Thank You, for Life

“You saved my life,” I had told the provider.

I was 22 years old, in a just-okay four-year relationship with a just-okay guy, and I was working every second of every day towards becoming a doctor. One night while working on my medical school application, I realized I had been so stressed that I couldn’t remember when I last had a period. Time stopped. Then, the pregnancy test came back positive. The dream I had for my life went from feeling close within reach to sickeningly far, far away.

My dream was to change the world, although at the time I wasn’t sure what that meant. Nevertheless, I wanted to commit all of myself to doing so, and I didn’t feel I had enough of myself available to be the awesome mother I would have wanted to be. And yet, I felt judged for doing what seemed was the right thing to do, particularly by those who shouted meanly at me outside the abortion clinic that I should “choose life”. I shouted back at them, “What on earth do you think I am doing??”

I was choosing my own life. Doesn’t a woman’s life matter, and all she can do with it? Does “life” only refer to the fetus? Too often, this message of having less-than-important lives is what is perpetuated to women around the world. Thus, fighting for abortion rights is fundamentally apart of fighting for women’s lives.

For me in December 2005, I became eternally grateful to Planned Parenthood for providing me an abortion. With it, they gave me the message that my life mattered. By allowing me to make my choice for my life, they were telling me they believed in my potential as a woman. They saved the life I had dreamed for myself, to go on to be a physician and save others. I walked out of their clinic that day feeling like I could breathe air in my lungs again.

I don’t know what I would have done if I had lived in an area where I couldn’t get an abortion. Just the thought of it catches my breath again, as my nauseating desperation of being unwantedly pregnant returns so easily. I remember feeling panicked enough that I would have tried anything to not be pregnant anymore. With this, I understand why women die in areas where there is no abortion access. Unskilled abortion providers that result in sepsis, coat hangers that result in uterine perforations, and even suicide become realistic options for desperate women. In countries where abortion is illegal and thus unregulated, approximately 3000 women die per 100,000 abortion procedures performed.1 Hugely contrasting, in countries where abortion is legal and safe, only 0.6 women die per 100,000 procedures.2 Take a minute to soak that in: only 0.6 deaths in areas where abortion is legally accessible, and 3000 deaths in areas where it is illegal, taboo, potentially unsanitary, unskillfully provided, and hence, unsafe. Abortion access saves lives, not only figuratively like mine, but literally.

Almost ten years later since my story started, I’m now a doctor. I am eternally grateful to having been allowed the agency in my own patient decision-making those years ago, and I strive daily to give my patients the same. I continue to want to save the world, and to me this now means working to ensure no one can take away another’s freedom to decide his or her life. With this in mind, I am now and forever will be an abortion provider.

Several years ago, my first abortion patient said to me, “Thank you for saving my life.” I smiled, and took the moment to reminisce on my own similar past words. We both spoke our truth on the day of our abortions, and the truth is that this procedure is lifesaving in so many ways, for so many women. Let us continue to work towards safe and legal abortion access for all women. Let us celebrate our abortion providers, as they are truly lifesavers.

1. Guttmacher Institute. Facts on Induced Abortion Worldwide. Accessed 3.09.14 at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_IAW.html.
2. World Health Organization (WHO), Unsafe Abortion: Global and Regional Estimates of the Incidence of Unsafe Abortion and Associated Mortality in 2008, sixth ed., Geneva: WHO, 2011.

With gratitude on Abortion Provider Appreciation Day,