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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Even though the baby’s father wanted me to abort, I could not. I took our daughter and moved back home with my parents. From day one I was treated as a high-risk pregnancy. During this pregnancy I was only diabetic and in the last trimester became pre-eclampsic. We went into the delivery room with no fear; I was healthier this time, so it should be a lot easier.
Labor was less then 12 hours but I was pushing for over two hours. As my son was born, my blood pressure spiked and I began to hemorrhage. They once again lost my heartbeat for a couple minutes.
My mom begged me to never have another child.
A year-and-a-half later, I once again found I was pregnant. Birth control just was not effective for me. I was six weeks along and my blood pressure was already through the roof. My doctor sat me down and said she couldn’t guarantee any survival if I continued the pregnancy. I had to decide if I wanted to risk leaving my two children motherless and even a third child. If I did choose to have the child, I would need to go to a different hospital for care, since I was too high risk.
At that moment I told her no way, no how; abortion was not for me.
Well I went home that night scared but determined—until my almost 3-year-old-daughter and 1-and-1/2-year-old son climbed into my lap for bedtime stories and my daughter said she loved me and I needed to stay. Where that came from I don’t know, as I had told no one at that time about my doctor visit. I silently cried and hugged my babies and told them momma was going nowhere.
The next morning I called the Obgyn and told her I had changed my mind. My appointment was scheduled, and even though I knew it was the best choice, my heart broke.
On the day of the appointment I went alone and barely spoke to anyone there; I was embarrassed and ashamed. The pills were given and the procedure done and over in what seemed to be merely minutes.
That night, I hurt not just physically but emotionally. The physical pain and bleeding began to scare me and I called the doctor to see if it was normal. That’s when the doctor broke it to me that I was pregnant with twins and that the bleeding would be heavier. My heart broke even more.
I know in my heart I made the best choice for the two babies I was already holding in my arms, but I fight depression and anger and other emotions to this day. Today of all days is the hardest, since 17 years ago to the day would have been my due date. I cry and I see the faces of what my babies might have looked like when I see my surviving children.
Yes abortion is legal, and yes it is a choice every woman should have the right to make. But it can come with a price. And those who have no regrets for the choice they made, they don’t have the true capacity of love, in my opinion. Maybe what they did saved a child from being raised in a home without knowing the unconditional love of a mother.
Today is a day I hate myself. Please do not use my name.
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.
I told them, as a head’s up, that I often had trouble with speculums and found them painful. He was very rough as he did an internal. He told them he needed an eight-week kit. He was even more rough with the speculum. I start crying. He said, “Do you want me to stop. You need to stop crying; it’s shaking your abdomen.” I nodded no, I didn’t want him to stop. The nurse next to me held my hand.
He injected the lidocaine into my cervix so I wouldn’t feel it as they dilated it. But I felt every, single, scrape. I could hear everything. The scrapping, the vacuuming.
Then I was hit with horrible cramping. The nurses helped to a wheelchair afterwards and they make me eat a cookie and drink punch. There were several of us talking and comforting each other in the recovery area. That was a huge comfort.
I hadn’t eaten that morning because of nerves, so the fiancé and I stopped at an Arby’s drive thru. I promptly vomited a half hour later and have never ate their regular fries since.
I didn’t realize until the next day, but in an effort to prevent crying, I had clenched my muscles so hard that I pulled several leg muscles, and muscles in my sides, my buttocks, and arm.
A few weeks later I was watching South Park with some friends and it was the stem-cells episode. There was a vacuum cleaner sound. I started sobbing and went into hysterics.
I would routinely become moody around the same time each year. I couldn’t stand to be near a doctor of the ethnicity that performed my abortion for years. I later found out that other clinics offered Valium and Xanax prior to a procedure and felt cheated.
Later, the husband’s sisters would both have children out of wedlock. His mother loved and accepted them. I felt like I had been slapped in the face. When I mentioned that her son had said she’d never accept a baby born out of wedlock she said, “Why the hell would he think that? I swear, the ideas that boy gets in his head sometimes.”
When I tried to talk to him about this, he told me that to him the abortion had never really happened. Slap two. That cemented my decision to divorce him.
I still don’t have children. My siblings have children, and I’m an amazing aunt. I’m glad I’m able to be there for them.
I do not regret the abortion, but I very much regret not finding out more about the procedure and the different options clinics offered before having one. If I could do it again, I would have opted to get some form of analgesic/relaxant besides fucking lidocaine (which honestly didn’t work). Having an abortion without anesthetic was the single most physically painful experience of my life—and I do not say that lightly.
I’m still very pro-choice, even more so now. I feel that if you and your partner want to bring life into this world, then you should. If you don’t, then you don't. Because your choices are not my burden and not my business.
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.
I tried to end the relationship because he was a loving person who cared so much for me—to the point where I felt like I was suffocating. After the breakup and rape, I often beat myself up with the fact that I initiated the breakup that made the pregnancy happen in the first place.
I didn’t know I was pregnant until I missed my period twice. The first time I attributed it to the fact that I was dealing with a lot of stress due to the breakup and college exams. When I missed my period again, I took a pregnancy test, which I tested positive for, and I came to the realization that my ex-boyfriend would father my first child.
I didn’t know what to do. I know I expressed my feelings to my friends about how I wanted to amend things with the breakup. I glided over the fact that he raped me. I can’t believe I did that.
For some time, I contemplated whether to tell him and use that as an excuse to reconnect with him. But he’s 18. No matter how “mature” I may think of him, I don’t think he would have reacted the way I would have wanted/imagined him to.
So I drove myself to Planned Parenthood after class and I checked myself in. I paid for all my appointments, tests, and the pill. I walked out and went to work.
I think about my ex-boyfriend constantly and what it would have been like if I stuck with my pregnancy. Would we have gotten back together? Would our child have thrived in this environment? Would I have been comfortable with the fact that this fetus would have entered the world under horrific circumstances where I did not consent to sex?
I had no answers. I had no one I was comfortable enough to talk to about this. My peers were fake-ID holders who were just looking for a quick fun time to get fucked up over the weekend and get high in their parents’ garage at 3 AM.
I didn’t let myself be scared because I’m in summer school and still working. I’m stressed under the pressure to do well in school and make enough money to pay for my education. I think, to an extent, it was appropriate for my parents to expect this because they didn’t know I was pregnant and had an abortion. They mercilessly pushed me to my limits and I cracked. I cried. I cried for three weeks—in my room, at the library, in the bathroom. All I thought to myself was that I was alone.
I am pro-choice, but I never thought I would have to make a choice. I never thought I would be in this situation. I can definitely attest to the fact that it’s different when you get there.
I knew it was the right choice to have an abortion. I knew I was not ready. I knew my parents wouldn’t help me. I knew I did not want this.
But something held me back. Something made me think of my ex-boyfriend. I now attribute those feelings to the fact that I am human; my body naturally wishes to reproduce and I didn’t allow that, so I feel some amalgam of guilt and sorrow.
The only thing I am sorry for is that I never told my ex-boyfriend. He has a right to know, but I’m not ready to call a recent high school graduate and tell him I aborted his first child.
I don’t know where I am headed. I wish that I could be sharing my story years afterwards and guarantee a successful life and validate my choice like the other women in this thread, but I can’t. I am a biology pre-med major and my parents taught me that education is the only way to succeed in this generation. Half of the time, I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing.
I know I made a mistake, but I refuse to be burdened with a child as a form of punishment and then not correctly raise him or her. That isn’t fair to me or my family or my child.
