While millions of Americans are either celebrating or grieving the 35th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision today, 25-year-old Katie Wilkins credits the law for the 5-year-old girl playing outside her kitchen window.
It's been nearly six years since Wilkins, a recent college graduate, locked herself in her parents' bathroom and watched a blue line slowly appear on a pregnancy test she had placed on the vanity. It was a moment that not only changed her life, but changed the way she viewed abortion.
"I say that — that it changed the way I think about abortion because it was a woman at the abortion clinic who gave me courage," she said. "The woman who was supposed to help me get an abortion was the first person in my life to tell me that I had a choice and that only I could make that choice. She helped me make the decision that was right for me."
Wilkins paused, looked out the window to check on her daughter and smiled before saying she would start from the beginning.
"I was scared," she admitted. "My family wasn't overly religious, but we went to church. As far as I knew, my family thought abortion was the equivalent of murder. Because of that, I was pretty much resigned that I was going to have a baby. There were simply no other options."
When Wilkins worked up enough courage to tell her mother about the pregnancy, however, it quickly became clear that her mother thought abortion was the best option.
"She sat for several minutes and took it all in," Wilkins said. "Obviously, she wasn't happy. Although I was engaged, I wasn't married. When she began talking, her first words were about my college scholarship. Then she began talking about other things — the big wedding, the time my fiance and I should be spending as a couple. It was just weird. It was like she wasn't talking to me as much as she was talking to herself."
It was at the end of that conversation that Wilkins' mother said the word abortion.
"She said the word and her eyes lit up," Wilkins said. "It was like she had just found the most amazing answer to a huge problem. I was completely against it and I told her so, but she still picked up the phone book and made a couple of calls."
Wilkins told her fiance about the conversation with her mother, expecting to find moral support for her decision to continue the pregnancy.
"He bowed his head and I could tell he was thinking about something serious," she said. "I thought he was maybe thinking of ways to calm himself down because he was so angry with my mom."
When he looked at her again, her fiance told her he also agreed that she should have an abortion.
"I was shocked and crying," she said. "He and my mom were the two people I most loved and trusted and both of them were telling me to do something I didn't want to do. Both of them were telling me that I had no choice, that it was for the best. What could I do?"
Wilkins went with her mother and her fiance to the clinic for the abortion. She said that when the day finally arrived, she had "cried herself out."
"I was basically a walking zombie," she said. "I had spent the past few days trying to convince myself that this was the best thing."
She was called into an office where a counselor began to speak with her about the pregnancy, her medical history and the scheduled procedure.
"I didn't break down or anything," Wilkins said. "I didn't scream out or start crying, but somehow she knew. She began to question me about why I was there and what I wanted. I finally told her the truth — that my family and fiance thought having an abortion was best. She sat down her clipboard and moved her chair over so that we were sitting almost nose-to-nose. 'Katie, what do you think?' she asked me. I did begin to cry then. It was the first time anyone had asked me what I thought or what I wanted."
The two women spoke for several minutes before inviting Wilkins' mother and fiance to hear the change of plans.
"I told them that I was not going to have an abortion," she said. "They tried to protest, but the counselor asked them to just listen. I told them everything and then I explained that this was my body, my life and my choice."
A few months later, Wilkins gave birth to a healthy daughter. She moved out of her parents' home while pregnant, but remains close with her family. She and her mother have managed to heal their relationship and Wilkins says both her parents adore their granddaughter. Unfortunately, she and her fiance were not as lucky, although he continues to provide financially for the child. Her life, she says, isn't perfect and isn't easy, but she's satisfied and working to improve things. Some people might think, after listening to Wilkins' experiences, that she'd be against abortion.
"No, not at all," she said. "That's why they call it 'choice' and I'm more than happy to support any woman whatever her choice may be. Just because it wasn't the right choice for me, doesn't mean it isn't the right choice for someone else. I think that's what many who support and oppose abortion have forgotten."
Roe v. Wade, she says, isn't really about or limited to abortion.
"The decision handed down by the Supreme Court was done as a reaction to abortion, but it really, I think, speaks about medical privacy and medical choice in general," Wilkins said. "The court said, basically, no person can force another person to have a medical procedure against his or her will. It also said that each of us have a right to care for and make decisions based on our own well-being. Finally, we should all be able to make those decisions as publicly or as privately as we wish."
Most people, she said, only see what they want to see about her situation.
"There are some who are against abortion that think I'm going to be their best friend after they've heard my story," she said. "There are others who are open to abortion who want to paint my family and fiance as villians after hearing it. They are both wrong. I'm no more a saint than any other woman. I'm just a woman who took advantage of the choices afforded to me — a choice I'm extremely thankful for."