One in four women living in the U.S. will have an abortion by the age of 45, according to a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute. It’s likely we all know somebody who has had an abortion. Too often, however, the stigma and culture of violence against abortion forces people who have had or are seeking abortions to live in figurative shadows. Too often, people are made to feel ashamed for having or wanting an abortion, and they hide their stories and experiences like a dirty secret for fear of being ostracized or judged by the people they care about the most. Too often, people who have had or are seeking abortions feel like they are alone.
Neta is a platform that supports access to abortion, and we try to promote a pro-abortion culture by providing a different perspective about abortion that does not make people feel ashamed, afraid, or alone. To that end, we recently interviewed three women from the RGV who have had an abortion to ask them about their experiences.
Susana is 28 years old and lives in Edinburg. She works in healthcare and has two children.
Izzy is 21 years old and is from Brownsville. She is a full-time student at the University of Texas at Austin, and she will be graduating next May.
Melissa is 23 years old and is from Weslaco. She works as a technician for a local charter school.
Neta: Before having an abortion, what were your perceptions about abortion?
Izzy – “I’ve always been pro-choice, even before my abortion. I always felt that at the end of the day what a woman believes or decides to do for herself and her body is not my business. I’ve always applauded women who stick to their guns and don’t care what anybody has to say, so abortion to me has never been a subject where I feel any different. But I think for a long time, at least in regard to myself, I had predetermined not to ever get an abortion, if at any moment I ended up unexpectedly pregnant. Not so much for religious reasons, more so because I just felt that I wouldn’t be able to go through with it.”
Melissa – “I think that if a woman wants to get an abortion she should be able to without her being harassed for making decisions about HER body. My position on this matter has in no way changed.”
Susana – “I grew up as a Catholic and was always told it was a sin to have an abortion. I was only 17 and a senior in high school when I found out I was pregnant. For the first time in my life, I had to decide whether I wanted to have a baby or get an abortion. I went to my mother for guidance, but she told me she would disown me if I got an abortion. I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I had my first child when I was 18. My mentality changed when I was pregnant again a few years later. I knew I wasn’t ready to have another baby, so I sought help and information about abortion and decided it was the right choice for me.
Neta: Why was having an abortion the right choice for you?
Izzy – “I found out I was pregnant pretty early on, I could already feel symptoms just two weeks in, and a few home pregnancy tests confirmed my anxieties. I wanted a blood test to confirm, (although I hoped it would deny) that this was true, but as a low-income woman who has no health insurance I wasn’t sure where to go.
Fortunately, I found a women’s health clinic here in Austin with very affordable resources. I was told over the phone a few days later that I was, indeed, pregnant, and I think for a moment I felt my entire world shift a little. I’m a college student, this was a pregnancy that happened in the heat of the moment with someone I was not dating and had no kind of safety net other than my own family.
I think at first I grappled with the decision to just go through with the pregnancy because I felt responsible. I felt that this was the life-altering consequence for a mistake that was on me. But the more I talked it out with myself, with my family, with some of my closest friends, the more I realized that this was an unhealthy way to see this pregnancy.
Going through with the pregnancy as some sort of punishment for my actions was never how I envisioned one day having children. On top of that, I knew the father of the child did not want to have a baby either, and while he was supportive throughout the process, I knew that we wouldn’t work as parents if we already didn’t want to have a child.
There were a lot of little things I had to think about – I had been coping with a depressive episode when this situation came up, so I had to put that on the backburner to deal with this. After a lot of thinking, I decided that an abortion was what was best for me.”
Melissa – “I was actually at a clinic in Weslaco trying to get some birth control pills when I found out I was pregnant. The clinic had been running a couple of tests on me, and they let me know I was already four weeks pregnant. I was pretty much in shock because I felt like I had been doing everything in my power to prevent this sort of thing from happening.
When I got home I let my boyfriend know, and he was very supportive. He told me whatever I decided, he would be here throughout the entire thing. We had talked about what we’d do if the situation ever arose before, but we never thought we would actually get to this point. I was sure about what I wanted to do, but I was still nervous.”
Susana – “I found out I was pregnant for a second time only a few years after my first child was born. At the time, I was living with my in-laws to help make ends meet, and shared one bedroom with my partner and our son. My partner was going to school during the day and working nights, leaving me alone to care for my child all day, which was physically and emotionally draining. We weren’t ready to have another baby, and we knew we weren’t in a position to provide for another child, even if we wanted to, so we decided it was best to seek help with getting an abortion.”
Neta: How would you describe the process of getting an abortion? What were your experiences?