I’m scared shitless everyday. I’m only 19. But this journey forced me to grow the hell up and make myself okay with being scared. I may be scared, but I’m also brave for being able to merely live everyday. And I am okay with that.
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.
Several years and several children into my marriage, we started seeing a therapist. I remember sitting in that first session and the therapist asking what each of our highest priorities were regarding therapy. His highest priority was fixing the marriage—that I be a better wife and mother—because there was this laundry list of things I wasn’t doing right, and he worked hard when all I had to do was clean house and raise kids. Everything that was wrong in the marriage was my fault.
She looked at me and asked what my highest priority was. I didn’t even hesitate: A tubal ligation. And I was dead serious. I remember saying that another pregnancy would cause mental, physical, emotional and psychological harm. And I needed help, because I was at my limit and about to shatter.
Our therapist backed me up, pointing out the things she saw in our brief time together that she felt put me in a “high risk” category regarding clinical depression/PPD/PPMD, etc.
My husband, however, refused to agree to a tubal ligation. When I continued to press for sterilization over several therapy sessions and he realized I wasn’t going to change my mind, he changed tactics: I’d done all the work and taken all the risk of going through multiple pregnancies and births, so it was his turn to sacrifice! He’d get a vasectomy!
We continued discussing it and I offered to book an appointment for him. (He refused.) I asked every night if he’d remembered to call the doctor. (He hadn’t.) I bought a box of condoms and explained that we could not risk having sex without protection. (He grumbled.) I continued to explain that an unexpected/unwanted pregnancy would have devastating consequences. (It continued to go in one ear and out the other.)
We continued therapy. I kept bringing up the vasectomy; he kept giving it lip service. I finally said no vasectomy, no sex. He kept saying there was time. We had condoms in the house; everything was taken care of. No rush; he’d take care of it; stop nagging.
Eventually, we had sex—except he didn’t use a condom like he said he would. I remember saying something about it, as soon as he was done ... I can still hear him: “Wait, you were serious about that?"
Of course, I got pregnant. When I saw the test results, I fell apart.
At the time I was very pro-life, but I remember thinking about the children I already had, and what another baby would mean, and doing math in my head trying to figure out how far along I might be ... but as soon as I realized there was already a heartbeat, I knew I was doomed.
I think I called our therapist, before I even told him. I remember being instantly afraid for my life. I wasn’t sure I could do this, again. It was a death sentence, but I didn’t have the luxury of death, because I was a mother.
We continued marriage counseling the entire pregnancy. I added individual therapy, to make peace with the pregnancy. My doctor knew the situation and was an amazing support. I prayed for a miscarriage.
I went through the motions, taking care of myself, eating properly, going to all my prenatal checkups, going to weekly therapy (marriage and individual). I started having debilitating anxiety attacks halfway through the pregnancy (that I still struggle with, ten years later).
I continued pressing him for the vasectomy. He started talking about how it wasn’t really even necessary, since I was pregnant.
That last labor was the longest out of all my births. I remember the doctor and nurses quietly discussing if I was going to be capable of giving birth. It got to the point that they had to tell me that I needed to either start pushing, or they needed to prep for a C-section. (I pushed.)
I dealt with PPD [postpartum depression] after the birth. Everyone around us watched me like a hawk, afraid of what I might do—to myself or the baby.
A month after the birth, I asked for a divorce.
A month after that, I moved out with the children and got my first (part-time) job in ten years. I had no job skills and hadn’t worked outside the home since getting out of college.
A year later, recognizing that I was falling apart and failing my children, I asked him if he would be willing to raise them. I was living below the poverty level, with young children, unable to find full-time work, unable to afford child care, unwilling to “take advantage” of the government programs that I probably qualified for, struggling with increasingly severe anxiety attacks, and falling into a deeper and deeper depression. My children deserved a chance, and they weren’t going to get that with me.
It’s been ten years since all of that happened. The trauma of that last, unintended pregnancy has impacted every aspect of our (my and my children’s) lives.
That last unintended pregnancy has left me with physical health issues. That last unintended pregnancy has left me with anxiety/depression issues that I still struggle with today (especially when I spend time with my children). That last unintended pregnancy has had a devastating impact on my relationships with my children and their worldview. As they’ve gotten older, they’ve starting asking some difficult questions about the divorce and why they don’t live with me and why we don’t spend more time together … which I’m answering to the best of my ability, in age-appropriate ways.
I know that even without that last unintended pregnancy I would have divorced their father. But the trauma of that event put things in motion that turned their world upside down. My children went from having their mom with them practically 24/7 to weekend visits a few times a month, at best. The older ones remember being raised by me; the younger ones have never known what it’s like to have me around for more than 72 hours at a time.
My children who were already HERE lost their mother because I did the “responsible thing” and carried an unintended pregnancy to term—which I begged my husband to help me avoid in the first place.
It’s easy for people to rant and judge and lecture about “living with the consequences of your actions.” But I’m not sure if the people who do all that ranting and judging and lecturing really ever consider how their version of “living with the consequences” works in the real, messy, complicated world.
We’ve already heard from several women who were coerced or pressured into having an abortion by the men who impregnated them. This next reader’s story centers on a man who tried to get her to adopt her baby—for profit:
Please don’t use my name. Even 30 years later, it would be dangerous for some of the people in my life to know what I did.
I was a junior in college who had been dating a young man who had already graduated. He was an engineer and a military pilot, already making a good life for himself.
New Year’s found him released from base and back on home turf. We attended a party and happily kissed at midnight before retiring back to my apartment. At my last GYN appointment, the doctor had declared me unsuitable for the pill. IUDs were all but gone from the market, and everyone I had known who used the sponge seemed to have been left chewing nails staring at the calendar. So we used condoms.
Everything was fine until suddenly my boyfriend declared the sex didn’t feel good enough, pulled the condom off, plunged in, and immediately shot off. I just knew within minutes I was pregnant.
He kept telling me there was no way I was pregnant, even after I passed out at work several days later. The pregnancy was confirmed in the ER days before my period was even missed. Boyfriend’s first words were “My parents can never know.” Not exactly supportive.
Infertility is the norm in my family, and there were concerns about birth defects from my boyfriend’s side, so I decided I needed to speak to a geneticist before making a decision. A friend recommended her OB. I made the appointment.
The doctor was charming, talkative and friendly, asking many questions about my boyfriend. I told him I was unprepared to be a mother but would go through with the pregnancy if it was likely to be the only chance for a child.
Something changed suddenly: The doctor had his office manager call a lawyer, and he called unknown people and left messages that he “had someone for you to meet.” Asking what was going on, he told me it was illegal for me to sell the baby, but he would coach me on how to extract the most money from the adoptive parents. He kept circling back to the fact that my baby could only have blue eyes—and blue eyes were worth more. (Years later I can only assume he was thinking of his finder’s fee.)
Standing to walk out, I was physically corralled into another room. When I stepped out into the hallway attempting again to leave, I was moved again. Now bawling my eyes out, the doctor and his manager bounced me around from room to room like a pinball telling me I was too upset to leave, that I couldn’t be seen in public, that I might pass out again from crying so hard, that it was all for the best if I stayed.
One or the other stayed with me until I was locked in a back office for some 20 minutes and only let out when I started knocking on the door relentlessly. Finally they let me go. I had been there over two hours.
