Notes
First thoughts, running arguments, stories in progress
Personal Stories of Abortion Made Public
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Prompted by Emma Green’s note on the Supreme Court case Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, for which a group of lawyers filed a document openly describing their abortions, readers share their own stories in an ongoing collection edited by Chris Bodenner. We are posting a wide range of experiences—from pro-choice and pro-life readers, women and men alike—so if you have an experience not represented so far, please send us a note: hello@theatlantic.com.

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When an Abortion Destroys a Relationship

A reader opens up about her experience in great emotional detail:

Hello, I would like to submit the account of my abortion to your series. I don’t believe it’s represented in the stories posted so far. It’s significantly different in format from the other stories, but I wrote it as I experienced it. It’s the story both of an abortion, and also how that can destroy a relationship and unexpectedly impact a life.

As a professional, high-earning, independent woman, the unexpected difficulty of this experience on both a personal relational level was shocking. I wish I’d had known what I now know going in to the experience; I would have handled it much differently and perhaps in a way that could have mitigated its destructiveness. I hope my story will help others.

Thank you for this series; I found it helpful. Choosing to terminate a pregnancy is choosing between two bad choices. The silence and stigma around it makes something that is difficult much, much harder.

***

I should start with my age: I’m 34. So it may be that this was my baby, my only chance to have a baby.

'The Baby Endured 50 Days of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome'

This reader witnessed up close and personal a pregnancy filled with major drug abuse and instability:

I met Megan when she was 25. She was a seven-year heroin addict, who’d been sober at most three months at a time, and a meth user. What I saw as her extreme fragility at the time I later learned was borderline personality disorder. I set about trying to get her clean.

Three stormy weeks later, she self-tested pregnant. It was 6:30am. I had considered what I’d do, but I went to my kitchen to ponder a final time. She displayed the maturity of a 12 year old. As befits a BPD sufferer, she alternated between tenderness and love and self-pity and jealousy. Her parents were Beverly Hills, evening-time alcoholics. I knew the future biological father to be an inward, violent, socially maladjusted 21 year old from a family of gallons-per-day alcoholics centered around a cult film director patriarch. Megan alternatively called the conception a product of date rape and rough sex.

I knew all this. Of all people, objectively speaking, Megan is among the last you’d want to see as a parent. But given her fragility, saying I wouldn’t support her decision brought with it every risk that she’d miscarry in a Texaco bathroom with a meth pipe in her hand. It was a moral decision, on the spot, in a kitchen at sunrise. I walked back to the bed and said I’d stay with her and co-parent. From that point on, my job was to keep the baby alive.

'I've Had Three Abortions'

That’s how this 67-year-old reader begins her story:

I had the first abortion in 1968 when it was illegal, dangerous, and considered shameful and taboo. I was 19 and we were still in college and not ready to be parents. We didn’t have a clue where to turn, but luckily my boyfriend learned about a man, Bill Baird, an early abortion advocate (and my hero) who might be able to help.

It was like a covert criminal mission—from the first meeting with Bill in a rundown strip-mall to get the name of a “doctor,” to driving to an underpass in Queens to borrow $300 (a fortune for two college students), followed by driving from our middle-class life on Long Island to Newark into a neighborhood that looked like the last place we’d find ourselves.

We both walked into the rundown house and were met by a black man who said he was the doctor. He told me to go to the kitchen and get undressed and told my boyfriend to wait for me in the car. Naked and terrified, lying on the kitchen table, he gave me anesthesia. The next thing I remembered was waking up on the table.

How Much Say Should a Guy Have With Abortion?

A reader, Lily, might be aghast by the scene above from Girls, where Mimi-Rose casually tells Adam that she just aborted his would-be child. Then again, the characters have only been dating seven weeks, so that might mitigate Lily’s concerns here:

IF a couple has been in some sort of committed partnership—dating a while, cohabitating, married—I think that the man’s opinions and wants should be taken into consideration. Allowed to absolutely trump the woman’s? No. But if you help to create what could potentially become a human being, then you should be part of he decision to end it.

