I was the only one in the room with a still leg. The other three women sat cross-legged, fidgeting and bouncing their toes restlessly. This was the first stop during the three-hour ordeal, a video screening for all women who had selected a medical abortion that day. The film, entitled “Everyday Good Women Choose Abortion,” described what we could expect over the next forty-eight hours in detail as narrated by clinic staff. The artificial flowers and vase on the video matched the flowers in the small screening room. Each woman narrowed in on the television screen as if they had blinders on, seemingly unable to glance even for a moment at each other. I think this was the first time any of us confronted the reality of our situation, and it was uncomfortable to acknowledge alongside strangers.
The clinic was in a generic medical office building, which retained its Nixon-era charm because it hadn’t been updated since. I arrived just after nine in the morning. The waiting room was already noisy, bustling with people engaged in conversation, sharing videos and playing music on smart phones. There were no men waiting and nobody seemed to notice Pat Robertson spewing out his typical nonsense as The 700 Club played on the widescreen. I thought this was a strange programming choice. Admittedly, I wondered for a moment if this was a trap until I resigned myself to the likelihood that the television channel was a low priority (they later changed it to The View).
I was required to provide my signed informed-consent confirmation page at check-in, which was time-stamped twenty-four hours prior to the appointment. Per Michigan law, had I not brought this with me or failed to print it out at least twenty-four hours in advance, the clinic would not have been able to see me.
I then completed over ten pages of paperwork. Much of this was mandated by the state as well. I spent an additional twenty minutes reviewing all of my responses with a staff member. I would be required to return to the clinic had I missed anything.
Following the video, the paperwork, and the paperwork review I was called back by a woman in scrubs. The office looked like any other medical clinic with private exam rooms plus an additional quiet space exclusively for patients in-between tests. The ultrasound was first. Apparently, a vaginal ultrasound is required to determine how far along a woman is in her pregnancy. I was on my back with a wand in my vagina when the clinician informed me about yet another state mandate, “per Michigan law I must give you the option to see your ultrasound.” I declined.
Next, blood and urine samples. I snuck down the hall to the bathroom past a dark, discreet surgical recovery room. Several young unconscious women were tucked into recliners, waiting to return to the world. I locked eyes with an older woman with a furrowed brow who sat in the shadows keeping a watchful eye on one of the patients, perhaps her daughter or family member. This was an eerie space, but I suppose all surgery recovery rooms are somewhat eerie. This one, in particular, made me glad for selecting a medical abortion.
All my tests were completed, so I waited with the other women who were called back for their private exams with the doctor one by one. There were eight of us waiting, all appeared to be in their mid to late twenties. Each woman rushed out of the exam room with their head down, clutching a brown paper bag of medication. I was called in last. After a pelvic exam, the doctor asked me if I had any concerns or questions. I asked her how much pain I could expect. She told me that ninety-five percent of patients are happy with their abortion experience, but most all can expect some level of pain, which is why I was prescribed painkillers. The remaining five percent find the process particularly difficult.
She placed a pill in my hand. She explained that once I swallow the first of the two pills, my pregnancy would no longer be normal. The embryo would not develop and would likely be deformed if I attempted to continue the pregnancy. This point was underscored as I swallowed the pill.