The doctor came to my work for lunch nearly every day for the next two weeks asking if I wanted to talk. (His office would be closed down a year later amid rumors of stolen money.)
The boyfriend mailed a check for the abortion. There were so many protesters at the clinic, but there were also volunteers who made a tunnel from the parking lot to the door who kept me safe.
The procedure was fine. Walking in the door of my apartment afterward, someone quipped that I looked like the most relieved woman in the world. I was.
Days before my 39th birthday, I gave birth to a daughter. I conceived very easily, even so late in life. She’s awesome—I won’t even try to humblebrag—but it scares me as she ages that she will have less control over her life then I did.
Motherhood is a blast—when you have the ability, support, money and desire to do it well. But it should never, ever be forced on anyone.
She was an adult, but she was also my child. I went to the clinic with her. I went because I was afraid she would die. I went secretly hoping she would change her mind and I would take her home rejoicing.
The ladies inside the clinic were gentle and kind. I was grateful for that. They took her back alone. They had her swallow a pill and we left.
She collapsed crying before we got to the car. She kept wailing, “What have I done?” I was frantic. I wanted to go back in the clinic for an antidote, but my daughter said they told her it was done the moment she took the pill. It was horrible to watch her and not be able to help.
I babied her for a few days. She said she didn’t deserve it. She was my baby, I told her. She reminded me that “it” had been my grandchild. I know. I know.
This is never just the woman’s problem. I would never take this decision away from a woman, and I think only she can make it. But she shouldn’t have to go alone.
A reader in the email below, Lily, might be aghast by the scene above from Girls, where Mimi-Rose casually tells Adam she just aborted his would-be child. Then again, the two have only been dating for seven weeks, so that might mitigate Lily’s concerns here:
If a couple has been in some sort of committed partnership—dating a while, cohabitating, married—I think that the man’s opinions and wants should be taken into consideration when it comes to abortion. Allowed to absolutely trump the woman’s? No. But if you help to create what could potentially become a human being, then you should be part of he decision to end it.
Here are other aspects of the idea that abortion should be the pregnant woman’s—and only the pregnant woman’s—choice:
(1) If the fathers of the fetuses are excluded from participating in an abortion decision that carries the implication that they are irrelevant. And if they are irrelevant then they are excused from any responsibility for the consequences of their actions. That’s not good for society as a whole.
(2) Men and women can’t have complete equality when it comes to pregnancy because women carry children. But if women can make the choice to either be a parent or not (i.e., carry the pregnancy or not), then how is it fair that men don’t have a similar choice? How is it fair to force a man to provide financial child support if the woman he impregnated chooses to keep and rear a child?
All the forgoing said: If anyone—male or female—isn’t yet ready to or doesn’t ever want to be a parent, they should take personal responsibility for buying and using effective birth control. I’m at the point where I think it would be better for society to provide birth control gratis for any adult who wants it. I think that’s the lesser evil than bringing a child into the world who isn’t wanted.
Lily’s comments made me think of this recent email from Tony:
Several years ago, I met a woman just a few months after I returned to London following a stint in America, my home country, for work. I fell for Jenny (a pseudonym) from the start—her cherubic smile and silky hair warmed my heart. Above all, we shared a love for life and a determination to leave the world a better place than we found it. I felt as though Jenny understood me in a way that few others did.
We spoke on the phone each night after work and spent the weekends together, exploring London and enjoying each other’s company. Like most sexually active couples, we did talk about what might happen if she fell pregnant and we both said we would want to keep the baby. Little did I know how timely that conversation would prove to be.
One day, Jenny rang me to say she had a dizzy spell and felt nauseous. When she added that she had nausea for a couple of days, I broke into a sweat and my pulse raced. I suggested that she take a pregnancy test. She was on the pill, but I knew there were no guarantees.
Jenny rang me as soon as she had a chance to take the test. “I think I'm pregnant,” she said. Those words hit me like a sledgehammer. Her next words left me trembling: “I’ve decided to have an abortion.”
I offered to come over so that we could talk things through. “There's nothing more to say,” she said icily. I tried to reply but she cut me off. “I don't want this baby and it’s my choice to make. Do you understand me?”
It was hard enough to make sense of her being pregnant, let alone the fact that I had no say in the future of a child that I helped create. As scared as I was, I believed this was a child—my child—and I wanted to do all I could for it.
As long as Jenny and I could talk, I believed, there was hope. We continued to talk and there were moments when I felt I might be persuading her to reconsider, such as when she asked how we might make things work to raise a baby. I assured her that I would be there for her and that we could find a way to give our child a meaningful life.
I became hopeful, until she said: “I would keep the baby if I were swept off my feet in love, but I’m not. The feeling is either there or it isn’t, and it’s not. I’m sorry.”
I couldn’t help but question myself, wondering what I could have done or said that could have made her feel differently. But I knew there was nothing I could do to stop her from going through with an abortion; it was her legal right.
Becoming a parent is supposed to be one of the most exciting—and of course scary—moments in the journey of life, and losing a child is said to be one of the worst. Now, I found myself tasting both sensations at once. I felt alone in a sea of pain, desperate to keep afloat.
Despite my best efforts, Jenny went through with the abortion. The pregnancy was over and, weeks later, so was our relationship.
Wounds do heal over time—even deep ones—but scars remain. Ten years later, I find myself incredibly blessed with a beautiful, bright and loving wife, a 3.5 year-old son and a 1.5 year-old daughter. At times, I can’t help but look into my children’s happy, vibrant eyes and wonder what their older brother or sister might have been like.
Sadly, my story is not unique; other men have experienced the same anguish. Men and women both have a role to play in creating life and raising children, but today’s laws, and the debates around them, don’t reflect that. Women alone decide whether to end a pregnancy, even though both parents bear responsibility when women decide to continue a pregnancy. Perhaps one way forward might be to resolve this inconsistency and address abortion, like parenthood, as a family issue. Men should have a chance to be heard.
Update: Here’s a followup from Tony (who, by the way, wrote a memoir about abortion, A Father’s Choice):
Regarding Lily’s second question on whether or not men should have the choice to be a parent, I think this is perhaps the biggest question of all if we accept that an abortion is an issue of reproductive rights. In my mind, there is a logical inconsistency in that women alone have the right to end a pregnancy, but responsibility is shared between both parents when women choose to continue a pregnancy. This creates a problem should a woman want a child that a man does not.
The Observer recently reported that, in Sweden, the youth league of the Liberal party recently proposed to change legislation that enabled men to decline parental responsibilities during the same period of time that a woman has the right to have an abortion (by which she declines parental responsibilities). I can’t say I fully agree with this legislation, but that’s because I believe that both parents should have recognised roles from the outset. Perhaps if society recognised the roles of both parents from the outset (and that includes giving men some kind of say in abortion), more men—and women—would take greater care when choosing sexual partners (as there is always risk of pregnancy) and be more involved in their children’s lives.
I recognise that an argument against my point is that women take significant risks when they fall pregnant, along with major changes in their bodies. The issue for me, though, comes back to the issue of choice. If abortion rights are simply a matter of “my body, my choice,” then women alone are making the choice to bring a new life into a world, and it would logically follow that they would accept the consequences of that choice (i.e., a baby).
Disagree with that logic? Send us a note and we’ll post. Here’s a note from a reader who prefers to use the pseudonym IANAL (“an old Usenet initialism for ‘I am not a lawyer,’” she writes). IANAL quotes our first reader, Lily:
(2) Men and women can’t have complete equality when it comes to pregnancy because women carry children. But if women can make the choice to either be a parent or not (i.e., carry the pregnancy or not), then how is it fair that men don’t have a similar choice? How is it fair to force a man to provide financial child support if the woman he impregnated chooses to keep and rear a child?
