From Mississippi to Texas: An abortion experience
By Kara Dudas Bellone
Amelia, University of Mississippi junior studying integrated marketing communications, knows the drive from Oxford, Mississippi, to the Mississippi Delta mile per mile for every bump and curve. She frequents the hour and a half drive down Mississippi Highway 7 south to visit family, practice her love for the Lord and escape the anxieties of college undergraduate life to the comfort of home.
But, in the late summer of 2016, 19-year-old Amelia encountered an anxiety that could not be remedied by a quick trip home to the Delta. Instead, Amelia made the uncomfortable trek to Dallas, Texas, that led her to Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center to have a surgical abortion, or Dilation and Evacuation, otherwise known as D&E.
“I was so young, and I was not in a committed relationship. They also didn’t like the guy I was seeing,” Amelia said. “If I went somewhere in the state I just felt like someone would know my parents, or me.”
Gaby Gomez, an employee at Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center, noted that the clinic serves 30 to 40 women a day, and about seven out-of-state clients each week.
According to Anja Scheib, former Students for Life intern, an anti-abortion student organization, who attended Mississippi State University, college-aged women traveling for abortions is not uncommon.
“One reason is so their parents don’t know,” Scheib said. “They could tell their parents they were going to an away game and stay at a friend’s or a hotel or something. Anything that is like an attraction; people will schedule it around another event.”
The emotional distress and private nature of having an abortion is not the sole reason that Amelia has chosen to change her name in this article.
The controversial dialogue surrounding the issue has deterred her from speaking about her experience publicly, and that same fear of judgment from parents and peers played a major role in her traveling to Texas to have the procedure done while staying with extended family.
Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center is the only clinic in north Texas that offers abortion services after the sixteenth week of pregnancy, or 16 weeks gestation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this situates Amelia’s abortion, at almost 16 weeks pregnant, in the 7.1 percent of abortions performed between 14 to 20 weeks.
Despite having a gut feeling that she was pregnant, Amelia put off taking the actual test for weeks.
“I took the test and it was positive. Then I was like, ‘I’m going to take another one because that one’s not right,’ and both of them were positive,” Amelia said. “And it was just disbelief, that it was very wrong. And then it was really just disbelief that that’s where I was in life.”
Amelia’s on-again, off-again sex partner factored into her decision to have an abortion. His stance on whether he was supportive of her abortion varied daily.
“When I first told him he was like no, I can’t have a kid,’” Amelia said. “And then after I left he texted me and was like ‘Let’s do this.’”
Her decision to have a surgical abortion followed processing feelings of shock, crisis and self-reflection.
“For a while I thought that maybe I could possibly be a mom. Because I knew that I would have to step up if I did have a kid. I wouldn’t just not care,” Amelia said. “But then I also knew that I physically and mentally wasn’t ready. I was still in school, I didn’t have a good paying job and I live with my parents. I wanted to, but I knew I couldn’t, so I didn’t.”
Making the decision to have an abortion is not the only obstacle that women who seek abortions face. Patients often face ridicule at the clinic by protesters from other pregnancy centers in the Dallas area such as Birth Choice and White Rose, said Gaby Gomez, employee at Southwestern Women’s Clinic.
“I usually let them [clients] know, ‘we have people on the street trying to talk to you. Don’t talk to them,’” Gomez said
These protesters are not the stereotypical type that comes to mind when imagining what protesters outside of a women’s clinic would look like.
“The protesters have an office near where we are located, and they’ll direct them there,” Gomez said. “They’ll do a free sonogram and give them the wrong weeks about how far along they are to try to deter them… They’ll do anything they can to stop them.”
If the clients who are corralled by the protestors are not deterred by the misinformation, they return to Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center.
“They’ll be told that their appointment is actually at this other building,” Gomez said. “But they usually figure it out. They’ll walk out and come straight here after they’ve been there.”
The lack of discussion on the topic and inherent negative connotation in the region is in part why Amelia chose to go through with the procedure.
“Being from Mississippi has shaped me to be a pretty conservative person, and us Mississippians, we’re judgy, we are,” Amelia said. “And I didn’t want to be judged for being a mom before I was a wife.”
Other issues concerning women’s reproductive health might serve as a catalyst for the silence that surrounds abortion.
“In general, people don’t talk about sex, and it obviously has to do with sex. People don’t even talk about STDs,” Scheib said. “So, I think it starts with that, and then it ends up being people don’t talk about abortions.”
From there, the D&E procedure is an extensive three-day process even though no matter how far along a woman is; the actual procedure only takes 10 to 25 minutes.
This lengthy process came into effect Sept. 1, 2011, after Texas Legislature passed a bill requiring women to have an ultrasound 24 hours or more before the procedure; a bill that pro-abortion rights organizations such as Planned Parenthood have openly rallied against by saying that it only accelerates a woman’s stress surrounding her decision.
“I was there each day for two and a half to three hours, minimum. But the third day I was there for at least four hours,” Amelia said.
Day one: paperwork, ultrasound, consultation and lamanaria insertion.
While ultrasounds have always been part of standard procedure during an abortion, the bill passed by Texas Legislature does not state any medical reason for the time lapse.
“You talk to one doctor, and then another doctor, and then they ask you if you want to speak to a therapist. You have the option to say no, but you still end up talking with one at some point,” Amelia said.
Day two: additional dilatation and scheduling the D&E procedure.
“The two days is how long is takes to dilate your cervix completely; which is very painful,” Amelia said.
Day three: sedation and the procedure.
“There was a lot of stuff that I was like, ‘Oh my gosh’,” Amelia said. “They don’t put you to sleep for it. You’re very much awake for the entire thing.”
The time, expense and emotional distress are all factors that aid a woman’s decision to have, or not to have an abortion. For some, the expense of the procedure as well as the expense of housing, among other travel expenses, makes their decision for them.
“Sometimes if women are on the border and they aren’t sure, and they haven’t made a decision yet, but they have a lot of people going different ways, cost will sometimes be the last determining factor,” Scheib said.
Abortion remains a controversial issue in culture, politics and on college campuses through silence and fear. But for individuals like Amelia who have experienced it, their perspective has changed.
“Now, having gone through the process, and seeing how emotionally draining it is… If you go through with it, then you seriously had to. It takes a toll on you,” Amelia said. “There are days where I am very, very unhappy with my decision. But I know that then, in that moment, it was the best thing I could’ve done for myself.”
Amelia has returned to school at the University of Mississippi, and is still perusing a degree in integrated marketing communications. She says that her experience has changed the way she views women’s right to choose, but has not altered her long terms plans of graduating and continuing on her life path.
“For a long time, I felt like a really crappy person for doing it,” Amelia said. “And as I move along and grow a little bit, it makes me have a lot more respect for people who have done it. And the people who try to help people be able to do it.”