In this Op Ed, one writer shares her deeply personal take on the new abortion law in Texas (S.B. 8).

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Print Illustration by Maya Chastain

We strive to share insights based on diverse experiences without stigma or shame. This is a powerful voice.

This summer, I got my very first tattoo.

It’s smaller than my thumb, and in my favorite color — a deep, grayish periwinkle. It’s a simple line drawing and took all of 10 minutes to execute. And, despite my fear, it was painless. At most, it felt like being lightly poked by a sharpened pencil.

The image is a clothes hanger.

So why did a middle-aged, middle-class woman decide that this was the time to inject ink into skin?

The reason is twofold.

The first is a straight-up statement of my commitment to keep abortion safe and legal, and in so doing, offer solidarity to every woman who has had or will have to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy.

The second reason for my ink is much more personal.

At 18, living in a very small Southern town, I made the choice to end a pregnancy. There were no facilities offering the procedure in the area, so I was forced to journey to a neighboring state.

I had to drive only an hour for mine, unlike Texans who must travel an average 496 miles out of state for a legal procedure.

After my abortion was performed, when complications ensued, I was hospitalized at the facility in which I and the town’s most prolific gossip worked. My right to confidentiality was incinerated, and fear of my own social stigma was harshly realized.

It didn’t matter that I was far from the first in my town to obtain the procedure. My pregnant predecessors had experienced less problematic recoveries and thus the abortions remained secret. What the narrow-minded community doesn’t implicitly know can be denied and ignored.

For every day afterward, I encountered women who treated me as a blemish on genteel Southern womanhood. Men, on the other hand, enjoyed the irrefutable knowledge that I was sexually active and looked at me the way a hungry wolf looks at a lamb. It was open season on the sexualization of me.

I sought an abortion because I was young with big plans for my life. I wasn’t prepared mentally or materially to become a mother or carry to term and then give a child away.

My reason though is irrelevant. As a uterus owner, I should not have to explain my decision. Abortion and bodily autonomy must be unalienable rights.

Despite the image (on both sides of the issue) of an abortion being as casual and emotionless as a teeth cleaning or an afternoon gym class, deciding to abort a fetus is neither easy nor clinical.

Anti-choice groups claim that obtaining a legal, medically sound pregnancy termination is a non-stop highway to depression, despair, and lifelong psychosis. They preach that denying abortions are best for both the bearer of the pregnancy and the unborn child.

I disagree.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “[w]omen who are denied an abortion are more likely to… experience higher levels of anxiety, lower life satisfaction and lower self-esteem compared with women who received an abortion.”

Plus, the damage of the inability to procure the procedure doesn’t end with the bearer.

APA notes that “[u]nwanted pregnancy has been associated with deficits to the subsequent child’s cognitive, emotional and social processes. These children are more likely to experience negative long-term outcomes in adulthood, such as an increased likelihood of engaging in criminal behavior, dependency on public assistance, and having an unstable marriage.”

For people considering abortion, a large portion of the anxiety is due to the societal stigmas perceived around the subject of abortion. According to a 2016 study, over 30% of negative feelings and emotional distress are because of social disapproval.

It’s not a facile decision that people blithely make.

Citing studies from 2000, 2003, and 2006, the researchers of the 2016 study conclude that evidence “consistently finds that depressive, anxiety, and stress symptoms are higher just before an abortion compared to anytime afterwards.”

Some of this distress can be directly traced to real and perceived societal stigma toward abortion. Some is related to feelings of anger and disappointment directed at oneself for becoming pregnant rather than the decision to terminate that pregnancy.

In Texas, that possible stigma is proven absolutely accurate, and has been legislated and codified.

On May 19, Gov. Greg Abbot signed into law one of the most restrictive anti-abortion measures in the nation (S.B. 8) that was ironically, infuriatingly passed by an overwhelming majority of white, cisgender males. It bans procedures if a fetal heartbeat has been detected; in many cases this happens at around 6 weeks, long before pregnancy has been determined and even prior to definitive reliability of home pregnancy tests.

And in September 2021, in a stunning example of partisan jurisprudence, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block this draconian Texas legislation, giving hope to anti-choice advocates in other states.

What makes this mandate especially terrifying is the creation of reproductive vigilantes. In accordance with the bill, bounty hunting Texans can file suit against medical professionals and anyone who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.”

This can include friends, family, anyone who pays for the procedure, even the Uber driver who takes the person undergoing the procedure to a clinic.

With a $10,000 premium for every participant, each abortion can create a windfall of tens of thousands of dollars for the uterine whistleblower, leaving the pregnant alone during crisis and without resources to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The sole motivation of this law is fear — fear to offer aid, and fear to ask for it.

The easiest way for the state to control a person is to control their fertility. I choose to stand on the side of freedom and bodily autonomy.

Civil rights must not hinge on how cogent or persuasive each defense is. Dominion of myself should not rely on how persuasive my argument is to grant to me those rights. When people hold in their hands the authority to grant or forbid freedoms, humanity will inevitably creep in, corrupting the judges, the process, and liberty itself.

Some think my new ink shallow symbology, espousing my love of clothing and fashion. I seldom disabuse this belief. I have no desire to educate or debate ignorance and intolerance using my body as a catalyst.

But political and religious fundamentalists fear and loathe my ability to choose and have decided that the bodies of everyone with internal reproductive organs is indeed a battleground. And, terrifyingly, the fight is won.

If allowed to be so, that means both our bodies and our civil rights are casualties and I and every owner of a uterus are now prisoners of war.

In addition to being a weekly humor columnist for the Henderson Daily Dispatch and the Sanford Herald, debbie matthews writes a weekly food column for the Chatham News & Record and freelances for IndyWeek, where she created the Annual Virtual Holiday Potluck with notable North Carolina guests such as Kristin Cooper, the first lady of North Carolina, and actor Amy Sedaris. debbie believes love is love and in treating everyone with kindness and respect, but the patriarchy makes her tired, and she feels its smashing is way past due.