Abortion… a primer on pills, periods, privacy

Lina AbiRafeh
6 min readJun 30, 2022

--

… cuz we might not know what we should know!

Nearly one week later and I’m still marinating in rage. Paralysis. And no idea how to channel this into something remotely useful.

I was 15 the first time I went to stand outside a Planned Parenthood office in solidarity with women who were trying to get an abortion. It was 7am on a cold Saturday morning in Washington DC. By the time I arrived, activists on both sides were out in force. The street was divided.

“Abortion is murder!” screamed one side.

“My body, my right!” screamed the other side.

I joined the ranks of the women who were calling for our rights to our bodily autonomy and integrity, our rights to our own choices, our rights to our lives. That was 1989. I have been screaming about this for over 30 years.

Today, I’m howling. My anger is all over the place. Should I…

…paint a ‘My Body, My Choice’ placard and hit the streets? Useful, but…

…galvanize for November elections and get the right people in office — who actually care about women’s rights? Useful, but…

…sign petitions and donate to campaigns? Useful, but…

…sit home and fume endlessly? OK, that’s not useful.

I need to do something that feels constructive to me — and right now. To each their own rage.

I was 19 when I had a pregnancy scare. A hiccup, really. But at 19, it was full blown panic. I could not imagine anything worse than being pregnant at that time.

I called the gynecologist. She sent over a prescription. I learned later that this was basically the equivalent of 3 birth control pills. While this is NOT a preferred method of emergency contraception, it’s what the doctor told me at the time.

I remember thinking Wait, that’s all?! Why didn’t I know this before? Why didn’t anyone ever tell me?

Oh that’s right, because we live in a world that doesn’t want women to know their bodies because then… Ohmygoddess! We might actually control them.

I didn’t know that the power to control my own fertility had been in my medicine cabinet the whole time. Now I’m not saying that’s true for all of us, but my point is this: we too often don’t even know what’s what.

So right now I’m going to be useful by breaking down contraception for those — like 19 year old me — who had no clue what to do.

Imagine for a sec that I had been preggo, had the baby… let’s play that out for one nightmarey second. I would have dropped out of school, never gone to grad school, never gone into humanitarian aid work, never gone into the field, never gotten a PhD, probably never worked on women’s rights at all.

The choice I made that day had an impact on every single aspect of my life. CHOICE. That’s the word. We say over and again, don’t want an abortion? Don’t ducking have one. But certainly do not tell ME what to do with MY body. Why do I even have to explain this?!

Anyway I digress. I was supposed to channel my rage constructively. Ok, here goes.

What is going on? A quick — but no less infuriating — review.

In a move we all saw coming, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe Vs Wade meaning there is no longer a constitutional right to abortion. Several states have a trigger ban which will automatically ban abortions, while others can decide whether to ban abortion or not. (Even the term “trigger ban” is incredibly ironic, considering we can’t manage to ban actual gun triggers… but that’s a rant for another time).

Anyway, all this in a country that does not offer universal childcare, has one of the worst parental leave policies, and currently has a baby formula shortage. There is even now a tampon shortage — while Viagra is still in abundant supply.

The consequences of this are frightening. I’ve written about it before, but in a nutshell:

Millions will be forced to travel to another state for an abortion — if they can afford it. Being denied an abortion amplifies poverty, as well as increases health problems — for mother and children. Women, especially women of color, have less access to quality health care, less access to contraceptives, less access to safe jobs and education. In our post-Roe world, life will be much worse for poor and minority women.

So, options explained.

What is birth control?

These are pills taken daily that stop ovulation with hormones. It is effective when taken correctly but it doesn’t always suit all women. IUDs (intrauterine device) are another option but again, don’t suit everyone and can be painful. (I hated mine. But that too is a story for another time).

People that are using tracking apps for their period and now being told to be cautious of how their data is being gathered. I just got an email from my period tracker, Flo. They’re launching a new feature called “Anonymous Mode” which will do as it says — ensure our anonymity. Meaning, if Flo got a request to identify a user, it wouldn’t be able to do it. Ha. Even without going anon, Flo assures us that our data is safe. We are living in strange and scary times.

OK, onward.

What is emergency contraception?

Also known as the morning after pill and commonly sold under the brand name Plan B, emergency contraception is one pill you take after sex (up to three or sometimes five days but best taken as soon as possible). Often taken after unprotected sex or a missed birth control pill, the emergency contraception essentially is used to stop ovulation. It is similar to birth control pills but not recommended to be used as contraception as it will only help prevent pregnancy after the first encounter.

What’s the abortion pill?

Medication abortions — abortion pills — account for over half of all US abortions. These pills are safe, legal, effective, and filling an ever-widening abortion access gap. They are made up of two two medications, Mifepristone and Misoprostol, and will stop a pregnancy growing. You will experience something similar to a miscarriage.

How can I get this stuff?

There is now a lot of talk about states potentially banning these abortion pills but this can lead to all kinds of legal dilemmas involving the FDA. Organizations have reported a massive increase in people buying abortion pills since the announcement. And stocking up — just in case. The fear is that more of us will resort to unsafe options due to lack of knowledge, fear, secrecy, stigma, and whatever other crap is thrown at us these days.

There are some good options. While they still exist. And — this goes without saying, but — they could use your funding and support right now. There are organizations shipping out pills, like Hey Jane, an online abortion clinic, or AidAccess, an international organization that can ship to the US. AidAccess also offers advance supply — for anyone who wants to stock up for possible future use. Plan C also helps us locate abortion pill providers.

Also check out I Need an A — a site helping people who need abortions figure out when/where/how to get them.

It’s not going to solve the problem. But it’s a start. There are many ways to channel our rage right now… this is one.

What else could we do?

So in the end, I didn’t get pregnant. Nor did I ever after that. And I never wanted to.

But in the end, this isn’t about me.

It’s not about MY rights. It’s about rights. Period.

Today, and for a long time to come, the fight continues.

--

--

Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights activist, author, speaker, aid worker with 3 decades of global experience - and lots to say! More on my website: www.LinaAbiRafeh.com