*The photo above was taken by me @ The Women’s March in D.C. in 2017. This essay was originally written in 2011, and has been updated to include the following, post-Dobbs, introduction. And, to reframe – I’ll write more about this at another time – men are 100% responsible for all unwanted pregnancies; Kareen Abdul-Jabbar and his memoir’s claim that he slept with 20,000 women during his NBA career comes to mind. Insert eye-roll here_______. 

I had two abortions at Planned Parenthood in New York City in my mid-twenties. After the first, I still thought I could be a virgin when I got married, which is the kind of cognitive dissonance and compartmentalization women, primarily Evangelical and conservative Catholic women, practice when they get abortions while maintaining their ‘pro-life’ stance as in ‘I need this procedure, other women don’t, and/or aren’t deserving of the same medical care, and respect for their autonomy’. I was raised Catholic by a mother who stressed that my value as a woman was in maintaining virginity until marriage, but there was a problem with that, and with me. I had been sexually abused as a toddler, and was raped at eight by a cousin. How could I be a virgin, and ‘unspoiled’, given those facts? I would, as I did after abortion number one, simply pretend it away, push it down, live in shame and denial, while considering suicide daily, as I had since grade school. I was also sexually assaulted by two trusted high school teachers, men who to this day have the respect of many in my community, men who – when they assaulted me – were married with children, one of whom went to my mother’s – and my childhood – church. It’s hardly surprising that I flailed and failed in my twenties, failed at saying ‘no’, or ‘do you have a condom’, at taking birth control pills (why would I, after all, I wasn’t actually having sex; in my mixed-up mind, that was that other girl, the ruined one) and most of all I failed taking care of myself in any way shape or form. My periods were also very irregular. In many, most ways I tried to ignore my body, and all of its functions; I’m not sure I believed it belonged to me, not really. It belonged to the Church, it belonged to my family, to my mother, my culture, and all those men who’d taken, or tried to take, a bite of me. Morning sickness both times I was pregnant was twenty-four- hour sickness, and when I left Planned Parenthood after both my first and second abortion, I literally skipped down the street, thrilled the nausea was finally gone, and that I had my body back. My Body. Finally, finally after that second procedure I realized that if I didn’t take care of me, of my body, of my Self, no one else would. It still took years – decades – for real healing to take place, but when any one – any institution or government, Judge or priest, person or pundit – tries to tell me or any other woman or girl what we can or can’t do with our bodies, I feel anger in my bone marrow, in my blood, in all the healed and healing places that belonged and belong only to me, and no one else. Abortion is health care, and the Dobbs decision, however they parse it, relegates women and girls in this country to second class citizen status. And, if you don’t agree, you’re a misogynist: fuck you. Remember, 1 out of 4 women in the United States has had an abortion, a statistic I’ll bet is an underrepresentation, and if you think you don’t know one, well you’re wrong, some woman in your life is not telling you her full story – but regardless, now you do know one of those 1 in 4: me

