(Content note: contains references to sexual assault)
For years, I knew nothing about abortion. Growing up in Florida, I attended schools that avoided teaching comprehensive sex education. At home, my parents’ conservative values centered around their Christian faith and they too skirted the subject. Between these two things, contraception and abortion were not mentioned when I was young.
Then, during my junior year of high school, I was raped. The experience took away my control over my body and my ability to keep myself from getting pregnant. After it happened, I remember crying in my bathroom and praying that I wouldn’t get pregnant. Prayer was my only defense because I didn’t even know that plan B existed. I felt hopeless.
I can only imagine the barriers I would have faced if I decided to have an abortion. The person who raped me threatened me with violence. I would have had to notify my parents, whose views on abortion differ significantly from mine. I couldn’t have paid for an abortion on my own and to get public funding, I would have needed to report the sexual assault. I was far too scared to tell anyone about the rape or report it to police.
Thankfully, I didn’t get pregnant. All the same, my teenage years were tumultuous. I am grateful that I wasn’t parenting a young child then, or later while I was navigating an abusive relationship and working my way through undergrad.
But a few years later, I found myself facing the unknown again. After I graduated with my BA in Biology from New College of Florida, the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine accepted me to study to become a doctor. Early in my second year, my health necessitated a switch in my birth control. Armed with much more knowledge about sexuality and contraception than I had back when I was 16, I weighed my options. I decided to change from a combined estrogen-progestin pill to a hormonal IUD. I made an appointment, but unfortunately the clinic cancelled and rescheduled me for several weeks later. I was already off the pill so in the meantime, my partner and I were using what we thought would be sufficient backup.
I ended up finding out that I was pregnant the morning of my Epidemiology final exam. On the one hand, it was nice to know that my partner and I were fertile, since we want to have kids eventually. On the other hand, while some people do choose to become parents during medical school, I knew I wasn’t quite ready. Deep into my second year, with my STEP 1 test coming up in about 9 months, it was bad timing. Immediately, I sought out abortion services.
I wasn’t nervous about the procedure itself because I had shadowed at several clinics before and knew what to expect. I chose surgical abortion because it was cheaper and I would only need to book one appointment. Being in Florida, I had a transvaginal ultrasound that the physician was mandated to ask if I wanted to view. Knowing that the 5 week gestational sac would be just a small, confirmatory blip on the image, I took a look. I felt fortunate to have caught my pregnancy so early. The procedure itself took less than five minutes and I felt well cared for by my respectful doctor.
I’m grateful and relieved that abortion was easily accessible to me, and helped me stay on track to become an abortion provider myself. Later that month, I ran into my abortion provider at the local women’s shelter. We were both volunteering to provide gynecological and general medical care to homeless women. It may come as a surprise since abortion doctors tend to get an unwarranted bad reputation, but I look up to all the abortion providers I know and hope to model the service and compassion they’ve demonstrated in my own career.
The barriers that exist to block people from accessing reproductive healthcare are astounding and motivate me to share my story in a hope to bring about change. My professional goals are to become an OB/GYN and help end abortion stigma. My dream is to open a comprehensive women’s center with routine ob-gyn care, abortion services and a birthing center all in the same space. I am currently engaged and am looking forward to having children with my partner in the future and I know that this comprehensive care is something I would want when building my family.
In the meantime, I volunteer as an abortion doula. I remember the last patient whose hand I held at the hospital. She asked me jokingly if, as a second year medical student, I could perform her abortion for her in her home because she thought it would be easier than dealing with the current challenges in accessing abortion. At the end of her procedure, I could also see a wash of relief on her face. I recognized it.
I’ve felt that relief that abortion provides. That’s why I am shouting my abortion and why I will be an abortion provider. As a woman, a medical student, a sexual assault and intimate partner violence survivor, as someone who has had to terminate my own unplanned pregnancy, and as a future wife and mother, I will work to make sure that other people can maintain their reproductive autonomy too.