Izzy – “The RGV only has one abortion clinic located in McAllen, so I was very upset with just the lack of accessibility that women in this area have to abortion resources. I was privileged enough to not only have transportation to get to the clinic, but fortunate to receive financial assistance to pay for the procedure because of my low-income status. It infuriates me to know that there are other women who cannot say the same.
I had the surgical procedure done at the clinic when I was six weeks pregnant. It was quick and painless. I felt okay enough about my decision that I didn’t need to seek counseling, but for a while after, it was hard to not feel like my body didn’t really belong to me because, although I was comfortable with my decision, it was still a difficult one. Sometimes I still think about it, but not with regret. I don’t feel that I should have done things differently.”
Melissa – “I’ve seen and experienced first hand the anti-abortion protesters who stand outside the abortion clinic and harass women who, in some cases, aren’t happy with the fact that they’re going through this procedure, making them feel worse than they already do.
When I was at the abortion clinic, I got to see all these other women with different reasons for going through the procedure, all of them (including myself) completely shaken by the protesters standing outside the clinic yelling at us as we walked in. I feel like these people forget that we’re also human and that some of us are going through some shit. The clinic staff was excellent, and they did everything in their power to make me feel safe.”
Susana – “When I needed an abortion, I went to Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen. The staff was friendly and understanding, and they told me to make sure this was the best choice for me and no one else. They did a few tests to see how far along I was in the pregnancy, and to decide what procedure was best for me. I was five weeks along and could either take a pill, or have a vacuum aspiration done. I choose to have the vacuum aspiration done.
The day of the procedure, I was sad and felt guilty, but I knew it was the best choice for my family. After the procedure, I felt weak and tired, and needed plenty of rest. I took the next couple of days off to rest, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, too. Although it was hard, it was the best choice I made for my family.”
Neta: How would you describe your experiences with regards to the support you received from others?
Izzy – “My family were more supportive than I could have ever imagined. I really feel that the biggest support came from my father, who despite his own beliefs and his desire to be a grandfather—although for him receiving our education is still always first—he kept himself reserved and emphasized how important it was that I make this decision myself.”
Melissa – “I had my boyfriend there with me to take care of me throughout the entire thing, and counted my blessings, because I knew not everyone else in that clinic had a support system like I did.”
Susana – “Besides my partner, who supported my decision and was with me throughout the process, I didn’t really tell anyone else about the abortion because I didn’t want to be judged. At the time, I felt like it wasn’t really anybody else’s business to know, and I felt comfortable enough with my decision that I didn’t feel like I needed more support.”
Neta: From your perspective, what does the RGV need to know about abortion and about people who have had abortions?
Izzy – “I feel that the RGV needs to be more informed about abortion and about sexual and reproductive health in general. That tends to be difficult when we live within a state government that time and time again reduces resources to affordable healthcare and villainizes abortion.
Also, it’s never right to assume anyone’s situation or circumstance, nor to imply that an abortion is defining of a person’s character. Most women who have had abortions do not take the decision lightly and already have enough to deal with without adding other people’s misconceptions and judgment to the mix.”
Melissa – “I think the RGV needs more education in reproductive health care. I feel like a lot of the negative ideas about abortion and pregnancy stem from a lack of understanding and knowledge on the subject.”
Susana – “I wish more people would understand that having an abortion does not make you a bad person. Also, that abortion will always happen, and passing laws to stop abortion only make it less safe to have an abortion.”
Neta: What would you say to someone who might be considering an abortion today?
Izzy- “I would say to take this decision fully as their own. There’s nothing wrong with asking for guidance, but ultimately the choice is theirs. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and it is completely okay to feel scared or angry or sad or anxious. It can be a lot to take in, and we all come from different circumstances so not all our reactions will be the same, but all are valid.
Also, it is normal to feel different or to think about it after it’s long over, I know I still do. It’s difficult not to wonder ‘what if?’ at times or to realize that there’s probably still some emotions that haven’t been dealt with. (Having an abortion) is not scary, and it is not cruel. Don’t let people’s misconceptions of what an abortion is deter you from what you may think is the best thing for you and your situation.”
Melissa – “Be sure to do a bit of research on the procedure so you know what to expect. Always know that you get to make the decision in the end. It’s important to know that the decision is ultimately up to you, but to be very conscious that not everyone may be as comfortable with their decision as you are.”
Susana – “I would listen and be supportive and understanding. I would also help provide them with the right information, so they can get whatever help they need. I’d let them know that people who have abortions are not bad people, they’re just people with everyday struggles trying to get through life.”