We were sophomores in college, and best friends. It was a Friday night and we were at a house party. We had older boyfriends—which definitely made us cool. We were above it all, in a way. When she asked me to follow her upstairs to the bathroom, I thought it was to discuss the boys we were leaving at the bar below. In the upstairs bathroom, men’s shaving cream was crusted around the sink, the plastic shower curtain had mildew along the edges. She closed the door behind us, and took a pregnancy test out of her purse. She was late on her period, she was too scared to take it alone. I was flattered she wanted my support: it was one of those bonding moments that were the highest of honors as underclassmen. She peed on the stick, and held it under the light. The results were negative. We toasted her fortune with red solo cups. Walking down the stairs, she announced the results to the boys, shouting over the Talking Heads.
“Guess who’s not having a baby?” she laughed. “This girl!”
I marveled at her bravery. What if the test had been positive? Though that outcome seemed barely possible, even at that moment, it was understood that she wouldn’t be keeping it. We were nineteen. But still, she was lucky, and we rejoiced. Which is what it felt like every month during those years: someone was always concerned she was pregnant (or convincing herself hat she was), and we would celebrate when it wasn’t true. Of course, when it was true, we probably suffered in silence. If there was a #metoo campaign destigmatizing abortion, perhaps we would finally learn, all these years later, what one another had experienced.
Years later, my friend and I were lying awake on a hot, spring night in Savannah. We’d graduated from college two years prior and were visiting friends who no longer lived right across the hall. Time together now required plane tickets and vacation days, and endless amounts of wine to overcome the distances between us—which I originally supposed were mainly geographical. We couldn’t sleep that night, too many prawns and frozen cocktails. We were living in different cities; I was (unhappily) in advertising, she (happily) ensconced in healthcare policy. When I asked her which healthcare issues she cared about the most, I reflexively mentioned reproductive rights as—obviously—being at the top of the list. This was years before Trump, before the defunding of Planned Parenthood, before this national nightmare. I thought my question was rhetorical, my statement self-evident. Of course, it would matter to her, too.
“Actually, it’s not a priority for me” she told me, lying on the couch across the room, head on the pillow, staring up at the ceiling. “I would say it’s not one of the top ten things I care about.”
I was stunned. How could she have so easily forgotten the girl she once was—the girl we all were? And still are. It showed a lack of empathy: not just for other women, but for the woman she used to be. There is so much shame associated with abortion that I see this denial and distancing happen all around me—not just with one friend, but many peers: the second they no longer fear accidental pregnancy, they care less about reproductive rights. And now we live in a world where we have a president who also doesn’t care about our rights. But if we don’t care about one another, how do we expect our representatives to care about us at all?
This lack of empathy is systemic in our society, particularly when the women who need access to Planned Parenthood the most are often unable to afford birth control. If that pregnancy test had been positive sophomore year, abortion was the unspoken outcome. We’d heard whispers about older girls who had abortions, and wanted to avoid that fate (or, more accurately, that reputation). So, we would agonize over our birth control failing, paranoid every month that we had made some careless mistake. But our perspective, even as undergraduates, was sheltered by privilege. As college-educated women, we have access to the funding and support systems that can protect us. We can afford birth control. We can afford Plan B. We can afford abortions. But, most crucially, we can also afford to keep the baby—even at nineteen, had that been our decision. To be blasé about reproductive rights is to both capitalize on this advantage and deny its existence. Confident that such services will be available to us, we devalue its importance, refusing to acknowledge how our actions impact other women.
We think that because we are older, we are now somehow immune to this crisis; but we never are. A friend once told me that “the older you are when you get an abortion, the more shameful it is for the woman.” And yet, it happens. It doesn’t just happen in high school, or in college. Women having control over their bodies shouldn’t have an expiration date. We didn’t deserve the option, the choice to abort, at that age because we were innocent, younger, teenagers. We deserved that option because we deserved to make decisions over our own bodies. The woman who had to make that decision very young was forced to become an adult. She had to take ownership over her future. To dismiss the issue once you’ve become a ‘grown-up’ yourself is ironic and hypocritical. I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now, indeed.
It’s the privileged women who’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel young and helpless and terrified—and that in those dark moments, the promise of options, choice, control, is more needed than ever. They’ve forgotten not only about the needs of people beyond themselves, but their very own needs only a few years prior. With the Trump administration defunding teen pregnancy prevention programs in favor of advocating abstinence, there has never been a more meaningful time than now to speak up for the girls we once were.
Katherine is a weekly columnist for Roar. A freelance writer and editor based in New York City, she writes frequently about culture, political and social issues, literature, and travel. She received her master’s degree from The New School, with honors in nonfiction writing. Follow her work at www.katherineparkermagyar.com.