My Choice

“So though the fight over Planned Parenthood might be about abortion, Planned Parenthood itself isn’t about abortion. It’s primarily about contraception and reproductive health. And if Planned Parenthood loses funding, what will mainly happen is that cancer screenings and contraception and STD testing will become less available to poorer people. Folks with more money, of course, have many other ways to receive all these services, and tend to get them elsewhere already.” —Ezra Klein on What Planned Parenthood Actually Does

When I was 20 weeks pregnant with my second son, I went in for my ultrasound and checkup hoping to find out the gender of my baby.  I already had one three-year-old son, and I was hoping for another boy.  The ultrasound tech saw the male gentalia and told us.  I was ecstatic!  I asked a lot of questions about the heart and brain and bones.  The technician asked if I was a nurse, surprised by my inquisition.  I said no, I was just interested in physiology.  After studying many sciences, and then modern dance in college, I had an awareness of and interest in the human body that was automatic.  The idea of growing a skeleton, muscles, life in my womb was mesmerizing in the dark of that ultrasound room.

A few minutes later, my husband and I spoke to my obstetrician about the baby.  She said that their equipment was old, but that she was fairly certain that our baby boy had a cleft lip.  I had read about cleft lips in biology a few years before, but I did not really know what was done for cleft babies.  I was not worried.  We were to go to fetal and women’s center with a “million dollar ultrasound machine”.  Honestly, the only thing I thought was to hope for a 4D ultrasound picture for the fridge.  My husband and I had no idea what we were in for when we made that appointment.

We went to the perinatal center a few days later and realized we were there with other high risk pregnancies.  I started to get nervous, wondering about whether or not I would be able to breastfeed a cleft baby.  Questions were forming.  In fact, during the exam I asked so many questions that the tech finally had to tell me she was not allowed to answer some of them.  The doctor finally came in and told us about the cleft.  But then she said that he also had a problem with his kidney.  They thought it might not be forming properly.  I was numb as they started to talk about how the two problems were unrelated, making the likelihood of a syndrome greater.  In other words, it was more likely that he had an underlying syndrome rather than just happening to have a cleft and a kidney issue.

They started looking to see if our baby’s hands and fingers could clasp and unclasp.  Something in my mind snapped.  I shook off the numbness and shock at that point, and began to sob.  I demanded their best guesses as to what was going on with our baby.  They said they didn’t know, but that we would need to meet with a genetic counselor.  We were also recommended for an amniocentesis to get more information.  It was likely that his underlying condition was bad, like Trisomy 13 or another short-lived, painful syndrome.  I was gently asked about the possibility of needing an abortion.  For the first time in my life, I considered it.

The next day we went back for the amniocentesis.  I am terrified of needles, but in the past few years I have faced my fear and been able to have blood tests done without fainting.  The doctor was bright and loving, and I trusted her when she said how good she was at very quick amniocenteses.  I wasn’t in the mood to smile, but I appreciated that.  I had not slept much that night, speculating with my husband about what our baby might have.  As the needle went into my belly, and I squeezed my husband’s hand and my eyes tight shut.  It was over, and I wasn’t even faint.  But when the doctor announced how many CCs had been taken and I went white and had to lay down.  I asked questions about the genetic tests they would perform, and how long it would take for them to come back.

I hated our genetic counselor.  She was perfectly nice, but did not have any answers.  I knew my hatred was a mask for my fear and anxiety.  I wanted to make the next 10 days go by as quickly as possible.  I sobbed half the day, and did yoga in the middle of the night to calm my nerves.  I still remember doing sun salutations in the dark, trying to stop weeping.  We had to wait for one general set of tests, and then for another set of more specific tests.  I called the genetic counselor morning, noon, and night the days the tests were supposed to be done.  I was nearing 22 weeks, when the dividing line for an abortion in the state of Arizona had been drawn.

I wanted to know what my baby was facing, to know if I needed to spare him a painful, short life if he ended up having Trisomy 13, or something else equally horrific.  Even if he did have a fatal syndrome, I was fairly certain that I could not go through with an abortion.  The days were painfully long.  I compared the mercy of an abortion for my malformed child with the difficult birth and mere months of life that he might have to endure with many painful health problems.  I had no idea what I would do.

