Editors Note: The name of the woman in this story was changed at her request. Katherine frowned as she walk across the Ellipse. The gray morning air crackled – the horizon cluttered with moving figures, red-letter signs parted to reveal more posters, more clouds of breath. Christian rock from a loudspeaker swung eerily over the crowd. It was Thursday, the 25-year anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
Katherine came to a slatted fence. Inside, a small knot of demonstrators clustered around a wooden stage. She had reached the border between two separate camps – pro-choice demonstrators gathered inside the boundary to remember a victory and to speak of vigilance. Outside the fence, protesters raised their fists to the Capitol and their voices to the heavens.
“Nobody here is talking about anything relevant,” Katherine said. She sighed, watching an elderly man and a young woman heckle each other across the fence. In her senior year at GW, Katherine was at the rally to watch, and to reflect.
Years have passed since she had an abortion. She was 18 then, and got pregnant during the last days of her freshman year at college. Katherine’s experience separates her from both sides of the fence – she exercised her prerogative to choose, although she believes abortion is murder.
“The real bum part of it is that I used a condom,” Katherine said. “In high school my boyfriend and I lost our virginity to one another, so we sometimes didn’t. Stupid. But I was spared the consequences then.”
She knew right away that she was pregnant, Katherine said. She spent the next two weeks moving across the country, to her hometown, where she had rented an apartment with a friend for the summer.
“I just sort of ignored it at first,” she remembered.
Katherine never told the father that she was pregnant. “Not a damn thing,” she said. “I completely neglected his rights.”
A group of men moved through the praying throngs of pro-lifers. “Happy father’s day – thanks for the memories,” read their banner.
“My girlfriend said, `call him and ask him for money,’ and I was like, `yeah, right,’ ” Katherine paused. “If I had talked to him at all, money would have been the last thing it would be about.”
That summer, after unpacking her crates and taking a deep breath, she administered a home pregnancy test. The results did not surprise her – she was pregnant.
“My first thought was abortion,” she said. “I thought, `my God, I’m not ready for motherhood.’ And the second thing, like many girls I think, was my family. I knew that I couldn’t tell them, even though they would have been supportive. But all the while there was this other feeling of – I can’t say I was happy, because I wasn’t. But I had a life inside of me. I knew I was fertile.”
The new feeling of motherhood softened her determination, Katherine said. Frightened, she called clinics.
“That was actually interesting, because I learned that people will do this for free,” Katherine said. “There was no question that it had to be soon, because every day it got tougher. It’s an expensive thing, but most of the places I called told me, `Try to get the money, but worst case, we’ll work something out.’ “
Two girls paraded by, jaws stiff, clutching posters of dead fetuses. “See, that’s all their parents’ issues, not them,” Katherine interrupted herself. “What will they do in a few years, when they get knocked up?”
Katherine had to wait until she was six weeks pregnant to abort. The morning of her appointment she woke up with a rock heavy in her stomach. She was calm in the car. But in the waiting room, she panicked.
“The first thing I saw that morning walking in was this beautiful black couple holding hands. They weren’t really talking, but he was there with her and it was obviously as difficult for him as for her,” Katherine remembered. “That was the first image I had.”
She watched woodenly while a knot of Minnesota high-schoolers murmured the Hail Mary nearby.
Katherine remembered another woman from the waiting room, redheaded and boisterous, seated between her boyfriend and another man. Chattering to Katherine, she explained that this would be the latest in a series of abortion.
“I was upset by then, and she said, `Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it,’ ” Katherine said. “She was so loud and going on and on, and I wanted to puke all over her face. That was when I began to understand the opposition to abortion. This woman was horrible, she made me cry.”
The nurse called Katherine’s name, and she took her place on the stretcher. Two minutes later, she said, she was wheeled into the recovery room. The abortion was over – and she had mistaken it for a pap smear. Katherine was hysterical.
“I was screaming. They heard me in the waiting room,” Katherine remembered. “The redhead was in there, too, and I told her that she wasn’t a real woman. I was bawling, saying, `You women are all crazy; this isn’t birth control.’ “
Katherine’s roommate drove her home that day, she said. Her body was not in pain. For months, she did not speak of the abortion.
Now, years later, she speaks of it unflinchingly. “I will always know that I killed my first-born child,” she explained, her face serious as she watched three middle school girls giggling with a park policeman. “I say that to people and they try to say, `Oh, no, it isn’t that, it was your choice.’ And it was my choice, but I chose to kill. If other people don’t want to admit that, fine. But I know it. I was there.”
A man from the pro-life side of the fence leaned over. “Murderer!” he spat at a young woman who stood singing with a few National Organization for Women members.
“I want to go to the other side,” Katherine burst out. “I don’t want to be associated with this antagonism.”
But on the pro-choice side, Katherine still was fidgeting. A man leaned across the barrier to rip a pro-life sign from a middle-aged woman’s hand. He dropped it in the mud, began to wipe his combat boots on it.
“See, they’re not even talking about the same thing,” Katherine sighed. “Nobody’s opinions on abortion have anything to do with the issue. To pro-choice it’s a women’s issue, which I hate, and to pro-life it’s about murder in the eyes of God. They’re both right, but they aren’t looking at the same thing. The choice was always there – even if abortion was illegal I could slip into a back room and take some poison. This has always been around.”
Katherine said she believes the choice to abort should exist.
“I’m not even sure the legal system should be involved,” Katherine explained. “It’s something private, something that comes attached to the essential power, which to me is the ability to give life. The ability to end it. But in this day, there has to be a law for everything.”
Pulling absently on a cigarette, Katherine regards the hissing pit of pro-lifers, the snarl of pro-choicers. The two groups bait back and forth.
“I grew up going to abortion rights rallies,” she said. “I was pro-choice before I had any idea what I was talking about. Now I’d sooner say I’m anti-abortion than pro-abortion, even though I still am pro-choice,” Katherine waited. “But I’d rather say neither.”
The Our Father boomed in the air, and overhead the sky sagged in anticipation of rain.