Women’s lives, like mine, hang in the balance if medication abortion is banned

October 18, 2023 11:03 am

Illustration by Steve Benson | Arizona Mirror

This week, Vice President Kamala Harris visited my alma mater, Northern Arizona University, as part of her “Fight for Our Freedoms” college tour to discuss key issues that disproportionately impact young people across America, including reproductive freedom. This issue is deeply personal to me, which is why I’m sharing my story of how receiving an abortion while I was a student at NAU saved my life. Without access to a medication abortion, I would not have lived to see the end of my sophomore year, let alone my college graduation. The fight for our reproductive freedom is as important as ever now that access to this life-saving form of health care is under attack.

As a 19-year-old college student already struggling, finding out you’re pregnant with twins is akin to submerging underwater. The world falls silent, and your only thought is of survival. I knew the only way for me to move forward would be to terminate my pregnancy. But due to Arizona’s restrictive abortion laws and lack of access to care, I was almost unable to make this decision for myself.

In Flagstaff, there was a single abortion provider at the only clinic in the area just one day each week.

At approximately nine weeks pregnant, my window for a medication abortion, which is approved by the FDA up to the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, was quickly closing. Because Arizona mandates a 24-hour waiting period to obtain an abortion, I was required to see the physician twice, at least 24 hours apart. I first had the consultation appointment where I was required to listen to the “heartbeat” and view the ultrasound. I was hit by the crushing weight and responsibility that would come with being a mother.

I was confident in my decision, but due to a provider shortage and the mandatory waiting period, I was made to wait another week before receiving the care I so desperately wanted.

I went to classes, pretended everything was fine, and tried to make peace with myself. I was horrified by the idea that the clock might run out. What if the provider was ill? What if the laws changed? Would I be forced to carry this pregnancy on a technicality? I received my medication abortion on the last day I was legally able.

After receiving the medication from the provider, I took the pills in my home. The option to end my pregnancy in an environment familiar to me, surrounded by love, without extensive financial burden, is one I am forever grateful for. Though the abortion process was complicated for me logistically, financially, and emotionally, I am one of the lucky ones: I had a sound support system, a loving partner and the ability to afford the incredible cost of safe abortion materials.

Three years later, when I think of my experience, I imagine how differently it could have all gone. Not every pregnant person has the freedom to decide, the time to take off work, the funds to obtain care, or the privilege to attend an in-person appointment. In Arizona’s hostile abortion landscape, access to medication abortion is restricted through unnecessary regulations, including the 24-hour waiting period and prohibiting the use of telemedicine for medication abortions. Arizonans are also unable to access care through an FDA federal rule change to allow pharmacies to dispense abortion pills.

We need to advocate for medication abortions in Arizona and across the country, as this procedure is not only life-saving but life-affirming. Medication abortion is a clinically proven safe and effective way to end a pregnancy, and accounts for over half of abortions in the United States and about half in Arizona. Because the drug can be taken at home, it has provided millions of people, including myself, the ability to make private decisions about their health care and has expanded access to necessary and critical abortion care. When you are young, pregnant, and scared, it feels as though all of your agency has been stripped away. Choosing to have a medication abortion in an environment where you feel comfortable and in control is the first step to regaining your sense of self.

Without this procedure, I would have taken my own life. Knowing the consequences firsthand of removing access to abortion services, I know that I will always be an advocate for abortion in the state of Arizona and across the country. I will never stop working towards safe, accessible, self-directed abortion, and I hope you will stand beside me in that fight.

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Emma Burns
Emma Burns

Emma Burns is an abortion rights activist and recent graduate of Northern Arizona University. An accomplished student activist at NAU, she lobbied at the state legislature and federal level, led student protests and campaigns and worked closely with the Arizona Students’ Association.