We finally heard back about our baby boy’s chromosomes: they were normal.  There were other, more rare syndromes and diseases we might want to check for.  But the ultrasounds showed a strong heart, and one fully working kidney.  The cleft was bilateral, incomplete on one side, and in the lip and palate.  This was a rarer form of cleft lip and palate, and one of his kidneys had simply not formed at all.  But he was thriving.  Everything else looked strong and fully formed.

I was relieved.  I didn’t have to choose between an abortion or my baby’s death at the age of 1 due to some awful syndrome.  A cleft lip and single kidney was welcome indeed.  I no longer had to wonder if he had something life-threatening or that would cause a terrible death at an early age, a situation that I might have considered having an abortion for.

I still do not know what I would have done if my baby had been missing a chromosome, or was found to carry a fatal sickness.  But I had a choice.  I had a legal, supported, dignified choice that I could make myself, alone.  I had a choice that I wrestled with day and night for weeks while we had testing done.  If I had chosen to have an abortion in a situation like that, it would have been out of love and out of necessity to spare our baby pain and suffering.

I am so thankful for the women at the perinatal center for giving me that option without any judgment in their voices on those first uncertain, rocky days.  They did not presume to know what was best for me.  They simply offered options, and support.  And trust.  They trusted me to know what was best for me and my baby.

I decided to keep him, of course.  He beat the odds with his genetic testing, and I was spared my own Sophie’s choice.  He has beat the odds on many fronts.  I am lucky.

I am also lucky to have the right to choose what I want to do.  I have that right because I live in a country where abortion is legal.  I have that right because I am a white middle-class woman with means and health insurance.  I have that right because I am informed of my options.  I have that privilege.  Many do not.  There are millions of women who, when faced with a situation similar to mine or worse, do not have the options I enjoyed.

This past week has been dramatic as we have watched a government shutdown nearly averted, all turning on the fulcrum of Planned Parenthood and it’s funding.  I do not wish on anyone what I went through with my youngest baby, but it will happen anyway.  Sometimes it happens to women who don’t have money or health insurance.  Do they deserve less than I do?  Do they not have the right to a legal procedure, if they need it, if they weigh their options and make a heart-breaking decision about what to do?

97% of Planned Parenthood’s services are preventative: cancer screenings, yearly exams, rape services, and birth control.  Planned Parenthood’s services do include abortion care.  But those procedures are not touched by federal money, despite all the recent headlines and spin that the budget crisis was over federal funding for abortion or just abortions themselves.  The truth is that the budget war was, and is, over access to basic women’s health care.

I stand with my choice to keep my baby when I found out he would not be severely ill and in pain during his life.  I would have stood by my choice either way, because I would have known that I had made it while considering all sides.  I stand by women who make these decisions in secret because of the stigma of abortion.  I stand with Planned Parenthood.  I stand with life and choices both staying in tact whenever possible.  I stand with my sisters, mothers, aunts, daughters, grandmothers, and all the other women I am connected to on this planet as a war rages around their bodies.  I stand with women.

(Exponent II’s most recent issue has three pieces on Women and Reproductive Choice, found in the Exponent Generations feature.)

(cross-posted at k-land)

kendahl is a queer fat left-handed INFJ synesthete mother warrior activist social worker abuse survivor unapologetically brilliant powerful witch


  1. This is why I love Exponent- it causes you to rethink assumptions. I also love how you were willing to put a very personal spin on a broad, feminine topic. I am very much pro-life, but after reading your post I definitely agree that there are indeed circumstances where women must be empowered with choice.

  2. I too consider myself pro-life, but I agree with this post 100%. After my fourth child was born, I knew that another pregnancy could be life-threatening for me, so if I were to become pregnant, I would likely have to decide whether or not to abort in order to save my own life. I eventually had a tubal ligation just so I wouldn’t have to face that decision, but I will always be thankful that the option was there for me.
    I have no personal experience with Planned Parenthood, but I have family members who have used their services. As a young couple with no experience or knowledge of family planning, my parents walked into a PP clinic in San Francisco in the spring of 1939. There they received confidential counseling and birth control services. PP continues to do the same thing for countless women and their families today. My daughter and her husband, who are high school teachers, refer friends and students to the PP clinic in Orem, Utah (which does not perform abortions) on a regular basis. For them, PP is a valuable tool in combating the plague of teen pregnancy and STDs.

