At the time, I felt terribly alone but my circumstances were far from unusual. Black women have the highest rates of abortion in the country, undoubtedly due to the severe wealth gap between black and white families — a gap that holds even among the poor. The white household living near the poverty line typically has about $18,000 in wealth — primarily due to intergenerational wealth transfers — while black households in similar economic straits typically have a median wealth near zero. Although women of all colors who are poor are far more likely than those who have greater resources to choose to end their pregnancies, the situation for black women is especially dire. Although our families often want to help, as mine certainly did, that frequently proves to be a practical impossibility. A 2014 report found that for every dollar of wealth owned by the typical white family, the median black family owns just 5 cents. Even if I wanted to give birth to my rapist’s baby — which I did not — I, like so many others, could not turn to my family for help.
During my second year in law school, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case, Rust v. Sullivan, that many worried might overturn the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade. I recall some male law students arguing that abortion bans wouldn’t be so bad, so long as there were exceptions made in cases of rape. I wondered how a “rape exception” to an abortion ban could possibly help women, like me, who did not want to report a rape to the police and who could not possibly prove that a rape occurred if the man denied it. Criminal cases take months, even years, to be resolved. Would abortions be allowed based on mere allegations of rape without any proof? If not, what would a woman have to prove in a matter of days or weeks to get an abortion in the first trimester? How could she overcome the inevitable denial? What man would admit to rape knowing that he’d face a likely prison sentence?
My own situation proved to be highly unusual in one respect. The man who raped me admitted what he had done and apologized. I doubt if he would’ve done the same if I’d been legally required to report the rape to obtain an abortion. I know many women who’ve been raped; not one has called the cops.
My rapist called the day after he violated me and left an awkward message on my answering machine saying he was sorry about “what happened.” He did not use the word “rape.” He asked me to call him back. I did not. More messages were left in the days that followed; each time he sounded more distraught, more apologetic, more despondent.
On the day I learned I was pregnant, I finally decided to call. I wanted to punish him with the news. Look what you’ve done to me. I wanted him to know that his actions had consequences and this was something we’d both have to live with for the rest of our lives, no matter what I decided. When he answered the phone, he sounded relieved that I had finally called. I interrupted his efforts to apologize yet again to deliver my news. After a long silence, he asked quietly, “Are you sure it’s mine?” I nearly threw the phone against the wall but instead steadied myself and told him coldly that yes, you did this.
“Oh, no,” he sighed. A long pause. “Are you going to keep it? It’s your choice, totally up to you.”
“I know it’s my choice,” I replied.