Texas woman who needed an abortion found ‘love’ in California

The first sign of Stephanie’s pregnancy was nausea, as is so often the case – that particular debilitating nausea that made her lose her footing, sometimes all day, for days at a time.

This prevented Stephanie, who asked me not to use her real name for all the obvious reasons, from working. She runs her own business in Austin, Texas braiding hair, a skill she learned as a teenager.

“Men, women, children,” she told me in a Lone Star accent. “Yes ma’am”, she does them all and loves it, loves making her clients feel beautiful.

When Stephanie took a pregnancy test and it came back positive, she was first shocked, then dismayed. Then things got worse.

Although she hadn’t given it much thought, Texas had just passed its law banning abortions after a heartbeat was detected. California, the golden state of sunshine and freedom, of course has doubled its access to reproductive health, something Stephanie hadn’t thought of yet.

Stephanie was dating a man who had been a friend for a few years. They met at a restaurant over a Sunday lunch and, in retrospect, Stephanie wishes she had kept him “in the friend zone”. As soon as she found out she was pregnant, she also knew he wasn’t someone she wanted to have a long-term relationship with. He was never going to be the kind of partner she could rely on, and she didn’t need more.

“Dealing with him would have brought a lot of negative issues into my life,” she said.

She has three children, ages 14, 6 and 5. She’s a single mom with all the hard work that comes with it, but “my kids are my main priority,” she says.

The youngest is a “dancing machine” who will soon enter kindergarten, a little girl with a strong personality. Her 6-year-old son is the comedian, a clown, she says, with a helpful side.

Her teenage daughter dreams of being a nurse working with babies. The young girl thinks being a registered nurse will give her a life of luxury, says Stephanie.

It may not quite match the way the teenager thinks, but Stephanie is proud of her drive. “She’s a go-getter, very mature,” she said.

Stephanie, 33, prayed for the pregnancy. She exhausted her savings by being off work. She thought about the bills a baby would bring, what it would mean for her children and for her own future. She then decided to have an abortion.

“Where I’m at in my life, I’m on a journey where I’m still trying to find myself, trying to be the best mother I can be,” she said. “And I feel like it’s hard enough and I don’t want to bring another child into the world.”

It is of course none of our business, and requires no justification, no anecdote to make us understand a choice that is hers alone. But Stephanie shared her story with me both to help explain what it really means for California to be an abortion sanctuary state, how urgent it is for this state to keep the promises its politicians make and to let others who need an abortion know that there is help in these dark and scary days.

What Planned Parenthood Los Angeles has done to help Stephanie’s efforts has surprised me. It made me proud to be in a state that is not backing down from this horrible fight, and it made me realize that we are way beyond putting on pink hats and protesting a state house where the governor and lawmakers have already doubled down on making California a sanctuary for reproductive care.

It is no longer just a culture war between those with political and ideological differences, if it ever was. It is an identity crisis that will determine the future of this country for decades to come, a dividing line between an inclusive democracy and a white Christian nationalism that seeks, successfully so far, to dominate our rights a by one in a bitter struggle to keep power for the few at the expense of equality and fairness for the most. It’s racist, sexist, hateful and anti-American.

I asked Erwin Chemerinsky, one of the nation’s foremost constitutional scholars and a professor at UC Berkeley, where we were headed if the leaked Roe decision becomes law. His assessment was grim.

“Judge Alito’s opinion, assuming it becomes the final decision, will put many rights at risk,” he said.

“The right to custody of one’s children, the right to keep the family together, the right of parents to control the education of their children, the right to purchase and use contraceptives, the right of consenting adults to engage to same-sex sexual activity, the right of competent adults to refuse medical treatment”, all those who will be vulnerable, he warned.

He predicts that if Roe is overturned, states “will pass laws banning contraceptives that work after conception, like the IUD, the morning after pill, certain birth control pills. They will ban IVF where embryos are not implanted. They will ban women from leaving a state to have abortions and more.

Stephanie knows exactly what this oppression looks like.

After the positive test, she went to a clinic in Texas. She was only about six weeks pregnant, but they found a heartbeat and that was it. Suddenly, the law of Texas was on her and her future was reduced to panic and fear.

“Before I went through this, I really didn’t care,” she said of Texas law. “But then when it affected me, it was like, ‘Oh, s—.’ ”

She said the clinic basically kicked her out. She was crying and she went back inside to ask if they knew anyone who could help her. The answer was a hard no. Fortunately, a friend persuaded her to call Planned Parenthood in Texas that day, and that clinic put her in touch with the Los Angeles office. She said she thought there was no way to get to California, but her friend told her to make the call anyway, one last hope.

“Immediately they were so helpful,” Stephanie said. “They were worried. They did me good at that time. Everyone down here just looks up.

The coordinator who handled her call got to work, Stephanie said. Planned Parenthood booked its flights between Texas and Los Angeles — 1,242 miles each way — and paid for them. They arranged transport and a hotel – and paid for them too. They even gave her money to pay for incidentals like food.

But that’s how they made her feel she remembers the most, “like it wasn’t an embarrassment or a shame,” she said.

She was at a low point in her life and she found “love from strangers,” she said.

She arrived on a Monday and underwent the procedure on a Tuesday, then returned home with her children the next day. No complications, no drama.

“I didn’t expect all of this,” she said. And that’s why she’s ready to talk about it. She thinks Texas law is “trash,” but California welcomes those in need.

“I want people to know that in this life you can’t judge anyone,” she said. “I also want people to know that there is help and support out there. Don’t feel alone, don’t feel embarrassed, do what’s best for you.

She – a smart and resourceful adult – barely figured out how to access the reproductive care she needed. She thinks of a 14-year-old girl too scared to tell her mother she’s pregnant, or a mother who just doesn’t know where to go for help when her daughter comes to see her.

It doesn’t have to be rape or incest. We don’t need horror stories or worst-case scenarios. Thousands of women, girls and transgender people find out they’re pregnant every day, with thousands of stories that don’t concern us.

But the fact that they no longer have a choice in states like Texas and Oklahoma – or even no longer know where to go for help – should be everyone’s business.

Sue Dunlap, the manager of Planned Parenthood LA, told me that they see about 100 people a month from out of state for reproductive care. Across California, clinics are gearing up to help many more than that, perhaps several hundred a week in the largest facilities.

The state legislature is working to increase access to reproductive care by allowing more types of health professionals to manage abortions and creating state funds that would help cover the costs. Organizations like Planned Parenthood raise money and pool resources.

Dunlap didn’t mean to call it an underground reproductive care railroad, perhaps despite all the harsh history that term contains, but I’ll call it that. It’s how backward the current moment is and how rooted it is in the racism of the past – because lack of access to abortion hits black and brown people the hardest, and hurts those who are poor and marginalized with greater brutality.

If you do nothing else, I hope you will share Stephanie’s story widely, so others in need of reproductive care know that help here is real.

Even Stephanie still can’t believe what California has done for her and her family.

“I didn’t expect all of this,” she said.

None of us did, but here we are. And while it’s essential to fight to help people like Stephanie, we have to be realistic about the scale of the stakes. California might prefer to focus on its own needs, but as a civil rights leader it is being pushed into a national role of protecting the vulnerable, whoever they are.

It pains me to end a column on reproductive rights with a quote from someone without a womb. But credit where credit is due.

“Pay attention, America,” Governor Gavin Newsom said this week, speaking to Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. “They’ll come after you next.”

Los Angeles Times

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