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A Clearwater poet needed an abortion to save her life. Now she's fighting to preserve Roe.

 Mona Bethke said she wants to tell her story of survival to inspire others.
Stephanie Colombini
Mona Bethke said she wants to tell her story of survival to inspire others.

Mona Bethke says she wants to tell her story to inspire others, especially survivors of assault. She's worried about how abortion restrictions could harm them.

The potential overturning of Roe v. Wade is inspiring many people who've had abortions to speak up about their experiences, including spoken word poet Mona Bethke of Clearwater.

She performed at the Bans Off Our Bodies rally in Tampa last weekend and opened up about surviving assault and her past abortion.

“My body is a temple, my body is a temple,” Bethke, 64, read aloud to a crowd of hundreds of protesters. “Do not destroy this place and create a life of pain, refrain from stripping dignity under the guise of the Holy Trinity. Religion should not espouse laws to justify an anti-abortion clause,” she continued as the crowd cheered.

Sitting on a park bench after the rally, Bethke explained that her experience with abortion about 30 years ago was painful. Her abusive ex-husband raped her while they were still together and got her pregnant. They already had a daughter, and she planned to have the baby.

"Then he came home drunk one night and beat me up, and I had to go to a clinic and they [doctors] were like, ‘You’re hemorrhaging, you’re going to lose this baby, you have to get an abortion,’ ” Bethke said.

She remembered her father taking her to the clinic.

"I had to walk through a sea of people with pictures of aborted fetuses and screaming 'baby killer,' and I had to walk through that. It was devastating,” said Bethke.

She hugged her daughter a lot when she got home. Bethke said she still celebrates the child she lost every year on July 3. She said she had to choose to save her own life that day, but as difficult as that was, she knows it was the right decision.

“My daughter would have grown up without me, she was 3 at the time, and she would have grown up with her dad and who knows what could have happened to her,” Bethke said.

She added that her husband continued his abuse and caused her to miscarry another child when she was pregnant with twins. The other child is thriving, she said. Bethke eventually left him and shares her story of survival so that others may be inspired.

“I could have given up, but I decided instead that I wanted to try to impact and affect other women’s lives,” she said.

After her poetry performance, several people approached Bethke thanking her for sharing and relating their own experiences with abortion and assault. She recalled one woman who came up to her in tears. She was about the same age as Bethke and also had an abortion when she was younger.

"She said, ‘I have lived with the guilt all these years and now I can let it go.‘ Boom, that's why I do it,” Bethke said with a smile.

Bethke said she's worried for survivors of sexual assault who aren't protected from many of the new abortion restrictions being passed around the country, including Florida's new ban on abortion after 15 weeks.

She also fears what could happen to pregnant parents experiencing medical emergencies like she did. Florida’s law makes exceptions if the parent or child’s life is in immediate danger, but Bethke said that’s hard to define.

“There too much gray area, I guess is what I’m more concerned about. None of this is black and white, it’s all gray,” she said.

Bethke vowed to continue fighting for abortion rights through poetry and activism, and encourages others to do the same.

WUSF wants to know what conversations you're having about abortion rights. Fill out our form, and if you’re willing, a reporter may contact you.

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Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.