Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Personal Stories of Abortion Made Public
Show Description +

Prompted by Emma Green’s note on the Supreme Court case Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, for which a group of lawyers filed a document openly describing their abortions, readers share their own stories in an ongoing series edited by Chris Bodenner. We are posting a wide range of perspectives—from pro-choice and pro-life readers, women and men alike—so if you have an experience not represented thus far, please send us a note: hello@theatlantic.com.

Show None Newer Notes

This year, for the first time in nearly a decade, the Supreme Court will hear a case on abortion. Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt* takes up restrictions on clinics and physicians who provide abortions in Texas, which were passed in 2013. The Court will decide whether these restrictions place an “undue burden” on women in the state.

Earlier this week, a wave of new briefs were filed in support of either side of the case. Among them was a brief representing “113 women in the legal profession who have exercised their constitutional right to an abortion.”

This document is remarkable for a number of reasons. It represents the perspectives of people who are trained in the law, but who are also personally familiar with what it means to get an abortion. It rejects the idea that women should feel shame about having an abortion; these stories are serious, straightforward, and unapologetic. And it shortens the sense of distance between those who will decide the legal merits of the case and those whose lives will be affected—this brief isn’t well-educated experts advocating on behalf of women in need, it’s well-educated women advocating on behalf of themselves. As one of the women wrote, “To the world, I am an attorney who had an abortion, and, to myself, I am an attorney because I had an abortion.”

(So, if you’re willing to share: What is your personal story of abortion, either in choosing to have one or not, or perhaps anticipating that decision? We’ll keep stories anonymous by default, although if you’re willing to use your name, let us know: hello@theatlantic.com.)

But the document also highlights the complexity of abortion as an ethical and legal issue. Court cases necessarily consider questions of justice in the abstract, but deciding whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is one of the most intimate choices a woman can make. This fact has defined the political fight over abortion. As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern smartly put it:

Many readers are responding to Emma’s note about the upcoming Supreme Court case Whole Women’s Health v. Cole:

I read your story about the group of Texas attorneys and their own abortions and would like to share my own story. I am a medical student at one of the nation’s top med schools who graduated from college with dual microbiology/chemistry degrees and a 4.0. I became pregnant during my senior year and did not hesitate to have an abortion. I knew this decision was right for me and my future children. I am going to be a surgeon because I had an abortion.

Women who have abortions aren’t the deadbeat, promiscuous, Godless stereotypes that society paints them. Although theoretically I was much more prepared for a baby than many women are fortunate to be (at age 22 and with a bachelors degree under my belt and a supportive family behind me), I would not be able to give that child the best life. I exercised my constitutional right to have an abortion, and I haven’t had a single regret.

Another reader chooses to use her real name, Sarah Berry:

I’m a college teacher who became pregnant while in graduate school. I got pregnant while using a diaphragm (properly)—these things happen. Having an abortion was hard because I knew I wanted children, but I wasn’t in a stable relationship or career. I’m now the happy mother of two thriving children. Access to abortion is essential for women to have an equal shot at self-actualization in the world and for children to have happy, thriving moms.

Another reader:

I was 20 and a sophomore in college. I had been dating my high school boyfriend for almost three years when I met someone else in class that August (2012). I realized I was attracted to him as we became closer friends, and I ended up sleeping with him that Christmas break.

A reader shares a long, harrowing, and deeply personal story:

I’m 41, married for 18 years, a mom to two boys (15 and 5), and a very successful executive. I’ve had three abortions.

A reader calls the story of the woman who had three abortions “incredibly moving”:

She is amazingly resilient and should be commended for sharing with us; we need to hear tales like hers. Thank you for this project.

Another reader, on the other hand, fiercely dissents:

These stories are among the sickest, cruelest examples of people rationalizing their abortions. The female lawyer wrote: “To the world, I am an attorney who had an abortion, and, to myself, I am an attorney because I had an abortion.” Career before life? If your career goals are high enough, then you should have an abortion? If not?

Another woman wrote that she had an abortion because she didn’t want to risk her child growing up knowing their father. The way this article talks—“look what it did for us”—everyone should have an abortion. Is this really the face abortionists want to put on abortion? Self-serving rationalization?

A less heated dissent from a reader:

This reader thinks so:

Whenever I hear anti-abortion rhetoric that centers upon the idea that abortion is selfish and denies a potential human life, as one of your readers believes, I think about my aunt and her daughter. My cousin became pregnant when she was in high school. She became pregnant again, twice out of wedlock. I don’t know what, or if, she currently works, but she didn’t graduate high school and her prospects have never been good; she mostly leeches off her mother.

Another reader contributes a heartbreaking story to our series:

I’ve read the different women’s reasons for abortion, and mine is a bit different, so I think it’s important to hear another side: a wanted and planned little girl.

Another reader emails her story of undergoing a late-term abortion after her fetus was diagnosed with a severe brain abnormality. She offers a challenge: Why is there any cognitive or moral dissonance in thinking about her fetus as her child, but still choosing to abort?

