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A public cervix announcement

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JUNE 28, 2022

Content warning: sexual assault


It’s the first thing I see when I open my New York Times app Friday, the words splashed across the top of the screen. Just a minute ago, I had been scrolling through Twitter, sipping my coffee while I considered my plans for Pride weekend. Now, all my thoughts of gay merriment were gone, replaced by the sensation of being overwhelmed by the world. This feeling followed me into the weekend, refusing to leave no matter how many sparkly rainbows I surrounded myself with.

Upset as I was, the Supreme Court’s recent decision does not directly impact me. I do not have to worry about losing access to abortion because I can’t get pregnant.

Last year, I got a salpingectomy — a surgery where my fallopian tubes were removed, making it nearly impossible to get pregnant. It took years for this to happen, to find a doctor who believed me when I told her that I wanted to be sterilized.

I have always known that I have never wanted to get pregnant, but we live in a society where motherhood is still expected of women. Well-meaning people — including doctors — would tell me, “You’ll change your mind and want children when you’re older” or, “But what if your future husband wants children?”

It’s my body, I would think. Why am I not allowed to make my own choices about what I do with it?

When I got home from my surgery, I felt relieved. It was a huge weight off of me, to no longer have to be concerned about unplanned — and unwanted — pregnancies. 

I spent this past weekend thinking about all the times I could have gotten pregnant and how lucky I was that it never happened. I think of all the unprotected sex I had. Sometimes, it was a mutual decision with my partner to not use a condom. Often, I reluctantly agreed to forgo a condom at the insistence of my partners. A few times, it was without my consent.

I think of the time when I had my worst pregnancy scare, after someone sexually assaulted me. I had an IUD, but they are not 100% effective, and I knew of friends who had gotten pregnant despite having them. I bought Plan B and, for days after, compulsively took at-home pregnancy tests that repeatedly yielded negative results, but I still held my breath until my period came. It felt like the longest month of my life, having to wait until I was absolutely sure that I had not gotten pregnant. At least, I thought, I know I can get an abortion if I have to.

It was that single sentence that I kept repeating to myself that kept me grounded. The knowledge that I had access to safe and legal abortion services, should I need them, was comforting. It gave me back a sense of control, to know that I had a choice in what happened to my body.

There were other pregnancy scares, although none terrified me in the same way. Some were with casual partners, people who wouldn’t have stuck around had I gotten pregnant. One was with a partner I loved, a person whom I would have considered raising a child with. 

In all of these situations, my choice would have been the same. If a pregnancy test had come back positive — regardless of whether it was the result of rape or a simple mishap with a boyfriend I loved — I would have gotten an abortion, because I simply did not want to experience pregnancy.

A lot of people in this country no longer have a choice when it comes to unwanted pregnancies. As of today, several states have already banned abortions. While some of these bans allow for exceptions in the case of rape or incest, most do not, and only allow abortions when the parent’s life is in danger. What does it say about this country, when we require a probable chance of death before we allow a person to get an abortion?

These abortion bans purport to celebrate life, when in reality, they take rights away from those who are already living. In denying people abortion, what we really accomplish is the denial of a basic human right — to have control over what happens to one’s own body.

I found myself tearing up over the weekend, as I alternated between protests and Pride celebrations. I was filled with sadness, as I thought about the people who will now be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, who have lost the right to control what happens to their own bodies. I thought about the people who will still pursue abortions, regardless of the dangers — both physical and legal — that they may face.

It is for these folks that I show up: at protests, in the voting booth, in the words that I write. I will never again have to worry about an unwanted pregnancy; I will never have to wonder whether I will be able to obtain an abortion. But that’s because I had a choice, because I was allowed to make a decision that I believe is best for my body. 

That simple human right —to have options, to be allowed a choice — has been taken away from millions of people, and I will keep fighting until it is restored. 


Rachel Musselwhite writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter

JUNE 28, 2022