Six months after I was out of high school, I was home for the holidays and met up with an old friend at a party. The friend was a year younger than me, still in her senior year. She told me about the abortion she’d had a month ago. The guy was somewhat infamous, a drifter who’d managed to peace out during her pregnancy. Her parents were liberal, but for whatever reason, she hadn’t wanted them to know. She no longer had any close friends at school and felt socially marginalized. She’d managed to find another student who agreed to sneak out of school after second period and drive her from downtown out to the suburban clinic where she wouldn’t risk seeing anyone she knew. But the driver had failed to borrow the car she’d thought she could borrow. In between first and second periods, my friend was reduced to approaching other students who she thought might have access to a car (it was very uncommon to have a car at my high school and public transit would take at least 2+ hours) and explain her situation. Finally, a girl she didn’t get along with all that much agreed. But by then news had spread to the principal’s office. My friend’s name was announced on the PA system to report to guidance counselor immediately. She went. The guidance counselor asked if it was true she was going to have an abortion. My friend told her it was.
“Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”
“Yes.” My friend was angry at this point. She’d already made the choice; she just needed a ride.
The guidance counselor let her go, but not before my friend felt exposed and humiliated and unjustly questioned about extremely personal business.
Luckily, this was in New York, a state without the parental notification restriction. Luckily, her ride was kind enough to wait several hours at the clinic and drive my friend home afterwards, where she was able to come up with an excuse for going to bed early.
At around the same time, I’d had an abortion too, but I was 18. My boyfriend had a car and was more or less there for me. I was living in city where I didn’t have to worry about running into anyone. Money was the problem. My boyfriend managed to borrow half from a friend and steal the rest from his mother and lie about it later when she caught him.
In the next couple years, the majority of my friends had abortions. They wrote about the experience in letters. The money, the ride (one friend had to take three buses home in a snowstorm), and the physical and emotional experience were all part of what was looking more and more like the singular ritual into womanhood: the first choice one has to make as a woman.
Even after reading the deep challenges my 18+ years friends experienced, I still feel irked by the idea of my high school-aged friend having to approach other high school students who may or may not be empathetic, exposing such a personal and controversial vulnerability, knowing that this was, forever, what everyone was going to associate with you. That was 1993 in a very Catholic city. I hope the social stigma around abortion has lessened since.
If it has, how much of this has trickled down to the teenaged population?
Not having a ride to your appointment is a manifestation of the social stigmatization of abortion care. Nowadays, when I pick up a high school-aged patient and drive her to a clinic, her home, or, more commonly, to a friend’s house, I am reminded of something I never want to forget: teenaged girls lead secret lives. I did. Twenty years later, it’s easy to forget, but each time I give someone a ride, I am shocked by how young and innocent they look. I try not to forget what being so young is like. I never forget what my friend went through, how much of herself she had to expose just to get a ride to the clinic.
Working toward a world in which people of all identities & families of all kinds have support in all their health care needs, with a specific focus on abortion