Yesterday yet another man, a father of four, weighed in on the ‘Abortion Issue’, this time in the conservative op-ed column for the Oneonta Star, a local paper hereabouts in upstate New York. I am completely disinterested in what men have to say on this issue, particularly conservative Republican men who still, in my view, see women as second-class citizens, broody hens or mares, heifers, what you will as long as it’s barefoot or hooved and pregnant, yet it did stir me up, as stupidity on this matter always does. He said, in essence, that ‘abortion is one of our most important issues’; I completely disagree. Abortion has been settled law for thirty plus years and the conservative elements in this country need to get over it. We all, conservative and liberals alike, need to look at what is actually important, issues like generational poverty, gun violence, systemic racism, police reform, immigration, climate change, the income gap between rich and poor, health care, the deficit, and out of control spending by the Pentagon among others.
But before I move on let me address the abortion issue from a woman’s perspective, a woman moreover who has had two abortions and knows a lot – a lot – of other women who had them as well, women who are all too often silent when abortion is spoken of, a bad habit I want to encourage my sisters in this to break. First of all, I don’t think my experience is unique or special, but I do know that for me and for all of the women of whom I speak, abortion was a good thing, a necessary thing, not traumatic or violent in any way shape or form; in fact, in all the cases of which I know, abortion was a great blessing and one that must continue to be available to women and girls today. If I had my way, abortion would be – along with all forms of birth control – free and easily accessible, available and given on demand.
I was raised, as unfortunately too many young people still are, in a household where sex, sexuality and birth control, in any form, were not ever discussed. My mother was a Catholic (I am not) who believed and often pronounced that the only way to enter marriage was as a virgin, that sex before marriage was wrong, bad and sinful. This is one point of view, a dangerous and stupid one, and I hold it responsible in large part for my own idiocy when it came to dealing with my sexuality as a young woman. Prior to college, I had the usual biology and health classes in high school, lessons that reiterated what my mother said, that sex before marriage was bad, wrong and irresponsible. Again, this lesson was – and is – stupid, stupid, stupid. The health teacher I had skimmed through the reproductive issues pages to get to what really mattered to her (she was and is a teetotaler), which were the evils of alcohol. Very stupid.
I went into my early twenties, right after college, as a semi-virgin; I’d had sex but still considered myself sort of, mostly, a virgin. I was, as they say, living in a complete state of denial; I so wanted to live up to my mother’s example, my mother’s ideal, my culture’s ideal. I also had never, at the age of twenty-two, visited a gynecologist or spoken in depth with anyone about sex, birth control or abortion. I was smart, right, so no problem, right? I’d gone to college, graduating with honors; I’d figure it out, right? Figuring it out meant doing nothing, as I felt completely dis-empowered and in conflict when it came to dealing with my body and my sexuality. There is an inherent conflict created when we tell our children what they must do when it is – let’s face it – impossible to do, especially when we also don’t give them the information and means, as I was not given, to behave and act in a responsible manner. To refuse to accept and acknowledge that there is more than one way to be, as in having sex before marriage, as in being sexually active including all that that choice entails, is a huge disservice to our kids.
And so I got pregnant, puking my guts out for weeks on end at all hours of the day and night. I was so in denial I thought I had a bug, a very bad bug that I couldn’t shake. And I could live in denial because I believed that only bad, unlucky, low-class or stupid, trashy girls got knocked up; I wasn’t any of those! I remember calling my parents about this endless ‘bug’ I’d caught and hearing a note in my father’s voice that nudged me toward the truth. He knew, he knew, my smart darling father knew what I’d really caught, which was a serious case of pregnancy. Darling man that he was, he also never said a word when my bug, just as suddenly as it came upon me, went away. Imagine – men especially, imagine – if you can (and you can’t) – puking your guts out for six or eight or ten weeks as I did. Imagine feeling nauseous twenty-four/seven. It’s horrible. Brushing your teeth twenty times a day, gurgling mouth-wash to get the stink of vomit out of your mouth? Fun, fun, fun – not. 

Imagine if you can the fear I felt when I finally figured out that I was pregnant, knowing my work as a waitress, work I did while taking classes and auditioning for shows and commercials, added up to less than a quarter of the kind of income raising a child requires, if that. I had no real relationship with the ‘sperm donor’, a guy I’d met while walking my dog and screwed in the snow under a giant maple on Valentine’s Day in Central Park, a guy who, as it turned out, was married with several children, something he had lied about when we met. And I knew that in my life as it was then, there was no way, no way, that I was ready to have a baby. I had no health insurance, no primary care doc, and how was I going to carry a baby, a stroller too, up the five flights of my walk-up? How was I onto to be able to afford diapers and, everything else, when I was living on 10 bucks a week for groceries for myself? Ready – prepared – willing – happy, all of these were the opposite of what I then was, which was shit-scared, unprepared, and unwilling.
But, but – abortion is wrong. I promised myself I’d never do it. Oops. I confided in no one. I was completely alone with this, completely isolated, and in having an abortion I did the right thing. And I’m really proud of myself for that, for making the right choice for me, for taking care of myself although there was room, still, for a lot of improvement in that area. All children should be wanted, must, ideally, be wanted. I exercised – thank you Roe v. Wade, thank you, so, so much – my choice. After the abortion, nausea free for the first time in over eight long, looooong weeks, I literally skipped, danced, down Second Avenue outside Planned Parenthood. I had my body back, and I was glad.