  3. Well done K. I absolutely agree with everything you said about PP, but I need to be more active in my support. I used them in college at a time when it was crucial for me to have their services and I want that same opportunity for anyone else that needs it.

    As for rethinking abortion, I’ve been pro-choice for this very reason, even though I abhor late term abortions for non-medical reasons and I wish they would find more humane ways to do it, even for a 12 week fetus. ( I really think we need to stop dividing down the line when we’re all probably in more agreement than we realize, but that’s another discussion). However, I never really would have ever said I could imagine myself going through with one. And I still can’t, but I have new empathy (or is it sympathy? – still confused 😉 ) for those who are desperate enough to consider one.

    Even when my third had an abnormal ultrasound I didn’t get to thinking in that direction (but I didn’t have to wait for genetic testing like you did – what a nightmare!), but right now, in the place I’m at with a 2 year old and 8 month old, I cannot possibly imagine another pregnancy taking over my body, and there have been moments that I questioned how desperate I would be if I found out I was pregnant right now. Of course, I realize I’m in a good relationship with the physical ability and financial means to have another, so my situation is vastly different from a poor single mom with limited access to health care. But if *I* would want to avoid the consequences of that pregnancy at almost any cost, how much harder must it be for those less fortunate?! I don’t want to tell them not to do what I would wish I could do, or take away their access to something that may prevent real harm to them and their children (unborn or otherwise) – physically, emotionally, it’s all the same.

    Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience with this. Your perspective is so valuable.

  4. Wow. Thank you for sharing something so personal and potentially vulnerable, K.

    I don’t fall neatly into the pro-life or pro-choice camp, and find the political polemics so problematic. (I articulated my ambivalence to “picking a side” in this post once upon a time:

    But I really appreciate the stories that remind me of all the shades of grey in this difficult, painful, personal arena. You told yours beautifully.

    P.S. I’ll “second” taking a look at the most recent Exponent for more on reproductive choice (K gave the link at the bottom of her post), particularly Emma Lou Thayne’s “On the Side of Life” (which is her answer to whether she is pro-life or pro-choice). Also, Heather posted an amazing account a few years ago on this blog

    • Deborah,

      Thanks for sharing these posts, especially Heather’s. I was going through a rough time when it was written and missed it then. That story is heartbreaking and I want to find that man who was protesting outside of the abortion clinic and make him read Heather’s story.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this, K. I get so tired of the way people talk about abortion as if it were a black and white issue. It’s not. Not in any way. Life is good. It is good to protect it as much as possible. But doing that, protecting life, is a complex, messy thing that involves far more variables than the typical “baby killer” approach to the talking about abortion by some in the pro-life movement acknowledges. It’s gotten to the point where I am not willing to have a conversation about abortion with someone who equates it with killing babies. There has to be a middle ground on which people can talk about this and I think your story, K, helps illuminate that middle ground.

    I simply do not understand making all or nothing arguments about something so complex and personal as choosing to end a pregnancy. There are so many factors, like the interest of the baby (as K points out here). We are so fortunate to live in a place where women can make their own choice about when it is necessary to terminate a pregnancy. And it infuriates me that there are those who would deny women that choice, either outright by making abortion illegal (even in instances of rape [which some ideologues insist women lie about in order to procure an abortion]) or by using backdoor methods (like defunding PP) in order to make it harder to get. A woman’s choice should not be circumscribed by the fact that she is poor or lives too far away from a provider or any other reason.

    I appreciate your courage, K, both in confronting what would be a heartbreaking decision head on and in sharing this story with others.

  6. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    I have had some sad and horrible experiences in countries where abortion is illegal. I’ve seen first hand the damage that women do do their bodies- and even their lives- permanently because they have no where else to turn. It breaks my heart. We need more posts like this. Thank you.

  7. Yes, thank you, K. Beautifully written. You’ve articulated why I am pro-choice, despite having ambivalent feelings about abortion. For me, ultimately, it comes down to the fact that we can never know the motivations of another person. We can never look into their soul and see the depths of their suffering, their despair, or their desire to spare their unborn child from pain and suffering. For those reasons, I feel that we need to leave this question up to the conscience of the individual woman. I have a hard time believing that most women easily or lightly choose abortions.

