Opening up to other people has never been easy for St. Peter High School junior Keith Phillips. He’s struggled his whole life against urges to isolate and panic attacks induced by social phobia — an anxiety disorder which triggers intense feelings of dread and fear in social situations.
When his social anxiety was at its worst, Phillips experienced physical pain on a daily basis as his upper body tightened and shook aggressively. His train of thought broke down like a computer displaying an error, said Phillips, unable to distinguish the constant thoughts racing through his mind.
But the high school junior’s convictions overcame his anxiety in the wake of a leaked Supreme Court draft majority opinion poised to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade and grant states the ability to aggressively restrict and outlaw abortion before fetal viability.
On Thursday, May 12, Phillips led a group of 60-plus students out the front doors of St. Peter High School at 2:30 pm in defense of a choice his mother never had the chance to make.
Phillips’ mother, Liz Estrada, has an abortion story unlike most. At 16 years old, her choice over her own reproductive health was taken away when her mother coerced her into terminating an unplanned pregnancy.
The facts of life were kept hidden during Estrada’s adolescence. Sexual education was n’t in her curriculum at her Texas school in 1995 and Estrada’s parents never sat her down to discuss the birds and bees. She didn’t know about tampons, she didn’t know about pads and she didn’t know that sexual intercourse could produce a child.
So when she lost her virginity at 15, going on 16, Estrada was blind to the risks involved. Two weeks after her first sexual experience, Estrada said she was raped while attending a house party with friends. She soon became pregnant, but she never knew if her conception of her was the result of a voluntary act or forced upon her.
At the time, she was unaware of her pregnancy. It was n’t until her mother de ella noticed she was n’t menstruating that she discovered she was carrying a child.
“She kept track, and I didn’t know what was going on. I had no clue,” said Estrada. “She took me to the doctor, and I found out I was pregnant. At that point, I didn’t know if it was from the person I was seeing at the time or the rape itself.”
Estrada was around three and a half months into her pregnancy when it was detected. Up against a closing window for a legal abortion, her mother de ella scrounged cash from her daughter’s savings to pay for a last-minute appointment at a San Antonio abortion clinic two hours away.
“My mom pretty much took the front seat, and my dad stepped back and stayed quiet through the whole thing,” said Estrada. “My mom didn’t give me a choice at all, but I wanted to have that child. I’ve always told Keith that if that never happened, he would have had a big brother.”
The then Texas teenager hardly knew what an abortion was, let alone where and when she was going to get the procedure. Estrada recalled getting into the car late one night with her parents de ella in the front seats and her eldest sister de ella next to her in the back de ella. Her only clue de ella that her mother de ella was driving her to San Antonio was from reading the street signs passing by her window de ella.
The clinic itself felt as cold and sterile as her upcoming procedure, Estrada recalled. As she waited with her mother underneath the harsh, fluorescent lights, she could feel judgment behind the stars of nurses, doctors and even other patients.
“I didn’t feel right at all there. I didn’t feel welcomed. I didn’t feel anything,” said Estrada. “It felt like I was just getting rid of some trash. Everyone just treated me like I was trash, because I was doing what I was doing.”
In-clinic abortions may induce varying levels of discomfort for patients, depending on the person and how far along the pregnancy is. Estrada felt an intense pain during the procedure she hadn’t expected, but she was only allowed a couple hours in the recovery room before she was required to leave.
Any hope Estrada had of leaving that night behind her was quickly dashed when she returned to school the following week. After her doctor’s appointment confirming her pregnancy, word that she was expectantly traveled around the town and the school.
“I went back to everyone whispering and pointing. My whole world changed from that moment on,” said Estrada. “I saw things differently; I experienced things differently. All of my friends stopped talking to me, and I was the big joke.”
To this day, Estrada isn’t certain why her mother pushed her to get the abortion. Though her parents de ella were devout Catholics and official church doctrine declares abortion immoral, Estrada said her mom never gave her the opportunity to carry her pregnancy to term.
She speculated that her parents wanted more for her as their youngest child. Her three older siblings were all forced into adulthood from an early age by unplanned pregnancies.
