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.
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.
With a new nomination to the Supreme Court announced last night, partisans on bothsides of the abortion divide are trying to divine whether Judge Neil Gorsuch would vote to overturn abortion rights, should he get confirmed by the Senate.
Down at the personal level, last week we received yet another compelling story for our reader series on abortion that launched a year ago. This reader, like twoothers before her, was among the roughly 9,000 women per year who get an abortion after the 21st week of pregnancy—close to the legal limit and the point of viability. Her fraught story is punctuated by an absentee father, a callous mother, a drug-addled boyfriend, and a kind stranger at an abortion clinic:
I am 26 years old and completing my last year of doctoral studies in the Midwest with several honorable distinctions. Yet the other part of my life narrative includes a frightening time, when I went through the very uncertain process of choosing to have an abortion. I was just shy of 17 years old and nearly 22 weeks pregnant. No one in my family knew. And I haven’t really talked about this with anyone since I was a teen.
The week I learned I was pregnant, I remember feeling depressed. I became worried because I couldn’t remember my last period. This happened on occasion due to feeling depressed and not eating.
I wasn’t feeling well, so I asked my mom if it was okay if I took myself out of school to see the doctor. She said yes. I got to school and panicked after realizing that I had forgotten to get a letter to excuse myself. Thinking optimistically, I frantically wrote one and forged a signature on behalf of my mom. Of course, a teacher suspected the letter and contacted her immediately. I was kicked out of my home for forging the letter and embarrassing my mom at work.
While staying at my boyfriend’s parents’ house, I expressed my concern and got a pregnancy test promptly. It came back positive.
I cried because I told my boyfriend that I was not comfortable with sex on a several occasions previously. But he reassured me. He reassured me everything was okay, and everything was going to be okay.
But in that very moment I knew everything was not okay. Only a few weeks before, I confronted him on some changes I saw in his behavior. I learned that he was doing drugs behind my back. Hard drugs.
I wanted to escape. I was very much pregnant but I could not even afford a cellphone. I traveled to many clinics before one would see me, since several had turned me away. This prolonged the pregnancy several weeks. A number of providers painfully apologized to me. They said I was “too far along.” They said they required parental consent. Parental consent was an immense burden for me.
My father had left home when I was 8 years old, leaving behind three kids. I never saw him again until my sister’s wedding recently. He struggled with substance use and lived on and off the streets my whole life. I learned he was living across the country in California, in an office space with no kitchen. He told me at my sister’s wedding that he cooked his food in the bathroom on a hotplate. This was the most stable housing he has ever had since before he left us.
I knew it at 16 and I know it now: You can’t ask a man like that to step up and be a parent when he never was.
Since I was a young child, my mother worked two jobs to help my family while my father struggled with unemployment and child support. She worked as a teaching assistant at an elementary school for children with autism spectrum disorders. She had a second job in an after-school daycare program. My mom never saw an income over $40K in her adult life, despite working 12 hours a day.
The implicit rule in our household was “no trouble”—especially at school, since my mom worked in the same district that my siblings and I attended. So when I forged the letter that day to go to the doctor, I caused “trouble.”
School was the only escape I had. It allowed me to continue to conceal some of the immense turmoil inside. I had finals, SAT prep, AP exams, papers, and research reports. These were my escapes. The classroom was the only place in my life where I felt like I was a good kid and loved. My teachers at the time had no idea, but they allowed me to forget the painful reminder that I was five months pregnant and nobody—not my family, not my friends, had a clue.
Finally, after the weeks turned into months, I found a Planned Parenthood in Manhattan and they gave me information about a clinic that recommended a two-day procedure. I went there and paid $800 out of pocket with the help of my boyfriend’s family.
After I paid the person at the window, I waited. I waited feeling hopeful that this place was right for me. After waiting 30 minutes, I was told that I needed to provide a urine test and get an ultrasound. I was expecting the ultrasound to be like the other ones. But this one was not.
