Reporter's Notebook

Personal Stories of Abortion Made Public
Show Description +

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 None 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.

That’s how a reader felt about hers:

I grew up in a very religious and strict household, but I’ve been pro-choice for as long as I could remember. I got pregnant for the first time at 19 by a man 12 years my senior. I wanted an abortion, but my parents found out and made me have (and keep) my son to teach me a lesson about being sexually active outside of marriage. They also said that African Americans didn’t get abortions or gave their children away.

A reader writes:

I was 26 years old and had a beautiful, thriving four-year-old daughter by my husband from whom I’d separated a year prior. I was in college struggling to finish my BA while working full time at a very active job. I had insurance through the state and lived in a progressive area and had made use of Planned Parenthood for basic contraception and medical before with much gratitude. I was in a monogamous relationship with an under-employed man. My nearest relative was 800 miles away.

I got knocked up. Finances were tight and Toyota was gearing up to repossess my car. I was tired. I agonized … for about one minute total.

Nine years ago today, in a narrow 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, which bans the procedure know as intact dilation and extraction (D&X). A 2006 piece from NPR’s Julie Rovner does a good job of explaining the complexities of D&X, which, despite its general illegality, is “performed in cases where the woman’s health is at risk, or when the fetus shows signs of serious abnormalities, some of which don’t become apparent until late in pregnancy.” On that grim note, here’s the latest reader email prompted by our long and ongoing series on abortion:

Thank you for asking for stories. I have waited a long time to tell mine. If you choose to use it, please do not use my name.

I was 31, happily married, and pregnant with a child that was both wanted and planned. We had gone in for a routine ultrasound at 18.5 weeks. The tech was pretty quiet during the whole thing and told us to wait in the room when she was done.

The normally upbeat, high-energy doctor was somber when he entered the room and began to tell us about the baby whose crib we had just brought home. I was thinking it would still be OK, and we would love and raise a special-needs child. He must have seen this in my face, and decided he needed to be clearer about our child’s condition: “This is not a baby that is going to go home with you.”

A reader shifts our debate over sex-selective abortion into this broader series on personal abortion stories:

Regarding your discussion about abortion based on disability, the conversation needs to move beyond Down’s syndrome. While Down’s is relatable to many people, parents are getting the awful news (usually at 18-20 weeks, when they've already announced and are eagerly anticipating their much-wanted child) that their child has half a heart, no brain, organs missing, organs outside the body, extra chromosomes, not enough chromosomes … on and on and on. There are SO MANY things that can go wrong, and so many family circumstances that factor into the decision. Removing the ability for the doctor and patient to converse freely is simply punitive to families already in a difficult situation.  

I don’t blame people for not understanding; I had no idea until my doctor came into my ultrasound (at 22 weeks), put her hand on my knee, and said, “Something doesn’t look quite right, and I’m going to send you to a specialist.”

This next reader gets into much more detail about the severe complications of her pregnancy:

At the outset, I ask that you please withhold my name because only a few friends and family members know this story. I have never had to consider having an abortion because of my baby having a Down Syndrome diagnosis, but my husband and I did face this decision a couple of years ago during our 20-week ultrasound when our baby was diagnosed with something called hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

In her post on abortion waiting periods, Emma begins with a statistic:

Approximately 9,090 women in the United States had abortions after their 21st week of pregnancy in 2012. That’s 1.3 percent of all abortions, and roughly 0.14 percent of all pregnancies, based on the 2010 U.S. pregnancy rate.

Yet states keep creating legislation on this issue, proposing abortion bans at 24 or 22 weeks. Many—like South Carolina, where one such bill was signed into law last week—provide exceptions for medical emergencies or fetal anomalies. In fact, many of the women who seek abortions at this stage in their pregnancies do so for health reasons, so these bans affect only a subset of those 9,090 women.

Among the dozens of unaired notes we still have in our inbox from women responding to our abortion series, I just found one from a reader who appears to be among that 9,090 subset:

My husband and I made the heartbreaking decision to end our planned and wanted pregnancy at 22 weeks due to severe, but not fatal, birth defects. In making the decision we had to ask ourselves a whole host of questions. What would her life be like? What were the chances of her living a relatively normal life despite her disabilities? Would we be stable financially, since one of us would need to quit our job to care for her? Would our families help us? Could we do it without their help? Would we be able to be active and involved parents to future children or would her care take priority?

