'He Sabotaged the Birth Control'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

From the latest contributor to our ever-evolving series on abortion:

I had my first abortion in my early 20s (this was in the 1980s). My fiancé and I had just graduated from a prestigious college and were looking for our first serious career-type jobs. My doctor changed my prescription, and that first month on the new lower-dose pill, I got pregnant. The doctor questioned me closely, saying I “must have done something wrong,” but when it was clear I had followed his directions exactly, he finally said “well, that shouldn’t have happened.”

My fiancé was shocked—a failure in birth control had never occurred to him—but supportive. I knew I would have an abortion because I’d thought about the issue back before I became sexually active in college. He agreed this was not the right time for either of us.

A few years later, when we were married, he insisted he wanted a divorce. He was unhappy with his life overall, had decided that he was bisexual, or maybe gay—definitely not monogamous—and didn’t want to be tied down.  

But he said he wanted a baby, before we got divorced.

He thought a child might be what was missing in his life and might make him happy. Incredulous, I told him there’s no way I’d have a baby under our current circumstances, just because he “might” like it.  

So he sabotaged the birth control. After one of the rare occasions we were still having sex, he told me “the condom must have fallen off and I didn’t notice.” I was naive and took him at his word. Because there was no morning-after pill in those days, so I just used more foam and hoped for the best.

It was years later before I had enough life experience to realize: men know when they’re wearing a condom. It doesn’t slip off and you don’t notice, any more than you lose a shoe and don’t notice. He either intentionally removed it, or it came off accidentally-on-purpose, and he chose not to say anything.

I did get pregnant. He was furious: “You can’t have an abortion, we’re married, that’s not fair to me.” I pointed out that he’d been pushing for a divorce for months, our marriage had failed, and I wouldn’t bring a child into this situation—period.

I went alone to the doctor’s office, taking a taxi because he refused to drive me. Fortunately during these times I lived in an urban area in a state that had plenty of clinics and medical facilities, and I had the money to pay for “optional” health care like abortions.  

End of story: we got divorced. I finished grad school and build a great career.  Along the way I met a wonderful man and have been happily married with a family for many years now.  If I had been a divorced mom with a baby, I wouldn’t have been able to finish graduate school, would not have met my future husband, would not have my career, would not have my life as it is today.