Two other aspects of the idea that abortion should be the pregnant woman’s and only the pregnant woman’s choice are these:

(1) If the fathers of the fetuses are excluded from participating in an abortion decision that carries the implication that they are irrelevant. And if they are irrelevant then they are excused from any responsibility for the consequences of their actions. That’s not good for society as a whole.

(2) Men and women can’t have complete equality when it comes to pregnancy because women carry children. But if women can make the choice to either be a parent or not (i.e., carry the pregnancy or not), then how is it fair that men don’t have a similar choice? How is it fair to force a man to provide financial child support if the woman he impregnated chooses to keep and rear a child? [What do you think?]

All the forgoing said: If anyone—male or female—isn’t yet ready to or doesn’t ever want to be a parent, they should take personal responsibility for buying and using effective birth control. I’m at the point where I think it would be better for society to provide birth control gratis for any adult who wants it. I think that’s the lesser evil than bringing a child into the world who isn’t wanted.

Lily’s comments made me think of an email that came in recently from another reader, Tony:

I greatly appreciate you sharing the varied perspectives of those affected by abortion, in light of the Supreme Court’s recent Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision. I wanted to share my own experience with abortion, as a man’s perspective is not often heard.  

Several years ago, I met a woman just a few months after I returned to London following a stint in America, my home country, for work. I fell for Jenny (a pseudonym) from the start—her cherubic smile and silky hair warmed my heart. Above all, we shared a love for life and a determination to leave the world a better place than we found it. I felt as though Jenny understood me in a way that few others did.

We spoke on the phone each night after work and spent the weekends together, exploring London and enjoying each other’s company. Like most sexually active couples, we did talk about what might happen if she fell pregnant and we both said we would want to keep the baby. Little did I know how timely that conversation would prove to be.

Having an Abortion on Her Own, But Not Alone

This reader happens to have the same uncommon name as my grandmother’s:

Please keep my name private. I haven’t seen a grandmother story in your abortion series yet.

My own devout Christian grandmother warned me if law can force a woman to carry an unwanted baby, law can force the abortion of a wanted baby. She said everyone else should butt out.

My daughter and her fiancé were just out of high school, working for minimum wage, and each living at home with parents. They got pregnant by accident.

My daughter was terrified. Her fiancé made all kinds of promises to help her, but in the end she said she didn’t want to raise kids in poverty. She decided to abort.

Pregnancy for Pay

We’ve already heard from several women who were coerced or pressured into having an abortion by the men who impregnated them. This next reader’s story centers on a man who tried to get her to adopt her baby—for profit:

Please don’t use my name. Even 30 years later, it would be dangerous for some of the people in my life to know what I did.

I was a junior in college who had been dating a young man who had already graduated. He was an engineer and a military pilot, already making a good life for himself.

New Year’s found him released from base and back on home turf. We attended a party and happily kissed at midnight before retiring back to my apartment. At my last GYN appointment, the doctor had declared me unsuitable for the pill. IUDs were all but gone from the market, and everyone I had known who used the sponge seemed to have been left chewing nails staring at the calendar. So we used condoms.

Everything was fine until suddenly my boyfriend declared the sex didn’t feel good enough, pulled the condom off, plunged in, and immediately shot off. I just knew within minutes I was pregnant.

'I Prayed for a Miscarriage'

Here are two very different pro-life stories from readers. The first:

My birth mother was 18 when she gave birth to me and gave me up for adoption. She could have had an abortion—there were plenty of options for her in the area where she was from—but she chose life. Now I am married and have three children and another on the way. My family would not be here today if it wasn’t for her selfless, brave decision to nurture and protect me at my most vulnerable.

Our second reader, in contrast, went through a long series of traumas after choosing to carry out an unintended pregnancy:

Thank you for giving me a way to tell my story (the first time I’ve ever written it all out). I live in Texas and have closely followed the closures of women’s clinics. I’ve been following your abortion series, and although I’ve never had one, I feel there’s another aspect to the abortion issue that is rarely discussed.

