Nearly a decade to the day from when Roe v Wade was passed, I had an abortion. If I lived in Dallas today, it never would have happened.
It was a blustery day in late January 1983 and the N.Y.C. weather echoed my turbulent feelings. I was 12 weeks pregnant and until a week before the procedure, I had not a clue. As a single 27-year-old woman the choice to terminate this unintended pregnancy had not been easy.
I never expected to be expecting.
Still, I wrestled with the options, grateful that options existed and could choose what was right for me. Safely. Legally.
Now I am haunted knowing that by the time I finally realized I was pregnant, it would have been too late today to get a safe, legal abortion in Texas where abortions after 6 weeks have been banned. And turning its citizens into wild west “bounty hunters.” Where a Lone Star resident can receive a whopping $10,000 for turning in someone “aiding or abetting a post-heartbeat abortion.”
As the Trumpian Supreme Court drags us back to the past, I can’t help but think of my own.
I think back to my friend Shonna who sat with me for hours at a late-night coffee shop as I bleakly pushed the food around my plate, listening to me as I agonized over my condition, helping me make the difficult decision to terminate my pregnancy. If it were Texas 2021 and not the Upper East Side of 1980s N.Y.C, an eavesdropping waitress could well finger my friend an accomplice, the snappy food server collecting a cool $10,000.
A hell of a lot more than she would in a day’s tips.
Or the pal who eventually purchased the $10 pregnancy test for me when I was too nervous to do so myself.
Was some savvy stock boy at the Duane Reade Drug Store taking careful notes on unmarried women who purchased an e.p.t. kit ready to call her in as a possible accessory to a crime?
The very thought of taking that early at-home pregnancy test sent shivers down my spine. It had as much to do with the results of the agonizing 2-hour test itself as the fact it reeked of 11th-grade chemistry class with all its test tubes, eye droppers, and strange liquids derived from sheep. All the kit lacked was a Bunsen burner. In 1983 the simplicity of peeing on a stick was still 3 years off.
How about my BFF Peter who in those pre-Uber days stood for close to half an hour hailing down a checker cab on that stormy day, gently helping me navigate the icy city streets as I stepped into the yellow taxi?
Deep in the heart of 2021 Texas, he’d be liable too.
Not to mention the barely able to speak English cab driver, culpable himself as he sped up Madison Avenue to Mt. Sinai Hospital for my scheduled abortion with my own gynecologist. Both of them could be cited in today’s Texas as accessories to the crime.
Let’s not forget my own outlaw out of town suburban parents who sat in the waiting room and did nothing to stop the procedure. That’s a $20,000 bounty for Mom and Dad alone, for some sharp, eagle-eye orderly mopping the hospital floors.
Today those bounty booty calls would have all scored being that at 12 weeks I was twice the legal time frame Texas will allow for abortion. I would have certainly had to carry the fetus to term.
A Heartless Decision
Deep in the heart of that Texas law is the fetal heartbeat.
For most women, a fetal heartbeat is detectable as early as 5 or 6 weeks into pregnancy and only 1 or 2 weeks after a missed period. That means many of these women living in Texas might not even realize they’re pregnant before it’s already too late for them to get an abortion.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, most women find out they are pregnant during their 4th to 7th week of pregnancy. While some women might discover she’s pregnant right away some others may take weeks to do the same. And for some women like me with a serious eating disorder and body dysmorphia complicating the situation, it can take even longer. Months.
And it did.
Those actively trying to get pregnant may be monitoring every aspect of their cycles but for many getting pregnant is a shock if not a surprise.
It was for me.
Because eating disorders often lead to missed and irregular periods, my menstrual cycles were always irregular so to miss a full one or two though notable wasn’t alarming.
As a young single woman in 1980’s NYC, I was sexually active. I was on top of my birth control. Though there is always room for error, I had never seriously considered it. Coming of age as I did during the sexual revolution, I was never encumbered by the fears of pregnancy that an earlier generation of women experienced. Released from that age-old worry of getting pregnant, birth control was both legal, readily available and felt like a birthright. The Pill and I grew up together.
