— by Rose Roby
January 22, 2020
47 years ago women celebrated the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, which stated that the right to abortion was a constitutionally protected right. Since then, both the Democratic and Republican parties have colluded to make abortion more and more inaccessible for poor women, women of color, and women in general. I write this in memory of that bitter history. I also write it because 25% of women have had an abortion and yet we’re expected to be shamed into silence about our experiences; being open decreases the stigma attached to those of us who have done nothing more than made a choice about what we wanted to do with our own bodies and lives.
It was autumn of 2004 when I knew something was going wrong with my birth control pills. I had been on the pill for over 9 years; it was effective and kept my cycle very precise, like clockwork. People who have taken the pill know how it works; you have a 21 day supply of active pills and 7 days of placebos that are there to keep you on track with your daily routine. But at some point, my cycle went haywire — I would be 14 days in and my period would begin! Then I’d be 10 days in and another period! I was getting up to 3 periods a month, which essentially had me menstruating more often than not. Something was very wrong.So I made an appointment with a gynecologist. Who was the gynecologist? Who knows? I don’t even remember her name. Someone I found in a book for in-network gynecologists. That’s how it worked. At the time I had what would now be considered “Cadillac” insurance through my corporate job — reasonable deductibles ($250 for the year instead of the $3 – $5K people are asked to shell out now) and after that full coverage for a $25 co-pay and a $120 deduction in my paycheck a month that covered both my own and my husband’s insurance. But the thing about so-called good insurance is that it doesn’t necessarily translate into quality medical care. After all, doctors have been trained to be the product of the insurance industry culture — they’re given bonuses to keep costs down and that makes them reluctant to take their patient’s concerns seriously. This dynamic is especially true for women, even when we’re dealing with a woman doctor as I did when I had this ill-fated appointment.
I told her what was going on. She was unfazed. I told her I thought I needed another type of birth control because the pill couldn’t possibly be working. This did faze her, but not in the way I had expected. Absolutely not! As a married woman, there was no other birth control out there that would be right for me, and that was that — stay on the pill! But…but…how could it be working, I asked, when I can’t make it through the cycle of pills? How do I even know when to take them? She rolled her eyes and said take them when you’re not menstruating and don’t take them when you are, and she said it as if I must have been incredibly stupid not to just know that! Stupid or not, I could do simple math and the numbers weren’t adding up — if the ratio had changed from 21 days on to 7 days off to 7 days on to 21 days off that’s a tremendous decrease in the amount of pills I was taking. This doctor was insisting that cutting the amount of medicine going into my system by two-thirds wouldn’t impact its effectiveness, but it didn’t add up. She also left me helpless in terms of being able to identify the underlying health issue that had brought this on in the first place. (Keep in mind that even with “good” insurance, they don’t pay for the luxury of a second opinion.)
In spite of my fears, I did what a lot of other women do who have dealt with doctors they suspected were bamboozling them — I acquiesced to her “expertise” and went about my life like nothing was wrong. The near constant periods kept going until February 2005, and then 21 days passed and I didn’t get my period. Then it was 28 days and nothing.
There was more going on than not getting a period, because after all, with my cycle completely destroyed, there was no way of knowing what was happening except that somehow this was all supposed to be okay. I was also rapidly gaining weight and my clothing wasn’t fitting right — I’ve been through a lot of weight fluctuations over the years, but never that dramatically over the course of two weeks. I was exhausted, moody, and sensitive to certain smells to the point of feeling nauseous whenever something hit my nose the wrong way (and in a place like New York City, that happens quite a bit!). I had a sinking feeling about what was going on and a home pregnancy test confirmed it — so much for that doctor’s assurance that the pill was working just fine.
That I was going to get an abortion wasn’t a matter of controversy. My husband and I didn’t want children and an accidental pregnancy hadn’t changed our minds about that. I just had to figure out what the best way to go about this was, because I didn’t have any experience with abortion and I sure as hell wasn’t going to talk to the gynecologist who had dismissed my very real concerns about the pill months earlier.
Fortunately, through political work I knew a doctor socially who performed abortions and I reached out to her. It helped to have some social relationship with the person who was going to perform the procedure. She also did manual aspirations, a much less invasive procedure when you’re in the early stages of pregnancy. I would find out from her that she worked at the only clinic in New York that performed manual aspirations at that time. Other providers offered suction and curettage abortions to those of us in the early stages; a considerably more painful and invasive procedure. She told me that she had tried to advocate for more use of the manual aspiration procedure but was always shut down. I asked her if this was because attitudes about abortion made the medical profession reluctant to embrace anything that made them less painful — after all, we deserved pain for the “sin” of abortion. She looked me straight in the eye and said yes, that’s was exactly why they rejected this procedure, they didn’t want to make abortions too “easy” on us.
