'I Had An Abortion In California During The COVID-19 Pandemic'

Back in March, I made a difficult decision: whether to go outside—or not—to get an abortion.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed life for us all, but for me and people across the United States who need abortions, we have yet another decision to make; should we go outside and potentially expose ourselves to the virus or stay home with a pregnancy we don't want to continue? My abortion was essential, so I went.

On March 16, the day the "shelter in place" order was announced in certain parts of California, I pulled up to the parking lot of my local Planned Parenthood to begin a medication abortion. I glanced at my phone before going in to find a text from a friend, "California is about to announce that six counties, including ours, won't be allowed to leave our homes until April 7, in the next hour. Get everything you need before mass hysteria." My heart sank.

In the steps between the car and the clinic doors, I worried: will I get stuck pregnant?

For the past decade, I have been working to protect abortion access as a cultural organizer, facilitator and storytelling advocate; unlike many legislators across the country, I have always known that abortion access is an essential service.

But there I was, alone in my car, four days after Trump declared a national state of emergency on March 13, wondering if the state would consider the procedure I needed to go on with my life, and carry out my purpose, to be essential.

In the steps between the car and the clinic doors, I worried: will I get stuck pregnant?

Could it be possible that although I live in one of the most progressive states in the country—with the resources to end an unwanted pregnancy, the ability to get an appointment within a week at a clinic close to home, a wide ecosystem of support, and an internal compass that was immediately certain of my decision—I would get stuck pregnant during a pandemic?

Abortion, Coronavirus, California, Reproductive rights, Abortion rights
Nik Zaleski underwent a medication abortion in California during the COVID-19 pandemic. NIK ZALESKI

I walked into the clinic and stood behind another woman in line. I listened anxiously to her check in—was she being turned away for services today? Would the government get to decide her destiny, to decide that her needs were non-essential?

When it was my turn, I told the receptionist I had just heard the news about sheltering in place. "Am I allowed to be here?" I asked. "Of course," she assured me. I closed my eyes, took a breath, and silently thanked God and everyone who ever fought for abortion care before me—then I thanked her.

So while the world was dramatically changing outside, my plan stayed the same. I met with my provider, took the first pill, Mifepristone, to stop the pregnancy from developing, thanked her for her work and went home.

I woke up the next day, worked for a few hours, and took the remaining medication to terminate my pregnancy at home, where I was now observing the "shelter in place" order.

What is this global public health crisis teaching us right now? For me, COVID-19 has provided yet another opportunity to count my privileges.

My sister was with me throughout the day; she made chicken soup with Meyer lemons from our yard for dinner. In an extraordinarily disorienting time, the procedure was remarkably ordinary. I was pregnant, didn't want to be, and was able to solve my problem safely in my home supported by my favorite person on the planet.

What is this global public health crisis teaching us right now? For me, COVID-19 has provided yet another opportunity to count my privileges; to be accountable to the resources I've been handed in this lifetime.

I am white, young, healthy, able-bodied, insured—inadequately, but insured nonetheless—and employed. I have a car to get groceries and money with which to buy them. That same car is the one I used to travel to my abortion appointment.

I have a safe and warm home where I can "shelter in place"; the same home I terminated my pregnancy in. If I contracted COVID-19, I would receive the medical services I need. In the clinic, I was able to get the medical service I needed—an abortion.

Abortion, Coronavirus, California, Reproductive rights
Nik Zaleski underwent a medical abortion in California in March 2020. NIK ZALESKI

I am now thinking about all of the people who are currently trying to get the abortion access they need.

As I read the headlines of politicians in a dozen states using the outbreak of COVID-19 to shutter clinics during the pandemic—forcing people to travel out of state—I think about the dilemma patients are faced with.

Should they follow the CDC's guidance and cancel travel or get on a bus, plane, train, or car to cross a state line for care? This is care that grows more expensive, more complicated, and harder to find the longer they're delayed.

For weeks now, people in Texas have been waking up unsure if their appointment will be cancelled as the legal whiplash of federal courts protects appointments one day and prohibits them the next. I am both afraid for those people, being forced to stay pregnant for longer than they'd like, and thankful that I was able to get the care I needed.

I think about young people in America who are currently navigating laws requiring them to go to a judge for permission, and who will now be receiving news alerts of courts shutting down.

I think of everyone who has to travel hundreds of miles because they happen to live in Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota or West Virginia—states with only one clinic that offers abortion services. And I think of those who may have to travel long distances for a later procedure. They will all have to make the same decision that I did—whether or not to go outside.

On that day in March, I was given a seven minute window into the level of anxiety so many people are experiencing for months on end.

The need for abortions does not subside during a pandemic, because people do not simply change their minds when abortion access gets more difficult. We know what is right for our bodies, our families, and our futures.

Between my car and reaching the reception desk on that day in March, I was given a seven minute window into the level of anxiety so many people are experiencing for weeks and months on end as they try to get the essential reproductive health services they need.

That seven minutes is why I work to ensure everyone who wants an abortion is able to get one—without barriers and without fear.

Nik Zaleski is a cultural strategist, playwright and director who works in the reproductive justice movement. She is a storyteller with We Testify, an organization dedicated to the leadership and representation of people who have abortions.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.