L'Oreal Thompson Payton
January 22, 2018 4:07 pm
Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Today is the 45th anniversary of  Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that secured a woman’s right to abortion access.

If the nuns and religion teachers from my high school ever read this essay, I’m a dead woman. Back at my all-girls high school, I was the quintessential good Catholic schoolgirl…even though I wasn’t Catholic.

But having been a goody-two shoes for most of my life and attending Catholic school for my entire educational career, I quickly adapted to the rules and regulations of being “good” in the eyes of the people around me.

That meant subscribing to most of the ideologies I was taught, including being “pro-life.”

To mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade every January — the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States — my high school’s administration closed the campus and chartered a bus so that we could participate in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.

Not only that, but we were “strongly encouraged” to write essays in support of the school’s pro-life stance. I’m sure there were some students who questioned this and/or refused to write the essays (the march was optional), but I was drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid. Every January, on an inevitably cold winter’s day, I woke up early to join my teachers and classmates in “marching for life.”

The whole concept made sense to my teenage sensibilities. After everything I’d been told. I thought, “Of course it’s wrong to abort a ‘baby.’ Why would anyone in their right mind do such a thing? Babies are little miracles, a gift from God!” When I learned that there was a Planned Parenthood down the street from our high school, I couldn’t help but think “baby-killers” every time I drove past.

Indeed, I’d been brainwashed.

I never once stopped to consider other perspectives. I took my teacher’s preaching as gospel — and I was stubborn about it, too, refusing to heed my mom’s warning not to be so narrow-minded.

It  probably wasn’t until I attended college (also Catholic, but a liberal arts school) that I understood there were a multitude of reasons for someone to have an abortion. Pregnancy can threaten the mother’s life, the fetus may not survive, a woman may not be able to afford raising a child (or raising another child, if she is already a mother), the pregnancy was unplanned, a woman may just not want to have a baby.

I gradually started realizing that abortion might not be “inherently evil,” as the nuns at my high school had led me to believe.

I was trying to reconcile my belief in women’s rights with everything I’d been told about reproductive rights as a younger person. Admittedly, I still hesitated to call myself pro-choice because of my Catholic school upbringing. I was in more of a “do what you need to do” headspace. I no longer judged other women for making the right choice for themselves. I understood that Roe v. Wade wasn’t about “ending lives” — it was about ensuring women had control over their bodies and access to safe facilities. Still, I prayed that I would never find myself in a circumstance where I’d have to make that decision.

Years later, when I accepted a job at my local Girl Scout council, a college friend expressed her disappointment because of the organization’s alleged involvement with Planned Parenthood.

I knew I was starting to own my pro-choice beliefs — even if I wasn’t yet naming them — because my initial reaction was anger and frustration with her.

First of all, for accuracy’s sake, the Girl Scouts don’t actually work with Planned Parenthood. That’s a myth. Second of all — and most importantly — why would that even matter? By this point in my life, I knew that Planned Parenthood provided affordable access to necessary healthcare, in addition to abortion care, for many people who wouldn’t have access otherwise.

Fast forward to 2016. Labeling myself as pro-choice still felt like a gray area, but the disgust I felt after hearing then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s remarks about overturning Roe v. Wade was very clear to me. I didn’t believe the government, let alone a room full of (white) men, should decide what I do with MY body.

Then Donald Trump was inaugurated, and I went to the first Women’s March. I found myself surrounded by hundreds of thousands of like-minded women, and that’s when I realized it: I am pro-choice.

Next, it dawned on me that the last time I’d participated in such a demonstration was during the March for Life in high school. What a difference 16 years makes.

Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

I am writing this to let people know it’s okay to change your mind, positions, and beliefs.

Your beliefs should be yours and yours alone – not your parents’, not your teachers’, not your friends’. You have a choice.

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