I know there are those who say abortion is ‘unnatural’. I say that is bullshit. Nature is humanity using our natural human brains to find solutions to our natural problems and yes, an unwanted pregnancy is a problem. Texas and Louisiana are two famously “family values” anti-choice states of our union who also happen to share the distinction of having the highest rates of mothers and/or fathers who kill their living children. And just because I can I must mention here that Texas also wins in the thrice married category (as in they have the highest percentage of persons who have been married three times) as well as leading in the number of executions vis-à-vis the death penalty. Pro-life indeed. And what is strictly natural about penile implants for ED, or breast implants, gastric by-pass or face lifts? But you can’t get people riled up about those elective procedures, now can you? But women’s sexuality, women making informed choices about when they become mothers, a minimum eighteen-year commitment – sacre bleu! And let’s not even get started on how freaked out too many idiots get about giving our children the information they need and more than that deserve about sex, sexuality and birth control. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Speaking of stupid: there I was one year almost to the day after my first abortion when it happened again. I was puking my guts out 24/7, only this time I knew what was going on almost immediately – within 48 hours – after once again having unprotected sex. How could this happen!? Oh right, I had unprotected sex. What the what? I had been counseled about going on the pill by the very nice people at Planned Parenthood yet stupidly insisted that I would not ‘fall’ again. I would meet Prince Charming or at least I knew, I hoped, that I would meet a man who respected me enough to work with me as my partner on this, who would have a stake in being ‘safe’, in protecting both of us, even in this, circa 1985, vaguely innocent, nascent AIDS era.
As I write this, my former naiveté both pains and amuses me. Men, in my experience, don’t feel particularly responsible for birth control; after all, they don’t get pregnant, they don’t go through morning sickness and they can’t at bottom relate to women’s sexual and reproductive experience in any way, shape or form. Similarly, I can’t relate to the pain of, for example, erectile dysfunction, although I empathize: gosh, that’s gotta suck, not my problem though, and there’s a shitload of meds the expense for which, unlike abortions, almost every single insurance company in these great United States will cover in full. So, sure, I feel for you but I can’t really, truly, feel your pain. How could I? I don’t have a penis and by the way, Mr. Freud, I don’t and never did want one either – although I am almost 100% sure that men, the vast majority, want breasts. This inability to fully know what it means to be a man because I am not one is yet another reason why I wish men, all men, would shut the fuck up about abortion. You cannot relate, you cannot know, boys, so shut up unless you will, without reservation, support abortion, sex education and rational thought on the subject of human sexuality as in a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn from the policies of conservative America.

And so yes, it happened again. I became pregnant for a second time. I was young, arrogant, stupid, naïve and I continued to be in denial about who I was and what I hoped to be, which was still – even, unbelievably, post-abortion numero uno – a young woman who was a virgin when she married. This defies logic, intelligence and reason, but we are unreasonable, insane even, when we cannot be who we are without shame. Ah, now there’s a word: shame. It is shaming to not know how to be who we are, and to be completely ignorant about something as essential as our bodies, our sexuality, ourselves. It is shaming to have false, impossible ideals held up as the only way to be when our own nature calls us to another way. My darling dad was a horny devil, an appreciator of women for his entire life and I am like him, a horny devil who cannot not appreciate a sexy man; I just cannot do it and I love, love, love, love, love sex. That’s a naturally occurring part of who I am. Now my dad was, as per my mom’s pronouncements, also a virgin when they married. Uh, nope. I found this out right after my mother died when talking to him about one of his grandchildren, a wonderful young woman then ‘living in sin’ with her fiancé. Living in sin was my mother’s characterization had she still been alive to say it and say it jokingly but, in that way when our jokes reveal our innermost and truest thoughts and beliefs. So, there you have it, my dad had kept his silence, again, as prior to going overseas with the Army, he’d visited a few ‘ladies of the night’ in NYC and, as he so succinctly put it, ‘Thank God I did, otherwise no one would have known what to do on our wedding night!’
I loved my dad. I wish I had known this when I was twenty, it might have helped me feel less like crap about having sex before marriage. I wish all parents would see that being honest with their kids, educating them realistically about sex, about birth control and their bodies, is the only way to be. I had my second abortion and then avoided men and sex for about three very long, very frustrated as hell years. This was also not a solution for me. I learned how to take care of myself but will forever be grateful that a right, my right, to abortion saved me, saved me from being and becoming a mother at a time when I wasn’t able to yet take care of myself. If you can’t take care of something as basic as birth control, as I couldn’t, please, please, please think twenty times – think a hundred times – before having a child. And let’s empower our young women to be aware of all of their options and teach young men (and old) to realize that the way they treat their partners, girlfriends and wives is a direct reflection of the way they feel about themselves, no matter the gender gap. Respect women and the choices they need to make, boys, because you don’t and can’t understand. And let’s keep abortion legal, safe and accessible to all women, regardless of income. Abortion is good and that’s the truth. 

©Marjorie Miller – 2011