In all my life’s travels and moves, Texas was the only state where I formally changed my residency from Minnesota. Texas was where I learned I was pregnant. It was 1983 and I was 22. A government forced birth would have traumatically altered the course of my life, physically and mentally. I believe Roe v. Wade was my safeguard. The recent leak of the first draft of Supreme Court Judge Alito’s opinion, is sure to seal the fate of a federal safety net that has protected females since 1973, when the (then) Supreme Court ruled for a pregnant woman’s liberty and right to privacy. The current (political & religious) turn of events will have devastating consequences to the human rights of females in America, a betrayal of the 14th Amendment.
My abortion story does not contain sexual violence, incest, date rape, or a medical catastrophe – the horrific scenarios where anyone with decent moral compass should be able to comprehend why abortion must remain a human right: safe and legal. I was in a steady live-in relationship with a man I loved. I had been training for months for a physical agility test – part of a series of tests to become a firefighter. My monthly cycle had been erratic from the intense training.
My partner and I practiced three types of birth control conjunctively: the rhythm method, the Billings method and condoms. Birth control choices were limited and the pill, with its side effects, made me terribly sick. One month of breast tenderness alerted me that something was off. An EPT kit confirmed my greatest fear. Our birth control had failed. I was in tears. He was out of state on a work contract, my family was in Minnesota, and there I sat in Texas; feeling very much alone. We did not want this pregnancy – resolutely – neither of us.
My boyfriend made arrangements on his end to get me out to him, and safely, to a women’s clinic. I called my parents, each of them offered comfort and support, solidly backing my (our) decision to terminate. I told my (male) boss I needed an immediate time-off, which was granted graciously, as I explained the full urgency. I also withdrew my application from the firefighting pool and told the captain, who had been my mentor and supporter, why. He hugged me and said he understood. Like my father, he was a father to daughters.
Today, in Texas, the men who comforted and reassured me that everything would be OK, are the same compassionate men that could be sued today under the current Texas abortion ban for “aiding” me in our decision to abort. Private citizens with no knowledge of circumstances or no connection to the people involved can report others, creating an abortion police state, offering a bounty of up to $10,000 for each abortion that is stopped.
I arrived in California, my boyfriend at my side. The women’s clinic physician talked us through every step of the first trimester process. The procedure was short and done. I often feel the “abortion narrative” needs to be changed. Abortion is a safe medical procedure, the trauma lies in the pregnancy – yet our society has created shame, stigma, and a secret, that lays the burden of guilt to the female impregnated. Forced pregnancy is a violation of international human rights and can likely lead to mental health harm. In the cases of medical catastrophe, add in the physical threat of harm or death to the living female.
The following year, 1984, age 23 and single, I returned to Minnesota and to my hometown doctor. I told him about the unwanted pregnancy, our personal decision to terminate, and my ambivalence towards a society that condemns human sexuality for one gender while championing it for the other. I paid for and secured a tubal ligation to ensure I would never get pregnant again. The surgery was performed in the Itasca County Hospital by my family general practitioner. My friends, several of them OB/GYN providers, have told me that today, if it was the same circumstance of being 23 and single, I would be denied my request for a tubal as a matter of clinic and/or insurance policy – again placing my body autonomy second to another’s decision.
It’s time. Time for the men, like the ones who stood beside me, the impregnators, the fathers, the employers, the mentors to stand up and fight for the safe and legal reproductive rights of their daughters, sisters, friends, employees, lovers, cousins, wives and mothers. It’s time for progressive states like Minnesota to stand as strong, with more governor’s like Tim Walz declaring: “There will not be a ban on abortion as long as I’m governor of Minnesota.” Minnesota must work against red state fractions to protect legal abortions services, safe havens, support teams, travel agents and transport drivers. Reproductive freedom is under fire and Hulu’s; “The Handmaid’s Tale” is eerily in play by the conservative and politically-driven imbalance of the current U.S. Supreme Court.
Action not reaction. No regrets. Ever. Nearly 1 in 4 women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Her story may not fit your belief system or narrative but her story is the only one that matters – and she deserves utmost regard. Men must support us. Women have always known we will never go back – not to a hanger, not to an alley, not to second class. As a Minnesotan, I will continue to champion for abortion rights. I have a car and I will transport.
Pam Dowell, is a freelance writer who runs Facebook page called The Itascan Monitor. Her 21-story series “Indivisible, Inspiring, and Humans of Grand Rapids” was featured in the Grand Rapids Herald Review over the past four years.