At the age of 18, freshly into my first month of University, I found out I was two weeks pregnant. The reason I knew so early is because I had, foolishly, had unprotected sex and then been unable to acquire a morning-after pill, due to the opening hours of the campus pharmacy (an issue that has since been resolved). I was ready and waiting with a pregnancy test the first day my period didn’t arrive.
Ever since I knew about terminations, I always thought I would get one if needed; “Straight to the clinic” was my answer if anyone ever asked me what I’d do with an unplanned pregnancy. However, sitting in my dorm room at two weeks pregnant, when most women don’t even realise they have conceived, all I could think about was my impending motherhood. And I felt excited.
The first thing I did was phone my best friend, explaining in a shaking a voice that I was (direct quote) “expecting a baby.” In retrospect, my wording says a lot about how I felt. She caught the next bus to my student accommodation in Oxford and we went to Wagamamas. What started as a consolation quickly turned into a celebration as the evening went on and we started romanticising the next nine months and after that, my new role as a caregiver. Perhaps this was young naivety, but I was happy and as far as I was concerned, I knew what I wanted to do.
My desire to keep my pregnancy was never a moral decision; at this point the pregnancy I had growing inside me was a bunch of cells. It had no conscious, no feelings and was certainly not human. The desire to keep my pregnancy came from the one simple fact: I was pregnant and wanted to stay pregnant.
Practically, however, this was a terrible time for a pregnancy. I had just begun my academic career, having fought for a place at a good university; I had decided I was going to break up with my boyfriend; my parents had just announced their divorce, which had lead my mother to spiral into depression; and my teenage, younger brother had just had his first child with his even younger girlfriend. Life was chaotic. I felt that having this child would have been the worst decision: selfish, stupid, and irresponsible. And yet, being pregnant, I felt so alive.
The second person I told was my partner, who I phoned the next day. This is where the nightmare began. An already violent and controlling partner, he threatened me with blackmail and psychological bullying as soon as I suggested going full term. His threats included leaving me so that I wouldn’t be able to support a child; my mother’s mental health condition meant I had psychiatric family history and he would use this to take the child away from me; I would never finish the degree I’d work so hard towards and besides, the university would chuck me out when they found out I was pregnant; the child would lead a miserable life within a working class family.* The list went on.
However, ultimately, it was the shouting and aggression that forced me into submission. I had never been spoken to in such a way and it frightened me. He was 23-years-old at the time, and yes, probably scared. But the way he treated me was unacceptable. I remember one night, hysterically crying on my knees, begging him to let me keep the pregnancy, all because I didn’t realise that it was my choice. He never did apologise, and the reason is more than likely because he believed, as a man, it really was his decision as to what this woman did with her body.
I had my termination at 3 weeks and can now scarcely believe how little time between finding out and aborting the pregnancy there had been. It felt like a lifetime. I look back now, and believe part of the reason I rushed through with it was so I did not have time to think. The entire experience felt cold, clinical and most of all, inevitable. I was an 18-year-old, middle-class presenting, university student, so of course I was not going to become another teenage pregnancy statistic. However, this fatalistic attitude from anyone I spoke to was exactly what convinced me that I didn’t have a choice.
The day of my termination, he refused to accompany me from Oxford, on a half hour train, to Reading, a city I had never been to before and had to navigate my way around, getting lost several times before I found the clinic. I signed in, crying. Throughout the entire process, I was not asked once if I was okay. This is also something I target in my prochoice activism; I now campaign for the question to be asked and asked again, whatever the woman’s initial choice. I believe that up until 24 weeks, the closing date in the UK for terminations, a woman’s option to change her mind should be presented to her at every stage, whether she is sat in an abortion clinic waiting room or painting a nursery.
Before I went in, I peed and I sat in the toilet, praying to a god I didn’t believe in that someone would ask me if I still wanted to go through with it and that I would be able to say “No,” to explain the domestic abuse I was experiencing and that none of this was my idea. No one did and I felt as if I was on an abortion conveyer belt that I couldn’t get off. I didn’t say something because I felt I couldn’t. From the doctor who confirmed I was pregnant by starting the sentence with the world “unfortunately,” to my stepmother simply saying, “you know what you need to do”, I felt like my decision was made for me.
The weeks, months, and years after my termination were a downward spiral in terms of my mental health; every period I had and every child I saw was a violent reminder. I ended up attempting suicide and being sectioned. At the time, I believed this was due to the fabricated “Post Abortion Syndrome” spread around by anti-choice lobbyists and, very briefly, became anti-choice myself (although calling myself pro-life). My abortion regret was easily manipulated by anti-choice campaigners as a reason to illegalise abortion. However, the truth is, and I speak with great personal authority from my own experience: one woman regretting an abortion or going through an experience where abortion is used to oppress rather than liberate women, is not and never will be a reason to eliminate abortion rights for all.
I realise now that the stress, anxiety, and eventual depression I experienced was not because of my abortion, but because of my lack of choice and body autonomy. The same lack of choice women who desire to terminate a pregnancy, but are made to carry to term, would experience. For me, it was not the stress of my abortion, it was the stress of being made to do something with my body I did not wish to do. Fortunately, I experienced one traumatic, medical procedure that lasted a few hours; I cannot even begin to imagine nine months of my body autonomy being taken from me.
Ultimately, I know I didn’t lose a child, I ended a pregnancy. But it was pregnancy I did not want to end. It was a life changing decision I did not want to make, and that is where my suffering came from.
Four and a half years later, I finished my degree, had a highly regarded job lined up before I even graduated, and I am now waiting upon an interview for an M.A. at a prestigious university. I am dating a wonderful person I would never have met in parental circumstances and I have made countless, amazing friends in both pro-choice and feminist groups, as well as numerous other areas, that I would not have become involved in, had I had a child. However, none of this is the point.
The point is that I am ardently and actively pro-choice because I do not believe that any woman should have to experience the lack of control over her body and her life that I endured. A significant contributing factor in my experience was that I was unaware of the option available to me, because of this, I actively promote and publicise the wide variety of allowances in place for pregnant women and mothers. I uphold the leniencies of educational establishments and workplaces when it comes to childcare duties (and the laws in place that ensure these leniencies exist). I make sure women know that there are childcare options, financial support and, as far as I can help it, ensure no woman will believe the lies I was told.
Conversely, I also fight to the bitter end for reproductive rights for every woman. I have driven friends to clinics; I have paid for transport and hospitality for acquaintances needing emergency contraception; and I protested against limitations that endanger women’s right to reproductive health because ultimately every woman, whatever her situation, deserves both the right to choose what happens to her body and the support to see through this decision.
Being pro-choice is not about being pro-abortion, or anti-birth. Being pro-choice is just that: Pro-choice.
I regret my abortion and I am pro-choice.
*None of these reasons are true, particularly the inconceivable idea what working class = miserable.