  8. I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with a couple of points. I’m not going to touch upon the pro-choice/pro-life debate (although in full disclosure, I’m pro-life). My problem is with Planned Parenthood. Despite what PP says, the fact is PP receives 38% of their revenue by providing abortions. Their revenue is upwards of 1 BILLION dollars a year, receiving about $360 MILLION from the government. PP then turns around and donates a quarter of a million dollars back to the Democrat members of congress, and fundraises on their behalf. I am completely in support of helping low-income women access health care, but to say that PP is only about providing women with affordable health care is disingenuous. Abortion is a huge moneymaker for PP. I cannot ignore that PP is an abortion factory…producing an abortion every 90 seconds (300,000 per year). If they were to rid themselves of their abortion services (which they obviously would not), I, and I’m sure many, pro-lifers wouldn’t have the problem with giving them federal funds. I do thank you, though, for your insightful post on the agony of the choices some women go through. Again, I mean no disrespect to you and your situation, just expressing my frustration with Planned Parenthood.

    • Erin, it’s a little disingenuous to criticize PP for donating to the Democratic Party when there are many organizations out there that do the same thing, whether we’re talking about corporations (which benefit from enormous tax cuts, so enormous that they sometimes pay 0 taxes in spite of millions in profits) or conservative non-profit organizations. That’s just the way the game is played. Unless you’re going to criticize any organization which benefits from federal policies and then donates to the party which promotes the policies from which that organization benefits (which you may do; I don’t know your politics on this issue), it’s disingenuous to criticize PP for doing the same thing.

      And it’s disingenuous to claim that “abortion is a huge moneymaker” for PP when PP is a nonprofit organization. Does PP charge for abortion services rendered? I’m sure it does (though I’m also sure they do so at a rate that’s affordable). Does doing so result in revenue? I’m sure it does. Revenue that helps PP continue to provide the services it gives low-income women access to. To talk about abortion as a “moneymaker” implies that you think PP is making some enormous profit off of abortion, which is not true.

      And regardless of your (or others’) opinion of abortion, it is in fact a health care service. So it’s disingenuous to claim that because PP provides abortion services, it is not about providing access to health care services for low-income women. Abortion is one of the several health care services PP provides access to (if you haven’t read the Baby Killer story that Deborah linked to, you should; it illustrates how much abortion actually is a health care service).

      And “abortion factory”? It’s an “abortion factory” because it performs one abortion every 90 seconds? Why isn’t it an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy prevention factory” since it prevents more than 600,000 unwanted pregnancies (1 every 45 seconds) every year? Or a “breast exam factory” since it performs more than 800,000 breast exams (1 every 40 seconds) every year? Or a “pap smear factory” since it performs 1,000,000 pap smears (1 every 30 seconds) every year? Or an “STD prevention/treatment factory” since it performs nearly 4,000,000 STD preventions/treatments (1 every 8 seconds) every year? Why? I’ll tell you why. Because “abortion factory” is inflammatory and does an excellent job of misrepresenting what PP does in order to persuade people to support defunding PP.

      The fact of the matter is that abortion is here to stay (I could site evidence about how far back evidence of abortion goes in the written record [think ancient Egypt], or how attitudes about abortion have been more accepting over history, or how many women die as a result of botched abortions, but I won’t go into detail here). The objective should be to make abortion available in a safe environment when it’s needed while doing everything we can to prevent unwanted pregnancies, which is precisely what PP does.

      • I’d also point out that the 300,000 abortions PP performs in a year happen at more than 800 medical centers, which means about 1 abortion at each center each day. When you look at the number of women raped every year, at the number of women who have medical reasons to terminate a pregnancy, at the number of women facing desperate circumstances that make having a baby seem impossible, I can’t believe that 1 per day per health center is really that high a number. Even if I’d like it to be even smaller.

    • Erin, I’ve never heard those statistics before. Do you have a link where I could read more about it? I think it’s a valuable component in the whole funding issue and would like to learn more. Thanks for sharing.

      • I am curious where the statistic that PP receives 38% of its revenue from abortion comes from, since their own numbers show that less than 38% of their revenue comes for all health center income. And, setting aside discrepancy in numbers, there’s just no way that the other services they provide don’t generate some revenue. I know PP provides a lot of services at no charge a lot of the time, but not all of the time (I have paid for non-abortion services there myself, for instance; or rather, I paid my co-pay and PP billed my insurance) so their contraception and testing services must generate some of their revenue.