More on that in a minute. First, her story in her own words:

In December of 2014, I was six and a half months pregnant with my first baby when she was diagnosed with a rare brain abnormality called lissencephaly. Lissencephaly means “smooth brain,” which refers to the condition’s characteristic lack of folding in the cortex. There are a range of possible outcomes, but they’re all pretty grim.

That’s the view of the third reader below. The first one:

Here’s the thing: I’m happy to tell my abortion story, but it’s not the kind that will sway anyone who thinks women shouldn’t have control over their own bodies toward thinking maybe they should. There’s no hardship, no sad backstory. I didn’t do this to be a better mom to my other kids or because I couldn’t afford to have a child or because I was single and didn’t know how I would raise a kid alone. (The only thing resembling hardship was the unbelievable pain I was in for several weeks, like the kind of pain where you have to excuse yourself from conversation to go curl up into a ball and writhe, which I did more times than I can count.)

I just didn’t want kids. Still. Ever. Never had. And to paraphrase Katha Pollitt, puberty to menopause is a long damn time to make sure no stray sperm ever gets in your uterus.

The decision was probably the easiest I ever made, and that’s not an exaggeration. I called Planned Parenthood, made an appointment, walked in four days later, and walked out no longer pregnant. Once upon a time, I thought we would get to a point where I wouldn’t have to consider myself lucky or privileged to live in a state where I could do that. I went to Planned Parenthood because I was new to the city and I didn’t have an OB/GYN, and I knew they would take excellent care of me. Which they did.

That night was the first night in weeks I slept straight through without waking up every hour or two in excruciating pain. The next morning, I wanted to dance a jig I was so happy.

This pro-life reader, on the other hand, couldn’t have a more different view:

Intentionally or not, your request seems to be limited to the perspective of only half of the people affected by abortion. On the chance that you are interested in all of our personal stories, here’s mine:

A reader remembers how she came upon one of the worst abortion clinic attacks in U.S. history:

December 30, 1994. It started before I even got out of the cab. The protesters were screaming, flashing their gruesome signs, even in liberal Brookline, Mass. The cab driver felt it was his place to ask, rudely, “This is an abortion clinic?” as I fished bills out of my wallet. “It’s a women’s health clinic,” I snapped, slamming the door on the way out.

There was one protester who blocked my path, a tall, heavyset woman, screaming in booming voice, “Don’t kill your baby,” as she stood between me and the door. In that moment, she seemed like a giant to me, like something out of a nightmare. I later learned she was well-known to both Planned Parenthood and the authorities. I read somewhere that she was such a threat that she was cited specifically during the court proceedings that established the buffer zones around Massachusetts clinics. The buffer zones we no longer have, thanks to a fanatical local grandmother and our current Supreme Court.

I got inside, past the security guard in the vestibule, and through to the reception window in the waiting room.

A reader writes in with another perspective on the moral or cognitive dissonance of abortion, posing a new question: If you do everything in your power to prevent a pregnancy and it happens anyway, does that change the moral dynamics of getting an abortion?

Her story:

I’m a senior in college, and I just had an abortion in November. I had had an IUD inserted six months before, so I hadn’t paid attention to my symptoms until it was too late.

From one of the few male readers to contribute to our abortion series thus far:

The ultimate decision is the woman’s. (As the old Southern saying goes, men are involved; the woman is committed.) But men need to realize that abortion is not solely a woman’s story.

I was 18, a college student, when a friend became pregnant the first time we had sex. It was, hard to believe, only the second time either of us had intercourse. We both knew immediately that we did not want to have a child. Abortion was still illegal, so it was a “friend of a friend” who put us in touch with someone (I have no idea if it was even a doctor; we were assured that “he knows what he’s doing”) in a state 800 miles away.

My friend went by herself. A friendly college advisor loaned us the money but didn’t want any further involvement due to the illegality. During the most traumatic event of my young life, I had no one to turn to.

Our friendship failed soon after; neither of us had any idea how to deal with this. We saw each other several decades later. We both had families and agreed that we had done the right thing.

In the 45 years since, I have never told anyone about this. But you can use my name, Peter Noris.

If you are also a guy who went through an abortion with a woman and want to share your perspective, drop us an email. That last line from Mr. Noris—giving us permission to use his name—stuck out for me because almost all of the dozens of women who have emailed their abortion stories have preferred to remain anonymous. One of the few women to allow her name be used, Danielle Lang, makes a core point about the social stigma that accompanies abortion:

I am one of the lawyers featured in the amicus brief profiled in Emma Green’s note, and, per your request, I’m happy to share my story (you are certainly free to use my name). My story is simple and unremarkable in its details but, of course, remarkable to me because access to abortion undeniably changed the course of my life. Here is what the brief said about me:

A reader has a startling story for our abortion series:

I don’t imagine you will use this, but I had to write it. I have never had an abortion, but if I become pregnant again, I will, without hesitation.

I have had two pregnancies, and I now have two daughters who mean the world to me. I loved being pregnant with my older daughter (now 9). I was 27 and strong and felt fairly good. I had pain in my ligaments that made it hard at times to climb stairs, walk, etc, but I managed. I kept working as a nurse until the week before she was born.

I did have one painful scary blip, though.