Pro-life advocates often speak of women simply continuing unwanted pregnancies, as if it’s a simple matter of carrying to term, giving birth, and moving on. It’s the whole “accept the consequences of your actions” attitude: The woman did the crime (got pregnant), so she should do the time (carry to term and give birth). Anything less is “irresponsible”—or worse.

I’ve changed some details of my story, to stay as private as possible. I’m not ashamed of my reality, or my history, but the idea that any of my children might ever realize what my last unintended pregnancy set in motion ... that would break my heart.

I married too young. I married too quickly. I married someone who wanted “traditional” marriage, where I would be a full-time wife/mother. Having grown up in an abusive household, I clung to the idea of having that “Father Knows Best” kind of family. I was convinced if I worked hard enough and did things perfectly enough, I could stop the cycle of abuse in its tracks.  

'I Refuse to Be Burdened With a Child as a Form of Punishment'

From a 19-year-old college student who says she “never told anyone” about her abortion—or the horrible situation that led to it:

Thank you for the opportunity to share my story, but please do not use my name. My demographics are Asian American female coming from a low-income family. I grew up mostly in a suburb in Ohio. My parents are the typical strict, high-expectation parents. They are also strong Baptist Christians, so that always comes with fun implications.

I never had the guts to tell anyone about my abortion because I thought I was not a special case. I was just a 19-year-old student who worked a lot and who made a mistake and decided to have an abortion. But it wasn’t like that. It was hard, and it was even harder for me to admit that I deserve peace within myself and the blessings of others. I didn’t have a life-long partner to share my troubles and thoughts with, and I went through this horrible venture all by myself.

I got pregnant with my ex-boyfriend after he raped me when I tried to end the relationship.

The Drive to Abort a Down Syndrome Baby

This reader’s story is matter-of-fact and even jocular at one point:

I aborted a baby at 14 weeks after I found out the fetus had Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome). My husband and I had disagreed about what we would do in this hypothetical situation when we discussed it before we married. Back then, he said he would keep the baby, while I said I would terminate. But when faced with the reality of the situation, we both felt certain in our decision to get an abortion.

Because I was in my second trimester, I had trouble scheduling the abortion at the hospital. They limited second-trimester terminations to two days a month. Waiting an extra two weeks was unacceptable to me—I didn’t want the baby to keep growing—so I scheduled the procedure at a local abortion clinic for the following day. My OB-GYN and a physician friend advised against this, since the abortion would be painful at my stage and I wouldn’t get the same anesthesia at the clinic, but I scheduled it anyway.

On the drive to the clinic, my husband and I joked about what we would say to any protesters standing outside the abortion clinic. I would earnestly tell them that I was feeling uncertain about the abortion, and that if they said just the right thing, I would turn around. And then I would continue on my way into the clinic.

There were no protesters.

My husband waited in a private waiting room during the procedure. The nurse, and then the doctor, separately warned that the procedure would be quite painful. It was, but it was over in ten minutes. I’ve never described those minutes to anyone.

Fourteen months later we had a healthy baby. I think about the abortion sometimes with glancing sadness, and then continue with my full and blessed life.

For more personal accounts of readers confronting the choice of aborting a fetus with Down Syndrome or other typically non-fatal disabilities, see this note and this note, from the discussion thread “When Does Abortion Become Eugenics?”

'I Started Sobbing and Went Into Hysterics'

This is perhaps the most bleak and vivid account of an abortion we’ve received so far. The reader’s procedure resulted in immense pain, emotional trauma, her eventual divorce, and even animosity toward the ethnicity of the doctor who performed the abortion:

I was 20, in college and engaged to my future ex-husband. He would always insist on sex, even if I wasn’t feeling up to it. I honestly think he didn’t realize that was an issue and that’s “just what you do” in a relationship. I was drinking quite heavily, as it was summer. I was on birth control pills. I saw the gyno for a routine and told her that my period had been rather light. She made a smart-ass remark about that’s what happens why you take the pill.

