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By Tarah Gee, South Carolina Advocate

I blew out the candles on my birthday cake. All 21 of them. I was officially 21 years old. I had no real plans; I was visiting my dad in Texas. And all my friends were all in Oklahoma. My cousin, who was also 21 offered to take me out for my first legal drink at a popular bar nearby. And of course, he was there. Because well, why wouldn’t he be?

I had bounced between my dad in Texas and my mom, who was in Oklahoma, since their divorce when I was seven. I had no close friends in Texas really, even though I had lived there off and on practically my whole life. Even after turning 18, I spent summers with my dad. The summer my youngest sister was born, was the year I graduated high school. The following summer, the year she turned a year old, I spent living and working in Texas to be close to her.

That was the summer I met Will. When I say Will was larger than life, I mean, literally larger than life. He was 6’ 4” and easily a solid 250 lbs. He was loud, hilarious, and I was crazy about him. We dated all summer before I went back to school at the University of Oklahoma. We tried long distance but at 19 years old, what does that even mean? We lost touch over within a few months and I chalked it up to a summer fling.

But there he was… on my 21st birthday. It felt like fate. I ran up and jumped, wrapping my legs around his bear of a body. We went home together that night.

I cared about Will. I would even say that I loved him. But he wasn’t my end all, be all. I was 21 and having a baby was not in my five-year plan. Heck, it wasn’t even in my ten-year plan.

I knew that there was no way on God's green earth was I about to give my life to become a mother and a wife. Will didn’t agree with me but he went along for my ride, metaphorically speaking. He grew up in a very Christian home and was ready to move forward with marriage and the whole nine. At the time, he was working in Dallas and therefore was unable to join me at Planned Parenthood. But he was as supportive as I needed him to be and I am so grateful for that. I know how many women are completely alone during this needlessly stigmatized process. He understood my resolve and respected my decision. Abortion wasn’t a question for me. I knew in my gut that I was not going to move forward with the pregnancy. I didn’t cry. I didn’t and don’t have any regrets. I didn’t have to think twice about it at all because I knew I was making the right decision.

The day of the procedure, my stepmom dropped me off. The waiting area held women younger and older. I remember a couple of girls younger than me with what seemed to be their mothers. I feel for girls who are still teenagers making that decision - mostly because I knew the stigma they would face. But at 21, I felt fully in charge of myself. I remained calm and collected. The staff was probably appreciative of my demeanor and they had me in and out fairly quickly. I don’t think about that day much though I memorialize it in the form of a roman numeral two on my arm, because I did eventually have another abortion in my thirties.

I do think about Will occasionally. I know he’s married and has two children now and I’m sure he’s the best daddy. My life has taken a different direction. I’ve traveled to over 30 countries on five continents. I fulfilled my life long dream to live in New York City and in the Caribbean for some time. I enjoy my friends and family to the fullest. My friends and family, my work, my travels, my passions - they define me. Having children or not having children does not. And if I do have children one day, I will tell them about my choices in my younger years and encourage them to always make the best decisions for themselves. We own our bodies, and I hope the next generation feels empowered rather than stigmatized.

That was fifteen years ago. I would imagine this is a common narrative, though I do not speak for everyone. I speak for myself. And nothing infuriates me more than politicians and people who claim to be religious thinking and saying that they know what is best for me, my body and my life.

The legislation that is currently being pursued by the GOP and Trump Administration to regulate and control women’s bodies is not only a method power but a violation of women’s fundamental human rights. The narrative these groups create to instill fear and compliance into their base is nothing short of malicious propaganda. The photos, which depict photoshopped images of abortions later in pregnancy, are based on lies and only contribute to creating fear, shame, and misinformation. It’s not fair to the 1 in 4 women in America who will have an abortion in her lifetime to be made into political props. Not to mention that stigma does real harm and this rhetoric puts real women’s lives in danger.

I remember arriving at Planned Parenthood that morning on October 7th. There were people picketing outside. The staff was comforting, though that was unnecessary. I was resolute. I was strong. I was 21 years old. And I know what’s best for me, my body, my life. I wish that everyone making such a personal decision could feel the same, but I know that that is often not the case.

Write to your local legislature. Tweet at your representatives. Tell them to vote against the bills that enforce restrictions on women’s bodies. Truly, your life or someone’s life you know could depend on it.

My sister is graduating from high school this year. I am hoping she will come to stay with me this summer just as I stayed with her all those years ago.

Just as I was empowered by my decisions, I will try to instill in her the same strength of conviction for whatever decisions come her way. I fight for her and the life she has ahead of her. Who do you fight for?

The South Carolina Legislature has recently joined numerous other states in pushing dangerous “heartbeat” bills. H.3020 would ban abortion as early as six weeks - before a woman may even know she is pregnant. Make no mistake, these six-week abortion bans are part of a nationwide strategy to push extreme legislation that is designed to be challenged in court. The ultimate goal being the overturning of Roe v. Wade and it’s protections for millions of women nationwide.

These bills are deeply unpopular in states that have proposed them and South Carolina is no exception. South Carolinians like Tarah demand protections to their rights -- they do not want to see increased and dangerous political interference in the exam room.

Tags: Abortion, State Fights, six-week abortion ban, abortion access

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