My second answer was to thank her for asking me anyway, and that I fully agreed with her and supported her decision. I didn’t want to raise a child any more than she did, and today my life is better because she had the safe abortion, administered by a medical professional, to which she had a legal right. Abortions do not only benefit women, they benefit men.
It was October 7, 2018, a Sunday. The day before, Liz ran a marathon. She’d been training hard for this, her 20th full marathon, and hoped to break her personal record. Instead, she spent the race fighting nausea, which we attributed to a change in sports drink. We knew her period was a couple of weeks late, but Liz had an IUD, and with her rigorous athletic training, her cycle was sometimes inconsistent.
She woke up nauseous again on Sunday, which was harder to explain. At some point around lunchtime, it occurred to me that a pregnancy test might not be a terrible idea. The IUD is the most reliable form of birth control, at more than 99% effective, and unlike other methods there is no risk of user error. But pregnancies, while very rare, can happen. More importantly, the presence of an IUD means they’re more likely than usual to be ectopic, a life-threatening emergency.
[Side note for the anxious: IUD’s do NOT increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy, but because they are so effective in preventing uterine implantation, those pregnancies that slip through are more likely to be ectopic.]
So later that day, when we went to pick up two six-packs of beer, we also grabbed a pregnancy test. In the store, we really debated whether it was necessary, but eventually figured better safe than sorry. Back in our hotel, we opened a couple of beers and she took the first test. I expected to wait, watching anxiously to see if the blue line turned into a blue plus sign. Nope. It changed IMMEDIATELY. But there were two tests in the package, and since it changed so fast I thought maybe we did something wrong. She took the second one, and if anything it changed faster. She was pregnant. Really, really pregnant.
Thankfully we hadn’t finished those beers, because our next trip was back out to the car and to the nearest urgent care center. When you get pregnant with an IUD, it’s a medical emergency. Oh, and did I mention we were in Utah?
Oh yeah, we were in Utah.
Long story short, Urgent Care sent us to the hospital, where Liz’s ultrasound revealed that her IUD had shifted into a position where it wasn’t effective, which is how that sneaky embryo found its way to the wall of her uterus. The ultrasound technician made her listen to the heartbeat. Then she printed a picture of the fetus for Liz to take home, with a little arrow pointing to it and, in big block letters, the word “BABY.” She also shared the due-date, which would have been later this month.
If the pregnancy had been ectopic, Utah law would have allowed for an immediate abortion to protect Liz’s life. Since it wasn’t ectopic, the law required her to hear the heartbeat, see the picture, be given an assortment of pamphlets, and then wait at least 72 hours before they could terminate. Instead we waited until we returned home to New York City, where the kind folks at Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Health Center would terminate the pregnancy with no shame or judgment. In fairness to the staff at that Utah hospital, everyone besides that ultrasound tech was very supportive and non-judgmental, and I suspect the tech was only doing what the law required.
It was October 7, 2018. While we were in a Utah emergency room learning that Liz’s IUD failed, Brett Kavanaugh was in Washington, being sworn in as a Supreme Court justice. A darling of the pro-life movement, Kavanaugh had written opinions in the year before his nomination strongly signaling his willingness to end Roe v. Wade. His appointment, many predicted, would open the floodgates on Republican attacks on reproductive rights. At least, like us, he really liked beer. In his honor, Liz and I named the embryo: Bart O’Kavanaugh. Unlike the embryo, the Supreme Court justice was going to be around for a long time.
Based on the date of her last period, the hospital told us Liz was at least six weeks pregnant. Under the new laws passed in Alabama and Georgia, an abortion would have made her a felon, facing a jail term of up to 99 years. No doctor could have legally performed the procedure. Our choices would have been to carry the pregnancy to term, or to find a doctor who would perform an illegal abortion — likely to come with substandard medical standards — and risk criminal prosecution. If we’d been Georgia residents, and left the state to obtain a legal abortion elsewhere, she and I would both have committed felonies.
Some people will read this and think, “Well, she had an IUD that failed! She was responsible, this wasn’t her fault.” But that is, in a word, horseshit. The bottom line is that she didn’t want a child, and she especially didn’t want to carry one. Liz is an athlete, both personally and professionally. She makes her living coaching runners, and she spends her free time training for long-distance races. Pregnancy doesn’t fit her lifestyle. She’s also very uncomfortable with the whole idea of pregnancy and delivery, and I come from a long line of heavy babies with giant Irish heads. We’ve talked about maybe someday having children, but if and when that happens, we will most likely adopt.
And let me emphasize that “someday” isn’t today. We live in a small apartment in New York City with a very high monthly rent bill, and no space for a child. While we make a decent living, childcare in New York City (and most of the country) is often the single greatest expense a family faces, even greater than rent.
And we’re both busy with careers and hobbies and other activities — in case you thought “nonprofit fundraiser-slash-cartoonist-slash-writer-slash-aspiring novelist” left me a lot of spare time, you’re mistaken. We like to travel. And… you know, we just don’t want a kid. Fortunately, we live in a state, and an era, when an accidental pregnancy didn’t strip her, or us, of that choice.
You might notice that my preferences crept into those explanations above, and there’s good reason for that: Even though I had no right to weigh in on her choice, I absolutely benefited from her decision. She could have chosen to carry the pregnancy, of course, and that would have meant a huge change in my life — but the bottom line is that she had that choice, and by making it, she not only retained the life she wants, but she made my life much easier as well.
After her abortion, Liz was vocal about sharing her experience. She tends not to be a shy person, but the extra stigma women face for choosing abortion gave her extra motivation. And strikingly, she started hearing from women all around her — friends, family members, even total strangers in her running classes — thanking her for her courage in sharing her experience, confessing that they never felt comfortable telling anyone about their abortions.
Statistics say one in four women under age 45 have had an abortion. Our experience says most of those women keep their abortions secret — including, pretty often, the man who provided the sperm. So gentlemen, there’s a fair-to-good chance that you, too, have benefited from a woman’s right to choose. Maybe you know it, maybe you don’t. Even if you already have children, don’t think I’m not talking to you: more than half of women who have abortions are already mothers. If you’re in Alabama or Georgia, hope you’re ready for single fatherhood when the government sends them to prison.
The right to bodily autonomy is a fundamental principle of American values, and more importantly it is a critical advance that allows American women — and men — to live full, healthy lives. Attacks on that right, motivated by cynical political agendas and theocratic religious dogma, harm every person in this country, and it’s on all of us to stand up for our right to make our own decisions about sex, reproduction, and how we use our bodies. Yes, it’s something we do for the women we love, but it’s also something we do for ourselves.
And maybe you’ve read all this and come away still thinking that my partner is a murderer, or that the state should have forced her to incubate a fetus or thrown her in prison. I’m proud of my partner, not only for making her own choice but for being brave enough to stand against the tide of shame in America and share her experience. So if that’s your opinion, my suggestion is to refer back to the first paragraph, and my original response when she asked me about her abortion: Your opinion doesn’t matter. It’s her body, and her choice.
One quick side note: Before we drank the beers you see in the banner image, we did make sure drinking during pregnancy poses no threat to the mother — there was never any doubt Liz was terminating the pregnancy, so effects on the embryo were irrelevant.