I was driving from my house in Durham to work at our family’s restaurant in Chapel Hill on a bright morning early last fall. I had just discovered with delight that I was seven weeks pregnant.
That Saturday morning was a national grassroots day of action for anti-choice activists and they were out in great number in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic that faces U.S. 15-501, a clinic that residents of many surrounding counties rely on for accessible, compassionate health care.
I have always believed that abortion is an essential human right but wondered as I passed the demonstration whether my pregnancy would tilt me differently.
There were little children holding hands with parents and grandparents displaying large signs with gruesome images and messages scolding anyone who came seeking an abortion (or contraception, testing for sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy services, or any other health care need that Planned Parenthood fulfills).
I felt incredible anger and sadness, actually, more pronounced and clearer than ever before that this anti-abortion stance was in violation of our bodies, our sexuality, our reproductive decision-making power, and our ability to protect ourselves and future generations from harm.
On Jan. 1, 2016, Gov. McCrory’s recent anti-abortion law went into effect, requiring doctors who perform abortions after the 16th week of pregnancy to send an ultrasound along with an estimate of “probable gestational age” of the fetus to state officials at the Department of Health and Human Services. This is an extraordinary violation of privacy, and it ruptures the trust and confidence we count on from medical providers.
With this law the already patronizing imposition of a 24-hour mandatory waiting period expands to 72 hours, as though any of us who ever sought an abortion did so before taking time to think about it. Medical providers performing pregnancy terminations after 20 weeks now have to send the health department their findings proving that a medical emergency existed.
There is something menacing about these intimidation tactics by the state. They never quite upend abortion explicitly, but they spin a sticky web of stigma and bureaucratic snares around those who need to terminate their pregancy and the medical providers supporting them. People have always used the resources available to them to terminate pregnancies when needed. Do we not prefer that people who need abortions can access them in clean, resourced facilities that are prepared to handle complications, with skilled medical practitioners who get to focus on their jobs instead of jumping through hoops for politicians?
For my partner and me, the paper images from our ultrasounds at 12 weeks and 20 weeks of pregnancy are precious documents of a most intimate relationship. They were our first glimpses of a fetus we had brought into being. We didn’t post these private images on social media or show them to strangers. The thought of state officials handling our ultrasound images and data makes my skin crawl, whether we were saying a grief-filled goodbye or saying welcome, with all the mountains of emotion either of those honest choices would mean for our family.
From feminist movement workers who remember the haunting era before Roe vs. Wade in 1973 I’ve learned that we should not take the access we have for granted. My desire to give birth is part of a whole that includes deep gratitude for those who fought hard to win recognition of our right to terminate a pregnancy according to our own needs and with respect for our privacy. I don’t want to raise a child in a North Carolina whose culture is shaped around intimidation and shame, and I will fight to sustain access to safe and legal abortion in our state, as well as an open atmosphere to tell our own truths.
I am in my 30th glorious week of pregnancy now. Last night, listening to my partner DJ, I could feel our baby kicking strongly in rhythm. I held my belly, and it felt like we were dancing together. Babies thrive when the people giving birth to them want to be pregnant. Now I’ve arrived; I feel so ready, willing, and ecstatic.
Readers may write to Manju Rajendran in c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.