Olivia Lisle for Varsity (@livcollage)

Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion of abortion and depression.

I got pregnant by accident back in August. I don’t tolerate hormonal birth control. In fact, the contraceptive pill was a contributing factor to me getting diagnosed with severe depression a year prior. Other women will have other reasons for not being on the pill: migraines, mood disturbances, blood clots, and so on. Alternative forms of contraception like IUDs can result in other if not similar side-effects. Yet, even if a woman does tolerate the pill or an IUD, no form of birth control is 100% secure. I personally know of two women who’ve gotten pregnant while on the pill, and these are not just the rare cases. In my case, I took the ‘Day After Pill’, yet I still ended up pregnant because emergency contraception, like all forms of contraception, is not 100% guaranteed. I got pregnant because I was unlucky — not irresponsible. In my case, the sex was consensual but I urge you to also consider cases of rape and incest. So, to those who insinuate that pregnancies are easily avoidable, I hope one day you’ll grow to realise that society places all the responsibility upon women to prevent pregnancy by asking them to swallow pills stuffed with hormones or put foreign objects inside their bodies, potentially causing a wide array of side-effects and no guaranteed success. The reality is much more complex than your narrow-minded interpretation.

“Choosing to terminate a pregnancy is an extremely hard decision that no woman takes lightly”

Certain ignorant narratives suggest that abortions are used as some ill-conceived form of contraception, depicting the choice of abortion as comparable to the act of buying a sweater. It is painfully clear to me that only someone who has never felt an unwanted pregnancy within their own body and been faced with the choice of terminating a pregnancy would proclaim that some abortions are a ‘just because’. Choosing to terminate a pregnancy is an extremely hard decision that no woman takes lightly. As a woman you always know that there is a risk that your contraception will fail you and that you might end up pregnant despite taking all the necessary precautions, and so you rehearse in your head what you might do if the unthinkable happens. I know I did. Yet, I wonder if men do. After all, they will never have to experience the bodily consequences of that choice. Both choices are experiences that can be rough and leave their mark and so the choice should reside with the owners of that body, it should be as simple as that. When I was throwing up several times a day and feeling my mental health deteriorate again, fearing a full relapse into my depression, I am glad that the choice to terminate the pregnancy was mine and not decided for me.

“I wonder if people would still call abortions a ‘just because’, if they’d been in my place lying on their bathroom floor in their own blood”

It should be clear that abortions are last-resort options and extremely difficult decisions. I know absolutely no woman who has taken that decision lightly. From the moment I looked at the two lines indicating that I was pregnant, and I realised that the emergency contraception had failed, I could not stop crying or thinking about it. It consumed my every moment. Choosing to have an abortion was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. Not because I was considering the embryo a human being, but because it presented the possibility of developing into someone I could call my child. I grieve what could have been, and not what was, and therein lies the difference.

I had a medical abortion at home, which entails taking several pills that will induce a miscarriage. While legal abortion is generally very safe, and 14 times safer than childbirth, the procedure is painful, extremely uncomfortable and above all else traumatically visual. I almost passed out in the bathroom during my abortion. I remember sitting on the toilet and changing my pads when I passed a bigger blood clot, and everything went blurry and then black, as I fumbled to lie down to prevent fainting. I wonder if people would still call abortions a ‘just because’, if they’d been in my place lying on their bathroom floor in their own blood. Abortions are not easy. They leave you extremely vulnerable, and I can’t begin to imagine what women in some states of the US must go through now that they are forced into illegal and unsafe abortions. I feel extremely lucky that I reside in a country where abortions are legal and if I had truly collapsed and needed medical attention my friend could have called 999 and gotten me the care I needed.

“I don’t believe any woman owes an explanation for terminating a pregnancy, each reason is different, and each is equally valid”

I am beyond glad that I was given a choice and I know that I made the right one, both for me and for what could have been my child. My pregnancy, despite being in its early stages, left me seriously unwell to the point where I was bedridden most of the time and had to go on medication to ease my nausea and vomiting. I see no reality where I could have continued my studies while pregnant, so I would have been forced to disrupt my education against my wishes if an abortion had not been a possibility. Add maternity leave and the disruption to my life, my future career and economic positioning would have been seriously adversely affected. More than anything, however, it wouldn’t have been fair to bring a child into the world under the pertaining circumstances. When I fell pregnant, I was still being treated for my depression with high doses of antidepressants, and as my mental health gradually declined in the following weeks, the chance of a full relapse was more than likely should I have decided to continue the pregnancy. If it is avoidable, there’s no need to bring a child into the world, where its mother is unable to get out of bed and suffers from suicidal ideation. Evidence suggest that unwanted pregnancies are linked with adverse implications for the long-term mental health of women, and so looking to the US, I can only begin to imagine a situation in which forced motherhood will increase the risk of children growing up with parents suffering from mental health issues. Abortion is essential healthcare. It meant that I was no longer bedridden, that I could eat again and that I could better safeguard my mental health.


Mountain View

Why I love my period

I don’t believe any woman owes an explanation for terminating a pregnancy, each reason is different, and each is equally valid. Forced motherhood puts the physical and mental health of women worldwide at immense risk, and I am sad on behalf of those women in the US that will now be forced to either carry a pregnancy to term or to seek out an illegal abortion. I hope that the conversation in Cambridge and the wider UK will turn towards the measures we can take to support those going through abortions; that we will start to break down the stigma and shame surrounding abortions and unwanted pregnancies; and above all else, that we will eliminate those ill-conceived conceptions that abortions are ever chosen ‘just because’.