I am 19 years old. In a day or two I will be leaving for India—a five-month trip, the longest and the farthest I have ever been away from home. I have taken off a semester from college to volunteer as an English teacher in a village primary school.
As I pack my suitcase in the late afternoon, my dad approaches me holding a small white box. He tells me that inside the box is a pill. He wants me to take this pill with me to India in case I somehow end up pregnant. He may use the word “rape” or imply it. (I can’t recall his exact words, but knowing my dad, I’m sure he didn’t beat around the bush.) He tells me he requested this pill from my cousin Sven, who is a doctor in Germany, and I vaguely understand then that it must be “RU-486”, the abortion pill that has been legal in Europe for some time but was only recently approved by the U. S. FDA. (This was 2003). Probably my dad doesn’t know exactly how the pill works or how it should be taken; in any case, he doesn’t give me any specific instructions.
I stare at him. “Dad.” I give him my best how could you be so stupid face in order to cover up my embarrassment. “I don’t even get my period.” It’s true. I am a college athlete and a long-distance runner; I can’t remember the last time I bled. Probably years ago. I assume he will understand the implication: Even if I were planning on having sex in India, even if I were to be raped, it’s biologically impossible for me to get pregnant. But from his response, I can tell he doesn’t follow my reasoning. I think, instead, he hears me telling him, Daddy, I’m still a little girl. I’ve never had sex and never will. He hears only naiveté, a child who doesn’t understand how the world works.
Fifteen years later, I work with mifepristone on an almost daily basis; I know its mechanism of action, its intended uses, limitations, and risks; I can recite these facts by heart. The idea of my 19-year-old self becoming pregnant in India and deciding (When? In what circumstance?) to self-administer mifepristone from a little box in the bottom of my backpack, to try to give myself an abortion, is terrifying on many levels. I wonder if my dad thought this pill was something like the “morning-after pill”, and somehow believed the whole process to be much simpler and safer than it in fact was, or would have been?
“Well,” he says, holding my stare, “I want you to take it with you anyway.”
And I did—although I don’t remember whatever became of it. I must have put it in my backpack and carried it around India with me. I never did have occasion to use it. Probably I threw it out or flushed it down a toilet somewhere shortly before I flew home at Christmas. Another careless first-world disposal of something that to another woman, in another life, would have been worth more than gold.