'I’ve Had Two Abortions. Only One Was Legal.'

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

That’s how our reader frames her very different experiences in two countries:

I was born and raised in Indonesia, where premarital sex is condemned. You are expected to stay a virgin until your wedding night. The only sex education I’ve ever received in school was a chapter on reproductive organs in biology class. Parents don’t talk to their kids about sex. When I got my first period in 6th grade, my mother warned me to be cautious, since I could get pregnant now. She did not elaborate further.

When I was 15, my first boyfriend pressured me to sleep with him to prove my love. I balked at the last minute but he pushed on. I’d never heard the term “date rape.”

To prevent pregnancy I used the calendar method, pulling out, and condoms. I wasn’t well informed of other birth-control methods, plus I would be too embarrassed to obtain one from a clinic due to prejudice, since I was not a married woman.

I got pregnant in 1999. I was 19 and a freshman in college. Abortion is illegal in Indonesia and highly taboo.

As soon as I confirmed the pregnancy, I knew instantly that I wanted an abortion. I was not ready to raise a child and have a shotgun wedding. My boyfriend was supportive of my decision, even though he wouldn’t hesitate to marry me.

This part was easy. Finding an abortion provider, on the other hand, was a different story. I decided that going to a medical professional (not a traditional healer) would be the best option. A lot of women have died taking the healer route, and I did not want to be one of them.

Finding a clinic was an almost impossible task. Now I understand why so many women ended up going to a healer instead. In the meantime, I tried several traditional abortion methods—from taking pills that would “make my period come” to drinking some leaf smoothie. Nothing worked.

At around 12 weeks of pregnancy I finally found a clinic. I knew that the clinic was barely legal, but I had no choice. I could only hope for the best. I came in to schedule an appointment and was told it would cost around $500. Fortunately I had enough money from my savings. My boyfriend also chipped in. A week later I came in for the procedure with my boyfriend by my side.

I remember sitting in the lobby and watching other women in the room. Some of them came alone and some with their men. They all had the same facial expression: ashamed. None of them were talking and everybody looked uncomfortable.

I can’t recall too many details of the procedure nor the place. All I remember was that “the room” looked like a normal exam room equipped with the usual medical apparatus. I was put under general anesthesia, but there was no anesthesiologist present. I remember being awoken abruptly and having a warm cup of tea shoved onto my face. I remember being in pain (I had curettage). I remember being ordered to get up and pushed toward the door. I remember crying. I don’t think I had ever felt so broken before. I cried for an hour on my boyfriend’s shoulder afterward.

Was I traumatized? Maybe. But I did not regret it. I was relieved to finally able to return to my old self.

I got pregnant the second time in 2003. I was living in Arizona and was married to my abusive first husband. My natural birth control failed. Since my husband and I agreed to not have any children prior to getting married, abortion was our default decision.

I was able to locate a clinic quickly and conveniently. I made an appointment by phone and went in for the procedure seven weeks into the pregnancy (the earliest time for surgical abortion). The clinic setting was pleasant. The all-female staff was friendly, supportive, and accommodating. I had a positive experience—a night-and-day difference compared to my first abortion.

Being on both sides of the fence convinced me that it is our duty and responsibility as a civilized society to provide safe and legal access to abortion, paired with comprehensive sex education and easy access to birth control. Because knowledge is power and that prevention is key.

I have since been divorced, remarried and given birth to a son (he’s a toddler now). I was able to finish college, escape grim economic fate, walk away from an abusive marriage, and have the family I always wanted, on my terms. I owe it all to my abortions. I can’t imagine how my life would be like had I kept those pregnancies.

Before the birth of my son, I rarely thought about my unborn babies. After he was born, I was able to see things from a different perspective. I could see that I might have acted unfairly by not giving them a chance to be born. I apologized to them.

But I still don’t regret the abortions. What’s different now is that I know that pregnancy, the birth of a child, and motherhood are amazing and wonderful experiences, especially when you’re ready for sure.