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Every Woman Needs Access to Abortion

The day before the Supreme Court of the United States heard Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the case that, if it doesn’t overturn Roe v. Wade (1973), will begin the unraveling of abortion as a human right—I was in the archives. I was reading a folder that I had read before when a small piece of paper tucked in between some otherwise ordinary correspondence caught my eye for the first time. A doctor’s name was written in pencil; there was a phone number, “$250,” and flight numbers to another place in the hemisphere.

On another day, I might have passed it by, but not the day before Dobbs would put what has been a fundamental women’s right for my entire adult life on the chopping block. Unmistakably, the scrap was a record of an abortion obtained outside the continental United States before Roe.

I found myself staring at it, my mind reeling backward and thinking about my own abortion history.

Truth? Although I came to sexual maturity after Roe, I’ve never had one. I am practically a life-long lesbian. I never had enough sex with men to make an unwanted pregnancy something I imagined could happen to me.

And then, looking at that scrap of paper, I realized with a jolt that, of course, I could have gotten pregnant and needed an abortion because I did have a little bit of sex with men in college. These were experiments (sorry, guys) made to test my options and see whether friendship s with men could ever translate into something else.

The answer was no. And then there were the two men—spaced about five years apart—who sexually assaulted me but who I fought off successfully. (One of those men went on to Harvard Medical School and is a successful pediatrician in Seattle today so that you know.)

And let me tell you, the consensual sex with men was premeditated and protected: one of the men I did a test flight with insisted that we both use contraception, so I trotted off to the university medical services to get it. Fortunately, it worked.

My point is this: any of these sexual encounters might have resulted in a pregnancy, and “unwanted” would not even have begun to describe my situation.

Why? Because it’s not just that random rapists—and family members who sexually assault their daughters, sisters, and nieces—don’t give women the option of using contraception. Contraception can fail during consensual sex, and it does. Depending on the method used, failure rates go from less than 1% to as high as 17% for barrier methods. When I was young and knew a lot of heterosexually active women, I observed that contraception failed with regularity. Three out of my four college roommates, all of whom used contraception, needed abortions somewhere along the line. One particularly close friend decided to up her game after pregnancy #1, got an intrauterine device (IUD)—and then got pregnant, which is a nasty situation to find yourself in whether you want to carry a pregnancy to term or not.

Having a child changes a woman’s life: arguably, if you care about children, it should change a woman’s life, and unless you are the Queen of England and have a squad of nannies on site, it is inevitable. And because most people’s resources are finite, and some very limited, it is worth underlining that unplanned children can plunge a household into poverty. The Mississippi Attorney General’s vague arguments about how his government would support women in bearing children fly in the face of that state’s history of actively keeping resources from the poor. In 2020, that state spent less on welfare benefits than any other state in the union. And can we talk about the “Mississippi appendectomy,” in which Black women went in for a minor medical procedure and left the hospital involuntarily sterilized?

Read entire article at Substack