[Editor’s note: As abortion services have become unavailable in many parts of the U.S. in recent months, many — like Policy Watch contributor Celia Rivenbark — are speaking out about how obtaining an abortion changed their lives for the better. The following essay by a Colorado social worker provides a similar take.]
My mom began dating an obstetrician-gynecologist when I was in high school. While she always spoke openly about reproductive health care with me, our kitchen table conversations quickly turned into question and answer sessions with her new partner.
When asked about his day, he described the differences in birth control methods, new technology for hysterectomies, and the side effects of menopause. With a changing body and a fascinating new person at the table, I was captivated. Miscarriages, abortions, and births were also discussed, but our tone never changed. For us, pregnancy outcomes were a fundamental fact of life.
I was 18 years old when I found out I was pregnant. Even with a plethora of sexual education in my adolescence, I made a mistake, and I immediately decided I would join the nearly 1 in 4 Americans who will have an abortion in their lifetime.
My first call was my mom’s boyfriend. After a year of kitchen table conversations, I could count on him for straightforward information without judgment or stigma. We hung up and I nervously called my mother. I wasn’t scared to tell her I wanted an abortion, but I felt ashamed that she entwined my childhood with age-appropriate reproductive information and I still ended up unintentionally pregnant. I’m not embarrassed anymore now that I know how common it is, as 6 in 10 unplanned pregnancies globally will end in abortion, and 75% of teenage pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned.
My worst fears about pregnancy were validated when I became very ill over the next few weeks. I’ll never forget the sudden sickness that left me gripping the toilet bowl in a restaurant bathroom during a dance team event, trying to be quiet when other patrons entered. I called my mom crying in between episodes and she reassured me that it would be OK.
It was a gray Tuesday in late winter when I had my abortion. My mom drove us to the clinic about 20 minutes away from our house and we began filling out paperwork. The clinic staff called my name to begin the appointment and my mom waited in the lobby until it was time for the procedure. I was scared but I never felt alone. The Planned Parenthood workers were kindly affirming and gently led me through the process, which was intimate for a teenager with very little gynecological experience. I had only been in stirrups twice before.
We met my mom in the procedure room, she held my hand and maintained eye contact the entire time. She was dedicated to giving me a life I dreamed of, whatever that meant for me. It felt sacred, a mother giving this ultimate gift to her child, and I realized abortion is an act of love.
As my mom was a federal employee, we could not use our health insurance. Thankfully, my family was financially stable, I was able to miss class, and my mom could take time off work. Amid horrifying abortion headlines, I am grateful for the ease in my own process and procedure. Although it was abrupt and stressful, I had access to the care I needed. I wish every abortion story could be like this.
A few years later I transferred to the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. I flourished in my new home, became president of a student group, studied abroad twice, was nominated for a leadership award, and made the dean’s list. After graduating in 2016, I moved to Denver and planted roots in the community. I’ve registered hundreds of young people to vote, worked for a library foundation, fundraised for youth experiencing homelessness, and volunteered with a variety of different organizations. I may not have done any of that without access to abortion. Unfortunately, the Planned Parenthood that provided me with impeccable care was shut down in 2017 due to budget cuts from the Iowa state Legislature.
I graduated with a master’s degree in social work in May and for the second year of my program interned at Cobalt Advocates, where I advocated for the Reproductive Health Equity Act in the Colorado Capitol while pledging funding to abortion care. My work on their abortion fund demonstrated the many different ways abortion can be an act of love. It opens opportunities to have a healthy pregnancy, raise children with capable parents, and improve outcomes for families. Please donate to abortion funds so that everybody who wants an abortion can access one.
The Dobbs decision leaked shortly before my commencement ceremony, and I found myself back at the kitchen table with my soon-to-be step-dad. With more education and experience under my belt, we launched into the conversations from my teenage years. He recounted his fight for comprehensive sexual education in schools and lamented about the future of his retired profession. This evening brought an epiphany that other households didn’t discuss these subjects openly. Although comprehensive reproduction education that includes all pregnancy outcomes is supported by a plethora of research, many families don’t talk about it. If we don’t talk about it, people will die.
We must elect lawmakers who unapologetically support abortion access. Colorado voters have consistently proved it matters to them, so let’s stop with the euphemisms. This begins with saying the “A word” with intention and conviction. If they believe that abortion is health care, we must demand that they specifically state it. Do our elected officials stutter saying colonoscopy?
Our community is a better place when abortion is accessible, when our representatives support our reproductive health, and when we work to destigmatize the topic of abortion. Donate to abortion funds, vote because lives are depending on it, and ask yourself, have you heard your elected official say abortion lately?
Alison Egbers is a social worker specializing in community and policy interventions in Denver, Colorado. This essay was first published by Colorado Newsline.