Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, 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 series edited by Chris Bodenner. We are posting a wide range of perspectives—from pro-choice and pro-life readers, women and men alike—so if you have an experience not represented thus far, please send us a note: hello@theatlantic.com.

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Facing Abortion as a Native American

A reader provides an anecdotal look, and I added some statistics:

Coming from a native American reservation, where the drop-out rate is about 50 percent and teen pregnancy is high [see above], I felt pretty accomplished being in the city and in college. So when I got pregnant, my life was over, or so I thought.

I told my then-boyfriend, now husband, and he was beyond happy. In the following days and weeks we talked of things like names and outfits—the easy stuff. Then, reality set in. I’d have to move home. It being on a reservation with very little resources, I had no idea who’d care for my child. I’d have to give up school until I was financially stable to return.

That’s what this reader perceived among her fellow patients:

I have something called secondary infertility. I was able to have some normal pregnancies resulting in live, healthy births. But we wanted our family to grow and that’s when my problems began. Everything would be fine until weeks 11 - 15. Then the baby would stop thriving and die in utero. The medical term for this is “missed abortion.” Usually after a few days, a woman has a miscarriage but sometimes labor needs to be induced. Regardless, a D&C is in order. So on top of a “missed abortion,” a woman must go through what is essentially an abortion procedure (albeit with a fetus that’s already dead). I lost several babies this way.

I remember being in an outpatient surgical center affiliated with a local hospital.  I was in a waiting room filled with women who were aborting their babies by choice. Many of these women were Russian emigres who used abortion as a form of birth control. That was perhaps the most painful thing for me: desperately wanting a child, not wanting to go through this procedure, and sitting in a room full of women whose babies I would have eagerly welcomed for adoption but who were destined to be killed that day. 

These women showed no emotion. They discussed their nails, their hair, and other trite subjects as though it was just another day. I was trying so hard to have a baby, and they were so dismissive of their own, like their babies were something frivolous. It just about killed me.

This next reader also had a miscarriage and consequently struggles with her pro-choice stance:

While I was losing my babies around the six-week mark, many women across the U.S. were heading into clinics to voluntarily terminate their pregnancies. I find it striking how the exact same process—the loss of a growing embryo or fetus—can evoke such different reactions and understandings.

A reader shares a gruesome experience that took place six years prior to Roe vs. Wade:

I am not using my name because my kids don’t know about this, and there’s no reason for them to know. In the spring of 1967, I discovered that the woman I had been with all winter long was pregnant. I was 19 at the time and she was 28, with three kids. She was recently divorced and for some reason we seemed to get along—so much so that we had sex pretty much all the time. It never occurred to me that she was not using birth control. After all, she had been a married woman, and I was a child of the ‘60s; I knew all about the pill (or so I thought) and so I assumed she was using it.

But when she told me that she was pregnant, I was stunned. How could that be? “Well, I’m not using any birth control.” You’re what? I was flabbergasted. But you had been married for seven or eight years. “Yes, but he always pulled out—except for the three times I got pregnant.”

Wow. She said she wanted an abortion. I didn’t, but it wasn’t my choice. I am adopted and have always deal with feeling of abandonment. My adopted mom had died the year before, and the thought of not doing whatever my girlfriend wanted never occurred to me. I asked a friend of mine if he knew where I could take her to get an abortion. He thought maybe Sioux Falls. We lived in Vermillion, South Dakota, so that made sense. Of course abortion would not be legal for another six years. The cost? We didn’t know but we thought maybe $300. Which I didn’t have.

So, at the time, it seemed like the only option was to do it myself.

Another guy steps forward:

When you asked for more stories of men’s experience with abortion, I felt comfortable with sharing. I initially didn’t want to intrude in this space. I am 30 years old and my wife is 27. We have been married for five years. My wife had an abortion in the fall of 2015 because we got careless with birth control.

A pro-life reader confronted a hard choice:

I was the typical 17-year-old good girl, just before my senior year of high school. Dad was a pastor and we lived in a small town in the Midwest. I had given my heart to a really bad guy and got pregnant.  

At the beginning I wanted this child dead. There is no way anyone could convince me that this is not a human being growing inside of me; I am not stupid. It’s not just tissue and cells. I knew this was a life and I knew I was going to be killing this child. Those are facts that I just couldn’t get around.

But I was terrified. I knew my dad would lose his job if people found out I was pregnant. I knew the biological father was a bad man who would hurt this child. And my life was more important at that time than the child I was carrying, I thought. I really felt I needed to abort this baby.

The day before the abortion, I called and cancelled. I just couldn’t. I knew I would never be well if I took the life of this child. I was prepared to run and hide, but through circumstances I don’t have time to share, my parents found out I was pregnant and planning an abortion. (They didn’t know I had just cancelled it.)

I chose to give this child up for adoption. I became emotionally healthy partway through the pregnancy, as I realized that true love is loving someone more than yourself.

Our reader unpacks that heavy statement:

I was a late-in-life baby, the fourth child born when my mom was 42 in 1959. My parents were very poor but devout Catholics, so abortion was not a legal or moral option for them for any reason. It could have cost my mother’s life, or the doctor could have told them I would be born a potato, but it would not have mattered. It was God's will.

