justice.
And the words that echo in my head today aren’t what I learned as a kid. Lately, I think of lyrics from a 1993 song written by two women, popularized by Ray Charles and preacher Solomon Burke:
“None of us are free if one of us is chained.”