The website “So, I had an abortion…” launched this January with the intention of de-stigmatizing the topic of, well, abortion, while also providing a forum for people to share their stories. The project is the creation of Julia Santana Parrilla, a UBC master of science student.
“I myself have had two abortions and ... after my first one, I was with a friend and I was telling her nonchalantly about my experience because for me, it was a very seamless kind of no-nonsense experience — which I recognize my privilege in having had that kind of experience ... and she expressed gratitude to me for speaking about it so openly and candidly.”
Seeking to explore why she and countless others have experienced guilt and stigma around what is, for many, just a simple procedure, Parrilla started to mull over the idea of creating a platform that could change this. Although it is still in its infancy, with only four stories and one photo published (as of the publication of this article), So, I had an abortion... has set itself up to be a powerful forum for expression and change.
“That’s why I wanted to start this platform — to get people talking about it [abortion] and hopefully, with more people talking about it, it’ll open more people to talking about it without fear or stigma, as well as open people’s minds to the multitude of abortion experiences, truths and narratives.”
In order to protect contributors, she offers anonymity and uses a secure email account based in Switzerland to receive contributions and communications. There is also no comments section, preventing any malicious users from turning the website into a hostile environment.
To find out more, The Ubyssey sat down with Parrilla, where she talked about everything from pro-life activism to connecting with other activist groups across North America.
Why do you think there is so much stigma around the subject of abortions?
I think that, in large part, it has to do with the fact that church and state are still not really all that separate in a lot of people’s minds. So there’s this skewed morality around exercising one’s bodily autonomy as a woman or as a trans-man. I think that a lot of people take issue with the fact that an embryo will have the potential to develop into a human being. I think that that’s where it crosses a line for people. But I take such issue with that because it seems so short sighted, because to bring an unplanned birth into this world just doesn’t make socioeconomic sense. If it challenges socioeconomic stability on a micro level and on a macro level, it just doesn’t compute with me. But again, I think that it’s just very much imbued with this pro-life narration of misinformation and ill-conceived morality.
Has anyone from the pro-life movement found your website? Have you had any encounters with them?
Yes I have, but for the most part, I haven’t really had any challenging interactions. I’ve had a couple where people just say that it’s disgusting of me, or that it’s immoral or anything like that, but I really just don’t even bother replying. I don’t find it useful to expend my energy on battling it out with people that ultimately are on a completely different plane than I am. I have had a back and forth with some people, but generally I use very inclusive language ... because really, if you want to change a person’s mind, what you have to do is put it in terms that are salient to them.
So if someone’s talking to me about how like, “Well men don’t get a choice when a woman decides that she wants to do that with her body,” it’s like, okay, if the man is in a relationship with a woman who is pregnant and she doesn’t want this pregnancy, then there is a conversation about that. But as a cisgendered man, just saying that women aren’t allowed to make this decision, that’s just preposterous.
Have you reached out to any reproductive rights organizations to support your endeavour?
I have. I have reached out to Action Canada. I have reached out to Feminist.com. I’ve reached out to a bunch of them actually. I feel bad that I’m not mentioning a bunch of them. But I have been. Also, because I’m a native Spanish speaker, I’ve contacted a couple of Hispanic organizations. My project is in its infancy and there are projects that are similar to mine that are out there. I have found [ones] such as Shout Your Abortion, based out of NYC, which is doing incredible things — their slogan is “abortion is freedom” — and Exhale. Exhale is a super cool organization that deems themselves pro-voice. They do a lot of storytelling, kind of like what my platform does too, but I’ve reached out to them and I’ve featured them on our Instagram page and everything. I’m all about exposure, so if things like that already exist, then I’m going to feature them. It’s not about the competition for me. It’s really just all about getting people to talk about it.
What’s your long-term goal? Where would you like it to be, ideally, in a year?
In a year, honestly, if it could be running smoothly to a point where I don’t feel like I need to be urging people to tell their stories but people are very readily just wanting to share because of the diversity in the stories. That’s really what I want — for different truths to be exposed and for that to motivate other people to talk. So in a year, if it was just running smoothly and there was high traffic to the site and people were talking about it more readily, then I would be happy. I don’t know specifically where it’s going. I don’t know whether it will ever become a true organization. I would like to have resources available to people, but like I said, it’s in its infancy and at this point, I would just like people talking about abortions.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Below, we have included several of the stories submitted to the website "So, I had an abortion...." They have all been submitted anonymously.
Content warning: Some of these stories include self-harm, violence and other content which some readers might find disturbing.
There are so many ways that reproductive rights affect people. This is my family's story.
My grandma's cousin got pregnant as a teenager and in desperation, her mother tried to give her a coat hanger abortion at home. She died. Not knowing what to do, her mother and boyfriend told the community that she had ran away and buried her in their basement. My family only learned about what happened relatively recently when the boyfriend came forward in old age and her remains were found in the house where her mother had lived for the rest of her life.
I wonder about one thing in particular — if my grandma's cousin wanted to abort her baby. If she did want her baby, the mother would live the rest of her life knowing that she had killed her daughter for something that this girl felt she needed. If she didn't want the baby — had she been able to access proper healthcare — she would have had advocates in abortion services to protect her from having an invasive medical procedure that she didn't consent to.
My family will never know which of these two versions of events was truly the case. I'm not sure that either is any less tragic.
