(Content Warning: This post contains language about rape and abortion.)
When I was 22, I faced an unintended pregnancy. I was single, underemployed, and completing the last remaining credits of my bachelor’s degree. I didn’t know what to do. Growing up Catholic, the church groomed me to be anti-abortion; I even attended the March for Life with my Catholic youth group and believed I was “saving” lives. In college, I became supportive of abortion rights, but admittedly, I never thought I would be in the position to have one. Really, I didn’t want to be in this position at all.
My abortion story is not a “nice” story: A man who I believed was a friend had forced himself on me without protection, even after I told him no and tried to stop him. Until this point, I always practiced protected sex. I never expected someone would refuse my request to protect my body. That denial lasted until I was sitting in the counselor’s office at Planned Parenthood. I told the counselor I was the eighth woman this man had impregnated. He had two children adopted out into the world and was responsible for six abortions, including my own.
The counselor told me she needed to report this man. “Honey, this is not okay,” she said. I told her I couldn’t, because he drove me to the clinic that day, in my car. I never saw a woman look so angry.
I didn’t confirm my pregnancy until I was around seven weeks pregnant. I knew terminating the pregnancy would be the best option of me, but it wasn’t a joyous decision. The man had refused to put a cent toward the abortion procedure; it goes without saying that he wouldn’t contribute to my prenatal care or my potential child’s life. He was already controlling before I discovered I was pregnant; after I told him, he made me fearful and confused. He wanted every part in my decision to have an abortion, but no part in the child’s life. I would have been a single mother, on my own, at age 22. It wouldn’t have been my choice.
After confirming my pregnancy, I had to wait two weeks before the next available appointment at Planned Parenthood. During those two weeks of waiting, I prayed every day to the Blessed Mother. I did not pray because I felt evil, nor did I feel like I was seeking forgiveness. I was distraught, afraid, and alone. I was searching for love, guidance, and understanding. I did not need to ask her to understand. I did need her to take care of me and the child I couldn’t have.
Since my income was low at the time, Planned Parenthood directed me to MediCal (California’s Medicaid program). I had no idea I could receive public assistance for an abortion procedure. After several trips to the social work office, I finally received emergency MediCal funds just 24 hours before my scheduled appointment. The funds covered the total cost of the procedure; without these funds, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the procedure. I’m eternally grateful for the social worker who helped me.
I was nine weeks, two days pregnant when I had my abortion. Under these recent so-called “heartbeat” abortion laws, I would’ve been too far along to obtain the procedure. Abortion laws such as those recently passed in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, and Missouri also don’t penalize or hold men like the man who impregnated me responsible. They do penalize women like me, and the health care providers who assisted me.
I sometimes wish I had a “nicer” abortion story, but not because it would have made the decision or procedure easier. I can tell you that I was the saddest patient in the clinic that day—everyone knew it. When I asked the ultrasound technician if I could see the sonogram, she hesitated. “I don’t want to hurt you,” she told me. Looking back, I see, now, how the ultrasound technician, the counselor, and the social worker were the only people during this time who were trying to tell me, take care of yourself. They were the ones trying to remind me of my worth.
I wish I had a “nicer” story because it’s too easy for those who condemn abortion to support my story; to lump my story under the rape exceptions (though since I declined to report the man, I wouldn’t fall under those “exceptions”—and my story is not at all uncommon); to validate my abortion as a moral one. However, not every abortion is traumatic, and not every abortion story is a tragic story. I would like for all abortion experiences to be non-traumatic, non-eventful, life-affirming and loving.
As a Catholic, I believe every abortion is a moral one. Every decision to terminate a pregnancy is one made through reflection and self-determination. Our moral and spiritual agency is not in conflict with our physical agency; in fact, the spiritual and physical are often intertwined. To deny a person their moral, spiritual and physical agency is abuse, and to pretend that we have the God-given authority to make this decision for them is an abuse of power and faith.
Our faith calls us to live by our social justice principles. You cannot truly have social justice without reproductive justice. Reproductive justice is economic justice. Reproductive justice is anti-racist. Reproductive justice is pro-health care. Reproductive justice understands that there is not a singular pregnancy narrative, recognizes the dignity of one’s body and soul, and compels us to place an issue like abortion into a fuller context. If we restrict abortion, we’re dictating health care, engaging in structurally racist and classist practices, and creating policies that will further harm pregnant people and their families. Most importantly, we must remember that there aren’t “bad” people who have abortions and “good” people who are parents; they are, more often than not, the same patient.
An abortion provider I once interviewed told me, “You make decisions because you love yourself.” I wish I had heard that at age 22. I was alone for a long time after my sexual assault and abortion. The man who assaulted me never apologized, for anything, but I’ve long stopped waiting for that apology. I don’t want Catholics to feel like they have to go through this alone, and I don’t want them to suffer in silence in the aftermath. The loss is not an imagined one, but it’s not one that must lead us to a lifetime of spiritual scarring or anguish.
Now, when I meet someone who’s made the decision to terminate a pregnancy, I tell them: You are making the best decision for yourself, your life, and your family with the tools, knowledge, and faith that you have at this time. You don’t need to ask anyone for forgiveness; you only need to forgive yourself.