ABORTION: MORE PERSONAL THAN POLITICAL

Nov 30, 2018

While arguing what is right and wrong, we often forget about the individual.

Words by Cameron Gorman | Photos by Sophia Adornetto 

Sitting in one of the leather recliners in an abortion clinic recovery room, a saline IV in her arm, Taylor Fearn feels overwhelmed.

According to Fearn, as she sat waiting for her surgical abortion, crying from nervousness, women were brought into the room in wheelchairs, some “barely able to stand up on their own.” She doesn’t like to see people in pain, and she recalls that women were vomiting and “groaning,” many of them still in pain from their procedures. Fearn (not her real name) says what she saw affected her “more emotionally than the thought of killing a baby.”

“I just felt emotional, not because I felt bad about my choice, but I just felt emotional because of how invasive and just how intense abortion is physically on the woman’s body,” Fearn says.

It all began few weeks before school started. Fearn says she knew she was pregnant.

“I kind of just knew,” Fearn says. “Something just felt different and off in my body, and I just — I just knew I was pregnant. And I took tests probably like a week before my period should have been, so I was like, really worried about it. Something was off, I just knew something was going on with my body.”

Within 20 minutes of seeing “positive” on her pregnancy test and speaking with the man who she’d had sex with, Fearn, a senior at Kent State, says she called Planned Parenthood. Her first instinct was to look into having an abortion.

“I just was being kind of reckless with myself, and wasn’t taking care of myself like I should have, so the fact that I couldn’t take care of myself, I definitely couldn’t take care of a baby,” Fearn says. “Even if I get married one day, I know that I don’t want to have children, so I know that I never want to have kids, so just abortion was my only option in this case.”

Fearn isn’t an outlier. The Ohio Department of Health reported 20,893 “induced pregnancy terminations” in 2017 alone. In the United States, the CDC reported 652,639 legal abortions in 2014 — “12.1 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years.” The figure is a one percent increase from last year — but, the ODH says, abortions have been in “steady decline” since 2001.

Ireland legalized abortion in May. And with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh entering the nation’s highest court, abortion activists are heated over his stance (or lack thereof) on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made access to abortion legal in the United States. Looking at the world, abortion seems to be a thoroughly political argument. But if viewed through this lens alone, are we getting the whole picture?

The political environment isn’t lost on student activists such as Jordan Whidden, the president of KSURGE, or Kent State Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity. She says the group, which has around five active members this year, often advocates for abortion rights by speaking with politicians and lobbying.

“We would consider ourselves pro-choice, yes, but more pro-people,” Whidden says. “Like, we don’t consider a fetus a person until it’s born. A baby isn’t a baby until it’s born, it’s a fetus until then, and so it doesn’t technically have rights and we just want to protect the rights of the person who is having the child.”

Whidden considers herself staunchly for abortion rights.

“I feel like it really is the person who is carrying the fetus. I feel like it really is their choice to do what they want with their body,” Whidden says. “I feel like the right answer may be a little in the gray area, but for me it’s really up to the person carrying the child, and I don’t think it should be a law or anything against having an abortion because it’s really none of their business. It’s only about the person and maybe the other person involved with getting them pregnant.”

And opposite beliefs, on the other side of the political aisle, are just as strongly held. Klara McKee, the president and co-founder of Kent State Students for Life, a student organization with about 15-20 active members, says she just doesn’t see abortion as a choice.

“Hypothetically, speaking more so with my group, I would say we want to see abortion become illegal and unthinkable,” McKee says. “But more on a personal level, I would say I would love to see culture change first. And laws follow culture.”

McKee believes that human life starts at conception.

“It is so unique, it is so innocent. It did nothing. And it needs to be something that we change the culture on, and make it so people feel that they’re supported in other choices besides abortion, more than, ‘You have all these options, figure out what’s best for you.’”

Still, McKee says she fears if abortion were made illegal today, it would hurt women, that they might begin having unsafe abortions and putting themselves at risk of death.

“There is so much cultural pressure, like presidential elections run on things like this … as we saw in the last election. And justices, and people aren’t moderate anymore,” McKee says. “It’s all or nothing now, it’s you’re fully for abortion or you’re fully against abortion, and that’s what it seems like.”

The world is up in arms about abortion, about who has rights and who doesn’t, about where life starts.

“It is a medical procedure, but I think that it’s all because it’s concerning what could potentially be a human life,” Emma Getz, the president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kent State, says. “And you know the whole idea of when does life start is still a continuing debate to this day.”

