'Both Choices Were My Choices, Without Shame'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

In a victory for the pro-choice movement, the Supreme Court just minutes ago decided on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In a 5-3 ruling, the Justices struck down abortion restrictions in Texas that had caused more than half of the state’s abortion clinics to close.

We still have many unaired personal stories from readers recounting the choices they made during an unplanned pregnancy—or a planned one that went terribly wrong. This next reader, Elizabeth Bercaw, is one of the rare ones in our series to insist that her real name be used. She begins by recalling another abortion ruling by the Supreme Court, almost 30 years ago, that upheld a Missouri law imposing restrictions on the use of state funds, facilities, and employees when it came to abortion—a win for the pro-life movement. Here’s Elizabeth:

In 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled in the Webster decision, I harkened the call to become active in the pro-choice movement.  I helped co-found a pro-choice group on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi, then later helped in pro-choice groups on the campuses of Clemson University and Emory University. Throughout those years, I volunteered with Planned Parenthood and NARAL in defending clinics against attacks by anti-choice groups. I was firmly committed to making sure every woman had the right to a safe, legal abortion.

In 1998, the pro-choice issue became personal for me, as I found myself pregnant for the first time at the age of 34.

I had only known the father for a month, and we were both full-time students. At that time, it was inconceivable for either of us that we were in any position to bring a baby into the world. We were not mentally, emotionally, or financially prepared for it. We discussed it and both agreed the best option was abortion. My boyfriend accompanied me to the clinic.

A year later, I became pregnant again from the same boyfriend. By then, I was finishing my degree at Georgia State University. I was 35, and I thought long and hard. Maybe I would not have another chance at motherhood.

I chose to have the baby. Now I am the proud mother of an incredible 16-year-old daughter.

I feel that I made the right decision in both circumstances. Both choices were my choices and I stand proud for both of them. By making these choices, I have been able to devote myself to raising my daughter, who has become the most amazing young woman (if a mother can brag).

I will never forget the words of a woman I met during the early years of my activism. When she got pregnant, her boyfriend wanted to force her to have an abortion. She said, “If it is possible for someone to force you to carry out a pregnancy against your will, then it is also possible for someone to force you to have an abortion against your will.”  

Choice means the ability to choose for yourself, without shame. By signing my real name, I hope other women (and men) will have the power to tell their stories.

If you have your own experience to share, anonymously or otherwise, and especially if your story touches on something we haven’t yet covered in our series yet, please send us a note: hello@theatlantic.com.