The analogy that fits my assessment of abortion best is one to contract law: It is possible for parties to a contract to have different rights at different times. If we assume the contract is made when the parties agree to have sex, then the man’s right to choose exists until the possibility of conception. He has the right to choose to control his own reproductive system: He can use a condom, he can get a vasectomy, or whatever other form of contraception is within his control and affects only his own body.
Most of his rights end there and his responsibilities adhere: He has become responsible for financial support of any child born as a result of the agreement to have sex, if the woman chooses to birth a child and raise it herself. He does retain one right—the right of first refusal if the woman chooses to birth a child and then give it up for adoption.
A woman’s choices are different and have a different duration. She can choose from pre-conception contraception, but also from post-conception options, which include the morning-after contraception, abortion, and giving up her rights through adoption.
The reason this seems fair to me is that women and men have different risks from sex and pregnancy, so therefore they may have different rights and responsibilities. Your question points out the pregnancy part but women can suffer lifelong health problems arising out of pregnancy, not just the 9 months plus labor implied by “women carry children.”
Tony replies to IANAL:
The reader citing contract law seems to be using circular logic: In essence, he or she argues that women have the option of abortion because abortion is a legally available option. Just because something is legally available doesn’t mean that it’s right, just as the fact that something isn’t legal doesn’t mean that it is necessarily wrong. Abortion itself was illegal in many U.S. states until Roe v Wade, and clearly those who support abortion rights would argue that the illegality of abortion was wrong. Laws do change over time, as Roe v Wade demonstrates, which makes the question of whether men should have a legally equivalent option (abstaining from parental responsibilities) a valid one to ask and test.
One could argue that a social contract applies—an implicit agreement between two people in the event of something happening, like an unplanned pregnancy. However, that too becomes shaky if both parties make one choice in theory (to keep a baby) that becomes another choice in practice (to have an abortion).
The point about the use of contraception is also shaky, because the same argument applies to women as well. Unfortunately, no form of contraception is 100% effective, which is a point that many pro-choice supporters make to justify the availability of abortion.
As long as abortion is framed as an issue of reproductive rights, or a matter of a woman’s choice over her own body, then it’s hard to see how a man can be expected to bear the consequences of that choice. With choice comes responsibility. Of course there are risks that come with pregnancy, but women choosing to continue a pregnancy accept those risks and accept the outcome: a baby.
To be clear, I personally believe that fathers need a greater role—and more responsibilities—in their children’s lives. I have no greater joy than seeing my two young children grow up and I want to be the best father I can be for them. The point of my argument is to show that abortion is more than an issue of reproductive rights, or “my body, my choice.” Abortion affects men as well as women, but much of the discussion around this issue doesn’t reflect that. Perhaps if it did—or, perhaps if more was done to help men recognise that they too can be affected by abortion, then more men would see their responsibilities from the outset and do their best to be good fathers.
IANAL replies to Tony:
I’m going to make the bodily autonomy argument, and additionally suggest that Tony doesn’t understand the contract analogy (which is an analogy, not a proposal to use contract law to adjudicate the rights of the parties).
Men and women are different and therefore have different opportunities (choices, rights), different consequences (and duties, responsibilities), and different risks. Merely saying that women have choice about abortion or pregnancy and therefore have to accept the consequences of carrying a child to term restates my analogy; it doesn’t contradict it. Because women literally risk lifetime health problems and death in pregnancy and childbirth (yes, it’s rare; doesn't mitigate that risk for the individual), they have an additional right: the right to choose or refuse those risks.
Tony writes: “As long as abortion is framed as an issue of reproductive rights, or a matter of a woman’s choice over her own body, then it’s hard to see how a man can be expected to bear the consequences of that choice.”
It’s not hard for me: the support obligation is owed to the child, which is a Schroedinger’s child until the woman makes her decision. Any argument for changing the timing of rights elapsing (such as any proposal to give men a legally-enforceable opt-out for support or measure of control over the decision whether to abort) might be possible, but the complexities of it daunt me. Are men supposed to register with a government agency every time they have sex, naming the woman involved, so that they can be notified if she becomes pregnant and they might have rights to exercise? That’s a level of government oversight I doubt would be acceptable to most Americans.
And if Tony thinks there is little acknowledgement that men are affected by abortion, he is not paying attention. It’s everywhere, from MRAs to the doctors (all men, as far as I can tell by a quick search) who have been killed because they perform abortions.
One more round, from Tony:
I find IANAL’s argument problematic for several reasons.
First, she misunderstands what I meant by a “social contract.” I did not mean applying contract law to every relationship, but rather that people in a relationship have a set of expectations that govern their relationship and how they interact with each other. A social contract, as I wrote, is an implicit understanding.
Second, IANAL argues that women have been given a legal right to abortion given the higher risks a woman faces, but that also means that women who continue their pregnancy accept those risks as well as the result of that pregnancy: A baby. As IANAL points out, men’s legal limit of choice today ends at the point of conception. However, as abortion itself demonstrates, limits imposed by law can change. If the window of decision can be moved in law from the point of conception to another defined point in pregnancy for women, then laws can also change the window of decision for men. Just because something is unlawful does not mean that it is not right, which is why laws change over time.
Also, IANAL makes an interesting point likening pregnancy to “Schroedinger's baby,” which itself refers the idea of “Schroedinger's cat,” a thought experiment for quantum mechanics by Erwin Schroedinger, an Austrian physicist, to assess whether an entity (in this case, a cat in a sealed steel box with radioactive material, poison, and a Geiger counter) can be both alive and dead at once until the box is opened. (National Geographic provides an overview here.) I understand IANAL’s argument to be that the unborn baby is both dead and alive—in multiple states—until the woman decides whether or not to continue her pregnancy.
Schrodinger argued that the cat couldn’t be both alive and dead; it was one or the other, regardless of whether we outside the box knew which one it was. Our inability to observe something does not mean something is not in a given state (e.g., dead or alive in this case). Moreover, the ready availability of ultrasound and other technologies provide crystal clear observations that make Schroedinger’s cat (or Schroedinger’s baby) irrelevant. The unborn child is clearly alive, even at the earliest stages of pregnancy (foetal heartbeats can be detected as soon as the sixth week). The PBS programme “Nine Months That Made You” goes into some depth on just how alive an unborn child really is.
I agree with IANAL’s point that it would be hard to put in place policies that give men greater say, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t find a way (after all, we managed to put a man on the moon!). I don’t yet have an answer on how to do this—what it might look like—where a man wants a baby that a woman does not. I hope that my story, however, can stimulate the discussion that helps us as a society find ways of doing that. I think the answer might depend on gestation of the unborn baby. For babies past the point of viability, for example, I see no reason why such babies can’t be delivered (born alive rather than aborted) at the point a woman wants an abortion, and then raised by the father.
That said, the issue of paternal liability for a child is actually easier. In these cases, the mother wanting to claim paternal support has already identified the father and has enough information to make her claim. In these cases, the laws can be remedied, as proposed in Sweden, to enable fathers to decline this responsibility within defined periods of pregnancy (more or less mirroring the time women can choose to have an abortion) I know there are far bigger questions around this in terms of responsibility for the baby, but my point is that the argument for abortion around autonomy itself takes us beyond those questions to another stage altogether.