Ultimately we decided that the most loving thing we could do for her was to let her go. She was our first child. Our only girl. Ten years later I still mourn her loss. I mourn what she was and what she could have been. But as I watch my son grow up and experience life in a way she never would, I’m thankful we were able to choose and I know we made the right decision.

This reader has more regrets:

I have an abortion story.

In a victory for the pro-choice movement, the Supreme Court just minutes ago decided on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In a 5-3 ruling, the Justices struck down abortion restrictions in Texas that had caused more than half of the state’s abortion clinics to close.

We still have many unaired personal stories from readers recounting the choices they made during an unplanned pregnancy—or a planned one that went terribly wrong. This next reader, Elizabeth Bercaw, is one of the rare ones in our series to insist that her real name be used. She begins by recalling another abortion ruling by the Supreme Court, almost 30 years ago, that upheld a Missouri law imposing restrictions on the use of state funds, facilities, and employees when it came to abortion—a win for the pro-life movement. Here’s Elizabeth:

In 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled in the Webster decision, I harkened the call to become active in the pro-choice movement.  I helped co-found a pro-choice group on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi, then later helped in pro-choice groups on the campuses of Clemson University and Emory University. Throughout those years, I volunteered with Planned Parenthood and NARAL in defending clinics against attacks by anti-choice groups. I was firmly committed to making sure every woman had the right to a safe, legal abortion.

In 1998, the pro-choice issue became personal for me, as I found myself pregnant for the first time at the age of 34.

A reader shares her turbulent story:

It’s been 17 years and I’ve have still never told my mother. I hate the choice I had to make. I hate myself some days.

I was always one who felt abortion was only justified in rape, incest, or health risk. I came to feel that way in high school as a family member and another woman I attended school with used abortion as birth control. Each of them had at least four before graduation, as other females were struggling to attend school while having an infant at home.

The first time I became pregnant I was lucky and out of high school. Even though I knew it would be a struggle, since I wasn’t financially stable, I intended to have the child. The pregnancy was extremely difficult, from being toxemic, diabetic, and having eclampsia. I gained well over a 100 pounds.

Six weeks before my due date, one of my ultrasounds showed I had lost almost 45 percent of my amniotic fluid. Combined with all the other health issues, the doctor deemed it necessary to induce. Twenty-four plus hours of labor followed. When my child was in the birth canal, all contractions stopped and both our heartbeats were lost. The baby was ripped from me.

We both survived, and even though she was tiny, she was a fighter and I was in love.

A year later, I once again found myself pregnant.

This is perhaps the most bleak and vivid account of an abortion we’ve received so far. The reader’s procedure resulted in immense pain, emotional trauma, her eventual divorce, and even animosity toward the ethnicity of the doctor who performed the abortion:

I was 20, in college and engaged to my future ex-husband. He would always insist on sex, even if I wasn’t feeling up to it. I honestly think he didn’t realize that was an issue and that’s “just what you do” in a relationship. I was drinking quite heavily, as it was summer. I was on birth control pills. I saw the gyno for a routine and told her that my period had been rather light. She made a smart-ass remark about that’s what happens why you take the pill.

So I took a test. Initially it looked neg, but 10 minutes later it showed a faint positive line. I did not believe it. A few weeks later after chugging chocolate milk like it was going out of style, I took another one.


I’ve always been very pro-choice. So to me the decision seemed a no-brainer. I’d graduate college in May and no hospital was going to hire a pregnant nurse. I would be kicked off my rents insurance as soon as I graduated and would not have been able to get my own before the baby would have been born.

The fiancé agreed, though his reasoning seemed odd to me. He claimed his mother would never accept a kid born out of wedlock … even though he himself was born out of wedlock to a teenager mother. He first tried to tell me just to take black cohosh [a plant supplement used for menstrual irregularities and to induce labor]. I, and not for the first or last time, called him a fucking idiot.

I had a credit card, so I knew I'd be able to pay for the abortion. He never offered. I just had to try to find a clinic. We only had an ancient computer at my house and due to the conservative area I lived in, I was not comfortable looking up the info on my school’s computer. (This was in 2001—one week before *that* week in September.)

The “abortion pill” had just become available, but not in my state. I found a clinic that was 50 miles away and the fiancé said he would drive me. They told me I had to have a counseling phone call. I remember it was on a shitty landline with subpar connection as I fought my siblings off the phone every time it rang that day.

