Abortion and women’s reproductive choices are global hot topics at the moment. We talk to four brave women from around the world who are willing to share their abortion stories in the hope that others out there do not feel ashamed.
Katherine, 24, Texas ‘I was 21, and five months away from graduating when I discovered I was pregnant. I had been in a serious relationship and I was taking the Pill, but somehow the contraception failed. Neither of us was ready financially or emotionally to be parents, but we were mature enough to know we didn’t want to bring an unwanted child into the world. Fortunately, we live in the US, where abortion has been legal since 1973. But the reality is that many states restrict the practice. Texas (my state) is among the worst, resulting in more than half of its 42 abortion clinics having to close. Texas has a population of 27 million. That’s a lot of women robbed of a service – and their basic human right. The closest clinic open to me was 320km away, but it wouldn’t take me because I’m not a permanent resident of that county. The two clinics that would consider me said I wasn’t far enough along at four weeks for a surgical abortion. To have a medical procedure, I’d be forced to see the doctor four times and watch a sonogram of my baby before making the decision. The cost is anything from $500 to $800 (about R6 600 to R10 600), and it’s not covered by most medical-insurance packages. I felt betrayed by officials who would never lay eyes on the child that they were cornering me into having. They wouldn’t have to worry about balancing expensive childcare with a low-paid job. It was like being violated by a faceless figure. The way I was treated brought home the reality of how our state succeeds in robbing women of their power. How can this be happening in a Western democracy that champions equality? I finally had my abortion at just over four weeks in Oklahoma, 320km away. The rights that had been taken from me were suddenly given back. And, with them, the gift of being the best mother I could – by choosing not to be one yet.’
Juana, 15, Guatemala ‘I was raped at the age of 13 by my older half-brother. It was bad enough to experience this assault on my growing body as a child, but then I discovered that I was pregnant too. I was shocked. I had never had sex education and didn’t understand what was happening. I was told that it was my fault and then forced to carry the baby to term. I live in a country that is Catholic and anti-abortion. During the pregnancy, I became extremely depressed, suicidal and suffered many indignities being an unmarried mother-to-be. Latin America is the only region in the world where births among girls under 15 years old is on the rise. And nearly 90% of pregnancies in girls under 14 years old are the result of rape. I gave birth to the baby of the man who raped me and I am now raising the child. But I wish for a world where every woman has the right to determine what happens to her body.’
Katrina, 29, Dublin ‘I was 20 when I found out I was pregnant. It was just a couple of months before my final exams at university, and a huge shock that threatened to change the direction of my life. I was financially and emotionally ill-equipped to be a parent; I still felt like a child myself. But I live in Ireland where abortion is illegal. I couldn’t tell my family, so I borrowed money to travel to the UK. The total cost was more than £700 (about R11 600) – a huge sum for a student. As I flew to Liverpool for the abortion, I knew my decision to defer parenthood was mature and considered, but I felt like a criminal. When I woke up from the procedure, a mother of three in her forties was in the bed next to mine. It was the first time I realised that there are many circumstances leading a woman to make the choice I did. Guilt only adds to the burden. Later I discovered that other women I knew at university had also had abortions. Of course, none of us spoke about it – it’s the great untold secret of Irish society. But it only compounds the isolation. These women feel so ashamed, so alone. Yet beside them on the bus, on the street, in church even, are other women who share the same secret. Today, I have a fulfilling career and I’m a mother of two in a stable relationship. I had these children at the right time, when I could provide them with the support they need. I’m glad I didn’t cede to the moral tyranny that reigns in Ireland and have a baby out of a misplaced feeling of guilt. Pro-choice is not pro-abortion. Women should be supported, respected and empowered to make the decisions that are right for them.’
Joselyn, 29, South Africa ‘I fell pregnant during the last couple of weeks of my stay in Thailand. I was 24. I had met my then boyfriend on the island where we lived and we very quickly fell in love. It was romantic, intense and destructive – he was emotionally manipulative and abusive. When I returned to South Africa my breasts were sore, I was physically exhausted and late by a week. I thought my body was getting used to being back but a pregnancy test told me otherwise. I was terrified and felt completely alone. I knew I did not want, nor could have, a child with a man who had no ambition to stay in one place for longer than six months and had already fathered a child with someone else, only to abandon her in the middle of the pregnancy. I knew immediately that I wanted to terminate. I was in no way emotionally, financially, mentally nor physically capable of raising an unwanted child. As difficult as it was, I confided in my mother who supported me immediately – unlike my doctor. Although South Africa is considered to be a socially conservative nation, the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed in 1997, giving women of all ages control over their own bodies. I went to a private doctor in my hometown and felt no shame in what I was doing – until the doctor called me into the consultation room. “How did you let this happen?” he asked, followed by a lecture on how irresponsible I am to be having sex without accepting the consequences of it. I couldn’t believe this was happening. He had no right to cast judgement on me – he didn’t know me and he didn’t know my background. I left the consultation room with two little pills and a new feeling about my decision: guilt. I did what I had to do, what was best for me. Isn’t that why these very laws are in place? No woman should have to be subjected to ridicule, questions and shame based on a decision she makes for her best interest.