Finally, IANAL’s point on the acknowledged effects of abortion on men is also unclear. I can assure you from firsthand experience that the effects of abortion on men aren’t widely recognised. In fact, many abortion rights supporters go so far as to say that men should have no place to comment within the discussion at all (unless those men agree with those supporters), going back to the basic idea of “my body, my choice.” Such an approach disregards the life-changing trauma of losing a child in such a deliberate way can have and, ironically, distances men from the responsibilities that IANAL is trying to attach them to (one of the unintended consequences of framing abortion as a women’s issue—rather than a family issue—is that it creates an environment that distances men from the role of parent and carer). IANAL and others wanting to better understand how abortion can affect men may find the book I wrote about my own experience, A Father’s Choice, a helpful read.
If you’re interested in more male perspectives from our long and ongoing abortion series in Notes, go here, here, and here.
That’s how this 67-year-old reader begins her story:
I had the first abortion in 1968 when it was illegal, dangerous, and considered shameful and taboo. I was 19 and we were still in college and not ready to be parents. We didn’t have a clue where to turn, but luckily my boyfriend learned about a man, Bill Baird, an early abortion advocate (and my hero) who might be able to help.
It was like a covert criminal mission—from the first meeting with Bill in a rundown strip-mall to get the name of a “doctor,” to driving to an underpass in Queens to borrow $300 (a fortune for two college students), followed by driving from our middle-class life on Long Island to Newark into a neighborhood that looked like the last place we’d find ourselves.
We both walked into the rundown house and were met by a black man who said he was the doctor. He told me to go to the kitchen and get undressed and told my boyfriend to wait for me in the car. Naked and terrified, lying on the kitchen table, he gave me anesthesia. The next thing I remembered was waking up on the table.
I waited for him to return to tell me what to do. I waited like that for an hour until my boyfriend came into the house in a panic after waiting in the car for four hours in scorching July heat. Neither of us knew that after the procedure the “doctor” had left the house by the backdoor. We drove home in silence.
The next day I was hemorrhaging in my bedroom, trying not to let my parents know. I had a fever and severe abdominal pain and it was days before I left my bedroom.
That is the story of my first illegal abortion. While it was a horrible, terrifying, and dangerous experience, I never regretted it. Having a child at my age and maturity would have been a disaster. And now I know that carry a gene that gave me a 50 percent chance of having a special needs child, so I especially know I couldn’t have handled it.
My second abortion was in 1969 by a brave doctor in Washington, D.C, who was performing illegal abortions. I furtively went to his office for a “GYN appointment.” The procedure was sterile, professional, and a world apart from my first.
My third abortion was also in D.C., in 1970. It was still three years before Roe vs Wade, but based on the changing laws within the District, I walked into the same doctor’s office to have that abortion in a safe place. I knew I could now make this critical choice without the fear and shame I felt with the first abortion only two years earlier.
I think the biggest lesson of my three stories is the dramatic evolution of what I went through in two short years as the laws changed.
Yes, I’m not proud that I had to experience this three times. The first happened the second time I had sex, the second while taking birth control pills, and the third by a person who lied to me about being infertile—all during a time when getting pregnant was considered a disgrace and totally unacceptable.
I believe each person should have the right to determine what is best for themselves—as I did—even though a bit of the pro-life belief enters my thoughts as I think about the three souls I might have brought into this world.
This reader witnessed up close and personal a pregnancy filled with major drug abuse and instability:
I met Megan when she was 25. She was a seven-year heroin addict, who’d been sober at most three months at a time, and a meth user. What I saw as her extreme fragility at the time I later learned was borderline personality disorder. I set about trying to get her clean.
Three stormy weeks later, she self-tested pregnant. It was 6:30am. I had considered what I’d do, but I went to my kitchen to ponder a final time. She displayed the maturity of a 12 year old. As befits a BPD sufferer, she alternated between tenderness and love and self-pity and jealousy. Her parents were Beverly Hills, evening-time alcoholics. I knew the future biological father to be an inward, violent, socially maladjusted 21 year old from a family of gallons-per-day alcoholics centered around a cult film director patriarch. Megan alternatively called the conception a product of date rape and rough sex.
I knew all this. Of all people, objectively speaking, Megan is among the last you’d want to see as a parent. But given her fragility, saying I wouldn’t support her decision brought with it every risk that she’d miscarry in a Texaco bathroom with a meth pipe in her hand. It was a moral decision, on the spot, in a kitchen at sunrise. I walked back to the bed and said I’d stay with her and co-parent. From that point on, my job was to keep the baby alive.
It wasn’t easy. She rehabbed and relapsed in month two, rehabbed again. At four months, she ran out to pick up drugs, leaving her Facebook messages open. Seeing what she was doing, I locked her out, and when she broke in through a window, I sat her on my couch and set aside the façade. I told her she should abort. She shook her head. Over the months, others tried to convince her, but she refused to abandon what amounted to a dreamy vision of motherhood.
During her pregnancy, I had to be with her at nearly all times. She’d chase me down the street if I left to get groceries. After rehabbing again in month seven, she went on to carry to term on a subutex prescription. The baby endured 50 days of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, and to all appearances became just another lovely baby boy.
I could end the story there, as a success, but Megan relapsed twice more. Finally, in the face of financial ruin, anxiety attacks, the loss of friends, and the estrangement of my family, I gave up. The baby was seven months old at the time. Megan’s parents have been granted guardianship, but being 59 and 80 years old, they’re exploring adoption. As a non-relation who, in the parents’ view, failed to either convince Megan to abort or to make our relationship work, I won’t be allowed to adopt the baby boy I gave everything to see born, and for whom I cared for seven months.
A reader opens up about her experience in vivid detail:
Hello, I would like to submit the account of my abortion to your series. I don’t believe it’s represented in the stories posted so far. It’s significantly different in format from the other stories, but I wrote it as I experienced it. It’s the story both of an abortion, and also how that can destroy a relationship and unexpectedly impact a life.
As a professional, high-earning, independent woman, the unexpected difficulty of this experience on both a personal relational level was shocking. I wish I’d had known what I now know going in to the experience; I would have handled it much differently and perhaps in a way that could have mitigated its destructiveness. I hope my story will help others.
Thank you for this series; I found it helpful. Choosing to terminate a pregnancy is choosing between two bad choices. The silence and stigma around it makes something that is difficult much, much harder.
I should start with my age: I’m 34. So it may be that this was my baby, my only chance to have a baby.
My boyfriend doesn’t like to use condoms and I have always tried be careful about using them when I might get pregnant. Not a foolproof method, obviously. He says that with his last girlfriend, they would never even have sex when she might be ovulating. Afterwards, I wonder about this, and why he is different with me.
When I tell him I was pregnant, he asks, “What do you want to do?”
I say, “I don’t want to have a baby.” And that’s true. We nearly broke up a month ago. I have chronic health problems. And he is only 26, still exploring and playing.
I live in Europe and my family is in America. Less then a year ago I moved countries to be with him. I am in a strange country, amongst strangers. I have friends but none close. In my mind’s eye I see myself alone, after he leaves, trying to care for an infant and manage a chronic illness. Or worse, moving back to America to live with my aging parents. Both seem like the end of my life.
Finally he says, “I guess having a baby isn’t the right lifestyle for us right now.”And that was it.