It has been, it seems, for a long, long time. The 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade is often the first thing we think of when we recall the history of the abortion debate– but the argument stretches beyond that. In the middle of the 1960s, according to NPR, the pope told bishops in the U.S. to make abortion a priority. Many women had illegal abortions before “Roe,”remembers an article from The Cut, using items such as coat hangers. And through abortion’s contested history, we never have reached a consensus. Is our macro-level fight forgetting the individual stories in the abortion argument?

Vitamin C and Parsley

Fearn says she was for abortion rights before she had her abortion — that she viewed it as a case-by-case decision.

“I kind of tell myself if I ever got to the place where I was pregnant and I didn’t want to be, I always knew that abortion would have been the right thing for me … I’m just pro choice, I feel like women should have the right to choose what they want to do with their bodies,” Fearn says.

Her family, however, doesn’t feel the same way. They’re highly religious, and Fearn says she’s afraid they might disown her as their child should they find out about the procedure.

At first, Fearn thought it might be easier to try to induce a miscarriage herself. She wanted to take care of the situation, she says, before her family found out. Fearn used Vitamin C and parsley, a method she says is used by women in countries where abortion is illegal.

“If you buy Vitamin C at the grocery store as a supplement, that type of Vitamin C, just the chemical structure that it’s presented as won’t induce an abortion, but I got like special Vitamin C, I won’t really say where, but I got special Vitamin C that should have induced an abortion and I used parsley to try to induce an abortion, and it didn’t end up working,” Fearn says. “It made me bleed and stuff like that, but it didn’t successfully produce an abortion.”

Instead, Fearn wound up going to Preterm, a Cleveland abortion clinic.

“My family doesn’t know that I had this done at all. There was  a consultation appointment that took three hours at the abortion clinic and then the actual day of the abortion I was probably there for about four hours … but I had to lie to my parents about where I was going,” Fearn says.  “I paid for it with my debit card, I didn’t use my parent’s insurance, I paid for it completely out of pocket, and I gave them a fake address too when I went there, in case they mailed me anything.”

Fearn didn’t feel as though she was pressured into her decision, but instead was given all of her options from the beginning of her journey. In fact, while waiting for her procedure, she witnessed another woman change her mind.

The nurse doing her IV saw that the women was distressed and crying and it was one of the nurses, the abortion facility staff, that said, ‘You don’t have to do this.’ It wasn’t the woman who spoke up for herself. That nurse could read her body language and could tell that she didn’t want to go through with it,” Fearn said via email.

Fearn says that even now, she’s only told a few of her close friends about her abortion. She still hasn’t told her family. It’s a sentiment echoed by Riley Katro, another Kent State student who chose to remain anonymous for this story. Katro is bigender, and uses they/them pronouns.

12 Years Old

Katro, who had their abortion at 12 years old after sexual assault by a family member, says that some of their family still doesn’t know they ever had the procedure. The decision to have an abortion was made by Katro and their stepmother.

“I, because the Ohio education system absolutely sucks, didn’t even know what sex was, didn’t even know what abortion was, anything like that,” Katro says. “Found out I was pregnant and … she was just like, okay, well we need to get an abortion. And I didn’t really know, I was like, ‘I don’t know what that is,’ and she like tried educating me as much as she possibly could, because you know, she’s also a young mom in her twenties, and so we decided that was the best decision for my reality at the time.”

Katro recalls that, as they walked toward the clinic on the day of their abortion, protestors shouted at them.

“There were a lot of protestors outside, and I was just scared because I didn’t really know what was going on — I did but I didn’t,” Katro says. “Like, I’m a kid, this happened when I was a child. And a lot of people were screaming at me and I didn’t know why, and they were being really demonizing towards my stepmother, and this one lady actually tried like grabbing on me … and my stepmom had to jerk me inside.”

Today, Katro feels as though they made the right choice. They haven’t experienced any lasting negative feelings about their decision.

“That is a long-term decision, as most decisions are in your life,” Katro says. “And if I were to decide to carry to term, hospital bills would have been so hard for us. Just doing that, because I mean, I don’t even know if my stepmom even had insurance.”

But what about from the other side of the aisle?

Like a Little Bean

In 2015, Kent State graduate Eric Felton and his girlfriend at the time decided to proceed with an abortion once they found out she was pregnant.

“She kind of just took a pregnancy test casually, not really thinking about it, and I just remember she started shaking, you know, kind of hard when she looked at the results of the test,” Felton says.

They’d only been dating a few months and Felton says his mind immediately turned to the procedure as an option. His girlfriend wasn’t so sure and he says he wanted to leave the decision up to her in the end.

“I remember it took her a bit longer to come around and especially when I first presented the idea of getting rid of it, she was kind of like, ‘Wow, you heartless asshole,’ and … the more I let her have space and think about it, was kind of the more she came around naturally.”

