The precious privilege of abortion

Abortion rights protest, Foley Square NYC, May 3, 20222

As a draft Supreme Court opinion leaked Monday night indicating that the conservative majority intended to reverse the landmark abortion case of Roe vs. Wade, I was preparing to visit a fertility doctor for the first time. Not because I’d had trouble conceiving, but because I had uterine fibroids removed late last year — which, had they gone undiagnosed, would’ve prevented a successful pregnancy — and I wanted to make sure everything was ok.

Like so many of my peers and those who’ve gone through this before me, I’ve had to suss out whether or not I have a biological imperative to create life or if that’s what I’ve been conditioned to feel. Where I’ve landed is that I’d like to have a kid, and I think I’d be okay at it, but if I’m unable for whatever reason, I can’t imagine going to great lengths to make it happen. Much of this process is random and up to fate, but as I reflect on an emotional week, I’m acutely aware of how very much in control I am of the circumstances under which I get pregnant, and how many others are losing more control by the day.

After a shitty night’s sleep and still brimming with rage at the idea of religious extremists thinking they have the right to force people to stay pregnant, I had to decide what one wears for a fertility doctor appointment followed by a pro-abortion protest. A day-to-night look, if you will. I settled on black leggings, an olive green t-shirt, but struggled with footwear. I wanted to be comfortable but also show my doctor I was put together enough to reproduce, so I went with my brand new white sneakers instead of the more comfortable but worn ones.

The idea of me personally carrying a child had until this day seemed mostly abstract, but after a train ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan on Tuesday, I found myself sitting across the desk from a doctor asking me how many kids I wanted, when I wanted them, and if I’d considered freezing embryos. This was all going according to my (and my partner’s) schedule, like figuring out when to take a vacation or decorating the apartment. No part of the process would be initiated until I agreed to it.

Still, even with all these choices, I couldn’t help but feel a bit like a baby-carrying vessel. There was a lot of talk about percentages of viable pregnancy as we age, and how, at 34, I should still be fertile enough, but in a couple of years, who knows. If I wanted an “insurance policy” I could have my eggs extracted, have them fertilized with my partner’s sperm, analyzed in a lab for abnormalities, and then have the best ones frozen in a warehouse somewhere until we’re ready to use them — the process of embryo freezing. It’s basically to make sure that if and when I want baby number two, which at this point will be in my (gasp!) late 30’s, it’s pretty certain that I’ll be able. This is predicated on the idea that if I’m only able to have one child, I’ll feel a loss. An emptiness. A missing piece in my future family.

As I was deciding how to mix and match my fertility journey, people all over the country were panicking about whether they’d be able to access an abortion they needed imminently, or should they need one in the future. While it’s possible to order very safe and effective at-home abortion medication in all 50 states by doing an online consultation, even that access isn’t equitable. A friend told me they know someone in Georgia seeking an abortion soon as possible, but was told there’s an eight-week backlog to receive it. That would mean keeping an unwanted pregnancy for two more months, and all the physical and mental distress that comes with it. And that would also mean the potential for missing the legal window for people in her state to seek an abortion.

While at the doctor’s office, she did a sonogram of my ovaries and found they were producing lots of eggs. I wasn’t sure what emotion I was supposed to feel — proud? excited? — but I settled on being pleased that, after many health challenges, my body was doing what it was supposed to. A phlebotomist drew my blood to test for different pregnancy hormone markers, and to run a genetic test to see if I’m a carrier for any disorders. I also met with the finance person who informed me that, when all was said and done, the embryo freezing process would cost around $20,000 and that insurance likely wouldn’t cover any of it. It was a stunning number presented so casually, belying the level of privilege with which they were accustomed to dealing. I nodded and said “sounds good!” and took the papers.

There was little time to process the volume of information and the volume of feelings brought on by that information before I reached a park a few blocks south to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow New Yorkers as we screamed into the void about our bodies, our choice. Attendees carried signs that said stuff like “Fuck this fucking shit” and “Abortion is health care”, and we did our best to respond to the speakers’ calls for chants. Despite being people known for our tenacity, a melancholy blanketed the crowd.

Meanwhile, people in Texas and Louisiana and Oklahoma and Mississippi and other so-called “trigger states” are facing a future in which, should the Supreme Court overturn Roe as indicated by Justice Alito’s draft opinion, abortion would be illegal. It would be considered a criminal act for someone to decide that they don’t want to grow a human inside their body, push it out through a small hole or via a major surgical procedure, and then be forced to care for it and give it up for adoption — two loaded and life-changing options.

New York state Attorney General Tish James was one of the speakers at the NYC rally where she shared, for the first time publicly, that she herself had an abortion when she was a young councilwoman. “I walked proudly into Planned Parenthood,” she told us. “And I make no apologies to anyone. To no one.” The moment was remarkable both for her bravery, and for the fact that standing in a deep blue city in a deep blue state, she knew she had our unwavering support and admiration. And she announced that New York would be setting up a fund to help people from other states travel here for abortions.

In many ways, New York falls short of the liberal utopia that conservatives make it out to be. But in this moment, I can breathe easy knowing that as long as I live here, I and the hundreds of other people who were at the protest would be able to control our reproductive futures. That ability to breathe, to choose, to plan a family, has never felt more precious. And it’s never felt more imperative to support abortion funds and the work of local abortion providers to make sure people in every corner of the country can access their bodily rights — no matter what the Supreme Court says.

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writer. activist.

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Marisa Kabas

Marisa Kabas

writer. activist.

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