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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Mary Le Nguyen: Why it’s important that I tell you about my abortion

By Mary Le Nguyen

By Mary Le Nguyen

We all make choices based on the best resources and options available to us, and I am one of millions of individuals that has had to make the difficult but necessary choice in their lifetime to have an abortion. Too often we frame this decision as a personal one – but the truth is, for those of us who’ve done it, the choice is more often a byproduct of punishing institutions and callous systems that force us to make these choices out of fear, rather than love.

In 1999, I moved to Seattle. I was living out of my car after fleeing from an unstable and abusive home situation in Longview. Connections and resources were few and far between. Fortunately, within a month, I started waiting tables – my first 40-hour a week union job, which provided financial stability.

I started getting sick – vomiting all hours of the day. I went to the doctor. They gave me a pregnancy test. As soon as it came back positive, I remember the oxygen leaving the room, simultaneously feeling relief that at least I knew what was making me sick.

That week, I went to Planned Parenthood. I grew up in the 90s – on fast food and what would be the start of our contemporary on-demand culture of instant consumerism – so I’d had it in my mind that the process would resemble something like a drive-thru: I’d walk up, get the procedure and drive away. As you can imagine, the process did not start and end as quickly as pulling in and peeling out of a McDonald’s parking lot.

The intake person who asked me a series of questions was kind but gently let me know during the “counseling” session that I had to wait 24 hours before I could initiate the process. I began to sob, wondering why they would prolong a process I’d requested and already knew I wanted. I found a different location who would see me the next day.

I took three sick days to attend the appointments needed to have my abortion. My body needed to recover, but I couldn’t afford to take another day off. I went back to work the next day, despite being told I’d experience excessive bleeding and cramping. I knew I couldn’t keep working, but I was more ashamed of a Planned Parenthood fax to my boss outlining the reason for my absence. It felt like a Scarlett letter: “A” for Abortion.

Not many people talk about grappling with life post-abortion. Not many people come forward; in fact, Americans tend to think abortion is rare and underestimate the prevalence of abortion, which I think is a contributing factor to the lack of sharing. Not to mention the social condemnation, shame, among other things that lead to one’s stifling of their story. Even when I hear people’s abortion stories today, they’re almost always told by now-mothers–a redemption story made possible through a later, different choice to have a child. There is a different story to be told. I had an abortion. I didn’t make a different choice later. I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m proud of it, and you should be too.

Reclaiming my story is my form of resistance to the institution that made me feel shame about my body, that kept me from being vulnerable with those closest to me, and that instilled fear to all of those that had to be confronted with the same choice I did almost two decades ago. Until we live in a world where an abundance of access to education, resources and universal healthcare – including reproductive choices – is made available to us, more and more individuals will fall victim to poor execution of a system that perpetuates shame in those making the best decisions for themselves.

There is too much shame and blame in the world already. And placing that on people choosing to do what’s best for them with the options and resources they have available is not only unnecessary and unkind, but a tool to restrict our inalienable right to make the economic, political and social choices that affect us and our families. We deserve better.

Mary Le Nguyen, of Seattle, comes from Vietnamese lineage and is the first executive director of color in Washington Community Action Network’s 40-year history. She has worked within the labor and reproductive justice movements for over 10 years and waited tables for nearly 20. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Policy Studies from the University of Washington.

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