Still, there were moments where the decision was hard for the couple.

“When we went to Planned Parenthood — they do an ultrasound, and then they actually give you the picture of the ultrasound so you can see the embryo or whatever stage it’s at forming, and that was kind of a rougher moment, because I was like, ‘Oh, crap, you know, it’s like a little bean in there,’” Felton recalls. “They tell you, ‘This is what you’re getting rid of,’ and that was a tough, tough spot for us, because when you actually see a picture of it, it becomes way more real.”

Today, Felton feels that the choice was the right one, though it did take him some time to work through emotionally and to “let go.”

“If I see a particularly young couple, like in their early 20s or even late teens that either have a kid or are clearly pregnant or something, I kind of think about it, ‘Man, that could have been me.’ And usually my thought is, ‘Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad’ as opposed to, ‘Oh, thank God I did what I did,’ but at the same time, I don’t necessarily regret my decision because I know it was for the best,” Felton says.

McKee, though, maintains that those going through abortion can feel a sense of loss afterward. In fact, she’s been through a similar experience herself.

Distinct Features

“When I was in middle school, I was raped by a close family member of mine,” McKee recounts. “I became pregnant and I miscarried and I didn’t tell anyone. At all. And I didn’t come up and forward about that until I was… I think the end of my freshman year of high school and I’m like, ‘This isn’t right,’ like, I would have been forced to have an abortion.”

McKee remembers the night she miscarried.

“When I had my miscarriage I had it on my own. In my own bathroom, actually, in my parent’s house when I was in middle school, I was actually coming home from basketball practice and I felt horrible,” McKee says. “And after I went to the bathroom, all you heard was a plunk. And I saw that in the toilet, and I freaked out. I have never reached my hand in a toilet before this, and I reached my hand in and grabbed it out. And I thought to myself, like, how. How can someone do this, there are distinct features.”

From that point on, McKee says, she’s been an advocate for anti-abortion or (“pro-life”) causes. She feels she would have been forced to have an abortion if she hadn’t miscarried– and she wants women to feel as if they have other options.

“It’s something that we need to work on as human beings is being more compassionate and loving, and understanding of people’s situations, and changing culture and changing the mindset that you can do whatever you want however you want whenever you want and it won’t affect anyone else,” McKee says.

Katro, though, still sees their decision as the result of factoring in the long-term choice of having a child.

“I do think about it sometimes, and I don’t think about it in the sense of like, regret. But I think about it in the sense that, like, I shouldn’t have been assaulted,” Katro says. “Like, that was the worst time of my life. The procedure was just you know, helping me not make that whole experience of being assaulted worse.”

Cassandra Pegg-Kirby, from Kent State’s Women’s Center, agrees that the decision has lifetime consequences.

“I think the whole thing emotionally weighs on them, because you also think if you’re considering having a child– I mean, that’s a lifetime decision,” Pegg-Kirby says.  “And so if you’re weighing both of them in terms of decisions that impact you, I think a lot of focus is played on the impact of someone choosing to have an abortion, but I also think we don’t always consider what that means if they have that child.”

Pegg-Kirby says that at the Women’s Center, she’s worked with individuals who’ve made a variety of decisions about their pregnancies.

“Everyone sort of hinges on that one decision, but we need to think about what– what are people bringing to this that they get to this decision? So are we providing them with education, are we providing them with birth control, are we providing them with these things? Okay, so we can sort of think about what happens before, and then we think about those circumstance. And then we think about after,” Pegg-Kirby says. “Depending on what you decide, you have a child and now you’re responsible for that child, or you choose not to and now there’s maybe other things that impact you because of that decision.”

Either way, Fearn says, it’s a decision that isn’t likely to be an easy one.

“It was just something else to see like, all of the women like recovering from the procedure, and because of how like physically intense an abortion is to go through, it’s not something that’s fun, it’s not something that’s easy, it’s not something that’s simple, it’s not something that I’d ever want to endure again physically, and people just talk about it as if it’s like, this easy thing to just magically get rid of a pregnancy,” Fearn says. “And that’s not what it is.”

And, Katro mentions, in all this fighting… we might be missing something.

“People are seeing what they wanna see,” Katro says. “People have tunnel vision, they wanna see point A to point B and not the mess in between. But it’s going to be a messy topic, right? Things about individual people and their journeys can be messy. And I feel like people just like the easy way out. They just want to say this is how I feel you can’t change my mind and just never talk about it again. People don’t wanna think about individuals. And maybe sometimes I feel like that’s why these kind of topics are so easy to pick a side over….They just want to think about in the black and white, what’s easy. And move on.”