Class of 2017
In December of 2016, Donald Trump was President-elect. The Water Protectors had been violently sprayed with water cannons and suffered illegal arrests. The Ohio legislature had passed a “heartbeat bill” that would unconstitutionally ban abortions at six weeks. And I had just unexpectedly learned I was pregnant. Finals were days away. I didn’t know how I would cope. But I did know that, for many reasons, I could not carry a pregnancy to term.
I began by making an appointment at the Student Health Center since students need a referral for an abortion. I realized that even though I was lucky enough to live in California, where safe abortion is much more accessible than in other states, the process of obtaining an appointment is fairly complicated and amplified by the stress of the decision. I went to my appointment, where a doctor confirmed my pregnancy and presented me with my options. When I found out that the medical center where they had referred me could not see me until right before New Years—nearly three weeks away—I knew I needed to go elsewhere. I could not wait for three weeks, with each day adding to to the emotional and academic stress.
I learned many things that week. I learned that, mercifully, I had healthcare coverage for an abortion, which can be very expensive. I learned that the Health Center does not provide you with a list of abortion providers, and that Anthem will not do so over the phone and does not categorize them on its website, even though it categorizes countless other types of providers. I had to Google “Orange County abortion providers,” call to determine appointment availability, and then crosscheck with Anthem’s website to see if I was covered. The process took hours.
I learned that you have to decide which type of abortion you will have—medical (pill) or aspiration (dilation and curettage, commonly known as “surgical”)—before you make the appointment, because what appointment you book depends precisely on what procedure you will have. I learned that you are responsible for self-educating on the differences between the procedures since you will not be counseled by a doctor or a nurse beforehand, unless you can afford the time to schedule separate appointments.
Near the end of the first finals week, I went in for the abortion pill. My partner and I tried to go in together, but I learned that, for security reasons, I would have to go in alone. My blood was drawn to determine whether I had sufficient hemoglobin to withstand the bleeding that would come. I had a transvaginal ultrasound, not at all like the ones you see pregnant women having on television, which showed that I was not yet five weeks pregnant.
After the ultrasound, the nurse explained that I would have to come back. I learned that to get an abortion the pregnancy must be five weeks along to confirm the amniotic sac. I thought about the women in Ohio. If the “heartbeat bill” were signed into law, they would have exactly one week between the time they could get a legal abortion and the time that it would be outlawed. My outrage at this law increased knowing that many women don’t even realize they are pregnant until after six weeks have passed.
So I came back, two days before Christmas, for my real appointment. I took the first pill in front of the nurse, as required by the FDA. “9:40 AM, your pregnancy has ended,” she announced. I went home and took the second pill the following day in the privacy of my own home.
I soon learned that patients who take the abortion pill can bleed for up to six weeks afterwards—something that I did not know before I made my appointment. And, unfortunately, I learned that although less than 1% of women have complications, I was one of those women. In February, after a scary amount of blood loss and three follow-up appointments, a concerned older doctor told me that my body was not able to dispel the pregnancy entirely. To my dismay I learned that I would need to have a follow-up aspiration abortion.
On Valentine’s Day, of all days, I learned about “surgical” aspirations, which actually are not surgical at all (the aspiration procedure involves a small suction tube, and that’s it). I was put in a room full of other nervous patients, each of us wearing medical gowns and caps and a little identification bracelet. I agreed with the doctor that, since my hormonal birth control did not work well for me, he would insert a copper intrauterine device (IUD) at the end of the procedure.
I remember going into the room feeling incredibly scared and vulnerable, but was able to relax slightly when the IV filled with “conscious sedation” drugs was placed into my arm. Five minutes later it was over and I was wheeled out to a recovery room with other women. A nurse broke the news to me that because she had forgotten to have me sign a consent form for the IUD, the doctor was not able to give me one. I cried and frantically shouted “I’ll sign it now! I’ll sign it now!” I heard the doctor whispering to the nurse that because I was a law student, I’d understand the consent issue. Another patient asked me why I was crying. I just looked at her and kept crying.
After all of the appointments and the follow-up appointments I’d experienced over the past few months, I couldn’t imagine having to come back again. I resigned myself to the reality that I would.
I went home with my partner that day. I learned that although society has tried to have me believe that having an abortion is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to me, I instead felt relieved and tired, even despite the rare complications.
What I learned most of all is the value of talking to other women—women who had experienced abortions, who listened, who told me to speak up to the doctor when I knew something was wrong, who did not judge, and who simply understood.
My abortion is not a defining moment in time for me. Instead, what stands out are the relationships I have made the last three years and the ways in which all of us supported each other, particularly in a place as stressful and potentially alienating as law school. My family, partner, friends, roommates, classmates, and advisors all supported me during my abortion, some in surprising ways.
Now I am on the other side of this long process. During the past three years of law school I have had an abortion, but I have also experienced the death of my grandfather, the joy of new love, the stress of cold calling, the transformation of my intellectual and personal perspective, and the heartbreak of a Trump presidency. Each life experience impacts you differently depending on the particular path you walk and what values you hold.
Thank you all for giving me a space to be myself at UCI, and the space to tell this story here.