This Woman Got an Abortion after She’s HIV-Positive

As part of National Abortion Rights Week this week, women’s rights groups are expanding the focus of their movement beyond access to safe and legal abortion to discussing the broader issue of women’s health. Some …

As part of National Abortion Rights Week this week, women’s rights groups are expanding the focus of their movement beyond access to safe and legal abortion to discussing the broader issue of women’s health. Some are choosing to share personal stories that reflect the fears and anxieties they have about the future of their own reproductive rights.

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“It’s all about access. It’s all about women, it’s all about people, it’s about all of our lives,” said Pamela Hamm, president of Faith Against Violence. Hamm took part in a panel this week at the Women in the World Summit on Monday with Activist Alice Walker, Prof. Erica Chenoweth at NYU and former Congresswoman and current Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Tuesday in a case that could set a precedent for the health of women. States like North Dakota, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania have enacted “fetal personhood” laws that call for criminalizing abortions, and some anti-abortion groups have backed this effort.

Rio Charleston was five months pregnant when she found out she was HIV positive. While she had abortions before, she was put off by the high price of an ultrasound. So when a friend told her about a service in Atlanta called Atlanta Pro Women on Purpose, she began to talk about the possibility of getting an ultrasound. She ended up with an abortion.

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“I just think it was the realization that I was gonna die with HIV and no one really wanted to talk about that,” she said. “The more I tried to forget about it, the more I thought that this is the only option that I have. I’m going to have to kill myself and so I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”

The term ‘fetal personhood’ refers to the idea that embryos and fetuses are entitled to rights in the law, based on the fact that they’re a member of the human species, rather than an object. In this case, the high court is also hearing a case in which an anti-abortion group challenges California’s parental notification requirement, which requires any parent seeking an abortion have to be present when their child receives an abortion.

The ‘fetal personhood’ and parental notice laws, in the main, are meant to block women from accessing safe and legal abortions, while providing that if a parent wishes, they can ask a doctor to have the procedure delayed until they can be present.

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But Hamm said she never thought she would have to pay for an ultrasound scan because she knows she can get one now. She’s glad that federal laws already prohibit the federal government from using public funds to pay for abortions, but it’s still possible for states to take away that money. She wondered if she’d ever have another abortion if she were less protected. She said she’s become more interested in how the debate about abortion is changing.

“I used to be really afraid of abortion,” she said. “I was scared of having one, and now I’m proud to say that I have had one and that I do not have fear of abortion because I know that we are not disposable.”

National Abortion Rights Week runs through the weekend, with many groups sending out emails about their events, and Hamm has been going to the local chapters she works with. She has been thinking about what she’ll do when she has to go to the abortion clinic.

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She says that the way she processed her own experience made her choose life rather than die.

“My life is worth something to be able to decide,” she said. “People can have the freedom to make that choice.”

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