[CW: this essay contains mentions of suicidality, abuse, substance use, and reproductive coercion]
When I read the leaked draft Supreme Court decision that would strike down Roe v. Wade, I was transported back in time to when I was a teenager in Southeast Los Angeles, terrified for my life.
When I was 19 and pregnant, I would lay in bed at night, stare at the ceiling, and pray to God that I could get an abortion or find the courage to take my own life. It wasn’t shame or stigma that made me want to die; it was the idea of having a child I did not want to have.
At the time, I was a college student in an abusive relationship with someone who was substance dependent. I saved the money intended for my abortion in the pages of a book, but my partner would take the funds and use them to buy drugs. Every day that ticked by was excruciating. Even at 37 and after many years of reflection, I still cannot articulate the agony and terror I felt every hour that I was pregnant and did not want to be. It’s a unique kind of violence, and at no other time in my life have I felt as powerless or disconnected from my body.
The only thing that really stood between me and the future I wanted for myself was money, but as it turned out, money was the hardest thing to come by. I did not know abortion funds existed, and as a poor Latina in a deeply repressive and abusive home, there were few places I knew to turn to. At the time, I did not have the kind of relationship with my parents that would have made it safe to ask them for help. I’m certain my father would have beaten me and forced me to become a parent. But I also knew my parents didn’t have a dollar to spare. There were times they literally could not keep the lights on, times when lunch was a mustard and onion sandwich. Asking them for money was a useless endeavor that would have put my safety at risk.
Everything was a calculation. How do I survive today? How much time do I have? How much money do I need? Who can I beg, borrow, or steal from? I did all of the above, but ultimately what allowed me to pay for my abortion was a lie I told my partner’s mom about being unable to afford textbooks for my community college classes. She gave me a few hundred dollars in cash, which allowed me to terminate the pregnancy she would otherwise have tried to coerce me to continue.
You’re not supposed to say this, but I had no complicated feelings about accessing abortion care—even having grown up in a traditional home with heavy Catholic overtones and a machista father. After my abortion, I felt nothing but relief and elation. I felt free.
There is nothing more holy in the world than choosing if, when, or how you create a family, which is why abortion is one of our most sacred rights. I am certain that I have a life I could have only dreamed of as a young person—one devoted to family, community, and storytelling—because at 19 I was able to access abortion care that changed the course of my life.
I know there are many people who have children under less-than-ideal circumstances and who go on to have full and fulfilling lives. I also know that would not have been possible for me, and I unapologetically chose myself. Every word I have written, every story I have told, every ounce of joy I’ve experienced is because I had the ability to shape my life the way I wanted. As a journalist, I know we create the public record, and I want the record to show that abortion is freedom.
Striking down the right to abortion will overwhelmingly impact low-income people of color and immigrants; people who already face insurmountable barriers accessing care; people who already have to travel out of state for care; people who already have to cross borders and Border Patrol checkpoints to access care; people for whom Roe was already a myth. The decades-long war against Roe was never just about controlling our reproduction. If you do not get to decide if and when you become a parent, you have lost control of your health, your finances, and your stability. You have lost control of your life.
Not long before my mom died, she told me she never wanted children, but that she loved me. Every year on the anniversary of her death on May 3, I spend the day reflecting on her life—including how much of it was out of her control and how much she was robbed of. The circumstances of my mom’s life shaped my own, and her unexpected death at the age of 49 set my life ablaze. I have forced myself to see our short relationship as a temporary gift, one that taught me our time here is truly limited, and it’s worth fighting tooth and nail to make the most of it.
If I could talk to my mom today, I think she would be proud of me for having an abortion and choosing the life I wanted, just as I understand that today’s fight for abortion access is a fight for the lives of millions of people who deserve the right to bodily autonomy and the ability to live self-determined lives.
It’s not hyperbole to say that access to abortion care is a matter of life and death, but this urgency is clearly not felt by elected officials or the courts. There is no telling what tomorrow or next week or next year will bring, but this I do know: We have kept each other safe, and we will keep each other free.