'I Had an Abortion 15 Years Ago Today—It's Still the Best Decision I Ever Made'

Today is an anniversary for me. Fifteen years ago today, I woke up pregnant—when I truly didn't want to be—for the last time. My day started out in a very ordinary way. I riffled through my closet, proclaiming nothing to wear, but eventually choosing a tee shirt, tight jeans, and a thong. What does one wear to an abortion? I drove my then-boyfriend's house to pick him up so he could drop me off at the clinic.

When I arrived at the clinic, the only sense of nervousness and panic occurred when I saw all of the security cameras and bullet proof glass greeting me at the door. I instinctively knew these precautions were to keep me safe from those who are anti-abortion and choose to threaten people undertaking abortions at clinics. It just left me feeling more sure in my decision.

I've heard people say: "No one wants an abortion," but that wasn't true for me. I wanted an abortion. When I had my sexual debut just before my 16th birthday, I made a plan—I would use condoms, get birth control pills at my high school's free health center, and if I became pregnant before I was ready, I would have an abortion. I was being safe and I had a plan.

But many best laid plans go awry, through no fault of the person who made them. I was no exception; my partner often refused to wear condoms and once I left high school I didn't make enough money to afford consistent access to birth control pills.

When I eventually became pregnant, I had a plan at the ready. I've heard people say: "Abortion is never any easy decision," but that also wasn't true for me.

It was an easy decision because I knew what I wanted. I've heard people say: "You'll come to regret your abortion," and 15 years later, I haven't. Ninety-five percent of us who have abortions don't regret them, data shows.

There are many permanent things I've done to my body that I regret; the poorly done hip tattoo I got at 16, the tongue piercing that has left a permanent scar, and relationships I stayed in too long that caused pain. I was determined, and I knew an abortion was something I had to do to move forward. It was—and still is—the best decision I ever made.

Abortion, Activism, Pro-choice
Renee Bracey Sherman had an abortion 15 years ago today. She says it is still the best decision she has made. Here is she pictured at the Chicago Abortion Fund Fundraiser in 2018. Courtesy of Chicago Abortion Fund.

The abortion itself was mostly uneventful: an ultrasound I couldn't read, twilight sedation, a few cramps, a kind nurse holding my hand and then resting at home for the day. I regret what I wore; the jeans were too tight and uncomfortable and the thong was the absolute wrong match for the extremely large maxi pad they sent me home wearing.

What I remember most is the feeling of loneliness because I wasn't ready to tell my parents—who I knew would have come with me if I wanted—and my then-boyfriend who didn't want to come inside. I had no idea that this moment would change my life and become my entire career. An activist career my parents are proud of me for.

Once I finally felt ready to talk about my abortion openly, loved ones shared their stories back. Not just about abortion—both safe and unsafe—but also miscarriages, sexual violence, adoptions, infant and maternal deaths, and pregnancies that have shaped generations of our families. I am here because of a lineage who forcefully didn't have and diligently sought control over their fertility. I exist because of abortion. For that I am eternally grateful.

I've also explored and grown in my understanding of what it means to be a biracial Black woman, particularly one who had an unintended pregnancy. I've become increasingly angry and felt betrayed by messages I've seen, and see, that suggest Black mamas are a scourge of the U.S. and a reason for societal ills.

The only thing I regret about my abortion experience is that I almost believed the rhetoric that was presented by anti-abortion groups around abortion and Black women. Was my body "the most dangerous place for an African American" as one anti-abortion billboard told me? Is "our next possible leader aborted every 21 minutes" as another said, alongside an image of President Barack Obama? I knew the answer was no, but it has taken years for me to understand the deep seated hatred for Black women that those billboards display.

It's still frustrating to see that white pro-criminalization activists cheered on rapper Kanye West for tweeting that 22,500,000 Black babies have been aborted in 50 years, without taking time to fact check the statement or consider how it might affect Black women and trans people who have abortions, and how they might feel erased.

Sometimes, I regret making working towards abortion access my job, because of the near constant onslaught of racist anti-abortion hatred I receive. Black unborn lives matter so much to them they email me calling me a "n***** b****" to defend the right to life. But it's this anti-Black hatred that has pushed me to keep going.

Abortion, Activism, Pro-choice
Abortion, Activism, Pro-Choice

I believe that what most upsets people who attack me is that I love myself, publicly. How dare we be open about our experiences, and demand that people continue to love us publicly? How dare our families be supportive and accepting of our decisions? I don't hate myself, and I think it makes people angry. I am confident and self-assured of my decision 15 years ago. And, I use it to change the world.

Inspired by the loneliness I felt in the clinic, I have volunteered to drive people to the clinic, offered refuge in my home between multi-day appointments, and held their hands during the procedure for nearly a decade. Everyone deserves to have someone who cares for them unconditionally by their side during their abortions.

My job now, as a vessel for abortion stories is truly a gift, and I have never taken that for granted. I am creating a world where Black people's pregnancies, and abortions, are met with love and compassion. After experiencing the heartbreak of burying a cousin, born 14 weeks premature and dying on her 25th day, I am even more committed to ensuring families are able to make decisions throughout pregnancy that are best for them.

Refuting the hatred that exists towards people who have abortions and showing others they're loved unconditionally is the best way I know I can honor my abortion daily.

I've taken what I've learned from my experience in hopes that it can shift someone else's. "Everyone loves someone who has had an abortion," is a phrase I often use, as one in four cisgender women have abortions. The most important lesson I've learned in the 15 years since my abortion is that it's okay to love myself.

Renee Bracey Sherman is the founder and executive director of We Testify, an organization dedicated to the leadership and representation of people who have abortions. She is also the executive producer of Ours To Tell, a documentary centering the lives of women of color and nonbinary people who had abortions.

All views expressed in this piece are the writer's own.

'I Had an Abortion 15 Years Ago Today—It's Still the Best Decision I Ever Made' | My Turn