During the following weeks I am sick and exhausted; morning sickness starts as soon as three weeks after conception. He is solicitous and helpful. Often he puts his hand on my belly and talks about the baby. I say “don’t call it a baby. It’s just a cluster of cells. We’ll call it a jellyfish.” He doesn’t say much, but he keeps touching my belly.
One evening I tell him that I feel bad. Bad for not wanting this child. Bad that I am not the kind of person who wants to have a child, that I am too selfish to give up my life. Bad that I am scared of stepping into the unknown. There are people who have children, and it is the making of them. Their lives and their hearts blossom. “I’ve never felt so much love,” they say. Or “It’s the hardest thing in the world, but it’s the best thing.” And I believe that for them it’s true. I am not sure it would be true for me, and I do not think it’s the sort of thing one ought to take a chance on.
I tell him all of this, because our conversations about the abortion have been thin and flimsy—just a few exchanges, as if we were talking about the weather or what to cook for dinner. I don’t know what he’s thinking, and I’m worried. He doesn’t say much.
On the day of the procedure, during intake the counselor asks me, “Why do you want to have an abortion?”
“Because I don’t want to have a baby,” I reply.
“Not now, or not ever?”
“Not ever, but definitely not now. I don’t want to have children, and neither does he,” I say confidently.
My boyfriend makes a noncommittal sound. I look over. I touch him lightly on the knee. He shakes his head and looks away.
In a fraction of a second I know that he is not okay and that we should stop, that I should ask for a moment to talk with him in private. But I don’t, because it would not make a difference. Maybe it would even make things worse. The thought of not having the abortion is terrifying. And the doctor is waiting.
The procedure is fast—less than 10 minutes altogether, with a machine that makes a noise like the suction at the dentist’s office. There’s a nice Dutch man telling me exactly what will happen at every moment, answering every question. Safeporting, it’s called.
The doctor tells me I did very well. When they wheel me back to the waiting area I am dizzy and sweaty, and think I may pass out. Across from me there’s a girl sobbing. They put her in a room and close the door, but we can still hear her.
The cramping is not too bad, six out of ten (they always ask you to rate on a scale of one to ten), but then the pain fades. I place my hand on my belly and say I’m sorry over and over in my mind.
During checkout, when the cramps have gone down to a one, the nurse says, “You’ll be fine. I’m not worried about you at all.” I ask her why she works in an abortion clinic and she says, “The people here are healthy. In the hospital, people are sick and old and scared.”
We live close by, only ten minutes by foot, so we walk home. The cramps start again soon after we’re walking. I have to stop, squeezing his hand and breathing through the pain. Then again, and again. Worse and worse, closer and closer. We’re almost home, and that’s good because I couldn’t walk much further. The stairs—three steep flights—take a while. When I get into the door I collapse onto the bed and curl into a ball, in too much pain to move.
He tucks me in and barricades me with pillows, brings me my computer and some juice and candy, and goes out to meet a friend. I don’t ask him to stay. I never ask him to do anything, only taking what he gives freely (except on the way home from the clinic, when he didn’t offer his hand so I had to take his).
I’m in too much pain to move, to watch TV, to eat. I’m up to a 7, now an 8. I’m crying now from the pain, and I’m scared. I curl tighter and wait for it to pass. I’m a Buddhist, and I believe that in the end, everything does pass. Or we do—which is the same thing.
The next day I work from home. When he comes home, he starts cooking, but he doesn’t say anything. I look up from my computer and go over to him. He tells me to go away. He starts yelling.
I have to admit, this part is blurry. (My memory is bad—this is common with my health problems.) But I remember him saying, “You’re a killer,” and “You’re not my partner anymore.” “Cold bitch,” he calls me. “I’ve known for weeks that this relationship was over, I was just waiting for you to have the abortion.” He says, “I want you out of here. Start looking for a flat, tonight.”
I freeze. This is my way. I had an abusive father, and I learned early on that if you cannot run and you cannot fight, the only thing left to do is freeze. He takes his food and goes out on the balcony.
For a few minutes I simply sit there. I can’t feeling anything, and my brain doesn’t work. It’s as if everything is behind a thick pane of glass. My eyes are wide and I cannot focus them. I cannot think. I don’t know what to do. I cannot stay.
I pick up my phone and scroll through the contacts. My friends are all in the place I left 9 months ago to move in with him. It was an act of faith, the first time I’d done that sort of thing. His love for me had been so overwhelming, his view of the world so clean and bright, I knew that if I didn’t I would always regret and wonder. So I jumped.
I keep scrolling. I don’t have any good friends here. I settle on V, who I don’t know very well but his lack of moral framework is to my advantage at this moment, and he’s from Macedonia so he’s chivalrous. He’s at a bar, but he’ll uber over.
In a daze, I put a few essentials into a bag and creep out of the flat, quietly shutting the door behind me.
On the street, I sit on the bench in front of the dry cleaner’s and wait. V is drunk when he comes to pick me up. I hold his hand tightly as we walk to his flat. When I tell him what happened he says, “Oh man you don’t drink. Usually when my friends get into trouble I just get them drunk and that fixes it.” A situation of this emotional scope is beyond his ability to engage in any meaningful way, so I ask him to tell me about his day, and he does his best. He says I can stay at his place for a while, and he will be staying in the center with a friend. Eventually he leaves and I go to bed. I lay on the bed looking up at the ceiling, and I feel as if I am being stretched on some terrible cold instrument.
The drama of the dissolution of our relationship is as undignified and painful as the end of every relationship. He cannot explain what has happened except to say, “The abortion changed everything.” Or else, “I need to work on myself, and I need to be alone to do that.” Or, “our views of the world are too different.” Or later,“You’re a terrible person. You’re selfish and fake. You used me and used me up. I am done with you.” “I need someone who is tougher; I’m always hurting you. You can't fight with me,” or, “You don’t want to have a baby, and I realize I want to keep that door open.”
V comes back after a week and I move back home.
My boyfriend and I fight. It’s unbearable. He attacks, I withdraw. I promise myself I won’t let him hurt me again, but after a few days I relent and approach. I still love him, you see. I love him so much my heart feels like it’s going to burst open from love when it’s not slowly suffocating.
We fight again, and it’s worse. I’m destroyed. I withdraw completely. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I don’t have three in me. We stop talking and live in separate rooms—him the living room, be the bedroom, occasionally meeting in the kitchen. Eventually he finds a flat.
That morning of the day he’s moving out I say, “What is your schedule?”
“I’m not working today so I can pack. A car is coming at 4:30 to take my stuff.”
“Goodbye then,” I say, and close the door behind me. When I get home he’s gone.
I begin crying spontaneously when I’m alone—little micro-cries that come up out of nowhere. Sometimes they subside quickly. Sometimes I collapse on the floor sobbing after getting home from work. I stop eating properly.
There is no one to talk to; this comes with too much shame. The friends I did tell didn’t know how to respond, and they don’t want to hear more. I begin to notice that bridges and heavy traffic areas are places one could easily die. I draw further and further into myself. Some days are not terrible. No days are good. I don’t want to do anything or see anyone. There is no longer anything I care about. I wish I could stop. Not die, just stop.
Babies hurt me now. A month after the abortion, while I waited for my luggage at the baggage claim, three babies surrounded me, all under a year. Two are very small, less than six months. One is right next to me, leaning towards me in its carrier, looking straight into my eyes, his own eyes wide, blue, and unblinking. So close he can touch me. I cannot bear it, but I stay there because I think this is my punishment. When I get home, I unpack, and I cry.
