Seema Yasmin on the power of abortion stories

"Abortion is healthcare, they were saying, without uttering a word."

This post was written by Seema Yasmin, author of Unbecoming.

When I was in high school, my bestie and I slipped out of class one afternoon and went to a clinic in central London. Inside that clinic, my friend swallowed a pill to make her pregnancy go away.

It was fraught, tense, scary. Who am I kidding? We were terrified. But it wasn’t impossible, and my friend wasn’t alone. The clinic was clean and easy to find, close to the shops we would browse for leggings and eyeshadow after school some days. The young woman sitting behind the front desk was kind and pointed us to a waiting room that was quiet and filled with magazines. The nurse, who let me hold my best friend’s hand almost the whole time, was matter of fact but not judgey. They did this every day, their manner reminded us. We were normal teenagers, they were telling us with their expressions. My friend was one of thousands of teens who became pregnant each month in the UK. I was one of thousands of teens whose best friends became pregnant. Abortion is healthcare, they were saying, without uttering a word.

In my novel, Unbecoming, Laylah Khan finds herself pregnant and alone. She is 17, a diligent Dallas high school student with her life planned out all the way through pre-med to post-graduate medical training. Laylah lives in a world in which a Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade led to every state criminalizing abortion. In this world, abortion care means navigating an underground network of doctors-gone-rogue, as well as shady providers operating out of veterinary clinics. Being pregnant and wanting to unbecome pregnant seemingly means you have to go it alone, in case telling a friend implicates them in a criminal act.

Laylah’s best friend, Noor, is editor of the high school newspaper and winner of multiple awards for student investigative journalism. Noor is the perfect companion to guide Laylah through the murky abortion underworld, if only Laylah would let her best friend help her. It’s not only the threat of arrest or discovery by vigilantes that keeps Laylah from confiding in Noor; it’s the dread of admitting that she—the girl with the perfectly planned career, the girl who is perfect in almost every way—made a choice that upended her life. Laylah is as embarrassed as she is scared. Ever the perfectionist, she wishes to unbecome pregnant with the help of a few medicines and a swig of mocha Frappuccino, without anyone close to her ever knowing of her mistake—if only she could get her hands on the meds.

The Laylah’s of the world are never alone, not by the numbers, anyway. Every year, around 700,000 American teens become pregnant. But many will feel alone, especially now, with the fall of Roe v. Wade and the abrupt loss of the constitutional right to access a safe abortion. In the wake of the 2022 Supreme Court ruling, 14 states enacted complete abortion bans and 27 states have in place laws that mean many pregnant people will find out they are pregnant when it’s already too late to have an abortion.

Stories make us feel less alone. Stories connect and empower; they give us the strength to voice our deepest anxieties, to say Look at what happened to this girl. Would you hold my hand if that happened to me?

Laylah worries that her flaws make her less loveable. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As she learns, over the course of an eventful week, her loved ones cherish her not in spite of her messiness and idiosyncrasies, but because of them. By sharing these stories, we remind ourselves and each other that abortion is healthcare and that we need each other to survive.

Get your copy of Unbecoming by Seema Yasmin here.

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