As I listened, I respected more and more the tough decisions these women had to make, and I began to understand those decisions as theirs to make.
I prayed to God—if He’d just get me out of this situation, I’d devote my life to ending abortion in America. I begged.
I was 15 and I was high. Not my first time, but the first time I did what we used to call “knife-hits.” Basically, it involved incinerating weed between two red hot butter knives heated on the stove and inhaling the billowing mass through a bottomless plastic bottle. Point is; I was really high—and terrified. I didn’t know whose house I was at and my friend who drove me there had bounced.
I was stranded, alone, and paranoid—sure that my parents would find out that their “good Christian daughter” was out of her mind. It sounds silly now—but in that moment of sheer terror and pending doom, I made a pact with God. I knew I wasn’t supposed to, we had been admonished that God didn’t play such games. But in that moment, it was the only thing I could think of.
“Please, please, please, God; If you get me out of this situation and my parents never find out I promise you I will devote my entire life to ending abortion in America till the day I die.”
I prayed it and I meant it. Even in my altered state, I really meant it.
Soon after, my older brother, who somehow figured out where I was, picked me up. It was almost an hour drive to our home north of town. My parents had no idea. And I vowed to keep my word.
I began volunteering at what they called “crisis pregnancy centers”—places where pregnant women could go to get counseling, pregnancy tests, baby clothes and supplies. It was supposed to be an alternative to abortion for struggling mothers-to-be.
I remember the miniature life-like models of unborn children we had representing the various stages of pregnancy. They were to show pregnant women and girls when they came in for counseling. We placed them in their hands and talked about the development of their unborn baby. Weird how they all looked the same with tiny hands and feet and eyelids and noses—even the smallest of them that was no bigger than a sunflower seed.
I spent hours sorting baby clothes, cleaning bathrooms, and watching pro-life videos and taking notes. We had recently been approved for an ultrasound machine and the center was abuzz with excitement: Now we could really show women the life they had inside of them. We were in the business of saving lives—both the unborn’s and the mother’s (in a more abstract spiritual sense). We knew she’d regret murdering her unborn child. We just knew it.
And I knew I was making good on my promise.
I began attending community college where I founded and presided over the Conservative Movement Club. The club had a list of tenets and, of course, being pro-life was a must.
As I called to order the first official meeting of the CMC in a room we had rented in the student union, I looked at the faces seated around the table. We were all around the same age—late teens—and had an almost equal amount of boys and girls. The room was bare and we sat spaciously around a long fold-out table. We began going through the list of tenets and beliefs with little disagreement or discomfort. Surely, being pro-life was among the most agreeable. We were all conservatives, after all.
“As members of the Conservative Movement Club, we believe that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder.”
Someone started to cry.
I don’t remember her name but I remember what she looked like as if it were yesterday. She had sandy blonde hair and a petite frame, no older than 18.
Her parents made her have an abortion when she was raped and impregnated at the age of 14. Even as I write this, my lips tighten at the remembrance. I was speechless, taken aback. How could I be so clueless, so callous, as to the experiences of women and girls who had abortions? She wasn’t a murderer; a selfish woman engaging in unprotected sex. She was a young girl who had been raped. I realized she could’ve been me.
That moment changed my heart toward the issues of abortion—I was still passionately pro-life but now understood that there was another life, a life like mine, inextricably tied to the issue. It was a woman’s burden to bear.
I remained pro-life for almost a decade—even throughout my radical feminist awakening in my early-20s.
No longer Christian or conservative, my increasingly liberal leanings seemed to clash with my feelings on abortion. I was embarrassed and even hid my pro-life position from other feminists—afraid they’d be horrified and maybe even shun me. I joined a local feminist book club and read all the books but never went to any of the meet-ups (ya know; the “club” part where you discuss the books you’re reading). I rarely told my closest girlfriends about my views on abortion unless, perhaps, I was drunk. What if they had had one? What if I hurt them like I hurt that young girl?
I desperately wanted to be pro-choice, to stand with my sisters on bodily autonomy and against male ownership, but my heart wouldn’t let me. At least, at this point, I wasn’t sure. I began to identify as both pro-life and pro-choice and, at the same time, as neither.
It wasn’t until my 30th year that I began to identify as “pro-voice“—that is, not taking a stance on the legality or ethics of abortion but rather simply listening to the stories of women who’ve had abortions, from the conservative Catholic who is glad she had an abortion to the feminist who regrets it. As I listened, I respected more and more the tough decisions these women had to make, and I began to understand those decisions as theirs to make.
A week ago I began working as a paid fundraiser on behalf of Planned Parenthood, raising funds for their clinics and supplies. Even when I took the job, I wasn’t sure if I was “sold” on the idea of being pro-choice.
My second day fundraising, a woman came up to me in tears. Probably in her late 50s, she told me that she had grown up in a small town outside of Seattle. Her family, like my family, was conservative and Christian. They didn’t believe in sex before marriage or abortion—they didn’t even talk about them. When she found herself pregnant and terrified at the age of 15, she turned to the one place she could get help: Planned Parenthood.
“They were the only ones there for me. They didn’t judge me,” she told me, sobbing.
Her eyes were sparkly blue and her hair white and wispy. I wondered if she had grandkids.
“I don’t regret it. But I’m just so thankful for you guys,” she said as she held my hand. It was like it had happened to her yesterday, still fresh in her mind, heartfelt and emotional.
I cried. I knew in that moment that she had made the best decision for herself and what would have been her child. And I knew that it was hers alone to make.
I still feel sad and unsettled when I think about later-term abortions (a small, small percentage of abortions). I wonder about fetal pain and if there should be or are any limits. But I also know that I want women, including women in my life, to be able to make those decisions.
HBO recently released a documentary in select theaters titled, “Abortion: Stories Women Tell,” providing an intimate window into the lives of women who’ve had abortions. Although I have not seen it yet, I look forward to streaming it when it becomes available online. I look forward to learning more about the experiences of others like me, looking through their eyes and listening to the stories I may never have to tell.
I remember my mother crying on my shoulder when she thought she was pregnant. I was 10. It seemed to me then, and is clear now, that she didn’t have the control over her reproductive choices and the decision whether or not to have more children.
“Jesse,” she said, “I can understand why women have abortions.”
It wasn’t so much of a confession as an admission—an admission that being a woman is hard and scary. That not having control over one’s own body and future is terrifying. My mother is still staunchly pro-life and I support her. Just as I support all the women out there who are uniquely burdened with pregnancy, motherhood, and tough decisions.
Whether we are pro-life or pro-choice, surely we can all agree to be pro-voice.
Jessica Schreindl is a freelance writer and TV producer in Seattle, Washington. She is a contributing writer for Mic.com and has been published on Feministing.com. She graduated with her M.A. from Syracuse University where she studied film history and documentary filmmaking.