When the legalization of abortion became the law of the land in 1973 I was just 17. That long hard battle had been won and I assumed the dark shadowy world of back-alley abortions would be relegated to the ash heap of the past. Whispered discussions among female friends about knitting needles, rubber tubes, and caustic drinks like potassium permanganate that could end a pregnancy but more than likely cause bleeding and burns would be one I would never have to know.
I was part of the New Freedom generation.
I may have been emancipated from the worries of pregnancy allowing me to be liberated sexually but I was shackled by a serious and debilitating eating disorder that created distortions and disengagement from my body. With its attendant body dysmorphia ( a mental illness involving obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in your appearance ) I had no realistic perception of my body.
While many women have a “gut instinct” about their pregnancy that is exactly where my problem lay. In my gut where everything revolving around my belly got twisted.
So consumed was I with being out of shape that my perceptions of my body were themselves misshapen and malformed. The eventual recognition of my pregnancy took longer than it might have. That delay would have cost me my constitutional rights today in Texas.
The decision to have an abortion was a gut-wrenching one, one that I think of all the time. The choice is not always easy.
But it was still mine to make.
Copyright (©) 2021 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved
Thank you for sharing your deeply personal story. It is sad that Texas and SCOTUS have made telling it so timely and disturbing. Even a majority of Texans oppose the new law. It’s insane.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Even as we are outraged at the violation of women’s rights in Afghanistan, we need to take a look at what is going on in our own backyard.
This is a shocking development; as Brit I am dumbfounded over the power of anti abortionists in the USA. Wishing you well!
There really are 2 Americas and it is indeed frightening. Thanks for your well wishes.
Thank you for your story. I’m sure it’s never an easy decision for any woman to opt for an abortion, and it may be that whatever one’s opinion of the current Texas SB8, that at least some of the laws that are regarded as ‘obstacles’ to abortion might be sincerely intended to give women time to pause for reflection before opting for it. I think it’s safe to say that women don’t always make this decision alone, and there may be times when either family, or their partner, may be pressing them into take an irreversible course of action they won’t have time to think over later. The Texas SB8 aims at stopping abortion when a heartbeat has been detected: surely at this point no one would still be saying ‘it’s only a clump of cells’ and would be obliged to acknowledge that, if it has a heartbeat we are talking about a human life. I suppose there may be women out there who will be glad yet of this law, that – with the benefit of hindsight – they may realize they had the fortune to pause and reconsider an irreversible ending of that life within them. Though I do appreciate not everyone may feel that way.
At 6 weeks it called an embryo, not even a fetus yet. And at six weeks of pregnancy, an ultrasound can detect a little flutter in the area that will become the future heart of the baby. This flutter happens because the group of cells that will become the future “pacemaker” of the heart gain the capacity to fire electrical signals. But the heart is far from fully formed at this stage, and the “beat” isn’t audible; if doctors put a stethoscope up to a woman’s belly this early on in her pregnancy, they would not hear a heartbeat.
This horrible Texas law gives the woman NO time to consider her choices.
But let’s be clear, it’s HER choice.
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Thank you Karen for this important clarification. When we hear “heartbeat” it is meant to do just that pull at our heart strings and immediately envision a baby resting safely in its mother’s womb. That is far from the case as you beautifully explain. Few women make a hasty decision, it is one that they grapple with. This law effectively removes her the ability or time to make a choice as many women have no knowledge of their pregnancy at 6 weeks a mere 2 weeks after missing a period.
I suppose it’s a discussion that will run for some time yet, because abortion (by which I mean the direct intentional ending of the life within the womb, rather than natural events such as miscarriages) hinges mostly on not seeing the growing life within the womb as a human being. Once we accept the science and logic behind the view that this is in fact, a new human life we are talking about, support for abortion of necessity drains away. We can use terms like ‘foetus’ (which derives from a Latin etymology meaning ‘little one’) or ’embryo’ in order to steer attention away from this, but it’s a bit like arguing we should see ‘teenagers’ lives as less equal or valid, because they are not ‘adults’ or ‘pensioners’. All of these share one thing in common: they are all terms-of-convenience used to describe different stages the same human life from conception to grave.
What it boils down to, then, when you say “It’s HER choice” is that we are saying that a mother ought have the absolute right to end the life of her own human child no matter what (a) the child (b) its father (c) wider society thinks, or with regard to their choice.
So beautifully written!
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Thank you, Karen!