I think there are two of me now, moving forward in parallel; my current self, and another me who is due to have a baby on January 23. She is still loved, and maybe she is happy. Or maybe not. But she is not alone.
This next reader also had a huge fight with her partner over her decision to abort, and the fallout “ultimately prompted me to leave that rather toxic relationship”:
I was 23, studying creative writing in college, working as a barista at a coffee shop, and living in North Texas. I was in a short-lived relationship with a fledgling filmmaker who I’d characterize as macho. When we had sex he refused to wear a condom because he said we were engaged and basically married—that was the end of that discussion.
It was late July and my period was lagging, so I decided to purchase an at-home pregnancy test. The experience was almost comical because of my anxiety. The first wand slipped right out of my hands and splashed into the toilet. I had wondered if that was the reason First Response includes two. After I fished out the first wand I unwrapped the second. It was a very discomforting process. Imagine reading very simple but technical directions while peeing, while hovering over a cotton wand and waiting for two little lines to show up. I mean, in what other medical cases are people granted access to examine their diagnosis?
After a few minutes, those two little lines connected to form a pink plus sign.
I wanted professional confirmation. I made an appointment at a Planned Parenthood. I peed in a small plastic cup and awaited the results. The diagnosis stood: Positive.
My heart was pounding. My future plans raced through my head: finishing school, my internship, writing, a career. The nurse asked me about my plans. I immediately said I didn’t intend to keep it. She asked if I would like to make another appointment and I said yes. I was four weeks along—too far for the abortion pill, so it would have to be a surgical procedure.
When I announced my decision to my then-partner, he became irate. Immediately he bombarded me with antagonistic questions. Why didn’t I want to keep it? Was it someone else’s? It must have been if I didn’t want to keep it. He just went off on me verbally.
I couldn’t stand it, so I went to the bathroom to contain myself. He followed me, but I shut the door and locked it. He began to pound and yell at the door. I couldn’t handle it. This was verbal abuse at its most extreme. Once I heard him leave the apartment, I made a mad dash for my purse and car keys. It was late at night and I didn’t know where to go, so I drove my car to a space across the sprawling apartment complex, parked, and cried myself to sleep.
The next day, while he was at work, I gathered up my belongings and moved in with a friend. I kept my appointment.
When the day came, I wasn’t fully aware of what my payment options could be and only had enough to either pay for my fall semester of school or use the money to pay for the abortion. I canceled my classes for that semester and drove myself to the appointment.
When the nurse called my name, my stomach immediately tightened up. She walked me into a clinic room and told to change into a gown and wait on the table. The process from there went rather quickly and was over in a blur. I remember the doctor and nurses who came into the room all wore surgical masks so I couldn’t see their faces. The doctor explained the procedure and told me to lie down. While the procedure was taking place, one of the nurses asked if I’d like her to hold my hand. I said yes to the polite gesture and entrusted her with my right hand.
I looked up and concentrated on the spots in the vanilla ceiling tiles during the procedure and told myself it was going to be alright. Then I felt a sharp stinging pain. I looked away from the tiles and met the gaze of the nurse who was holding my hand. Tears streaked down my face. She looked at me straight into the eyes. I saw her dark brown eyes well up and she quickly looked away. I still believe that was the most intense visual connection I’ve ever encountered with a stranger.
Once the procedure was completed, I was whisked away to another room with other women. I was told to lie down and rest.
I had confided my plans to the friend I was staying with, and she insisted on picking me up from the clinic. On the way home she stopped at Starbucks and bought me some tea. We went home. I stayed nestled on her couch for the remainder of the day watching movies.
After the procedure I felt a change—not as if I had lost something, but like I had gained, if not power, then a second chance. I didn’t feel guilty. I felt free.
Sunday was the 44th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, and the following day, as one of his first acts as president, Donald Trump reinstated “the Mexico City policy,” a rule that bans U.S. funding to foreign family-planning organizations unless they agree not to promote abortion. In the new GOP-controlled Congress this month, Steve King of Iowa introduced the Heartbeat Protection Act, a bill that would prohibit an abortion if an ultrasound detected a fetal heartbeat.
In The Atlantic today, Moira Weigel traces the origins of ultrasound and how the technology has been increasingly used by pro-life advocates to persuade women not to have abortions. “Of course, ultrasound technology has been a crucial component of prenatal care, too,” Weigel notes. “Imagery obtained through ultrasound can alert doctors to potentially serious problems in a pregnancy—such as placental issues or congenital defects in the fetus.” The following reader can relate—in agonizing detail:
My views on abortion have always been pro-choice. However, when I actually had to live through the experience myself, I was torn.
To be honest, even when I talk about my second pregnancy now, I still refer to what happened as a miscarriage: I lost my baby, rather than terminating my pregnancy.
It was fall of 2011. I was 23 years old, married to my husband for two years, and we had a beautiful one-year-old daughter. We wanted a big family and were excited when I found out I was pregnant again. I was a high-risk pregnancy with my daughter, so it was no surprise that I was sent to a perinatologist.
That first visit with her would forever change my life. It was my husband, my daughter, and me in the room, and we were so excited to have my daughter see her new little sibling. A few minutes into the ultrasound, the nurse practitioner paused and stated she needed to get the doctor’s opinion on something, so she stepped out of the room. I was confused.
A few moment later, the doctor came in and resumed the ultrasound. Then she told us: The baby had anencephaly. The baby’s skull had not fully developed and parts of the brain would be exposed. She stated that this condition was fatal, and if I carried the baby to full term, my baby would either be stillborn or only live a few hours or days.
I was heartbroken. I was terrified. In those few moments, I felt like a failure. I had failed my child. Somehow I caused this.
After speaking with my OB, the decision to end the pregnancy was made. My procedure was schedule for two days later. Walking into that clinic was extremely hard. I wanted my child, and I wanted more than anything for the doctors to be wrong. But another ultrasound was performed that day and again my baby’s condition was confirmed.
I sat in a shared room dressed in only a hospital gown, around other women. Listening to them speak was hard. Some of their stories will haunt me forever. I felt alone.
The whole procedure itself took less than 30 minutes—but I can’t be sure. Shortly after it was done, I was wheeled out. My baby was gone. My baby had been taken from me. I went home and cried for days.
I made what I thought was the best decision for my family and for myself. I did not want my child to suffer nor give birth and lose my child moments later. I have come to terms with my decision and am extremely grateful that I had the option to choose.
Just about three months later, I became pregnant again. In August the following year, I gave birth to healthy, beautiful, identical twin girls. I love my girls. They are my life.
At 3 a.m. I’m jolted awake. The room is dark and still. I grab my phone and scan sports scores and Twitter. Still awake. A faceless physician whispers in my mind: To overcome middle-of-the-night insomnia, experts say you ought to get out of bed … I get out of bed. I pour a glass of water and drink it. I go back to bed. Still awake. Perhaps you know the feeling. Like millions of Americans and hundreds of millions of people around the world, I suffer from so-called mid-sleep awakenings that can keep me up for hours.
One day, I was researching my nocturnal issues when I discovered a cottage industry of writers and sleep hackers who claim that sleep is a nightmare because of the industrial revolution, of all things. Essays in The Guardian, CNN, The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine recommended an old fix for restlessness called “segmented sleep.” In premodern Europe, and perhaps centuries earlier, people routinely went to sleep around nightfall and woke up around midnight—only to go back to sleep a few hours later, until morning. They slept sort of like I do, but they were Zen about it. Then, the hackers claim, modernity came along and ruined everything by pressuring everybody to sleep in one big chunk.
