It is 1989. My earliest memory of myself is of riding on my dad’s shoulders and holding a placard that reads “Pro-Choice.” Chants of “Her Body, Her Choice” reverberate around me. I’m barely four years old, but this is not my first protest. In my family, abortion has never had a question mark after it.
It is 2009. The patient sits, folded into herself, shrinking her already small frame. Outside the room, on the other side of the wall, her daughter’s legs dangle from the chair she sits in; I hear her feet thumping occasionally against the wall. The sound reminds me of the patient’s life outside of this small exam room, outside of the two hours during which our lives will intersect. It’s hot, so both my medical student’s white coat and the longer version worn by my attending physician hang in the corner. Even so, we are still sweating.
Finally, the interpreting service we’d contacted has managed to find someone who speaks Khmer, and I hear its unfamiliar sounds through the phone. Our patient comes alive. Through the even, kind voice of the interpreter, the patient tells us her story. In that moment, I hang on every detail of her life, though ten succeeding years of patient visits have now blurred its particulars.
This is the first abortion that I have participated in. It unfolds over the course of several hours, slowed somewhat by our use of the interpreting service and the tight confines of this primary care clinic. As the patient leaves, no longer pregnant, she hugs me and the physician. She will follow up next week. This is abortion as simply another part of primary care, another way to help patients realize the lives they have always imagined for themselves. Most women feel a need to justify why they want an abortion. Most doctors say, “You don’t need to explain. This is your choice. There is no right or wrong reason.”
It is 2019. I stand in the hot Miami sun. Chants of “Her Body, Her Choice” surround me. Thirty years later, I am still protesting. I think back to my first abortion patient, to that Cambodian woman in the Bronx, and I wonder where her life has taken her. I am grateful for the long white coat I wear today, for the voice it gives me to speak up for the choices of my patients.