Pro-choice activists with the National Organization For Women hold a vigil outside the U.S. Supreme Court on January 23, 2012 in Washington, DC. T(Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

I had two abortions years ago in the first trimesters, and today the only regret I have, is that I didn’t speak up sooner about what the right to choose means to me.

For years, I felt so much shame and guilt. I felt silenced by the stigma of a culture preoccupied with using women’s bodies for the purposes of power and control, and where “pro-life” advocates use violent language like “baby killers” to describe anyone who believes in a women’s right to choose.

For the most part, I lived in secrecy — both times.

‘It was my choice’

At the time of my first abortion, I was 19 years old.  The second time, I was in my mid-20s, a single mother, and in an abusive relationship with someone I thought I wanted to marry.  It took me years to figure out my life and to make sense of everything that happened to me, but I was fortunate.

As pro-choice advocate, Texas Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis recently said, I had “the privilege of making the choice.”  I had access to safe, affordable, and legal abortion care that allowed me autonomy over my body and my decisions.

I don’t know what would have happened to me if I had been forced to continue the unintended pregnancies during those very painful and difficult times in my life. I will never forget the loneliness, fear and desperation I felt in those difficult moments, but I was lucky that I didn’t let it define me.

Even when I did decide to become a mother, life was still difficult and complicated. I was an unwed 21-year-old college student with little to no family support. And yet, that too was my choice.  This basic right to decide my own fate made all the difference in the world.  It shaped how I felt about, and approached, motherhood.   I felt empowered to choose to have a child, and equally emboldened to live my life on my terms. I have lived my life that way ever since.

Women are not domesticated animals

“Choice” is a critically important element of a fully actualized and meaningful life, and our very basic human right to make decisions about our reproductive health and bodies is essential to what it means to be a whole human being.

It’s what distinguishes us from domesticated and farm animals, whose reproduction we humans control every day. Think of the dairy cows and hens who are kept continually pregnant, even painfully, so that people can satisfy their insatiable appetites for milk,  cheese and eggs; or the dogs and cats we spay and neuter to keep their populations under control. When lawmakers legislate and regulate women’s bodies and restrict abortion-related healthcare, it’s a form of violence that’s not much different from the way our culture brutalizes and controls animals for our own pleasure and benefit. I, for one, am sick of it.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I know now, that when I made the choice to become a mother, I also made the choice that as a black woman, a woman, and a sexual human being, I would live as a whole integrated person and not as parts of myself.  Ever since, I’ve rejected and resisted the narrative that I was told about myself as a poor, working class black girl and single mother. I started writing my own story.

It’s taken me years to get here, but I have learned to embrace all of my imperfect human messiness. This changed everything for me and for my daughter. The ability to choose meant that I also I had a right to my dreams and hopes just like anyone else. I was able to keep my promises to myself to become the first in my family to graduate from college. I wasn’t afraid to explore every opportunity possible — even when they seemed impossible. I studied abroad with my 7-year-old at my side. We moved to France and Spain and I was fortunate to be able to raise her both abroad and in an idyllic New England college town, where I attended undergraduate and graduate school surrounded by ideas, books, and the opportunities that I once fantasized about. It was like living a dream — it was my dream.

Today, my daughter is 21 years old and living her own dreams.  She will be a college senior this fall at a private liberal arts college in Los Angeles.  This is what the right to choose means to me.

Why I am a pro-choice advocate

Today, I am a pro-choice advocate because I want my daughter to live in a world where she is safe to choose the kind of life she wants to live, just as I did.

I want that for all women, particularly poor working class women, rural women, and women of color, who are the most vulnerable to policy attacks that restrict women’s access to reproductive healthcare.  All women should feel empowered to choose, with full access to the resources and support systems that they need, without any shame or guilt as they make these very personal and often difficult decisions about their bodies and their families.