The technician was confrontational, “How did you not know you were this pregnant?” The emphasis in her voice was a punch in the gut. I couldn’t respond. I didn’t know what to say. Should I tell her that I am 16 years old? That we didn’t cover the signs of pregnancy in my health class? That the only birth control method I was formally taught in school was abstinence? Should I tell her that I have no adult in my life who looks after me other than my teachers, so I’ve learned to habitually ignore my body, my emotions, my wishes—all of me. I had to do things my peers never had to: buy my groceries, work 12 hour+ days on the weekend, walk miles and miles to my job.
No. She was wrong. I knew I was this pregnant but I got turned away from other clinics due to barriers in the system. It prolonged my process tremendously and made the whole experience incredibly more difficult. Without Planned Parenthood, I would have had no option.
She asked if I wanted to see the ultrasound, and I said no. Firmly. I excused myself.
The next minute I felt a flash of heat. I didn’t even make five steps. The dead weight of my unconscious pregnant body would have hit the floor if not for a security guard. He caught me when I passed out walking out of the examination room. I remember waking up seeing a man who resembled my grandfather’s angel. I remember his name still: Jacques. He held me up, to get me in a wheelchair. His smile relieved my immeasurable fear.
The last memory I have of that day was when I was waiting just before my procedure. I was still feeling scared, waiting in the operating room. The doctor sense my fear and put his hand on my forehead. I felt safe.
My choice mattered even at 16, and the barriers set up to try and reduce my choice set me back and compromised my well-being—physically and emotionally. One of the things I most want to emphasize to you is that not every individual’s family is a source of strength and support in their life. Nobody should be persecuted or shamed for making one of the most selfless decisions in their life after looking at their harsh reality. Places like Planned Parenthood exist to provide people support and strength to make a decision when life presents tremendous obstacles.
After finding the love of my life and making a joint decision on family planning, I am firm that I do not want children. I devote myself to taking care of people in communities that need to be better served. This includes people who have no one to care for them: children in foster care who age out into adult systems, adults with severe mental illness, people with developmental disabilities. They are my family.
The Zika emergency—thankfully now in the past but still without a vaccine—spread throughout 60 countries and affected thousands of pregnant women in 2015 and 2016. The disease is most dangerous for pregnant women due to the risk of birth defects as severe as microcephaly, when the fetus forms a small head and underdeveloped brain. To prevent that gruesome fate for their baby, pregnant women with Zika often turn to abortion (though the procedure is illegal in many of the countries most affected by the virus).
Before Zika, there was the rubella epidemic of 1964 to 1965, when an estimated 12.5 million Americans acquired the disease (also known as German measles). Similar to Zika, rubella’s symptoms for most adults are mild—a rash and a low-grade fever that lasts two or three days. But for a pregnant woman and her fetus, rubella is “very dangerous,” according the CDC, resulting in birth defects ranging from deafness to heart problems to mental disabilities. Also like Zika, rubella is often asymptomatic, thus many pregnant women don’t realize they’re carrying the virus until it’s too late. In the 1960s, prior to the release of the rubella vaccine in 1969 and the Roe decision in 1973 that made abortion legal nationwide, a small number of doctors illegally performed the procedure for pregnant women with rubella.
One of those women is Bette, an Atlantic reader who had a second-trimester abortion in March 1971. She was a 24-year-old married Christian at the time, and she frames her abortion story as “God’s will for my family”:
My husband and I celebrated my pregnancy with friends on Thanksgiving Day in 1970. Although the pregnancy was a bit of a surprise, we were delighted to welcome a baby into the world.
I was teaching fifth grade at the time, and I’ll never forget the moment when a student walked up to my desk and said he didn’t feel very well. When I saw the rash on his face, I flashed back to a terrible photograph I had seen in a magazine in my obstetrician’s office the week before. It was of a “Rubella baby,” and the caption said “Bobby’s mother recovered from German measles in 3 days. Bobby wasn’t so lucky.”
