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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
In a victory for the pro-choice movement, the Supreme Court just minutes ago decided on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In a 5-3 ruling, the Justices struck down abortion restrictions in Texas that had caused more than half of the state’s abortion clinics to close.
We still have many unaired personal stories from readers recounting the choices they made during an unplanned pregnancy—or a planned one that went terriblywrong. This next reader, Elizabeth Bercaw, is one of the rare ones in our series to insist that her real name be used. She begins by recalling another abortion ruling by the Supreme Court, almost 30 years ago, that upheld a Missouri law imposing restrictions on the use of state funds, facilities, and employees when it came to abortion—a win for the pro-life movement. Here’s Elizabeth:
In 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled in the Webster decision, I harkened the call to become active in the pro-choice movement. I helped co-found a pro-choice group on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi, then later helped in pro-choice groups on the campuses of Clemson University and Emory University. Throughout those years, I volunteered with Planned Parenthood and NARAL in defending clinics against attacks by anti-choice groups. I was firmly committed to making sure every woman had the right to a safe, legal abortion.
In 1998, the pro-choice issue became personal for me, as I found myself pregnant for the first time at the age of 34.
I had only known the father for a month, and we were both full-time students. At that time, it was inconceivable for either of us that we were in any position to bring a baby into the world. We were not mentally, emotionally, or financially prepared for it. We discussed it and both agreed the best option was abortion. My boyfriend accompanied me to the clinic.
A year later, I became pregnant again from the same boyfriend. By then, I was finishing my degree at Georgia State University. I was 35, and I thought long and hard. Maybe I would not have another chance at motherhood.
I chose to have the baby. Now I am the proud mother of an incredible 16-year-old daughter.
I feel that I made the right decision in both circumstances. Both choices were my choices and I stand proud for both of them. By making these choices, I have been able to devote myself to raising my daughter, who has become the most amazing young woman (if a mother can brag).
I will never forget the words of a woman I met during the early years of my activism. When she got pregnant, her boyfriend wanted to force her to have an abortion. She said, “If it is possible for someone to force you to carry out a pregnancy against your will, then it is also possible for someone to force you to have an abortion against your will.”
Choice means the ability to choose for yourself, without shame. By signing my real name, I hope other women (and men) will have the power to tell their stories.
If you have your own experience to share, anonymously or otherwise, and especially if your story touches on something we haven’t yet covered in our series yet, please send us a note: email@example.com.
Approximately 9,090 women in the United States had abortions after their 21st week of pregnancy in 2012. That’s 1.3 percent of all abortions, and roughly 0.14 percent of all pregnancies, based on the 2010 U.S. pregnancy rate.
Yet states keep creating legislation on this issue, proposing abortion bans at 24 or 22 weeks. Many—like South Carolina, where one such bill was signed into law last week—provide exceptions for medical emergencies or fetal anomalies. In fact, many of the women who seek abortions at this stage in their pregnancies do so for health reasons, so these bans affect only a subset of those 9,090 women.
Among the dozens of unaired notes we still have in our inbox from women responding to our abortion series, I just found one from a reader who appears to be among that 9,090 subset:
My husband and I made the heartbreaking decision to end our planned and wanted pregnancy at 22 weeks due to severe, but not fatal, birth defects. In making the decision we had to ask ourselves a whole host of questions. What would her life be like? What were the chances of her living a relatively normal life despite her disabilities? Would we be stable financially, since one of us would need to quit our job to care for her? Would our families help us? Could we do it without their help? Would we be able to be active and involved parents to future children or would her care take priority?
Ultimately we decided that the most loving thing we could do for her was to let her go. She was our first child. Our only girl. Ten years later I still mourn her loss. I mourn what she was and what she could have been. But as I watch my son grow up and experience life in a way she never would, I’m thankful we were able to choose and I know we made the right decision.
I’ve always considered myself pro-choice, but I was never really sure what my decision would be if I ever found myself with an unplanned pregnancy. When I got pregnant at 22 unexpectedly, I was surprised by the fact that an abortion didn’t cross my mind. Though partway through a high risk pregnancy and dealing with hyperemesis [severe nausea and vomiting], I considered it for a minute, but I went ahead with the pregnancy and gave birth to a girl.
Her father and I had remained together through the whole process, but when my daughter was three months old, our relationship had become strained and I found I was pregnant again. (He admitted that he removed a condom once without telling me.) I was beyond frightened. I couldn’t imagine going through another difficult pregnancy while trying to care for my newborn by myself.
