The Things I Didn’t Know

This post is part of our week-long series on the personal impact of the current state of reproductive health, rights, and justice.

by Carolyn Jones

Jones is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. You can find her @CJPAustin where she’s tremulously learning how to tweet.

On the 39th anniversary of Roe v Wade, there were (at least) four things I didn’t know:

1. That in nine days, I’d be checking into an abortion clinic.
2. That I’d be one of the first Texans to have a government-mandated sonogram.
3. That I’d be so horrified by what a politician could make me do that I’d write about it for the Texas Observer.
4. That in speaking out about abortion, I’d vault into one of America’s most complicated cultural debates.

On the 39th anniversary of Roe v Wade, I had no idea how much I didn’t know. In fact, when it came to abortion politics, I thought that there was only one thing to know, and that I already knew it:

That anyone in the U.S. could have an abortion because Roe beat Wade in 1973. Period.

I should have known better. After all, even though I didn’t grow up in America, I don’t live in a cave. Back in 2011, when Texan politicians were chiseling down their constituents’ reproductive rights, all sorts of people were shouting.

Ruth Pennebaker, for example, one of my favorite writers, wrote in the Texas Observer in May 2011:

Maybe we should just descend en masse on the national and state capitols—women young and old, menstruating and pregnant and menopausal, unattractively angry, in fact, royally pissed off.

But all I thought when I read Ruth’s piece was: Well yes, that’s all well and good, but why should I march on the capitol? I’m far too preoccupied with that other piece of the feminist project — how to reconcile my professional life with my responsibilities as a mother. Besides, thought I, you have to pick your political fights and this one isn’t for me. I’m not in danger of having an unwanted pregnancy so abortion politics don’t apply to me.

Months later, as I sat in Planned Parenthood’s reception, waiting to ‘interrupt’ a planned pregnancy that wasn’t going well, those breezy thoughts came back to haunt me …

Because as it turns out, abortion politics do apply to me, and to my husband, and to my daughter, and to anyone who knows and loves us. What a shame that politics had to get personal for me to know it.

But that wasn’t the only thing I didn’t know.

I also didn’t know how lucky I was to have been able to get that abortion. After all, I was fortunate to have a provider in my town, I had a car to get to the clinic, and I had the cash to pay for the surgery. I didn’t lose my job when I took extra time off for my government-mandated sonogram.

I had the economic freedom to exercise my legal right to an abortion and I didn’t realize that that made me one of the lucky ones.

Across the U.S., conservative state legislators are working to make access to abortion a matter of luck rather than a legal right. They’re imposing waiting periods and insurance bans and medically unnecessary ultrasounds. At the same time, many states like Texas are restricting poor women’s access to contraception too.

That such reproductive injustice not only exists, but is gathering steam across the U.S., is just one of the many things I’m ashamed I didn’t know.

On the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade, I still don’t know a great deal, but this much I do know is true: until all people can exercise their legal reproductive rights, and until politicians stop trying to whittle them down state by state, then reproductive justice is still a fundamental part of the feminist project. I wish I’d known that earlier.

[Editor’s Note: more people than just cis women need and want access to affordable reproductive health care, including abortion.]

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