I didn’t know what that meant exactly, but I later found out the way scientists realized what the Rubella virus did to a fetus was when someone connected delivery-room personnel coming down with the three-day measles to a baby with severe birth defects. Although the mother recovers in three days, the baby stays sick throughout the remaining time of gestation and is still contagious at birth.
I had almost forgotten about that student and the magazine picture a couple of weeks later when I got up and saw a very slight rash on my own face.
I covered it up with make-up as best I could and drove 30 miles to school, feeling worse and worse the whole way. Halfway through the morning, I couldn’t deny what was happening to me and I cried all the way home. When I called my doctor, he specifically told me not to come in. He knew what was wrong and told me to go to bed and that I’d feel better in a couple of days.
My husband was in the Army at the time, and we felt that we needed to go to our hometown to have support from our family, our church, and the doctor I trusted. My doctor told us about a “therapeutic abortion.” Although he told me about the difference between a simple first-trimester D&C and a second-trimester saline injection, he explained it very gently. He told me that although he couldn’t give me advice, if it were his wife, he would urge her to have an abortion.
As a naive Christian girl, I had never heard the word “abortion.” This was before Roe vs. Wade and I had no idea what was going on in “Women’s Lib” circles at the time.
The reason I didn’t get my abortion until the second trimester was that my Christian family had never faced anything like this before. We were blindsided by the news and needed time to come to grips with what was happening. I wanted to talk to Christian leaders I trusted.
So we turned to our church. My aunt and uncle were missionaries in Taiwan at the time, but they were home on furlough. As a missionary nurse, my aunt agreed with my parents’ Sunday school teacher—a Chief of Cardiac Surgery at a major hospital—that this abortion was within God’s will. They told me that this was a “technology that God has given us in order to prevent more suffering in the world.” On their advice, I went ahead with the procedure.
Although I seldom talk about my abortion, I spent a lot of years being very angry with Christians who made a political issue out of something so deeply personal and spiritual to me. Since I was making one of the hardest decisions of my life, I had spent precious time talking with my Christian support system.
I have since left that church. I had to mask my rage at Christians—Christian MEN in particular who want to have a say in a decision that is between a woman and her God. The way I found peace was in knowing that I sent that little guy, Tory Cameron, back home to be with God.
I look at it the same way now. The suffering that abortion alleviates in the world is the mess we have created because we haven’t figured out a way to take care of the children who are already here. Every story is different, but what the “pro-life” crowd doesn’t want to consider is the fact that abortion is never going to go away—until we figure out a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Sometimes that can be a young girl living in poverty who has no way to support a child, or it is a mother addicted to drugs whose baby will be born addicted and possibly severely damaged. And then there are the young girls who are so afraid their families will disown them that they take matters into their own hands and risk the tragic consequences. Bottom line: NO ONE thinks abortion is a good thing.
I don’t know what my life would have been like if I had carried Tory to full term, but I do know that it would have been different. I wouldn’t have the two children I now have. My marriage may or may not have ended earlier, or we might have lived “happily ever after” with a beautiful handicapped child whom we both would have loved.
But I do know two things for sure: First, the decision was mine to make. And second, I will someday be reunited with Tory and we’ll talk about it then. That’s when I will apologize, if necessary.
Midnight Mass is a morally urgent critique of how faith can fuel everyday cruelty and violence.
This story contains spoilers for the Netflix series Midnight Mass.
The Exorcist is a film I’ve long loved because it raised the bar not just for horror, but also for movies that explore questions of faith and doubt, good and evil, life and death. I know all of its beats by heart, but when I recently rewatched the 1973 classic, the ending hit differently. The movie concludes with an exorcism, naturally. Chris MacNeil has brought her daughter, Regan, to a host of medical professionals in a desperate attempt to save her from what turns out to be a demonic possession. But the only person who can save the girl, it seems, is a priest. The camera lingers on the mother’s exhausted face as two priests close the door to her daughter’s bedroom and go to work.
