I moved to Nebraska from the East Coast over the summer. I expected to lose myself in the prairies and between the cornstalks in America’s Heartland. However, when I road-tripped to my new home, I started to see anti-abortion billboards on the highway. They increased as I approached less populated areas, too. I didn’t expect to greeted by bigotry in the name of the pro-life movement.
This summer, I switched my Springsteen soundtrack from “Greetings From Asbury Park” to “Nebraska”.femsplain.com
Months ago, I met a young woman named Mary* with a relatable story. Originally from the Bay area, she has lived in Omaha for the past ten years. At 22 years old, she pursued an abortion after breaking ties with an abusive partner. Her last interaction with involved a police escort to his house to retrieve the last of her belongings. While she identifies as Catholic, religious opposition within the local pro-life community made her procedure even more difficult to endure.
I chose to share this interview with Ask Me About My Uterus because its compassionate, praised community. Not every publication can offer that support, and I was extremely conscious as I pitched different ones.
This is her story.
Tell me about yourself.
I am 23 years old and female. I am a young professional in a STEM field, specializing in data and analytics, an industry where women aren’t necessarily seen in right now. You can imagine the position I’m in. Some of my peers are already married and having kids. It’s difficult for me, especially for someone that wants to advance their career. I graduated from a reputable four-year university.
Where does your story start?
I met someone interested in me, and we went on a couple of dates. They decided we should get more serious, I don’t know. In retrospect, it wasn’t necessarily a healthy speed, but with this particular person. Every circumstance is different. He started inviting me over more, and he lives in Bellevue, which is a half hour away from where I live. I pay a lot for this place with the garage, so I got more irritated towards the end.
He was in the military and 31 years old. He told me he previously dated someone 18 years old when he was 29. That age gap, to me, was concerning, but again, people can do whatever they want. There’s no set-in-stone age when people should date, but the way he described her personality, it sounded a lot like me when I was 18. I was still trying to figure out who I was.
A few things started to irritate me as we dated. I like to cook and do “female” things whatever that means. I love food, and to me, if you want to have good food in your love, you need to learn to cook. I don’t care what gender you are. I’d say these things and he’d turn it into commentary. For instance, there’s a song called “Hard Out Here” by Lily Allen. It had a lot of criticisms granted for other reasons, but he pronounced it a “feminist anthem.” He’d also say things like, “when you get older, you’re going to move to the suburbs, you won’t like living urban.”
One night, I decided to end it. It didn’t feel right anymore. I didn’t want anything to do with him. At that point, I had two sheriffs escort me to his house, because he had a gun in the bedroom. Whenever I told him I wanted my stuff back, he never responded. This was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. He texted me after I left, “no wonder why your boyfriends left,” commenting on my previous poor relationship.
There are definitely more pieces, but that’s the gist. When he started making comments about my family, like telling my sister she needed to watch her weight, that was disgusting.
Why did you choose to pursue your abortion at a private clinic in Bellevue?
It was financial reasons. It’s more expensive to get it done at Planned Parenthood and there [are limited] payment plans. They were able to work with me and give me a price I could afford. I, of course, had to take out several loans for this [procedure]. At the time, I was distraught.
Did you have insurance at the time?
I did, in the state of Nebraska — this is the part that gets me. I think because my company is family-oriented, depending on your company especially in more conservative states, there are restrictions states can place on carriers. I had to pay out of pocket. Otherwise, my company’s chosen insurance is comprehensive.
Also, the Bellevue clinic doesn’t put you under [with amnesia] whereas Planned Parenthood does. In that case, you’d need someone to escort you back and I didn’t have anybody. That made it even more difficult.
I spoke to an employee [in the medical coding department] about situations the clinic encounters with incest victims. Employer’s insurance still can’t cover that, because Nebraska has restrictions on elective abortions. Even in my case, [with an abusive partner], the circumstances don’t matter. You don’t have a choice.
Could you describe the political climate in Omaha regarding reproductive rights?
Feminism is definitely discouraged. Although educating young women is valued, it doesn’t include making your own choices and exploring what is best for you. There’s a huge discussion about comprehensive sex education and that’s something people are afraid to talk about it. Sex is taboo outside of marriage, but it extends beyond intercourse. It includes relationship dynamics, such as what a marriage should be.
In high school, they didn’t talk about birth control and condoms. They warned about STDs and avoiding them altogether.
That’s interesting, because Omaha has the highest Chlamydia rates in the country.
When people catch it, I think it’s not something to be ashamed of. When the discussion isn’t inclusive, people [with Chlamydia] feel ashamed. People make a joke out of it, but I think that’s disgusting.
Since moving to the Midwest, I’ve noticed a lot of pro-life propaganda.
