HIV Aids

Accessing a Safe, Legal Abortion in the South Felt Like A Perilous Journey. It Shouldn’t.

I was sick. It felt unlike any other illness I’d had, and it didn’t go away. Nausea. Fatigue. Chest pains. I couldn’t focus on my work. I couldn’t focus on my teenage son’s needs. I couldn’t focus on the household chores. So, I went to my primary care physician.

The doctor performed various tests to try to figure out what was wrong with me: sleep studies, cardiac tests, tests for my gastrointestinal system. Everything came back normal. She never suggested, or even asked, if I might be pregnant. Doctors often seem to assume that women living with HIV like me left behind our sexuality and desire for intimacy in the room where we received our diagnosis.

I knew that pregnancy was not outside the realm of possibility, though I didn’t actually think that was the issue: I hadn’t missed a period, and while I had experienced sickness while pregnant with my teenage child, this was significantly different and more severe. But when everything else came back normal, I thought this might be it. And it was.

The positive result felt anything but positive for me. I have already raised kids. I know what it requires. I couldn’t start all over again with another baby. I didn’t have it in me physically, mentally, or financially. The one thing I knew with complete certainty and clarity was that I wanted to have an abortion as soon as possible.

The doctor asked if I wanted a referral for prenatal care or if I planned to have an abortion. I told her I was going to have an abortion and asked if she could refer me anywhere; she told me she could not. That was the end of the conversation.

My mind raced as I hung up the phone. Bills to ban abortion were all over the headlines, and I knew there were at least a couple of bills in my state legislature in Texas. While I knew that Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land, I wasn’t sure what restrictions I might face. I knew that my state did not have a lot of clinics that performed abortions, and that it might be challenging to find one. Still, I had no idea how hard it was going to be.

My first stop was Google. I called a number I found of a clinic in my town that advertised abortion services on their website and in the Google search returns. They asked a few questions, and we set up an appointment. The “abortion clinic” I had found in my Google search turned out to be a deceptively named “crisis pregnancy center” — one of those places that tricks people seeking abortions into listening to 101 reasons why they should carry the pregnancy to term. They tried to guilt me out of my plan with religion. I told them I was a spiritual person, that God knows who I am, and that God wants me to do what’s best for my life. I told them that what I’ve learned from studying the Bible and going to church through the years, and what I believe now, is that confusion is not of God. I was not confused about this decision at all. I’ve also learned that if it is good with your soul, if you don’t feel any conflict about something, that’s when you’re making the right decision. I had no conflict about this decision.

I left the fake “clinic” frustrated and outraged at having wasted valuable time. I had already lost several weeks to undergoing unneeded tests because my doctor had not thought to order a pregnancy test. How was I going to find an abortion provider? Would it be too late by the time I could get it? On top of that, all the news around abortion bans and criminalizing women for having abortions was adding to my anxiety. Would getting an abortion put me on some kind of registry, opening me up to legal repercussions down the road?

At last, I found The Afiya Center, an organization in my region founded and run by black women that helps people needing abortions connect with a real clinic and find resources. Through them, I was finally able to get the abortion I was 100% certain that I wanted and needed — even though it required spending $100 on an ultrasound and waiting until the next day to have the procedure done, as mandated by restrictive laws in my state designed to make it harder for people like me to exercise our constitutional right to choose. This organization  was even able to help me with the $700 it cost for a first trimester abortion (I was about seven weeks along at the time).

I owe this organization — and the abortion clinic — my life. During my darkest moments of panic over the pregnancy, when it seemed like I was never going to find a clinic and the money to do it in time, I actually considered some of the methods of self-aborting I’d heard of women doing in the past, when abortion was illegal. Things like throwing myself down a flight of stairs, or using a wire coat hanger. Even knowing that those actions could cause injury or death, I felt I’d rather take that risk than have another child.

Abortion is still legal in all 50 states, thanks to Roe v. Wade. Yet nine states have already passed extreme restrictions on abortion, with more following suit. Safe, legal abortions are harder and harder to access, especially in the South and in conservative Midwestern states. Those supporting these bans and restrictions preach the sanctity of life, but there’s a very important life they seem to forget: the life of the person who is pregnant and doesn’t want to be. An embryo can’t exist outside a uterus. What about the person, like me, who already has a life and responsibilities and ambitions? It often seems like embryos have more rights than adult women in this country.

My abortion saved my life. I feel no guilt about it, no regrets. It should not have required navigating a labyrinth to be able to do what I needed to do to go on living my life the way that is best for my family and for me. The right to abortion is the right to live. And that’s a right I will not stop fighting to protect.

Editor’s note: Tamara Smith is not the author’s real name. It is a pen name being used to protect the author from any discrimination, harassment, or retribution as a result of publishing her story on this topic.

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