Monday, June 29, 2009


She was fairly far along in her pregnancy when she came in for her abortion. Maybe 16-17 weeks. She didn't speak English, only Spanish. No bother, most of us were bilingual.

Before you start any procedure, you need to confirm with the patient their name and birthdate. When we asked our patient these questions, she hesitated. It was almost as if she couldn't remember. She got the name right, but the birthdate wrong. Perhaps we entered it wrong? When asked her a few more questions (ie. address, telephone number), she didn't know the answers.

Then she broke down, tears streaming fast and heavy. I can see her in my mind. Lying on the table, already vulnerable, in a room full of strangers, hooked up to an IV, harboring a secret she had told so few. Finally, her lips separated: about 4 months ago, she had crossed the border illegally. Upon crossing, she was raped. I cannot remember by whom-border patrol, coyote? But this pregnancy was a result of that rape.

She was staying with friends when she decided to terminate the pregnancy. But she was living in this city as an undocumented citizen and had no health insurance. What options did she have? She then posed as her friend, using her friend's insurance to pay for the procedure.

And here she was, on the table, crying quietly, surrounded by strangers, her painful secret exposed.

Although the women in the room did not know this patient personally, we all knew someone like her. She was our friend, our sister, our acquaintance, she was each one of us. In that moment, it didn't matter she didn't have insurance. Her body had been violated, her womb inhabited by an unwanted stranger, and we were there to help her. Because as women's health providers, we believe that abortion is part of a woman's reproductive health, not in addition to it.

After the abortion was completed, I could only see relief in her eyes. A part of her had returned and she was so grateful.

I will never forget her. She, and patients like her, remind me why I want to be an abortion provider and why abortion providers are so incredibly important. Like me, she is a woman with choices, with a story, with a body that is hers.


  1. Wow! How was it paid for? Did you go through with the insurance? I most certainly would have; no guilt in charging $1000 to a multi-million dollar company that works by screwing people over.

  2. wow, thanks for writing this. i've had a good number of cases that i got the feeling were similar situations -- both assault during border crossings (and how can you go to the authorities if you yourself are considered "illegal"?) and the hesitating self-identification, for various reasons. oh dear.

  3. Just a suggestion about language? Would it be possible to use the word "undocumented"? Such a wonderful post but that word "Illegal" does not follow the same tone of respect for the whole woman as the rest of the post. "woman who is undocumented" would describe her while not reducing her to a "crime" (which, being undocumented isn't).

  4. one of my most meaningful advocacy experiences came when I needed to walk a woman 5 blocks down the street to wait for a ride because we couldn't release her without verifying but she couldn't share her story with anyone she knew. She spoke Spanish. I only speak English. So we sat on bench and held hands until her ride swung by...


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