I found out I was pregnant a week before taking a trip to Hawaii. When I looked down at the pale blue line, I was overcome by something best described as calm distress. I wasn't ready to bring a child into this world. I had been dating a guy for only a couple months at the time and even though he said all the right things, I had this urgent desire to become un-pregnant. It was my body and it was my choice.
Luckily for me, I have some amazing and supportive friends who helped me figure out what my options were. What I learned: there are two ways to abort. Surgical and medical. Surgical meant you can't swim and I wasn't planning on cancelling my trip to Hawaii just because I got pregnant. I ultimately went with medical abortion which involved getting an injection in my arm to terminate the pregnancy. The usual method is to take some pills, insert them up your vagina and miscarry the contents of your womb, but I was stating my trip in a camper van and I didn't want to deal with a lot of blood without easy access to a bathroom, so I held off on taking the pills.
The first week of my trip was a breeze, but on the first day of week two, I started to feel intense cramps and I realized I was miscarrying! By this point, we were staying on a farm on the Big Island which had a bathroom, which was helpful because I bled for a couple days.
On the last day of bleeding, I found something hard in my underwear. I inspected it and it looked like a tiny kidney bean covered in blood. It was then that I realized I had passed the embryo. I was shocked and a little disturbed. Since I caught the pregnancy early, I expected that I would just bleed out an accumulation of cells. No one warned me about the embryo. I didn't look at it for too long before wrapping it in toilet paper and flushing it down the toilet. I didn’t know what else to do.
At the farm there were chickens and we had a fridge full of eggs to use as we pleased. That same morning that I found the embryo, I pulled out a frying pan and cracked an egg. To my absolute shock and horror, the egg was fertilized! I screamed as though I was dying, and the farm owner and my friend ran into the kitchen. I shrieked, “The egg was fertilized!”
The little red kidney bean came back into mind and stayed there for some time. I’m still not sure exactly what the universe was trying to tell me, but I don’t believe it was a coincidence that I had that experience with the egg the morning my abortion completed.
In early 2016, I found out I was pregnant. My partner and I agreed to terminate the pregnancy and within a week of our conversation, I had an appointment. Every step of the way, I was surprised by how seamless the procedures were and how not freaked out I was. I'd thought I'd be rife with conflicting emotions. I'd mentally prepared for a hard day… turns out, unnecessarily.
All I felt (apart from the cramps and bleeding) was relief. I had to take a cut to my paycheck that week and had to pay for the procedure, but it was a heck of a lot easier and cheaper than having a baby! If I’d kept it, I’d be a mother now, trying to rush through my master’s degree on a part-time student salary with a partner whose job takes them out of town every couple of weeks for weeks at a time. No, thank you.
Instead, I spent the day on my couch, passively miscarrying and “up and at 'em” the following day.
Months later, I found out I was pregnant again. Time for abortion #2.
My second abortion sent my body through a loop. My body did a full “NOPE” on the misoprostol (the pills that make your uterus contract and miscarry the embryo) and at my follow-up ultrasound, I saw the little lumpy bugger still hanging out in my uterus. So, I had to do another round of misoprostol (not fun). Through the two rounds, my emotional brain kept taunting me with thoughts about how I kept getting pregnant for a reason and the guilt associated with such ruminations: I should have known better, I'm old enough, etc. I had to keep convincing myself it was the right decision.
After the second cycle of misoprostol, I met the mini-liver-shaped lump on the toilet one day. It was weird to see it there, chilling in my undies. I washed it off and inspected it. There was no humanness to it. Despite its amorphous appearance, I felt weird disposing of it — I wanted to honour what my body had made. So, I buried it in the soil of my apple tree with the promise to be the best mother I can be when the time is right.
I am grateful for being able to defer motherhood. I recognize the privilege in my experience. If I lived elsewhere or didn’t have the money, I’d be a mother (based on pregnancy #1). I don’t know what I would have done...
Thankfully, I safely accessed a couple of abortions and they were not the scary big deal I had been misled to believe all abortions were.
So I had an abortion. I don’t feel proud and I don’t feel guilty. If I could go back, it would be nice to think that I wouldn’t make all the same mistakes but I was so messed up at the time, I highly doubt it. I was a student and suffering from the manic highs and excruciating self inflicted lows of depression. At one flat party, I was trying to find happiness in empting glasses but feeling progressively more hopeless. I locked myself in the bathroom scoring my wrists with a razor blade contemplating what pain I could release. A friend tried to look after me and console me, but with the affection and alcohol we just ended up having sex. Sex was one of my only sources of “love” in my life at the time. It was a drug for me — I was incredibly lonely. I let the need for condoms be dismissed and the morning after pill was enlisted. It didn’t work. I remember the nurse asking for my medical history. After letting them know about my depression, she looked at me sternly and said ,“Don’t use this as an excuse to make your depression worse.” She was right. I had punished myself enough through depression. I had to make sure that an abortion didn’t add fuel to the fire of self-loathing. The understanding and judgement-free care I received made my experience less of an ordeal and more empowered — an informed choice about my life, body, dreams, potential. I finished the final year of my degree, pulled myself together and went on to do a PhD albeit with depression often by my side. I had counselling and good friends to help me help myself. Now many years later, I have a job I love at a leading research institute studying infectious disease genomics. I have people in my life that love me and depression is something I used to have. I’m stable and proud of the strength I’ve had to get myself from there to here, a place that I’d be happy to bring new life into.