Getting an Abortion as a Young Teenager

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

Four readers recall their experiences facing an unwanted pregnancy at a very early age. Our first reader was younger and in more desperate circumstances than most:

At 15 years old, I was living on the streets of Northern California. I got pregnant by my 39-year-old boyfriend. He said he was sterile, so he didn’t believe it was his, and he berated me. I was in no way capable of raising a child. I was living on the streets, had no income, was taking drugs, and was not at all responsible.

I went to Planned Parenthood, where they told me of my options—adoption, keeping the baby, or abortion. I could not keep the child and would not abandon the child to be brought up by someone else.

The procedure was over quickly. I sat outside at the bus stop in the cold, feeling sick, and cried. I felt so horrible and guilty that I had allowed myself to get pregnant. I respect all life, even that of an insect, so it was a very hard thing for me to do.

I am in my 50s now and do not regret it a bit. It was the right choice and I am so happy that I HAD a choice. I now realize that I had been manipulated by a pedophile, but thankfully I was not forced to have his child.

This reader also had a really tough upbringing:

I stumbled across your compelling series—vast in how readers view abortion and why—and it brought up some long-since buried emotions. My story is similar but not so similar at the same time.  

When I was 14 years old, my mother became addicted to drugs and would leave my two siblings and me home alone for days to weeks. I don’t think too many people in our family were aware of how frequently the three of us were left alone and we never reached out to any of them to let them know, probably because of a combination of shame and embarrassment.

This went on for almost six months, unnoticed by most, until I finally confided in one cousin, who of course immediately told her mother (my mom’s older sister). I can still remember the day my aunt came to the house to confront my mom and tell her she was there to remove my siblings and me. The three of us were all scattered between different relatives and friends while my mom sank deeper into addiction, even becoming homeless herself for quite some time.  

I was 16 when I became pregnant for the first time. I had dropped out of high school and was living from pillar to post wherever I could. The aunt who had rescued me had long since put me out because she couldn’t deal with the emotional wreck of the wild child I was at the time.  

Despite my circumstances and the father’s vehement objections, I kept the baby. There I was, a pregnant 16-year-old dropout on public assistance, living with friends but had to be responsible for another life. I wanted to be the best mother I could, and being pregnant jump-started my wanting to get my own life together.  

I went back to school to get my high school diploma, but only three or four months after going back, I discovered that my prescription birth control pills had failed and I was pregnant again, just shy of 18 years old. I was just starting to get my life on track for the sake of my first born, still estranged from my parents and other family members, and on public assistance.  

As hard of a decision as it was to make, I decided to terminate the pregnancy. Only one person, the baby’s father, knew that I was getting an abortion, but I know it was the best choice for all involved. It was a last-resort decision because I already had a baby. I knew how in love I would be with this new baby I couldn’t afford, so the moment I heard the heart beating for the first time and felt the baby kick, I knew adoption was out.  

This is the very first time I have spoken of this abortion to anyone other than medical personnel, but I felt it was important to share the many many reasons why women choose to have an abortion.  It is never an easy decision or as black and white as some would have people believe. I am not ashamed of having an abortion, but my story involves others who may not want to be identified, so if you use my story, please publish it anonymously.

Another reader, in contrast, deeply regretted her abortion:

I got pregnant at 15 years old with my first ever boyfriend, the man I lost my virginity to. (We have a five-year-old son today and are still together and engaged 16 years later.) Having the abortion was the worst decision of our lives and haunts us till this day. I was so scared of my dad—that’s it, that’s the only reason I did it!

I don’t even know how far along I was. I was not showing, though. My older sister took me to a doctor at a very famous Los Angeles hospital, where all the stars go. I didn’t want to do it, but did it anyway. I was young and miseducated. The doctor didn’t even speak with me or get any info. She was a OB where my sister worked and did a “favor.”

It’s sad that this is even a option. I think abortion should be banned. I know that this will never happen, but I just hope there is no girl or woman who feels like we do. Had abortion been banned, I would have a 15-year-old child now.

One more reader:

I was lost in the middle of a messy family that was falling apart at the seams. When I could no longer endure the constant screams that plagued our home, I turned to my boyfriend, who I thought was my knight in shining armour. It was August 1999, I was 17, and in that time I didn’t realize that he was just a different version of chaos. We had momentarily broken up and were just getting back together, so I was happy and feeling safe from my family.  

I still recall the exact moment it happened: He didn’t withdraw, and I knew it was intentional. When I asked why, he responded that I was his and I needed to learn that lesson. So there was no shock when my period didn’t arrive. And I had no hesitation in my choice. I could not, and would not, bring a child into this screwed-up life of mine.

I started making phone calls, and I was quickly informed in Missouri I would need parental consent.  Thankfully someone told me that I could cross the state line into Illinois to obtain the abortion without parental consent.

We gathered up the money—no small feat for us—obtained a money order, and drove over for the appointment. My first memory of the place are these wonderful volunteers who  shielded us from the angry protesters as we walked inside. After an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy, I spent a lengthy amount of time with the counselor, who probed to make sure I was making this choice myself. It was the opposite of pushing an abortion on me; she encouraged me to not go through with the procedure if I had any doubts.  

I had the abortion and didn’t look back. I started making changes, and within two years I managed to extract myself. I moved away, went to college, got married, had a beautiful son on my own terms, went to grad school, and I’ve made this life into what I wanted. I wish everyone had that ability—to be in charge of their own life and destiny. To me there is no greater freedom than being able to choose your own future.

Thank you for doing this and posting these stories.

More to come.