The we drove up. Protesters everywhere. Saying all sorts of vile shit. The only upside was that it made it easier to find the clinic.

What I didn’t realize, was that despite the fact that people getting D&Cs in a hospital were sedated or given an anesthetic, that would not be my fate. I was never offered anything to relax. They told me to take 800 mg of ibuprofen. I did.

The doctor who did my abortion was not kind.

This reader’s story is matter-of-fact and even jocular at one point:

I aborted a baby at 14 weeks after I found out the fetus had Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome). My husband and I had disagreed about what we would do in this hypothetical situation when we discussed it before we married. Back then, he said he would keep the baby, while I said I would terminate. But when faced with the reality of the situation, we both felt certain in our decision to get an abortion.

Because I was in my second trimester, I had trouble scheduling the abortion at the hospital. They limited second-trimester terminations to two days a month. Waiting an extra two weeks was unacceptable to me—I didn’t want the baby to keep growing—so I scheduled the procedure at a local abortion clinic for the following day. My OB-GYN and a physician friend advised against this, since the abortion would be painful at my stage and I wouldn’t get the same anesthesia at the clinic, but I scheduled it anyway.

On the drive to the clinic, my husband and I joked about what we would say to any protesters standing outside the abortion clinic. I would earnestly tell them that I was feeling uncertain about the abortion, and that if they said just the right thing, I would turn around. And then I would continue on my way into the clinic.

There were no protesters.

My husband waited in a private waiting room during the procedure. The nurse, and then the doctor, separately warned that the procedure would be quite painful. It was, but it was over in ten minutes. I’ve never described those minutes to anyone.

Fourteen months later we had a healthy baby. I think about the abortion sometimes with glancing sadness, and then continue with my full and blessed life.

For more personal accounts of readers confronting the choice of aborting a fetus with Down Syndrome or other typically non-fatal disabilities, see this note and this note, from the discussion thread “When Does Abortion Become Eugenics?”

From a 19-year-old college student who says she “never told anyone” about her abortion—or the horrible situation that led to it:

Thank you for the opportunity to share my story, but please do not use my name. My demographics are Asian American female coming from a low-income family. I grew up mostly in a suburb in Ohio. My parents are the typical strict, high-expectation parents. They are also strong Baptist Christians, so that always comes with fun implications.

I never had the guts to tell anyone about my abortion because I thought I was not a special case. I was just a 19-year-old student who worked a lot and who made a mistake and decided to have an abortion. But it wasn’t like that. It was hard, and it was even harder for me to admit that I deserve peace within myself and the blessings of others. I didn’t have a life-long partner to share my troubles and thoughts with, and I went through this horrible venture all by myself.

I got pregnant with my ex-boyfriend after he raped me when I tried to end the relationship.

Here are two very different pro-life stories from readers. The first:

My birth mother was 18 when she gave birth to me and gave me up for adoption. She could have had an abortion—there were plenty of options for her in the area where she was from—but she chose life. Now I am married and have three children and another on the way. My family would not be here today if it wasn’t for her selfless, brave decision to nurture and protect me at my most vulnerable.

Our second reader, in contrast, went through a long series of traumas after choosing to carry out an unintended pregnancy:

Thank you for giving me a way to tell my story (the first time I’ve ever written it all out). I live in Texas and have closely followed the closures of women’s clinics. I’ve been following your abortion series, and although I’ve never had one, I feel there’s another aspect to the abortion issue that is rarely discussed.

Pro-life advocates often speak of women simply continuing unwanted pregnancies, as if it’s a simple matter of carrying to term, giving birth, and moving on. It’s the whole “accept the consequences of your actions” attitude: The woman did the crime (got pregnant), so she should do the time (carry to term and give birth). Anything less is “irresponsible”—or worse.

I’ve changed some details of my story, to stay as private as possible. I’m not ashamed of my reality, or my history, but the idea that any of my children might ever realize what my last unintended pregnancy set in motion ... that would break my heart.

I married too young. I married too quickly. I married someone who wanted “traditional” marriage, where I would be a full-time wife/mother. Having grown up in an abusive household, I clung to the idea of having that “Father Knows Best” kind of family. I was convinced if I worked hard enough and did things perfectly enough, I could stop the cycle of abuse in its tracks.