Unfortunately, my mother suffered severe post-partum depression that was left untreated and became a lifelong affliction, along with numerous other serious maladies that went untreated. (Her lifelong doctor was a quack.) She was often suicidal.

As a result, my childhood was dysfunctional to an extreme.

From the latest contributor to our ever-evolving series on abortion:

I had my first abortion in my early 20s (this was in the 1980s). My fiancé and I had just graduated from a prestigious college and were looking for our first serious career-type jobs. My doctor changed my prescription, and that first month on the new lower-dose pill, I got pregnant. The doctor questioned me closely, saying I “must have done something wrong,” but when it was clear I had followed his directions exactly, he finally said “well, that shouldn’t have happened.”

My fiancé was shocked—a failure in birth control had never occurred to him—but supportive. I knew I would have an abortion because I’d thought about the issue back before I became sexually active in college. He agreed this was not the right time for either of us.

A few years later, when we were married, he insisted he wanted a divorce. He was unhappy with his life overall, had decided that he was bisexual, or maybe gay—definitely not monogamous—and didn’t want to be tied down.  

But he said he wanted a baby, before we got divorced.

Kirsten Campbell praises a fellow Atlantic reader, Peter Noris:

I really enjoyed your male reader’s perspective on abortion. It’s too common to just see it as a “women’s issue.” We need more men standing up so their voices can be heard along with the women pleading and demanding for access to safe abortions. When more men are proud to stand up and be counted, then true change can happen. It’s sad but true.

So thank you for examining both sides. I would love to see more men’s stories published in this section of The Atlantic.

The address for submissions is hello@theatlantic.com. Here’s the latest story, from a guy who prefers to stay anonymous:

We were married in our twenties, lived in San Francisco, and I worked as a merchant seaman. I was also a drunk.

A reader has a startling story for our abortion series:

I don’t imagine you will use this, but I had to write it. I have never had an abortion, but if I become pregnant again, I will, without hesitation.

I have had two pregnancies, and I now have two daughters who mean the world to me. I loved being pregnant with my older daughter (now 9). I was 27 and strong and felt fairly good. I had pain in my ligaments that made it hard at times to climb stairs, walk, etc, but I managed. I kept working as a nurse until the week before she was born.

I did have one painful scary blip, though.

From one of the few male readers to contribute to our abortion series thus far:

The ultimate decision is the woman’s. (As the old Southern saying goes, men are involved; the woman is committed.) But men need to realize that abortion is not solely a woman’s story.

I was 18, a college student, when a friend became pregnant the first time we had sex. It was, hard to believe, only the second time either of us had intercourse. We both knew immediately that we did not want to have a child. Abortion was still illegal, so it was a “friend of a friend” who put us in touch with someone (I have no idea if it was even a doctor; we were assured that “he knows what he’s doing”) in a state 800 miles away.

My friend went by herself. A friendly college advisor loaned us the money but didn’t want any further involvement due to the illegality. During the most traumatic event of my young life, I had no one to turn to.

Our friendship failed soon after; neither of us had any idea how to deal with this. We saw each other several decades later. We both had families and agreed that we had done the right thing.

In the 45 years since, I have never told anyone about this. But you can use my name, Peter Noris.

If you are also a guy who went through an abortion with a woman and want to share your perspective, drop us an email. That last line from Mr. Noris—giving us permission to use his name—stuck out for me because almost all of the dozens of women who have emailed their abortion stories have preferred to remain anonymous. One of the few women to allow her name be used, Danielle Lang, makes a core point about the social stigma that accompanies abortion:

I am one of the lawyers featured in the amicus brief profiled in Emma Green’s note, and, per your request, I’m happy to share my story (you are certainly free to use my name). My story is simple and unremarkable in its details but, of course, remarkable to me because access to abortion undeniably changed the course of my life. Here is what the brief said about me:

A reader writes in with another perspective on the moral or cognitive dissonance of abortion, posing a new question: If you do everything in your power to prevent a pregnancy and it happens anyway, does that change the moral dynamics of getting an abortion?

Her story:

I’m a senior in college, and I just had an abortion in November. I had had an IUD inserted six months before, so I hadn’t paid attention to my symptoms until it was too late.

A reader remembers how she came upon one of the worst abortion clinic attacks in U.S. history:

December 30, 1994. It started before I even got out of the cab. The protesters were screaming, flashing their gruesome signs, even in liberal Brookline, Mass. The cab driver felt it was his place to ask, rudely, “This is an abortion clinic?” as I fished bills out of my wallet. “It’s a women’s health clinic,” I snapped, slamming the door on the way out.

There was one protester who blocked my path, a tall, heavyset woman, screaming in booming voice, “Don’t kill your baby,” as she stood between me and the door. In that moment, she seemed like a giant to me, like something out of a nightmare. I later learned she was well-known to both Planned Parenthood and the authorities. I read somewhere that she was such a threat that she was cited specifically during the court proceedings that established the buffer zones around Massachusetts clinics. The buffer zones we no longer have, thanks to a fanatical local grandmother and our current Supreme Court.

I got inside, past the security guard in the vestibule, and through to the reception window in the waiting room.