After her state of Texas passed a restrictive state law banning most abortions, Aimee Knight shares her journey from teen mom to advocate.
“Early in my pregnancy, I had considered abortion and decided it was not for me. It was one of the last choices I would make in my pregnancy that felt like mine.”
On September 1, the new Texas abortion ban went into effect. The law makes abortion illegal after six weeks. It allows for women, health care providers, and anyone "aiding and abetting" them in obtaining an abortion to be sued by any private citizen. The overwhelming sense of dread and indignation I felt over this new law would not let me rest.
I was a teen mom, impregnated by my first boyfriend—the first time we had sex. I grew up in a religion that only gave you one option: abstinence until marriage. I could not talk to anyone about accessing protection and birth control outside of marriage. If I did, I risked losing my entire family and my community.
I hid my pregnancy for five months, terrified of what would happen when my family found out. I weighed about 100 pounds to begin with, so I just wore looser clothes. One day while I shopped with my twin sister, a sweet saleswoman who often helped me touched my belly and said, "Oh, you're pregnant!" Just like that, my day of judgment began.
For everyone, it was about them: the shame, the tears, the anger, and the silence. My grandfather, who had always wrapped me in love, did not speak to me for months. The church elders got involved, treating me like a problem to be solved. When my pregnancy began to show, people's faces turned to judgment and disdain or pity.
Everyone seemed to know what I should do and did not hesitate to tell me. No one asked me what I wanted. Early in my pregnancy, I had considered abortion and decided it was not for me. It was one of the last choices I would make in my pregnancy that felt like mine.
There are few things that I can say my mother did right when I was growing up. My childhood was wrought with turmoil; my father was abusive, my mother left him, and we went to live with our grandparents. They were our primary caregivers as my mother suffered from mental health disorders and several suicide attempts. Yet, for this brief time that she was in a better place, my mother helped me. I will always be grateful that she had the courage to take me to Planned Parenthood for prenatal care. None of the doctors and nurses at Planned Parenthood judged me. They cared for me and gave me information about adoption.
Even with options, though, I didn’t feel I had a choice. The religion my family was a part of only respected men’s voices. As the man and head of our household, my grandfather would have the final say on whether I would keep my son after he was born. The family argued over whether to send me away to another state until my son was born and could be adopted.
One day, a middle-aged couple knocked at the door. The woman stepped forward while putting her hand on my belly and said, "Your mother sent us. We want to talk to you about adopting your baby." My face flushed with my heart pounding in my ears. I closed the door without a word, locking the deadbolt.
That evening I argued with my mother. My grandfather stood and spoke for the first time in months, saying, "No one is giving away my first great-grandbaby." I was stunned and loved him for that. Still, my mother was determined to have my son taken from me, contacting child protective services and promising her friends that they could adopt my son. Overcome with a sense of dread that I could lose my baby, there was only one thing left to do.
Ten days before my son’s birth, I married his father at the courthouse. My son's father had already shown tendencies of anger and violence, punching a hole in the wall next to my head during an argument. When I found out I was pregnant, I knew I couldn't stay with him and ended the relationship. I didn’t marry for love or even because it was the right thing to do; I married so that all the voices around me would stop.
If I married, my family would respect my husband as the head of our household. I could keep my son. The justice of the peace sensed my despair and took me aside privately, saying, "You don't have to do this." I had weighed every possible outcome. There was no way out, no safe place.
My new husband knew that I was trapped and only became more abusive. After I left him and fled to a women’s shelter several months later to protect my son, the judgmental, condescending voices followed me. When I took my sick baby to the emergency room, the doctor sneered, asking what kind of mother could not afford fever medication for her baby. I held back the tears as I rocked my crying, feverish baby.
I was made to feel like a failure, unworthy of motherhood. Upon hearing that I was alone and needed help, my family again attempted to have my son taken from me. Child protective services twice investigated me for housing instability and having little income. The agencies didn’t offer help –– only the constant threat that my son would be taken away.
With the help of kind strangers, I found my way and fought hard to keep my son. I worked two or three jobs, sometimes only seeing him before work or after he was already asleep. I graduated from the police academy, received my bachelor's degree, and pursued my dream of a law degree. Finally, I was somebody to those judgmental voices.
It's been more than 20 years, which seems like a lifetime ago. But part of me will always be that frightened teen girl, lonely and afraid with nowhere to turn, her power and agency stripped away.
Women and girls in Texas now have fewer choices and freedoms than I did. Those voices that I told you about are the same ones commenting that justice has been done, in Jesus' name, amen, with the passing of the abortion ban in Texas. The church-going, self-righteous wives, their husbands, and older men –– frankly, older white men –– have become the voices for Texas women.
The people supporting this law carry anti-abortion signs, "protecting the unborn." Once the children are born, they look away, saying that the mothers should have thought about the consequences. You will not find them becoming foster parents or supporting single mothers and babies.
I have volunteered with women's shelters and rape crisis centers, worked with young victims of abuse and sexual assault, and advocated for foster care children. Texas’ new law now leaves many of these women and girls unprotected. The state has taken away their power, agency, and rights.
Contrary to Governor Abbott’s claims, rapists are not walking around on street corners declaring their future crimes, waiting to be rounded up to prevent rape. Rapists most often lurk undetected in the familiar homes and workplaces of their victims. There are backlogs months and sometimes years-long of rape kits and crimes.
Every woman and girl should have the fundamental right to make choices in her pregnancy, whether to abort, carry her pregnancy to term, give the child up for adoption, or keep the child. Only she can know the deeply personal circumstances that she faces and the right decision for her.
For those who believe, Jesus said do not judge lest you be judged. I pray that every person who judges, demeans, threatens, attacks, and sues a woman for the excruciating pregnancy choices she must make, will earn a fast pass to the front of the line to be judged. The rest of us will see you at the polls and in court. We will take our voices back. We will take back our power and our choice.
This story was published as part of World Pulse's Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.