by Deborah (UK)
I’m not mad about all the soul-baring on the internet, but I do think it’s very important that we share our stories about how invaluable access to abortion has been in the course of our lives. Control over when and if we become mothers is vitally important and is very much under threat. If legal, safe, free abortion were withdrawn it would lead us back to to illegal, unsafe procedures or to misery and wasted potential.
I had an abortion when I was 25. I can still see the blue line on the Predictor stick, see the bathroom I was in at the time, see the dressing gown I was wearing. The horror and magnitude of the situation is vivid and immediate, over 20 years on. As I got to grips with it, I did also feel enormous positive sensations – I was capable of bringing a life into the world, an indescribable and powerful new sense of myself and of humanity. But I had barely started work, was living in a rented room, had no money in the bank, felt I was just beginning to get to grips with adulthood and, though I loved my boyfriend with all my heart and he was prepared to support whichever decision I made, he was not parenting material by any means. I certainly couldn’t imagine how I could raise a child, emotionally, practically or financially.
The decision was clear. It was not without sadness – I naturally imagined the happy course events might have taken if my circumstances had been different – nor was it without fear, but it was very clear. The NHS service available to me was straightforward and compassionate. I was offered counselling as a matter of course, but didn’t feel I needed it. When I woke up after the termination, I knew absolutely that I had done the right thing. Was relieved beyond words. Was overwhelmingly grateful to the medical professionals and legal campaigners who had made this possible for me.
Three years later I found myself in the same situation. This time it was different. At 28, I felt I should be in a position to have a child and went through a lot of self-loathing about the fact that I wasn’t. I was with the same boyfriend, but the relationship was deteriorating and the pregnancy was in fact the result of a frenzied make-up after an almighty row. I was now in a more senior job, but was still badly paid and struggling both to keep up with the demands of the job and to make ends meet. I certainly experienced a lot of shame and sadness, but these were not caused by the choice I knew I would have to make, they were about the impossibility of making any other. I had a more difficult time of it physically, too – it was probably a bad idea to take a long, contemplative walk to the hospital after inserting the pre-op pessary, and I fainted as I arrived at reception. So: a bit grim physically and especially emotionally, but again, I knew this was the right thing to do and was grateful that it was possible to do so legally, safely and affordably.
Many women I know have been in the position where they have needed to have an abortion. None of us are remotely feckless – there is no 100% reliable method of contraception other than sterilisation or abstinence and accidents happen. Many of us have achieved remarkable things professionally for the common good, and many are now raising remarkable children, happy and secure, brought into the world when the time was right for their parents. To a not unreasonable extent, these achievements can be attributed to the availability of abortion, since without it the course of these women’s lives – and their children’s – would have been radically different.
One final thing. I was the result of an unplanned pregnancy. If abortion had been available to my mother, I wouldn’t have existed. Nor, I suppose, would my sister or her three amazing kids. In one way, I shouldn’t be arguing for it. But having seen the misery of my parents’ marriage at first hand for 48 years, knowing how hard my sister and I had to work to overcome the toxic emotional environment we grew up in, and imagining the alternative course my own life and that of my friends might have taken if we had become mothers in the wrong circumstances, I hope passionately that all women who need an abortion continue to have safe and free access to it.