In 2006, the World Health Organization announced that 68,000 individuals die from unsafe abortions every year. Illegal abortions kill, but legal abortions are a safe, simple and routine procedure, with less than one death per 100,000 procedures. The same cannot be said of childbirth. Childbirth is painful, dangerous, and emotionally taxing. In our medically advanced United States, 800 people still die annually during pregnancy or childbirth, and people of color die twice as often as white people. For this and myriad other reasons, no one should be forced to carry a baby to term.
My story involves two unplanned pregnancies with different outcomes. The first time I became pregnant I was 36 years old. I didn’t know the father very well, and I was in a country where abortion was illegal. Moreover, my friend told me that if anyone found out about my pregnancy, I would go to jail. Despite all the adverse circumstances, the moment I saw those two pink stripes was profound. The excitement was something I’d never known in quite that way. I chose to keep the child and raise him alone, and he has been an amazing gift.
The second time I became pregnant I was once again in a country where abortion was illegal. My son was three years old, and while he was my greatest adventure, by then I knew what raising a child alone meant, and I just didn’t think I could do it again. My childbirth experience was painful, and the stigma of being pregnant without a partner had been stressful. I also no longer had residency in France, where my child had been born into free medical care, subsidized childcare, and all the other benefits of a socialized system. I asked the father what he thought, and he said he couldn’t have a child at that time. I knew I needed an abortion.
Fortunately, one of my close friends at the time knew the city well and was able to find me a hospital where the procedure was performed discreetly. I couldn’t afford it, but my friends chipped in and took care of me. I was lucky. Nevertheless, I nearly died on that table. Something went wrong with the anesthesia, and I found myself unable to breathe, unable to speak and unable to move. It was the scariest experience of my life. Thankfully, a nurse noticed and adjusted something, and I survived.
People all over the world have similar stories. Some are too young; some already have enough children. Most have financial concerns, and many have medical worries. What’s more, anti-abortion laws don’t stop individuals from choosing to terminate a pregnancy. They push them into the shadows. People die of unsafe abortions from infection, consumption of turpentine, poisonous herbs, coat hangers, knitting needles and abdominal trauma. We can’t go back to that. We need a mass movement that will win free and safe abortion rights now.
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Gee Roughin has been an activist since 2003 in France, Egypt and North Carolina. She is a member of the Greensboro Revolutionary Socialists and the Tempest Collective.