The election of the elders of an evangelical church is usually an uncontroversial, even unifying event. But this summer, at an influential megachurch in Northern Virginia, something went badly wrong. A trio of elders didn’t receive 75 percent of the vote, the threshold necessary to be installed.
“A small group of people, inside and outside this church, coordinated a divisive effort to use disinformation in order to persuade others to vote these men down as part of a broader effort to take control of this church,” David Platt, a 43-year-old minister at McLean Bible Church and a best-selling author, charged in a July 4 sermon.
Platt said church members had been misled, having been told, among other things, that the three individuals nominated to be elders would advocate selling the church building to Muslims, who would convert it into a mosque. In a second vote on July 18, all three nominees cleared the threshold. But that hardly resolved the conflict. Members of the church filed a lawsuit, claiming that the conduct of the election violated the church’s constitution.
Thousands of pages of internal documents offer the clearest picture yet of how Facebook endangers American democracy—and show that the company’s own employees know it.
Before I tell you what happened at exactly 2:28 p.m. on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the White House—and how it elicited a very specific reaction, some 2,400 miles away, in Menlo Park, California—you need to remember the mayhem of that day, the exuberance of the mob as it gave itself over to violence, and how several things seemed to happen all at once.
At 2:10 p.m., a live microphone captured a Senate aide’s panicked warning that “protesters are in the building,” and both houses of Congress began evacuating.
At 2:13 p.m., Vice President Mike Pence was hurried off the Senate floor and out of the chamber.
At 2:15 p.m., thunderous chants were heard: “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!”
At the White House, President Donald Trump was watching the insurrection live on television. The spectacle excited him. Which brings us to 2:28 p.m., the moment when Trump shared a message he had just tweeted with his 35 million Facebook followers: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution … USA demands the truth!”
Claims about the drug are based on shoddy science—but that science is entirely unremarkable in its shoddiness.
Ivermectin is an antiparasitic drug, and a very good one. If you are infected with the roundworms that cause river blindness or the parasitic mites that cause scabies, it is wonderfully effective. It is cheap; it is accessible; and its discoverers won the Nobel Prize in 2015. It has also been widely promoted as a coronavirus prophylactic and treatment.
This promotion has been broadly criticized as a fever dream conceived in the memetic bowels of the internet and as a convenient buttress for bad arguments against vaccination. This is not entirely fair. Perhaps 70 to 100 studies have been conducted on the use of ivermectin for treating or preventing COVID-19; several dozen of them support the hypothesis that the drug is a plague mitigant. Twometa-analyses, which looked at data aggregated across subsets of these studies, concluded that the drug has value in the fight against the pandemic.
The James Webb Space Telescope, the long-awaited successor to Hubble, is mired in controversy over its namesake.
In 1999, Karen Knierman picked up a free mug at her first big astronomy conference, just before she started grad school. It bore the logo of an ambitious observatory, designed to peer at the most distant galaxies in the universe: NGST, short for Next Generation Space Telescope. The mug was on Knierman’s desk in 2002 when NASA made a surprise announcement: NGST was going to become JWST, after James Webb. Knierman sipped from her suddenly out-of-date mug and wondered, Who?
That was the prevailing reaction among scientists at the time. Webb, who died in 1992, was more of a behind-the-scenes manager than a space-science star; he had served as NASA’s second administrator, in the 1960s, during the run-up to the Apollo moon landings. But scientists went with the rebrand. Work on the telescope continued. Scientists got new merch, new mugs.
A brilliant new account upends bedrock assumptions about 30,000 years of change.
Many years ago, when I was a junior professor at Yale, I cold-called a colleague in the anthropology department for assistance with a project I was working on. I didn’t know anything about the guy; I just selected him because he was young, and therefore, I figured, more likely to agree to talk.