I found out that I was 4 weeks pregnant, which surprised me because I thought based on my size alone I had to be further along than that. (“When those hormones kick in, they really kick in!” she explained.) The procedure wasn’t any more painful than a typical gynecological examination. It seemed to last less than a minute. Although there wasn’t much in the way of physical pain, what happened next brought a surge of emotional pain searing through me — she asked if I wanted to see what she had removed.
Lying in an awkward position that didn’t allow much motion at all, I managed to turn my head to the side, far away from her, and whimper “No.” At that moment, I couldn’t think of anything worse than having to look at what I had done. But I trusted her, and I realized that she must have been asking me this for a reason, so I relented. “Why did you ask? Why do you think I should look?” She answered “Because if you see what I just removed from you, you’ll know it’s not a baby. You didn’t kill a baby. It’s a mass of cells. Do you want to see?” I slowly I turned my head back towards her and nodded yes, let me see. And she was right, it reminded me of a tea bag, albeit a bit bloodier. But this wasn’t a baby; subconsciously I had internalized a massive amount of propaganda about “baby killing” that left me initially terrified, in spite of being more logical than this, that I would look and see a fully formed human being that I had murdered. She was right, I had to take a look. This wasn’t a baby, it was just a mass of cells.
That was 15 years ago, and in the years that have passed, access to abortion has become more and more restrictive. The overturning of Roe. v. Wade hangs over our heads more heavily than ever as we celebrate this 47th anniversary of reproductive freedom and body autonomy. These restrictions on abortion have been a bipartisan effort. I had been able to use my private insurance to pay for my abortion — an unlikely prospect today as it was a Democrat, Barack Obama, who sold out abortion rights to anti-choice Democrats in order to pass the corporate friendly Affordable Care Act. By conflating both private and public money from its inception, the ACA was able to extend the draconian Hyde Act that forbids federal funding for abortions. Obama himself issued Executive Order 13535 on March 24, 2010, Ensuring Enforcement and Implementation of Abortion Restrictions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It read in part:
“The Act maintains current Hyde Amendment restrictions governing abortion policy and extends those restrictions to the newly created health insurance exchanges. Under the Act, longstanding Federal laws to protect conscience (such as the Church Amendment, 42 U.S.C. 300a-7, and the Weldon Amendment, section 508(d)(1) of Public Law 111-8) remain intact and new protections prohibit discrimination against health care facilities and health care providers because of an unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”
To be a woman seeking health care is risky business in a patriarchal society. When that health care is tied to sexuality, it becomes even more risky. I think back to that doctor who had dismissed me. Years later, when severe thyroid problems would catapult me into menopause in my early 40s, I wondered whether this could have been avoided if I had been taken seriously and sent for testing. That would have made sense when a 34 year-old on the pill is suddenly menstruating up to 21 days a month. Could those problems have been treated in their early stages?
We’re faced with medical providers who don’t take us seriously and who have their own judgments about our sexuality. These judgments often result in gaslighting and neglect. We have a Republican Party that has successfully hacked away at our reproductive rights that even include our access to contraception. We have a Democratic Party that claims to be our champions and yet have not only failed to protect us, but has, in some cases like I cited above, managed to make things considerably worse.
With the right to abortion under increasing assault from both the Democratic and Republican Party, we need to remember and uphold the simple, direct position of the Green Party, from the Green Party of Florida’s platform:
“The right of a woman to control her own body is inalienable. The decision whether or not to bring a pregnancy to full term is the woman’s alone to make. Accordingly, it is essential that the option of a safe, legal abortion remain available to all women.”
Under the two corporate parties, our right to an abortion is always going to be on the table to be negotiated away, piece by piece, until it’s finally gone. Only through building the Green Party to be the real progressive independent choice, are we going be able to get more than lip service because we’re a party that upholds feminism as one of its key values. If we’re serious about fighting like hell for our reproductive independence, we need to break out of the trap of the Democratic Party and embrace political independence.
Rose Roby is Recording Secretary of the Green Party of Florida and co-chair of the Pinellas County Green Party. She is also the Scheduler/Logistics Coordinator for the Howie Hawkins Green for President 2020 campaign.