The following is part of a story I tell in Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity.
In the summer before I moved back to Sioux Falls from Chicago, I was figuring out a lot of medical issues that I’d let go undiagnosed for too long. After having multiple panic attacks in one day, I spoke to a doctor and finally got on some medication for my anxiety and got off the birth control that was messing with my hormones and increasing my anxiety. I also broke up with the man I’d been seeing at the time after we had a discussion about our desires for a future relationship. In the same month, I completed the first draft of my book and was working on edits, spending my days running errands to and from the coffee shop in downtown Naperville.
There was a lot of change happening in my life. I was living off the proceeds of my book advance, searching for a new job, and preparing to move back in with my parents back in Sioux Falls. I was underemployed, and hadn’t yet begun my career as a freelance writer. My life was deeply unstable.
And my period was late.
On top of everything, I worried that somehow, my use of hormonal birth control and condoms had failed, that something had been missed somewhere and I’d managed to do the one thing I was terrified of doing. I was terrified to go get a home pregnancy test, because I didn’t know if it was just my anxiety talking or some weird hormonal fluctuation and stress that made me late. I decided to wait it out, for at least a week, because I knew that if I were pregnant, I would have to make the decision to terminate the pregnancy. And I didn’t want to face that decision – not now.
I was driving along one of the roads I commonly took in my route from where I lived in Lisle to the café I wrote in in downtown Naperville when I saw the sign. Evidently, according to Illinois law, pro-life protestors carrying graphic images must post signs at nearby intersections warning that a protest containing graphic content was happening down the street. It took me a minute to process – long enough that the flow of traffic had carried me right to the waiting signs of the protestors.
A group of adults and their small children stood by the side of the road, holding gigantic signs of bloody fetuses, claiming to be seven-week abortions. In reality, these signs are either of stillbirths or later term abortions (a fetus does not have eyes or a nose until at least a month after these pictures claim the embryo was terminated). To represent these graphic images as pregnancies earlier than what they actually are, and to use the fetal tissue stolen from women without consent in doing so is deeply unethical.
I knew all this when I saw the signs. And I knew that if I ended up having to get an abortion in a couple of weeks, I would have to brave a gauntlet of these people and these signs to get it. I was scared. I was lonely. And I was majorly pissed off.
As I rolled up next to the people holding the signs, forced to stop at a red light right next to them, I rolled down my passenger side window and screamed. Everything that was weighing on me in that moment came out in that scream.
My incoherent yells must have been taken by these people as persecution – par for the course of their “brave stand” protesting. They turned away, pretending not to hear me, pretending not to see. I was the yelling, screaming woman from the seat of a car, the person thankfully separated from them by a hunk of metal and glass and a light that mercifully turned green.
I drove home and cried. I’m usually a pretty composed person – my Midwestern self doesn’t appreciate crying in public or having any kind of major emotional reaction to something. But something in me broke that day. I realized that all those tactics I was taught were important and necessary for a pro-life politics – the emotional shock that justifies the use of those pictures, of those lies – were not ethical, helpful, loving things done out of good intent. They were intended to manipulate, to achieve the ends of stopping abortion, no matter the emotional or physical cost it would take on women.
I realized that the pro-life movement does not love me. These sidewalk counselors are to the counseling profession as professional wrestling is to an army platoon. Despite all these claims to love people who contemplate abortions, the talk of wanting to help the mother as well as the child, I never once felt loved by the pro-life movement during this time. I knew that if I told these people I was contemplating an abortion, I would have received lectures about morality instead of the listening ear I actually needed. I knew those people holding posters weren’t interested in me as a person; they would be more interested in “saving” the potential life that was maybe growing inside me.
I got my period the following Saturday. I never had to make that appointment or buy that test. The pregnancy scare was likely the result of synthetic hormones and stress making my body go wonky for a time. I can, with honesty, tell doctors that I’ve never been pregnant and that I never wish to be.
But I will never forget how I felt on that afternoon as I encountered those protestors. I will never forget feeling like I would have to fight tooth and nail against my objectification, for my own personhood. I will never forget the blank looks on their faces when I screamed – the determination to ignore a hurting woman right in front of them.
I will never forget the horror of realizing that I was not human to these people, that what matters to them is not my context or my situation or who I am, but my body and only my body.