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April 1, 2016 12:05 PM EDT

When I was 17 and still in high school, my mother kicked me out of my home. In the years that followed, I fell in and out of homelessness. I often lived without gas, water and electricity. I didn’t have the luxury of going to the doctor or taking care of my health.

I became pregnant in my mid-20s, which was a wake-up call for me. My partner at the time was abusive, and getting pregnant made me realize that I needed to escape this man. I knew I could not be tethered to him for the next 18 years; that would have devastated me.

So I decided to have an abortion—just as 30% of American women do at some point in their reproductive lives.

Leaving my abusive partner was difficult. The abortion, which I got at my local Planned Parenthood health center, was not.

I can’t even imagine what my life would be like today if I’d carried that pregnancy to term. I would not have been able to continue my education, and chances are high that I would have stayed in my old lifestyle with my abusive partner. I would have lived a life marked by too much alcohol and zero self-respect.

I am not a criminal, I’m just someone who needed some help. I do not deserve to be punished—regardless of what Donald Trump or any of his fellow Republican presidential candidates say. And neither does my medical provider.

If any Republican presidential candidate wins the White House, we are in trouble. Cruz wants to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest and has said that, if elected, he would nominate judges to the U.S. Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Kasich signed a law forcing women having an abortion to undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound for the purpose of shaming them; the law also punishes doctors who fail to comply. He has signed laws prohibiting almost all abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and under his administration, nearly half of Ohio’s abortion clinics have closed.

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Of course Trump quickly tried to revise his original statement, saying that he would only criminalize abortion providers, but that didn’t improve matters. And Kasich and Cruz have tried to distance themselves from Trump’s comments, saying they too only believe in “punishing” providers, not the women who turn to them.

But if anything, those comments prove how out-of-touch all three are with the reality of health care.

My abortion provider, in fact, saved my life. When I returned for my post-abortion check-up, my provider discovered that I had multiple cervical lesions, pre-cervical cancer caused by HPV. She was very concerned because the lesions were pretty advanced. But I couldn’t afford to see a specialist. Thankfully, the staff at Planned Parenthood helped me get public assistance funding so that I could get the treatment I needed. If it weren’t for their help, I could have gone on to develop cervical cancer.

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At that point in my life, I had no family to count on and I was all alone. But my abortion provider gave me a lot of hope. I knew that she—and the entire staff at Planned Parenthood—cared for me. They showed me that I had value. They gave me knowledge about my body. I am now empowered to take charge of my health, thanks to my medical provider and the Planned Parenthood staff members who put themselves at great personal risk to ensure that I was healthy.

Let’s get our priorities straight: If anyone should be punished, it’s the politicians who want to take away access to safe, legal abortion.

Amanda Howard is an undergraduate student at the University of Houston-Downtown.

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