Abortion is not my story to tell. It is hers, and theirs.
A few weeks ago, The Bitter Southerner ran an op-ed piece by Gray Chapman challenging southern men to stand up for women’s rights as legislation in Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, and Louisiana threaten to ban most abortions in those states.
I decided to take up that challenge. The problem I faced; however, was how could I best make my voice heard?
And then I realized, it wasn’t necessarily my voice that needed to be heard, it was the stories of women who decided to terminate pregnancies and wanted to share their stories.
Here is one of those women.
Sidney Showalter* has always been very diligent about having protected sex. But there was just this one time, she told me at a local coffee shop in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“This is always the story, right…just this one time…?”
During this period, she and her boyfriend Michael were in a long-distance relationship, but were seeing other people. When she found out she was pregnant, she wasn’t sure if the father was her boyfriend (now husband), or the one other guy she slept with.
Showalter explained the situation to both men, and talked about their options: should they keep the baby or have an abortion?
Michael told Showalter he would be supportive no matter what she decided to do, but he wasn’t crazy about the possibility of the other man being in their lives for the foreseeable future if the baby turned out to be his. Michael insisted he would want them to raise the child as their own, despite its ultimate paternity, and did not want the other man in their lives under any circumstances.
“I can understand why he would feel that way,” Showalter told me. “But for me, I wouldn’t have been okay with having it on my conscience that I was keeping another man away from his child. That was one major reason I decided not to continue the pregnancy. It was a situation that had the potential to be a complete cluster fuck for the rest of our lives, and I just didn’t want to invite that kind of drama and turmoil into my life.”
Also, Showalter felt like they weren’t in a place financially where they could support a baby at the time. Michael was a divorcee and was already paying child support for his two other children from a previous marriage. Ultimately, she decided that abortion was the best option for this circumstance, a decision proven to be hard . She says, “It’s not a situation anybody wants to find themselves in, faced with making a very difficult choice where there is no positive outcome, only the lesser of two evils.”
“There are a lot of misconceptions, like the one that suggests women use abortion as birth control. That is the most ignorant thing anybody could ever say because it’s expensive and traumatic, and you need to take several days off work for driving to the clinic, sitting there all day waiting for the procedure, plus recovery time.”
According to the National Abortion Federation, more than one-third of women in the United States will have an abortion before the age of 45.
These women come from all walks of life, facing different circumstances, from sexual assault to birth control failure. CNN recently ran an article addesssing common myths about abortion. Among the myths the piece corrected was that women are able to easily get an abortion within the legal time frame of six weeks. In the case of Showalter, this was not true. There was nothing easy about it.
Showalter remembers calling around to different abortion clinics, then googling them to determine her options. She decided on a clinic in the Atlanta, Georgia area that offered sedation, in hopes this option would lessen her anxiety and pain level. The clinic instructed her what day to come for the procedure and to get there at 6:30 a.m. to avoid possible protestors. For security reasons, once you’re inside the facility, you cannot leave until after the procedure is over, even if you’re sitting in the waiting room.
“So you’re in there with a hundred other women and their partners,” Showalter tells me. “I mean, there were so many people; I was kind of shocked by how many people were there. But I think there is also this perception that a bunch of women are doing this at six, seven and eight months pregnant. That just wasn’t the case. I did not see one person in that waiting room with a belly that was showing. The diversity was also surprising. There were all ethnicities, and women ranging from young to fairly old. We have all been sold the stereotypes, but the reality is, women who have abortions are your mothers, sisters, coworkers, and friends.”
Showalter, who was 35 at the time, described how she sat in the clinic until late in the afternoon when they finally called her name. As she waited, she wondered what the other women’s stories were in the waiting room, because there were so many different types of women there.
When her name was finally called, Showalter went back to the examination room. Because it was so early in her pregnancy, the nurse had to do a pelvic ultrasound to find a heartbeat, rather than a standard one. The medical practitioner asked if she wanted to hear the heartbeat. She declined, but couldn’t help wonder if this seemingly insensitive question was yet another gratuitous law surrounding abortion that was added by a conservative legislature to discourage abortion.
After the ultrasound, Showalter was escorted into the procedure room. She was surprised but immediately put at ease by the all-female, African-American staff in their 40s and 50s who were there to perform the procedure. “They were very comforting, and made you feel accommodated and at-ease,” she said. “I’m sure in some way that performing abortions must be traumatic to the professionals providing them, but they understand the value of women having a choice. And so that’s what they’ve dedicated their lives to.”
She brings up an interesting point. In her 40 years of going to medical appointments of any kind, she could count on one hand the number of times she’s seen African-American women on staff, let alone practicing doctors. It makes me think of the 2016 documentary Black Women in Medicine by filmmaker Crystal Emery, states that African American women make up just two percent of practicing physicians in the United States. Vice ran a great interview with Emery about this very real disparity.
After Showalter left the clinic late that afternoon, she had some pain and cramping for a few days, but no major side effects. However, she still feels guilt over her choice. A close friend of Showalter’s was also pregnant, yet had a baby that would have been close to the same age as her child had she not elected to have an abortion. “So now when I see my friend’s child, it brings that memory back up every time because they would have been playmates since their ages would be so close. I didn’t expect that. Four years later, despite knowing I made the right decision for me, I still have guilt about it.”
Showalter sees a problem with the way abortion has become politicized, especially in the south. “When it comes to issues like this, the problem is that everybody seems to generalize them, implying that every experience is the same,” she says. “They are not. Each of them are different. And to remove a woman’s choice is to deny our separateness and individual identity. Nobody can walk in another woman’s shoes and face the choices she must make. The decision must be hers and hers alone.”
A reasonable solution, Showalter says, would be to set a gestational time limit for abortions that do not carry a medical exception for the viability of the fetus or danger to the mother. However, it needs to be a limit with less restrictive on a woman’s choice. “Whatever choice you make regarding a pregnancy, you have to 100 percent live with it for the rest of your life. There is no grey area,” she says. “I feel I made the right choice for me, and that’s all you can do. Just try to stay true to who you are and what you really value in your life. Then just make the best choice you can, and fight for other women’s right to have the same opportunity to decide what’s right for them.”
*To protect the identity of the interviewee, Ark Republic used the name Sidney Showalter.
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