So I took a test. Initially it looked neg, but 10 minutes later it showed a faint positive line. I did not believe it. A few weeks later after chugging chocolate milk like it was going out of style, I took another one.

Positive.

I’ve always been very pro-choice. So to me the decision seemed a no-brainer. I’d graduate college in May and no hospital was going to hire a pregnant nurse. I would be kicked off my rents insurance as soon as I graduated and would not have been able to get my own before the baby would have been born.

The fiancé agreed, though his reasoning seemed odd to me. He claimed his mother would never accept a kid born out of wedlock … even though he himself was born out of wedlock to a teenager mother. He first tried to tell me just to take black cohosh [a plant supplement used for menstrual irregularities and to induce labor]. I, and not for the first or last time, called him a fucking idiot.

I had a credit card, so I knew I'd be able to pay for the abortion. He never offered. I just had to try to find a clinic. We only had an ancient computer at my house and due to the conservative area I lived in, I was not comfortable looking up the info on my school’s computer. (This was in 2001—one week before *that* week in September.)

The “abortion pill” had just become available, but not in my state. I found a clinic that was 50 miles away and the fiancé said he would drive me. They told me I had to have a counseling phone call. I remember it was on a shitty landline with subpar connection as I fought my siblings off the phone every time it rang that day.

The we drove up. Protesters everywhere. Saying all sorts of vile shit. The only upside was that it made it easier to find the clinic.

What I didn’t realize, was that despite the fact that people getting D&Cs in a hospital were sedated or given an anesthetic, that would not be my fate. I was never offered anything to relax. They told me to take 800 mg of ibuprofen. I did.

The doctor who did my abortion was not kind.

After Aborting Twins, 'I Fight Depression and Anger to This Day'

A reader shares her turbulent story:

It’s been 17 years and I’ve have still never told my mother. I hate the choice I had to make. I hate myself some days.

I was always one who felt abortion was only justified in rape, incest, or health risk. I came to feel that way in high school as a family member and another woman I attended school with used abortion as birth control. Each of them had at least four before graduation, as other females were struggling to attend school while having an infant at home.

The first time I became pregnant I was lucky and out of high school. Even though I knew it would be a struggle, since I wasn’t financially stable, I intended to have the child. The pregnancy was extremely difficult, from being toxemic, diabetic, and having eclampsia. I gained well over a 100 pounds.

Six weeks before my due date, one of my ultrasounds showed I had lost almost 45 percent of my amniotic fluid. Combined with all the other health issues, the doctor deemed it necessary to induce. Twenty-four plus hours of labor followed. When my child was in the birth canal, all contractions stopped and both our heartbeats were lost. The baby was ripped from me.

We both survived, and even though she was tiny, she was a fighter and I was in love.

A year later, I once again found myself pregnant.

'Both Choices Were My Choices, Without Shame'

In a victory for the pro-choice movement, the Supreme Court just minutes ago decided on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In a 5-3 ruling, the Justices struck down abortion restrictions in Texas that had caused more than half of the state’s abortion clinics to close.

We still have many unaired personal stories from readers recounting the choices they made during an unplanned pregnancy—or a planned one that went terribly wrong. This next reader, Elizabeth Bercaw, is one of the rare ones in our series to insist that her real name be used. She begins by recalling another abortion ruling by the Supreme Court, almost 30 years ago, that upheld a Missouri law imposing restrictions on the use of state funds, facilities, and employees when it came to abortion—a win for the pro-life movement. Here’s Elizabeth:

In 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled in the Webster decision, I harkened the call to become active in the pro-choice movement.  I helped co-found a pro-choice group on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi, then later helped in pro-choice groups on the campuses of Clemson University and Emory University. Throughout those years, I volunteered with Planned Parenthood and NARAL in defending clinics against attacks by anti-choice groups. I was firmly committed to making sure every woman had the right to a safe, legal abortion.

In 1998, the pro-choice issue became personal for me, as I found myself pregnant for the first time at the age of 34.

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