I was thrilled to work for the federal government for six years. I believe passionately in the importance of public service, and I had both job security in a field I care deeply about and amazing co-workers. It never occurred to me that my employment placed me at any disadvantage – until I came face to face with special laws that restricted my reproductive choices. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, given increasing attempts across the United States to limit women’s access to reproductive health care, in some cases with the backing of the Supreme Court.
I’ve been on the pill for most of my adult life, and I’ve always had irregular menstruation, routinely going three or four months without a period. That’s why I didn’t worry when I missed a period last fall. It wasn’t until I began to suffer extreme nausea and fatigue that I began to think something was wrong. A home pregnancy test on a Thursday night led to phone calls Friday morning and then a quickly scheduled doctor’s appointment for Monday.
Already struggling with the idea of a very unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, I was beyond shocked when my doctor informed me I was already eight weeks and three days pregnant. Abortion wasn’t an automatic choice for me, but it was one I was strongly considering, and the method I preferred – drug-induced abortion – can’t be performed after nine weeks. I had only days to consider my choices.
My doctor and nurse were supportive and informative, and I felt relieved to be in their care. But after leaving to do some of the required paperwork, the nurse quickly returned and sat down with me, holding my hand as she told me that, as a federal employee enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, my health care coverage is barred by Congress from paying for abortion services except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the woman is in danger. If I wanted to terminate my pregnancy, I was on my own.
So I ran out of my doctor’s office to call Planned Parenthood before its appointment line shut down for the day, despite not yet knowing whether I was going to choose an abortion. My ability to make my own decision was rapidly diminishing. I wanted to preserve all my options.
By the time of my appointment, two days later, I knew what I wanted to do. After a long morning of exams and conversations, I had an abortion.
The procedure cost around $480, due immediately. I am fortunate: I was able to pay for the abortion without affecting my ability to honor other financial commitments. But not that long ago, I couldn’t have managed that, and I fear for the women who can neither afford the procedure nor wait for their next payday to take action. The clinic I went to was only minutes from both my house and my workplace, so I didn’t have to find a way to pay for last-minute travel expenses.
I’m not ashamed that, as a 29-year-old woman, I’m sexually active and I have a healthy, functioning reproductive system. In fact, I’m quite happy to be able to state this. I was also fortunate to have an accommodating workplace, supportive family and friends and the financial resources to handle unexpected expenses.
Abortion opponents often argue that impediments such as the ones I faced lead women to consider more carefully the decisions they are making. But I am fully capable of making appropriate decisions, in consultation with my doctor, about my health, my body and my life.
In the end, I would have gotten an abortion with or without the restrictions placed upon me as a federal employee. It was the right decision for me. Restricting my access to health coverage didn’t prevent my pregnancy, and it certainly didn’t influence my choice. All it did was punish me, financially and otherwise, for making a responsible, physician-approved health-care decision.
I’ve now left federal government to pursue a master’s degree, and I am proud of the years I spent working with the federal government to keep the American public safe and secure. However, the mission of preserving my health and well-being rests solely with me and my doctors, and it requires no interference from my government or its politicians.
• The writer is a former analyst at the Department of Homeland Security.