I had my first abortion when I was 11 years old, and another five or six between the ages of 12 and 21. I have Vascular Ehlers-Danlos, an extremely rare genetic connective tissue disorder, one symptom of which is frequent and potentially fatal bleeding. The abortions were my treatment.
I have never been pregnant.
As a consequence of my genetic disorder, becoming a “young lady” was more dangerous than empowering. I routinely experienced excessively heavy menstrual periods, some lasting three to four months. On other occasions, blood vessels would snap into hemorrhages, sending me to the hospital for surgical intervention to tie off the bleeder. On other occasions, I was given injections to staunch the bleeding and rebalance my hormones.
All I wanted was to be a carefree kid, play tag, climb trees, and ride my bike. I wanted to careen between training as a modern dancer and doing basement boogaloos. I craved the option of sitting quietly at home or in the library without menstrual accidents that ruined my fashionista outfits and someone’s lovely upholstery. I wanted nothing more than to be a student participating in the teen and young adult activities that make life simultaneously fun, fascinating, purposeful, and terrifying.
The approximately seven dilation and curettage (D&C) procedures performed on me by a pediatric gynecologist were used to diagnose and treat my uterine conditions. D&C, which involves removing the uterine lining, also happens to be a method of terminating a pregnancy. In concert with hormone shots, uterine packing, and birth-control pills, my D&Cs were mostly used to remove tissue overgrowths from my uterus, control uterine polyps, and to diagnose a precancerous condition called endometrial intraepithelial hyperplasia, in which the lining of the uterus becomes overly thick.
Were I a young girl in most of the United States today, there would likely not be a pediatric gynecologist to treat my unusual, specific, and critical medical needs. Nor would I be allowed the procedures required to keep my challenged uterus healthy. This is because my treatments as dictated by doctors have now been politicized and miscast as something they are not.
I would have bled to death when I was 11.
When my bleeding could no longer be controlled by hormonal medications and medical abortion procedures, I had to undergo a partial hysterectomy. I was found passed out in a pool of blood in a public restroom. The operation saved my life. Unexpectedly discovered and also removed was cervical cancer that had developed despite the close and lifelong observation of my reproductive system. I was 22.
Conversations and media reporting that followed the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling to disband the protective regulatory structure of the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision illustrates the limited knowledge members of the judicial and legislative branches have of female biology, the reproductive system, and the dangers inherent in pregnancy and delivery, especially for people of color, and for any child.
The correlation of moral, religious, and political constructs currently engaged in by politicians and courts is neither biological nor scientific. I am a fourth-generation Baptist and the great-granddaughter, granddaughter, and daughter of Black Baptist ministers, men who believed in the separation of church and state as a fundamental article of faith.
Baptists were the first religious group in the United States to adopt separation as theology, reflective of religious liberty. This principle, written by Thomas Jefferson, reflected the earlier work of Roger Williams, a Baptist minister and founder of Providence, Rhode Island. Jefferson expounded on this tenet in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut. It was this Baptist language that became central to the U.S. Constitution. The men in my family understood as an article of faith that social equity, bodily autonomy, and the provision of universal access to healthcare enhanced health for everyone, and decreased unintended pregnancies and pregnancy-related deaths.
Abortion is too narrowly and inconsistently defined. Abortion care creates understandable, if misplaced, objections to a surgical procedure, as well as to the use of medicines that cause abortion and medical forms of birth control.
On July 13, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing about access to reproductive services in which Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson asked an absurd question of Dr. Yashica Robinson, who sits on the board of directors of Physicians for Reproductive Health: “Do you support the right of a woman who is just seconds away from birthing a healthy child to have an abortion?”
The answer: This does not happen.
However, prebirth, late-term abortions may be necessary in cases of maternal life endangerment, discovery of severe fetal abnormalities, or removal of potentially infectious products of conception that remain when fetuses are miscarried or stillborn.
Everyone across all political aisles, socioeconomic strata, faith beliefs, racial and age groups, is in favor of life. In our present conversations, so-called pro-life beliefs are synonymous with anti-abortion views with a primary concern on the attribution of life to the fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus. The pro-choice movement reflects a belief that everyone has the right to decide when to have children and increasingly understands broadening data regarding the difficulty of this choice for poor women, women of color, and other people capable of pregnancy.
A healthy American future requires that concerns related to abortion are better focused on family planning, healthy fetal viability, affordable housing, food access, childcare, well-paid work, and equitable healthcare access to create healthy and well-resourced communities. Yes, abortion is complicated, especially given the advances in technology since Roe was decided in 1973. The regulations are new. But what has not changed is that people won’t always discover their pregnancies in time to safely use abortion services should they be required.
Then there are women like me: Very few people have Vascular Ehlers-Danlos, estimated to affect 1 in 50,000 people. However, many girls and people capable of giving birth have nonpregnancy-related needs for safe abortions. Abortion is necessary and essential healthcare.
The fact that I am alive proves it.
Dr. Lora-Ellen McKinney is a pediatric psychologist, an activist artist, and a proud dog mom who lives in Renton, Washington.