But making the decision to abort was not an easy one. I was heavily pressured to have it done by the father, even though I expressed I wasn’t sure. [CB: Here are other stories from readers coerced into an abortion.]
Still, I ended up calling the closest clinic (over 100 miles away) and making an appointment. Everything I had heard about abortion clinics was you would have a sonogram to confirm the pregnancy, then you would meet with a counselor to make sure this is the choice you want to make. I thought to myself, “Awesome, I will have someone to help talk me out of this.”
When my appointment came, I had a sonogram and was taken into the doctors office. He asked why I was there and signed the paperwork. No counseling. I was taken back to a small room with about ten other women, all in medical gowns, while a movie played to distract us. I waited in that room for over an hour before it was my turn. I was shaking and kept thinking “I can walk out the door.”
I’m not sure how long it took, as I was put under, but I woke in recovery and all I wanted to do was get up, get dressed, and walk out and forget everything.
It’s been five years since my abortion. I still regret it to this day. But I do my best to make peace with my decision and I’ve been to counseling. I’m now happily married (to a different man), but I know that abortion is no longer a choice for me, but I still remain pro-choice. A woman has to do what is right for her and no one else.
One more story for now:
Hello and please keep me anonymous. I haven’t spoken about this is 35 years.
I was doing an internship after graduate school when I met a young engineer through a personal ad. We dated briefly and I found out I was pregnant after having sex just once. His response was that he wasn’t going to marry me, but he would give me $5,000 to keep the baby.
But at that time I had no job in sight, no money, and no family or other support system. He was very opposed to the abortion, since he was Catholic, but he did end up paying for it. Afterwards he never spoke to me again, except to tell me that HE was torn up inside. In the meantime, I had to return for a D and C because I had heavy bleeding.
He disappeared from my life, went on to become a successful professor of engineering, married and had two sons. I went on with my life, made an acceptable career, had two marriages, but never got pregnant again.
Update from a returning reader:
Thank you for publishing my family’s story. I wanted to let your new readers know that I am among the women who have had abortions after 20 weeks. Because brains mostly develop in the third trimester, so does the hydrocephalus that took our sons.
No, despite many kinds of testing, we do not have a known gene mutation to test for by CVS at ten weeks. Both sons had slightly large (between two and three standard deviations up from average, well within the three SD medical range) ventricles at 20 weeks. That’s “normal,” and I wouldn’t have considered terminating either pregnancy. But we checked again three weeks later and the ventricles had grown rapidly, the existing beautiful brain being obliterated by fluid.
These bans (or, at our hospital, just the fear of public opinion), with no tie to our medical situation mean that we have to carefully plan out the ultrasounds: 17 weeks, 20 weeks, 23 weeks. We know our baby’s brain can be in the normal range at 20 weeks, but filling with fluid at 23 weeks. To get the operating room by the 24 week deadline, we have to book the abortion before we see the 23 week ultrasound, and hope that we don’t use it.
People who don’t have to negotiate these pregnancies, filled with risk and fear for our babies, cannot imagine the different ways the restrictions punish parents. Who could think of the different cruel difficulties, besides the people they happen to?
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Rich societies were turning inward even before the pandemic, but Bernard-Henri Lévy won’t let them ignore atrocities elsewhere.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is a French philosopher who wears elegant suits, cites Hegel, and visits war zones. The first part of his new book, The Will to See, references conversations with Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze, among other French postmodernists; the latter part describes horrific scenes of violence in Somalia, Nigeria, and Ukraine, among other places. We in the English-speaking world are not accustomed to this combination of themes, and our first instinct is to snicker.
Those so inclined should go right ahead, for there is no insult, no criticism, no mockery that you can direct at Lévy that he has not already heard and probably cited, somewhere, in a self-deprecating comment. The list of his detractors is very long, and the terms they use are not kind: “Pomposity and self-promotion are his vices,” wrote Paul Berman, as far back as 1995. In the book as well as a new documentary Lévy has written and co-directed, also called The Will to See—now showing at film festivals in English, and perhaps to be more widely released next year—he makes several wry references to the opprobrium his various engagements have inspired (“There is the war in Libya, of course, for which I have been lavishly criticized”). But don’t let the instinct to insult him overwhelm you, for the book and the film raise questions that are rarely posed so starkly. Do people in the wealthier, more fortunate parts of the world owe anything to those who live in the poorest and unluckiest places? Should we interest ourselves in the fate of people fighting wars that we don’t even know exist? What do we accomplish by describing and filming them? Should we try to help?