Five minutes into our lunch, I realized that I was in the presence of a genius. Not an extremely intelligent person—a genius. There’s a qualitative difference. The individual across the table seemed to belong to a different order of being from me, like a visitor from a higher dimension. I had never experienced anything like it before. I quickly went from trying to keep up with him, to hanging on for dear life, to simply sitting there in wonder.
Breaking up social-media companies is one way to fix them. Shutting their users up is a better one.
Your social life has a biological limit: 150. That’s the number—Dunbar’s number, proposed by the British psychologist Robin Dunbar three decades ago—of people with whom you can have meaningful relationships.
What makes a relationship meaningful? Dunbar gave TheNew York Times a shorthand answer: “those people you know well enough to greet without feeling awkward if you ran into them in an airport lounge”—a take that may accidentally reveal the substantial spoils of having produced a predominant psychological theory. The construct encompasses multiple “layers” of intimacy in relationships. We can reasonably expect to develop up to 150 productive bonds, but we have our most intimate, and therefore most connected, relationships with only about five to 15 closest friends. We can maintain much larger networks, but only by compromising the quality or sincerity of those connections; most people operate in much smaller social circles.
Internal documents show the company routinely placing public-relations, profit, and regulatory concerns over user welfare. And if you think it’s bad here, look beyond the U.S.
In the fall of 2019, Facebook launched a massive effort to combat the use of its platforms for human trafficking. Working around the clock, its employees searched Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram for keywords and hashtags that promoted domestic servitude in the Middle East and elsewhere. Over the course of a few weeks, the company took down 129,191 pieces of content, disabled more than 1,000 accounts, tightened its policies, and added new ways to detect this kind of behavior. After they were through, employees congratulated one another on a job well done.
It was a job well done. It just came a little late. In fact, a group of Facebook researchers focused on the Middle East and North Africa had found numerous Instagram profiles being used as advertisements for trafficked domestic servants as early as March 2018. “Indonesian brought with Tourist Visa,” one photo caption on a picture of a woman reads, in Arabic. “We have more of them.” But these profiles weren’t “actioned”—disabled or taken down—an internal report would explain, because Facebook’s policies “did not acknowledge the violation.” A year and a half later, an undercover BBC investigation revealed the full scope of the problem: a broad network that illegally trafficked domestic workers, facilitated by internet platforms and aided by algorithmically boosted hashtags. In response, Facebook banned one hashtag and took down some 700 Instagram profiles. But according to another internal report, “domestic servitude content remained on the platform.”
The Census Bureau wanted to gather data about a changing nation, but ended up reinforcing old racial categories.
If you paid attention to the news this summer about the release of 2020 census data, you probably heard that America’s white population is in free fall. Big, if true.
The statistic that launched a thousand hot takes and breathless voice-overs about racial change was a supposed 8.6 percent, or 19 million, dropin the number of white Americans since 2010. Headlines cast this decline as unprecedented in census history and signaled that the nation’s majority-minority future loomed even closer than previously forecast. Pundits spun it as a harbinger of policy change and partisan realignment, for better or worse. Somewiselycautioned against demography-as-destiny assumptions in a country where the definition and public understanding of race can change rapidly. But few observers questioned whether the reported differences between the 2010 and 2020 censuses reflected real demographic change or simply statistical noise.
Different chemically than it was a decade ago, the drug is creating a wave of severe mental illness and worsening America’s homelessness problem.
In the fall of 2006, law enforcement on the southwest border of the United States seized some crystal methamphetamine. In due course, a five-gram sample of that seizure landed on the desk of a 31-year-old chemist named Joe Bozenko, at the Drug Enforcement Administration lab outside Washington, D.C.
Organic chemistry can be endlessly manipulated, with compounds that, like Lego bricks, can be used to build almost anything. The field seems to breed folks whose every waking minute is spent puzzling over chemical reactions. Bozenko, a garrulous man with a wide smile, worked in the DEA lab during the day and taught chemistry at a local university in the evenings. “Chemist by day, chemist by night,” his Twitter bio once read.