Russia-Ukraine is becoming a trial of strength between different parts of the conservative universe.
Night after night, the host of the top-rated show on Fox News repeats Vladimir Putin’s talking points justifying aggression against Ukraine and opposing U.S. aid to that threatened sovereign country. Tucker Carlson’s influence is felt across right-wing social media, where it is amplified by figures such as Steve Bannon, Mike Cernovich, Glenn Greenwald, and Mollie Hemingway. A highly visiblecoterie of socially conservative intellectuals also argues the case against helping Ukraine.
In attempting to succeed in the Trump-era Republican Party, some politicians are masquerading as what they imagine voters want, with results that ring almost comically false.
In 2013, Bobby Jindal, then the governor of Louisiana and a presidential hopeful, delivered some tough love to the Republican National Committee: “We must stop being the stupid party.” Specifically, he continued, “we must stop insulting the intelligence of voters. We need to trust the smarts of the American people. We have to stop dumbing down our ideas and stop reducing everything to mindless slogans and taglines for 30-second ads.”
Even in the pre-Trump GOP, this was a bracing message, but Jindal was the person to make it: Known for his wonkish mien, Jindal had graduated from Brown at 20, scored a Rhodes Scholarship, become the youngest president of the University of Louisiana system, and then won the governorship.
Pour one out for Delta, the SARS-CoV-2 variant that Season 3 of the pandemic seems intent on killing off. After holding star billing through the summer and fall of 2021, Delta’s spent the past several weeks getting absolutely walloped by its feistier cousin Omicron—a virus that’s adept at both blitzing in and out of airways and dodging the antibodies that vaccines and other variants raise. In late November, Delta made up essentially all the SARS-CoV-2 infections that researchers were sequencing in the United States. Now it’s a measly 0.1 percent. As for the rest? It’s an Omicron show.
The global portrait’s a bit patchier, but by and large, “Delta won’t be able to compete,” Karthik Gangavarapu, a computational biologist at UCLA, told me. “My suspicion is that Omicron will take over.” It’s a fair shift from the tune many experts were singing just weeks ago, when they wonderedwhether Delta and Omicron might co-circulate in a vicious variant one-two punch. Katia Koelle, an evolutionary virologist at Emory University, told me she used to worry about that possibility when the world knew little about Omicron’s competitive edge, but “less so now.” Katie Gostic, an infectious-disease modeler at the University of Chicago, agrees that Delta’s doom is probably nigh. And if so, “good riddance,” she told me.
Choosing what to read is both a small decision and one of utmost importance. For students, that choice is crucial in getting kids to read at all. Some books feel like magic, world-making and unforgettable. Some feel dangerous, upsetting. Many inspire both feelings, especially in young people. Reading is meant to be challenging, and literature should serve as a way to explore ideas that feel unthinkable, unfamiliar, and even illicit. So it is a matter of tremendous concern to witness government officials blatantly interfering with a free exchange of ideas within school libraries.
Matt Krause, a Republican in the Texas House of Representatives, has gone hunting in public-school libraries for any books that might generate “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of [a student’s] race or sex.” In October, he distributed a watch list of 850 books. The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, has in parallel called for a criminal investigation into the availability of “pornographic” books in public schools. What we’re witnessing is plainly a shakedown. And this week, a San Antonio school district pulled 414 books from its libraries in response to the ongoing pressure from Texas lawmakers and a vocal segment of angry parents to limit what children can choose to read.
Districts should rethink imposing on millions of children an intervention that provides little discernible benefit.
In the panicked spring of 2020, as health officials scrambled to keep communities safe, they recommended various restrictions and interventions, sometimes in the absence of rigorous science supporting them. That was understandable at the time. Now, however, two years into this pandemic, keeping unproven measures in place is no longer justifiable. Although no district is likely to roll back COVID policies in the middle of the Omicron surge, at the top of the list of policies we should rethink once the wave recedes is mandatory masks for kids at school.
The CDC guidance on school masking is far-reaching, recommending “universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K–12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” In contrast, many countries—the U.K., Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and others—have not taken the U.S.’s approach, and instead follow World Health Organization guidelines, which recommend against masking children ages 5 and younger, because this age group is at low risk of illness, because masks are not “in the overall interest of the child,” and because many children are unable to wear masks properly. Even for children ages 6 to 11, the WHO does not routinelyrecommend masks, because of the “potential impact of wearing a mask on learning and psychosocial development.” The WHO also explicitly counsels against masking children during physical activities, including running and jumping at the playground, so as not to compromise breathing.
People seeking to obtain an exemption from the shot have found that some clergy see no theological foundation for an excusal.
Religious texts such as the Bible, the Torah, and the Quran don’t say anything about vaccines—of course, all three texts predate them by hundreds of years. So when faith leaders face questions about immunizations, they generally offer their own interpretations of the scriptures. Such questions, particularly about the applicability of religious exemptions, have become more urgent during the pandemic, forcing clergy to take hard stances for or against excusals.
Even though the Supreme Court recently struck down a federal vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees, many Americans still must receive a COVID-19 vaccine in order to resume in-person work. Some people are seeking ways to skirt the obligation, and religious exemptions, which stipulate that a person’s spiritual beliefs can free them from a medical requirement, present one way to do so. In private Facebook groups, for instance, people swap tips on how to convince employers that they don’t need a shot, while others are hiring consulting services for help obtaining an exemption. Many people requesting exemptions have tried to strengthen their case with a written statement from a religious leader, but to some clergy, agreeing to support a person’s claim feels unjustifiable. Instead, faith leaders I spoke with are trying to assuage congregants’ misgivings about the vaccines, and are pushing back against attempts to circumvent public-health measures with scripture.
Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market. Even worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking.
Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market, according to the latest numbers from MRC Data, a music-analytics firm. Those who make a living from new music—especially that endangered species known as the working musician—should look at these figures with fear and trembling. But the news gets worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking. All the growth in the market is coming from old songs.
The 200 most popular new tracks now regularly account for less than 5 percent of total streams. That rate was twice as high just three years ago. The mix of songs actually purchased by consumers is even more tilted toward older music. The current list of most-downloaded tracks on iTunes is filled with the names of bands from the previous century, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Police.
The Bowlin family knew they had a history of malformations in the brain. But they had no idea how far back it went.
Of the three Bowlin sisters, Margaret, the middle one, was the first to show signs. She began having seizures as a toddler. Then the eldest, Bettina, had a brief and mysterious episode of weakness in her right hand. In 1986, as an adult, she had a two-week migraine that got so bad, she couldn’t hold food in her mouth or money in her right hand. The youngest, Susan, felt fine, but her parents still took her for an exam in 1989, when she was 19. A brain scan found abnormal clusters of blood vessels that, as it turned out, were in her sisters’ brains too. These malformations in the brain can be silent. But they can also leak or, worse, burst without warning, causing the seizures, migraines, and strokelike symptoms Bettina and Margaret experienced. If the bleeding in the brain gets bad enough, it can be deadly.
A collection of recent images showing people and animals both surviving and enjoying frigid midwinter conditions.
As we near the halfway mark between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, much of the Northern Hemisphere is beginning to emerge from the coldest time of the year. Gathered below, a collection of recent images show people and animals both surviving and enjoying the frigid conditions, from the Russian Far East, to China, Greece, England, Canada, and more.