Rhonda’s Story

I grew up in Flint, Michigan, the daughter of a factory worker and raised in a Southern Baptist home. Having sex outside of marriage was considered a sin, and my parents talked to us often about how they chose to wait to have sex until marriage. In church youth services we were relegated with stories of wonton women who had sex before marriage and ruined their lives. As a teen, however, I found myself questioning the religious dogmas of my church, and came to the realization of my own atheism. I was continually troubled by how conflicted the message of my church was with what to me seemed like natural human instincts. I would find myself arguing with my pastor about inconsistencies in the bible and was told that I needed to have faith. But why, I thought, would God give me a mind to question, and then require me to abandon my reason in order to accept His word?

This paradox seemed especially true when it came to the subject of human sexuality. How could it seem so natural to want to explore and touch and love, but yet be so wrong? I knew that the other teens in my bible study classes were struggling with the same issues. At church camp it was one big make-out session, with lots of tearful, guilt-ridden confessions afterwards.

I did manage to stay a virgin until I was 19, however, much later than most of my friends at the time, and when I did lose my virginity, it was a spur of the moment decision with a friend. A few years later when I was a junior in college, I had my first steady boyfriend. His name was Jake, and he and I couldn’t keep our hands off of one another. I was 21 and he was 19, and we would rush from school to his apartment and lie in each other’s arms and tell each other how much we loved one another. We used protection, but occasionally we would skip it, and sometimes a condom would break. We continued on happily for several months, and then as most relationships do at that age, ours faded and then ended. Two weeks later I missed my period.

Jake and I had a discussion at the beginning of our relationship about what we would do if I got pregnant, and I had agreed that I would have an abortion. However, the reality of the situation threw all planning to the wind, and I found myself really unsure of what to do. When I told Jake when I ran into him at college that I was pregnant, he understandably “freaked out” and told me if I had the baby he would kill himself. His parents were conservative Lutherans, and he was NOT going to drop out of college to support a baby.

I myself was very confused. Having grown up in such a religious family, I could only envision shame as my stomach would continue to grow and I would be pregnant “out of wedlock.” I also imagined the grief and embarrassment of my mother and father and two younger brothers at church. I already had a reputation at church as a troublemaker for asking the wrong questions, and had already caused my parents considerable pain because of my own rebellion; I couldn’t put them through such misery.

The other thing that worried me was the condition of the growing fetus inside me. I was a junior in college with my own apartment. My roommate and I would party quite heavily like most other college students. What if I had given my infant fetal alcohol syndrome?

Further, I was living in Flint, Michigan. There were no jobs, and only misery for single mothers without an education. The only other person I knew who had a child without being married was my step-aunt, and she was impoverished, slightly nuts, and derided for her plight. What kind of a future could I give my child? I envisioned myself, now an atheist, trying to raise a child in my parent’s home, and the constant struggle I would have to maintain any intellectual independence. But most of all, I came to the conclusion that I would have an abortion out of pure selfishness. I was determined to have a life of my own. Determined to live according to my own passions, and to have the space for my own pursuits. Yes, I was ultimately choosing to terminate my pregnancy so that I could live my one and only life on earth with self-determination. I wanted to finish school. I was so close to being the first person in my family to graduate from college. I wanted to travel and see the world. I wanted to live my life and I wasn’t ready to settle down and be a mother at age 21.

I had my abortion at a clinic in Flint. Outside a group of protesters were carrying signs with aborted fetuses and signs that said things like “abortion stops a beating heart.” I intentionally went outside to smoke a cigarette to experience what they were saying. At first the protesters were nice. They tried to talk to me about how much support they could provide, but they became angrier and angrier when I insisted that I didn’t want to be a mother yet, that I wasn’t ready. By the time I had to go back inside they were screaming “murderer” at me.

After I had my abortion, I had a few hard months, especially when I went back to the church. A close friend of mine became pregnant after I had my abortion, and I went to church with her, and consoled her as she was kicked out of the singles class because the teacher didn’t feel comfortable with her in the class because she couldn’t talk about sex before marriage with her in class (the teacher later ended up having an affair with someone and leaving her husband and three kids for him). I felt guilty for my choice because so many others judged it wrong. Now, as I write this at nearly 40, I have a solid education, including graduate school. I traveled all over the country and even spent some time living in Manhattan singing in nightclubs. I became a labor organizer and worked for women’s advocacy organizations. I had wonderful experiences as a single person, and even helped my friend who became pregnant raise her daughter.

I am not sorry I had an abortion. Indeed, I am so thankful that I had the right to self-determination, and the ability to make my own reproductive choices. I am so happy to have lived in a time that allowed women the freedom to live an independent life. I am now married and a stay-at-home mother with a three-year-old daughter of my own. I hope that she too will live in a time that allows women to determine their own fate, but I am not so sure she will.