This post was first published on The Huffington Post here
Terrifying, is the only way I can think of to describe it.
Imagine, if you will, taking a pregnancy test – ripping open the packet, making sure you take it correctly, and waiting for those crucial three minutes – each second thumping into your head as deafeningly as your heartbeat in your chest.
And then, imagine seeing two red lines for a positive result, and knowing, with keen and sincere terror, that now is not the time.
Thankfully this has never happened to me – although, as someone with a fairly overactive imagination, I have been known to take many a test in my time despite being a long-time user of the contraceptive pill. All of my tests – taken solely to quiet the nervous voices in my head – have been negative. And yet, had they not been, I would have known that options were available to me. And that means everything.
But, when Jesse Samson, a 27-year-old theatre professional in Albuquerque, MN, saw two red lines appear on her test, she had no such reassurance. As she was soon to discover with mounting horror, despite paying nearly 10% of her monthly wage to a health insurance company, she has no option except to pay for a private Planned Parenthood termination. And she can’t afford it. To me, this is unimaginable.
Since 1967 in the UK, where I live, terminations have been widely accessible (except in Northern Ireland, which is a whole other terrible story).
Yes, you need to get the signature of two doctors who are happy for you to undergo the procedure, and you have to show that the pregnancy will damage your long-term mental or physical health. You might be offered slightly sanctimonious offers of counselling or advice on your contraception – but ultimately, you are able to show that yes, your decision to have a termination is in fact your decision, and your body is in fact your own business, and not an opportunity for the state to take the moral high ground.
And – crucially – because of the glorious (flawed, yes, but still glorious) NHS, you are able to have that termination for free. Your body is your business regardless of how rich you are.
These rights seem to me to be utterly central to how a society treats its women – as thinking, human, fallible yet trustworthy, real citizens – and are hard-won and immutable; fought for over the generations. It still comes as a sickening surprise whenever someone thinks it’s OK to question them.
Pro-choice? No. Just pro-half of humanity. Abortion is never anyone’s first choice. But it should always be an option if the worst happens.
The idea that I would have nowhere to turn had one of my tests shown up two red lines, fills me with such pale and skin-crawling horror that I can barely even contemplate it. The idea that I would be forced to carry a baby to term when it would be the entirely wrong choice for me, my partner, and that would-be child, is entirely barbaric.
I may finally be of an age where some of my peers are choosing to have babies on purpose, and I could not be more excited for them. But I am not there, my friend. Not by a long shot.
So when I saw a small, barely-noticeable tweet on my Twitter timeline the other day, it shot through me like static electricity.
@PreggersLez, Jesse Samson: “I’m in the US, my insurance won’t cover it and I can’t afford one [an abortion].”
HANG ON. You mean, you pay into an insurance programme, and you’re still in a position where the only option to you is a private, paid-for termination?! And if you can’t, then well, you’re quite literally screwed?
And here was me thinking that, despite the US’s tragic lack of an NHS, if you were lucky enough to have insurance, you’d be just about OK (unless you had pre-existing conditions, of course, but that’s another story). Well, turns out I was wrong about that.
“I’m not an ignorant asshole,” Samson tweets. “I just made a mistake.”
Samson explained to me how she usually dates women, but when she met a man she had an instant connection with, they immediately began dating. Having made a mistake with her contraception, she found herself pregnant, but quickly discovered that actually, her insurance would only cover terminations in the case of rape or incest.
Ah. I recognise a good moralising rule when I see one. Let’s judge and penalise women for their own sexual activities, shall we? At least rape – still so often blamed on the female victim – comes under the rule (I guess we can be happy about that. I guess).
But if you had sex of your own volition, you slattern? Then more fool you! Sexual urges, making mistakes, getting yourself “in trouble”? Well, it may as well be 1950. How is this kind of shit still happening in the 21st Century? Have we not shouldered enough unmarried mother shame in the past centuries in the West to last us an infinity? Apparently not.
For her ‘behaviour’, Samson’s only option was a private termination – $500 for a medical abortion, rising to at least $1,500 for a surgical procedure. For someone behind in their bills, who had avoided going to the doctor for years already because of the cost, and a partner who wasn’t exactly flush, it wasn’t an option.
Tweeting back, I suggested – I couldn’t believe it had even come to that – a crowdfunding page as a last resort. I felt awful even suggesting it.
But then she tweeted back a link to a Go Fund Me, a last-ditch attempt to amass internet cash from strangers for something that the state should have provided. Don’t get me wrong, I love crowdfunding, and I think it’s an incredibly ingenious use of the Internet. But not for this. This was like some tragic joke.
And so, that’s how, one rainy evening in England, I ended up using the power of the interwebs to help this girl with a small amount of cash. This girl in Albuquerque, who could so easily have been me.
So if you can spare even $10, please consider offering it to Jesse. At this time in the US, when Planned Parenthood clinics are becoming ever more scarce, when the Republican Right is dominating headlines for its patronising and horrifyingly medieval views on women and the life-saving actions of Planned Parenthood, please donate.
This may be just ONE girl, asking for a relatively small amount, but until women are trusted with their own sexuality, are free from moralising bullshit when it comes to their own bodies, and have access to the proper health care that everyone deserves, it’s not just one woman.
For every Jesse, there are thousands of others. An attack on women’s right to abortion is an attack on women, end of story.
It’s not our business what happens to another woman’s body, except when it has to be.
Please – if you can’t donate, retweet. Share.
On behalf of every woman who has ever made a mistake. On behalf of everyone scared of those two red lines.
UPDATE: Jesse reached her target of $500, was able to get treatment, and has now put in place more reliable contraception for the future. Thank you everyone who donated!