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.

Show 25 Newer Notes

'Fathers Have Virtually ZERO Rights'

Those are the words of the second reader below. But first, this one writes:

While I agree that having an abortion should be a woman’s decision, it’s not just a woman’s decision. I am a woman myself, and my significant other and I had a scare not too long ago. I asked him what he wanted to do if I were pregnant, and he said “I don’t care. It’s your body and your choice. I’ll stand behind whatever decision you make.”

Although I am grateful for his support at that time, IT WASN’T JUST MY DECISION. Men: Take a note. If you impregnated a woman, it’s your choice too. It’s not just her DNA growing in that womb; it’s yours too. You have every right to stand up and say “I want to keep this child and have a life with you” or “I’m not ready yet.” If a woman asks you what YOU want to do, think it over and tell her. Being pregnant when you’re not ready is a scary and confusing thing and it means the most to us when you stand up and let us know what you want.

Eventually, my significant other did tell me what he would have wanted to do after we confirmed I wasn’t pregnant: He would have wanted it. He would have stayed in my life, and our child’s, and would have never regretted it. I’m not saying having an abortion is wrong; I’m saying that if you helped make the pregnancy, you should have just as much say as the other person.

We have already heard several stories and perspectives from men confronting abortion—here, here, and here. The following man’s email is a stark contrast to the earlier one from the woman who “never told the ‘father’” because her pregnancy and abortion were “none of his business”:

I was reading some of the amazing personal abortion stories posted in the Notes section of your website. I feel, especially as a man, that I should share my story about how my wife and I were placed in the same situation as many of your readers: ending a life that we had already grown to love, OR bring a child into the world knowing the suffering it would endure. Being thrust into a situation where you’re having to choose whether your own child lives or dies, no matter the outcome, was no less emotionally, physically, and spiritually painful for me, so I’ll make this brief.

That’s what a fiercely pro-choice reader did:

I was 18 or 19 and living in Spain around 1979/80, dating an American and (stupidly) not using protection. I found out I was pregnant after I had broken up with him. Abortions were illegal in Spain, but I worked and had money saved and luckily I was able to afford to fly back to the U.S. and had my abortion in a hospital.

The whole thing cost a fortune with airfare, hotel, meals, etc., but I was lucky to be able to control my destiny that way.

Two readers open up about their abusive relationships. The first:

I was 18 years old and had broke up with my boyfriend. I had not been with anyone else, so to be rebellious, I took up with a man 17 years older than myself. Within six months I was pregnant and devastated. I was young, on birth control, not financially stable, and definitely not ready to be a mother. I told him and he was supportive but suggested abortion. I did not want children and agreed.

It was such an emotional roller coaster at the time. I couldn’t bring myself to make the appointment for three weeks. When I finally did, they made me wait. The initial appointment led us to discover that I was further along than we first thought, and too far along to have an abortion in the state I reside. I was told to jump on a plane to have one in a different state. I was lost and didn’t have the guidance or family support that was needed.

I decided to keep her. We had our daughter and I do not regret my decision. What I regret is the man I chose to have her with.

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.  

A reader experienced it with her parents:

I recently started reading your series about abortions, and while I have never had one, I would like to share some things. When my mother and father initially got together, she became pregnant and ended up having an abortion. After my parents married, had us kids, then divorced, my father tried everything he could to gain custody of my sister and me. What did would haunt my sister forever.

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.