It’s like, you’re going to tell me to stay with an abusive partner and kept that child? I wouldn’t have loved that child and not wanted it to be apart of my existence. Do you want me to keep something that’s part of me biologically, because of your beliefs? Not provide me with support or counseling or anything at all? You expect me to be a loving mother? No. I didn’t want ot share anything with [my past partner].
It infuriates me. You’re telling an incest victim they must keep that child. You’re telling a rape victim they must keep that child. Of course, everyone has their own situations, but that’s what pro-choice is about. You can make the choice to say no to a procedure. You can also say yes. I think people are afraid to say [yes], because it sounds heartless, but I’m going to say it.
I know you’re from the Bay area. Tell me about your family.
My mom is not from this country, and she is a naturalized citizen. My dad isn’t from [Omaha], either. He liked the area when he was stationed with the military, and we have great school districts.
No one in my family knows. For instance, I’m sure my cousin in Washington would be fine [telling their families about an abortion], since she is so progressive. It’s also one of those things where people might say they’re for it, but when someone close to them experiences it, they think of you differently.
Did you ever feel you jeopardize your safety before, during, and after this procedure?
Coming up to the clinic itself, I saw one person holding the Virgin Mary and a cross. I didn’t engage with them, but I felt unsafe because those people are ruthless. They think saving an [unborn] life is more important than the actual person, which is paradoxical.
Inside, I felt safe. It’s enclosed and ways of containing, making it more comfortable. It’s welcoming inside. They had a metal detector and you need a photo ID to enter. They ask you to be on time and those things are strict.
Walking out, I helped another person get inside. I think everyone, that made the choice to come here, should be helped. Then I heard [a protestor] wailing on about “my child lives.” It irritates me.
Afterwards, I did the normal thing. I actually wasn’t in much pain. I ate some good food, went home, and slept. It sounds so casual, but that’s how it was.
Have you ever been vocal about your experience?
No. I did tell my boss at work. As progressive and radical as I was, I burst into tears. I wasn’t sure if I was pregnant or not. I told her what I was going to. I wasn’t afraid of what I had to go through, but instead, the people. Like I said, they’re ruthless. That’s the only time I’ve been vocal about that because unfortunately, it’s about my safety. It shouldn’t be that way, either.
Do you know any other young women that have been shamed for their decisions, not exclusive to abortion?
Honestly, I see this in the community I’m apart of: the debate community. It’s not only about their social experiences, but their academic ones. They’re vocal about women’s issues and [have the opportunity to] speak about their decisions in an eloquent manner. It’s always been our community to discuss these things. As an academic group, we ask ourselves why these things are the way they are. That’s one of those most apparent times when other women I know have been questioned about the choices they make, whether it’s sexuality, academics, or anything else.
What advice do you have for young women facing a similar decision?
I went through something more than medical, but also surgical. It’s very scary. There are certain parts of the procedure required by the state of Nebraska, such as how to take care of yourself and what to expect. Granted, after a medical procedure, they can send you home right away. From my experience, I remember the people there were so welcoming.
If you have to go alone, remember you’re not alone. It frustrates me I can’t say this as who I am, but it’s a more common experience. Sadly, we are not always able to say who were are, help, and comfort you. The people in that waiting room, there were couples. There was a mom and a daugher. Don’t let other people’s’ idea of who is in that waiting room close your mind. People from all walks of life of there. Walk in with your head held high.
If this is the right decision for you, and yes, they will ask you multiple times, do know it isn’t always the final decision. They work with you as much as possible. No one is judging you; they are making sure you’re safe. Although the state doesn’t force you to look at the ultrasound, they will take it. Other parts may be required as well, but some are designed as scare tactics. Many women experience this as well.
The afterbirth procedure isn’t as painful, either. People conducting [this procedure] are professionals. Everyone’s body will react different. Know especially these people are here to take care of you. You’re never in the position when you’re unsafe. Depending on your procedure or the medical instructions, you might be able to get a ride back. I personally drove back and took the medications as instructed. I was fine.
At the end of the day, don’t be afraid to reach out. You are not a disgusting person. You made a choice. Don’t let anyone tell you anything less for doing that. You exercised your rights and you are in a better place.
My main message is that you’re not alone. If I could hug and embrace all of you, I would. Because you are wonderful, great people that exercise their right for a good fight.
Is there any sort of community out there for women that have done this?
There are public forums. Reddit is my favorite. I’ve shared my story with a few people, especially when they post questions. You can also just lurk among other user’s responses. People are always welcoming about talking about my experience. I remember someone reminding me that it’s all circumstantial. Circumstances will never match. There are several communities out there, but unfortunately, not many people know about them because of the current [political] climate. I can understand why people might be hesitant.
*Name has been changed to protect this woman’s identity.