    • Thank you first Erin for specifically saying that your comment wasn’t directed at my experience, but at PP in regards to their funding. However, I have been thinking about this for a few days now as I have been discussing it with a relative who sees it similarly to you. But I keep having a clunky conversation in my head something like this:

      I keep coming back to “but EVERYONE donates money to politics”. And then from there I go to “if we’re going to eradicate that in PP, then it needs to be from everywhere”, and then I go to “a LOT of poor women are going to get screwed if we don’t find a way to get them services if PP does get defunded”.

      So, clearly, I was on the cusp of saying exactly what Amelia said, just as brilliant and well-reasoned. 🙂

      (But seriously, I REALLY agree with Amelia.)

    • Sorry to post and run, but it’s getting late. Just thought I’d share this:
      From Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood Employee of the Year, turned avid pro-life supporter (she worked at PP for 8 years):

      “While Planned Parenthood says abortions make up just 3 percent of its services, I found they used an sleight of hand, unbundling family planning services so each patient shows anywhere from five to 20 “visits” per appointment (12 packs of birth control would show up as 12 individual visits). It does the opposite for abortion visits, bundling them together so each appointment shows as one visit. This skews the numbers. You have an overwhelming number of “visits” for family planning compared to abortion, even though you may have seen the same number of patients.”

      • Erin, the problem with this evidence is three fold: 1. It’s anecdotal; while anecdotal evidence is very powerful for making an appeal to pathos or emotion, it’s generally not trustworthy until there are other kinds of evidence to back it up. 2. It’s being offered by someone whose trustworthiness is compromised by her status as an “avid pro-life supporter”; in other words, she has a strong bias and an objective she’s trying to accomplish and based on this very small quote it’s impossible to assess whether she’s taking a balanced approach to this issue or not. 3. She presents contradictory evidence at best and (again) criticizes PP for practices that no one would criticize a dentist for (see below).

        She’s not very clear on what she means by “12 packs of birth control”–a box of 12 condoms distributed means 12 visits? I have a hard time believing that kind of accusation, especially when she has no evidence to back it up AND she’s proactively advocating against PP and abortion rather than objectively reporting. More importantly, I don’t think PP is alone in reporting multiple services for a single visit. If I go to my GP for a check up, that single visit will include a breast exam, a pap smear, and blood tests–3 services. There’s nothing nefarious about reporting that 1 visit as 3 different services. If I go to PP and have a breast exam, a pap smear, get some condoms for free, renew my prescription for hormonal birth control, and have them run an HIV test, why would it be any more nefarious for them to report 5 services provided in that one visit than it is for my GP to do the same thing? This is a classic example of the kind of sleight of hand and misdirection that pro-lifers are so good at in their efforts to find back door avenues to doing away with abortion by making it inaccessible.

        As to “bundling them together” for abortions: what exactly gets bundled? She contradicts herself here when she says that “each appointment shows as one visit.” Her argument here would only work if she’s saying that multiple appointments for an abortion get reported as one visit but that’s not at all what she’s saying. If she means multiple steps get reported as a single abortion, I don’t see what the problem is there. Even if there are multiple steps in making the abortion happen, they’re a progressive series of services accomplishing one thing–the termination of a pregnancy. Which is not the same thing as a single visit during which I have five discrete things done (a pap smear is not at all a progressive step in the direction of completing a breast exam, for instance).

        While this quote is certainly powerful as an appeal to pathos, it’s not all that trustworthy when you start picking it apart a bit. And no appeal to pathos is trustworthy unless it is accompanied by very solid appeals to logos as well.

  9. Beautiful post, K. Abortion is such a loaded subject; I’m continually impressed that my Exponent sisters can write such poignant posts that look at both sides of the issue.

  10. Kendahl,
    Thanks for sharing your story here. I’m glad that we have a safe space to discuss the issues that affect women and mothers.

    Considering the funding to PP was an issue in the recent budget resolution, this topic is very timely.

  11. I believe in the law of tithing. After I stopped paying my 10% to the LDS chruch, I started paying it to Planned Parenthood. I couldn’t feel better about my choice.

    Thanks K for this post!

  12. This has been an education. Grateful to correct some of my misconceptions about PP. I should have known better. It is where I got birthcontrol as a sneaky 17 year old. I am grateful that it was there. My life would have been very different if I had been a pregnant teen.

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