Like most people, I grew up somewhat sheltered when it came to my political leanings. I believed what my parents believed, which in my case, was on the socially liberal side of things: Pro-affirmative action, anti-death penalty, pro-choice, and so forth. I knew that there were people out there who thought that abortion was bad, maybe in places like Kentucky or Alabama, but I never gave them too much consideration.
During my junior year of college, not deviating from the natural trajectory of my upbringing in the slightest, I went to study abroad in London. While there, I met Julie*, and we became fast friends in the way that only people living in a dorm together can. So when it was time to take the requisite backpacking around Europe trip after our semester was over, we decided to go together.
One night, a few weeks before we were supposed to leave, we went out drinking. The bar was loud and crowded, had several levels and more than its fair share of see-through walls and floors. After about three drinks, a guy approached Julie. All I could tell was that he was tall and kind of broad-shouldered. I don’t remember how much they danced together, or how many more drinks I had, or how long it was before she decided to leave with him.
I gave her my blessing, paid my tab and left.
The next morning, she came into my dorm room to regale me with the details and the whole encounter quickly turned into a war story. First of all, he had picked her up by quoting The Who. “’Ew ahh you?” he had apparently asked, in what sounded like a really lecherous British accent (that’s “who are you,” for those of you who couldn’t decipher my attempt at accent-mimicking). They had then gone back to his apartment where American-on-British sex ensued, which apparently ends the following morning with the gentleman putting on an undershirt and no pants, such that his manparts are dangling just below the hem of said shirt. [tagbox tag=”abortion”]
As far as one night stands go, it was a huge success, insofar as it had turned into such a good story.
Unfortunately, though, the story didn’t end there.
Within the next few weeks, Julie began to get randomly nauseous. She threw up once or twice, and felt a little bloated. But it wasn’t until one morning when her breasts seemingly grew two sizes overnight that she revealed her suspicion to me.
“I think I’m pregnant.”
Being young and somewhat naïve, all I could think of to do was try to convince her she was wrong.
“No, I’m sure you’re not. You probably just ate something bad. And maybe you’ve put on some weight and it went directly to your breasts.”
But I did have the good sense to support her decision to forgo a simple over-the-counter pregnancy test and go directly to a clinic, where they drew her blood, and she returned to me in the waiting room with a ghastly but determined look on her face.
“Four weeks,” she said.
My heart sank, and although I’m loath to admit it, it was largely for selfish reasons. We wouldn’t get to go on our trip. She would have to abort mission on more than one level. So the next thing she said shocked me a bit.
“I’m still going.”
Julie determined that if we went for our allotted six weeks, by the time we got back to the states she’d still be in her first trimester, well within the safe time frame for a legal abortion. She wanted to go.
How she got through the next six weeks, I do not know. She hardly ever brought up her pregnancy, except once when we tried to go into a sauna in Budapest that wasn’t safe for women in the family way. I don’t think she was in denial – I think she was an expert compartmentalizer, determined not to let one misstep prevent her from doing the things she wanted to do.
And so she didn’t. We hit all of our destinations. We had a blast, although I regularly look back on it and wonder whether she had as much fun as she seemed to.
At the end of six weeks, we decided that it would be in everyone’s best interest for her to come and stay at my parent’s house for the few days leading up to and following her abortion. Her mother wouldn’t be particularly happy about the pregnancy or the termination thereof, and we didn’t have friends with apartments, and so that was that.
The morning of the appointment, we got in the car and headed from my suburban Boston town to the Planned Parenthood in Brookline. Neither of us said much on the way there – I think we made a lot of small talk. I don’t know what else there is to talk about while driving to an abortion. There’s not really a script for that.
We pulled up and parked along the street, and I noticed sort of superficially a group of people standing outside the clinic. But it wasn’t until we were walking up towards it that I realized who they were – protesters.
“There’s protesters out there,” I said, always quick to the draw. We got out of the car and as we walked closer, I could hear their chants, and they were not kind. “Killer!” they screamed, holding signs that I couldn’t quite make out but that probably didn’t say “Good luck in there!”
I put my arm around Julie and we started to walk through their small crowd, which was situated at the entrance. Their yells were menacing and mean and now they were directed at us. Someone hollered out, “You’re killing your baby!”
I wanted to yell back but something told me not to engage them. I could feel Julie tense up, see the hurt behind her angry eyes.
I suppose I should mention that this hadn’t been an easy decision for her to make. In fact, before she got pregnant, she was anti-choice. The question of whether or not she was, in fact, killing her baby was probably weighing incredibly heavily on her in that moment. But instead of support when she needed it — or at least anonymity — she found, utterly unprovoked, people willing to attack her when she was at her most vulnerable.
Right before we got to the door, I noticed a woman in the crowd. She was older, maybe in her sixties, with short gray hair and glasses. She could have been one of our grandmothers, there to soothe Julie, to make her some tea or something, to tell her that everything was going to be fine.
Instead, right before we walked through the door, she opened her mouth and her seemingly kind face twisted into a grimace and she yelled out: “Murderer!”
In hindsight, it seems almost funny. The woman was a caricature. But at the time, all I could think of was that to be so vicious while claiming that you were acting in the name of righteousness was unforgivably cruel. It didn’t make sense to me then, and it doesn’t make sense to me now.
On the way back out, Julie and I didn’t say much to each other, and I don’t remember seeing the protesters again. But their utter disregard for my friend’s humanity was something I never forgot. And so, armed with a new understanding of the pain that people’s hatred of women who get abortions can cause, I went on to volunteer and then work for Planned Parenthood (thanks, protesters! You really got your message across), before deciding to write what I think about pregnancy termination for a living.
When I have money to give, it will be to pro-choice organizations. And if I could ever find out that old woman’s name, I’d donate it for her.
*not her real name