Reporter's Notebook

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:

Show 20 Newer Notes

'I Told Her She Had to Have an Abortion'

An anonymous reader sends a confessional through the mail. Here’s the digitized version:

When I was 21, I was dating a great gal and single mother, who was 18. I was blown away by how much my mom took to her two-year-old son (yes, that made her 16 when she had him). My mom loved to watch him when we went on dates and I admired what a good mom she was. My parents were older, my mom in her mid-60s and my dad in his late 70s.

I started pressuring her to have a child with me. I even asked her to marry me. I kept coming up with excuses on when would finally be a good time to get married, but I did break her down on getting pregnant. I could give my parents a “real” grandchild.

When it finally happened, when it was real and we had a pregnancy test to confirm everything, I freaked out.

The latest in our series of abortion stories comes from a reader who went through a rollercoaster of life experiences:

First, a little background. I was the only child my mother didn’t abort (there were several pregnancies that I know of). My father was a heroin addict, and she left him before I could get to know him at all—probably a good choice.

However, my mother was also a drug addict, alcoholic, party fan, and incredibly promiscuous (in front of me). I often felt it would have been better if I had been aborted along with all my siblings; I still wonder sometimes. I have always been pro-choice, believing in every human’s right to bodily autonomy. For myself, however, I knew at a young age that I wanted children because I had been so raised so horribly. I knew I could do a better job.

I was fortunate enough to make it through university and got my degree in Developmental Psychology. I was surprised when I found myself married before getting pregnant, and we were ecstatic.

Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear an abortion case for the first time in years, Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, and it’s shaping up to be hugely consequential. Garret Epps has an overview of the case and what’s at stake. If the Texas law in question is upheld, 34 of the 40 clinics providing abortions in the state will likely close because they won’t be able to meet two new major regulations.

About a month ago, in the wave of email from readers responding to our callout for personal stories of confronting abortion, we heard from a woman living in Texas who was already struggling with abortion regulations in that state. She is also one of the few readers in this series willing to use her real name:

My name is Dr. Valerie Peterson.  I live in Austin, Texas, and I’m a single mom of two kids. I had my first daughter when I was 17, and then my second child at 19. I worked full-time while attending school full time, all the way through earning a doctorate.

I had several gynecological complications after my second child and was told that I couldn’t get pregnant again. I was shocked when my doctor told me I was pregnant in July of 2015. Even though this was unexpected, it was a wanted pregnancy, and I started prenatal care.

Because of high blood pressure, I was considered a high-risk pregnancy and had to have ultrasound scans every two weeks. At my 12-week scan, I was told that there was a possible abnormality in my son’s brain, but more testing was needed. For the next several weeks, I went back and forth to my doctors for additional tests. At my 16-week appointment, the sonogram my son’s brain hadn’t developed into two halves, and there was also an open neural tube. My doctor confirmed the diagnosis: alobar holoprosencephaly, or HPE.

HPE is a condition that is 100 percent incompatible with life. I had two options.

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.

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.

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.