“As their last child, I think they expected more, wanted more for me, and here I am pregnant,” said Estrada. “My dad didn’t speak to me for several months, because he was highly disappointed. It wasn’t the fact that he was mad, but that he wanted more for me.”
According to a 2004 survey of 1,200 abortion patients by the Guttmacher Institute, 6% of respondents said their decision was influenced by their parent’s wanting them to have an abortion, though less than half a percent named it the most important reason.
For the next 15 years after her abortion, Estrada thought she lost her one and only chance at motherhood. Later in life, Estrada struggled with infertility and was told by doctors that she couldn’t conceive. She was unaware if the procedure had an impact, but abortion generally doesn’t impact a patient’s fertility.
For the second time in her life, but under much happier circumstances, Estrada was told by a doctor she was three months pregnant. The then 30 year-old was convinced the doctor made a mistake. She recalled the doctor telling her the good news four times and opening up her file de ella in front of her to show her the results de ella before she finally believed it.
To Estrada, Phillips is her miracle child, and she was determined not to repeat the mistakes of her parents. If her family and school de ella had been open and honest about sex education, Estrada believes she would not have been put in a position where an abortion was on the table.
“Why wasn’t I educated? It probably would never have happened the way that it did,” said Estrada. “I wouldn’t have had to go through an abortion if only I was just sat and talked to a little bit. Things have changed, I hope.”
While keeping age-appropriate conversations, Estrada has kept an open-book policy with her son about her life’s highs and lows, including her abortion.
“I need him to know that, even though people can go through some really horrendous things, they can overcome and prevail,” said Estrada. “I want him to know the experiences that I’ve gone through, so that he’ll know the red flags and the good things in life. Even though somebody can push me down to the ground, I can always get back up.”
Phillips has come to appreciate that transparency. Since early childhood, he said he’s struggled with both his physical and mental health, but he knows he can trust and confide in his mom when life gets tough.
“I have a person to go to when I feel sad or am going through a lot or if there’s going to be a change,” said Phillips. “My mom is always there.”
She’s also the one person Phillips can rely on to bring him back down to earth when his ideas get a little outlandish.
“If I’m going to make a weird decision, I can ask if it’s a good idea. She’ll most likely say ‘No,’ because normally my weird ideas are very bad,” Phillips laughed. “But she’s there being a good support and helping me with all my physical and mental health needs.”
With encouragement from his mom, Phillips stood in front of his classmates at the “Abortion is Healthcare” walkout to share his family’s history in advocating for reproductive rights. He could feel his body shaking from the rush of adrenaline pumping through his veins. Though the burst of energy left him fatigued the rest of the day, Phillips was beaming with pride at what he’d accomplished.
“He was drained. It took everything, but he did an amazing thing,” said Estrada. “We can’t go into Walmart and stuff like that, because it’s overwhelming, but for him to do that, to stand up and say something that he is passionate about, that’s a wild thing.”
Delivering the public speech would have been unthinkable just a few months prior, but Phillips has witnessed a profound physical and mental change after starting hormone replacement therapy. Since taking regular injections of testosterone, the transgender teen said he feels more of his personality shining through.
“I feel more confident, and the more I take it, the more I feel like a whole different person,” said Phillips.
From an early age, Phillips’ parents believed he would become a lawyer, because of his argumentative nature. But now, Phillips is building the fortitude to share his thoughts of him with the world, even in the face of backlash.
“As a trans person who was assigned female at birth, I want to have that choice,” said Phillips.
With the help of his friends, Phillips sent out classwide invitations to participate in the protest where he was met with a variety of responses including enthusiastic support, moral opposition and apathetic engagement from students who wanted to leave class early.
Next school year, Phillips plans to continue sharing his voice, whether it’s through student activism, joining choir or auditioning for the school play for the first time in his scholastic career. As the son she once thought she could never have breaks down barriers, it’s a reminder to Estrada that second chances are still possible.
“Like every parent, I want my child to be better, to accomplish more than I have,” she said. “It just amazes me, even with his social phobia of him, he stood in front of a whole bunch of people and did something I could never do.”