An Abortion at Nearly 24 Weeks

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

That’s the legal limit of viability in most U.S. states. This anguished reader went right up to that line:

I was 19 years old at the time and a sophomore in college. I was on a full athletic scholarship and we were in the middle of our season. I was on the birth control pill and would use it to skip periods. Also, being a college athlete, my periods were not very regular as it was. I bled a little and was confused, as I was taking the pill that should have prevented it at the time. I told my boyfriend that I thought I might be pregnant, so we took a pregnancy test and it came back negative. What a relief!

Two weeks later, I began having symptoms and decided to take another test on my own. This time I took it first thing in the morning and it came back positive.  

I was shocked. My first call was to my boyfriend; the second phone call was to schedule an appointment at an abortion clinic. There were no other options in mind. Our relationship was not stable, mature, or healthy. I would lose my scholarship and could not afford college on my own. This was not the right time in so many ways.

My boyfriend drove me to the appointment but waited in the car. I walked up to the door on my own and protestors were yelling horrible things at me. There were posters with aborted fetuses and other terrible images. As if this wasn’t already difficult, these insensitive people wanted to make it worst. This made me want to go through with this even more, just to spite them and their actions.

The waiting room was just as cold as the receptionist who never even made eye contact with me as I checked in. All of the women in the room looked down at their feet, ashamed. When I was finally called back, it was a relief just to get out of the room.  

The first part was an ultrasound, and I was not even given the option to look at the screen; it was turned away from me. I remember the look on her face and how it immediately told me something wrong. She looked at me and said, “I am sorry, Hun. You are too far along for us to do anything here today. Would you like to speak to one of our counselors?”  

I was adamant that I could only be a few weeks, since an earlier test was negative. I spoke to a counselor about my options for a late-term abortion and was told I was 22 weeks along, even I wasn’t showing, didn’t feel any movement, and had hardly any symptoms.

There was a feeling of disbelief, helplessness, and hurt. I walked back out to the parking lot and called my boyfriend to come back. A protestor came up, now showing some compassion, and told me that I didn’t have to have an abortion. Through tears I explained to this middle-aged man that he couldn’t possibly understand what I was going through, that I was further along than what I thought and couldn’t do it. He gave me pamphlets on government programs that would assist me with a child.

My boyfriend and I cried in the car. We contemplated keeping the baby, but decided that it wasn’t the right time for either of us and called another clinic that did late-term abortions. I would have to go in the next week, since after that I would be over the 24-week limit.  

We borrowed money from friends to pay for the two-day procedure that had taken place on Friday and Saturday, both game days for my team. I would have this procedure done in the morning and return to my team that evening, pretending as if nothing was out of the ordinary, to play in our games.

On the first day I was awake and remember the doctor shoving sticks into my vagina to make me dilate. It was uncomfortable, but bearable. When I got home I was in immense pain and cried in a bathtub of warm water.

The following day I returned, and while in the waiting room, I struck up a conversation with another patient. I ended the conversation when she said, “I am not like you other girls. I actually want my baby, but there is a medical condition and my doctor is making me do this.”  

I was taken into another cold room, put in the stirrups and put to sleep for the procedure. I woke up feeling relieved that it was all over.

That night, I almost passed out during my game, but thankfully I didn’t. This would have given away my secret for sure.

I graduated college and went on to get my masters. I am no longer with that boyfriend and now in a very successful job. I have a wonderful husband who knows nothing about my abortion, because I am too ashamed to tell him.  

I have never forgotten that baby, and there is not a day that goes by that I do not feel sorrow and regret for what I did. I think about how the baby was aborted and if it felt any pain. Was it a male or female? Who’s to say that my life wouldn’t have ended up just as a great or even better had I given that baby a chance at life? That innocent baby did not deserve the pain I put it through and my heart hurts so much.  

If I could go back, I would. None of this was explained to me at the time, and I must live with this for the rest of my life. When my first child was born, I looked at him and realized he had sibling. This caused some severe depression, memories taking me back to that time, and a huge feeling of guilt. I felt unworthy of such a beautiful child and second chance.