In June, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court. Known as a "moderate swing vote," Kennedy’s involvement in maintaining core rights for women and LGBTQ+ individuals was paramount. Upon his exit, Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision to uphold a woman’s right to obtain a legal, pre-viability abortion, was in critical danger. This week, Alabama passed legislation that criminalizes abortion as part of a near-total ban (and the most restrictive anti-abortion measure since Roe v. Wade). No matter your political affiliations, we invite you to read five stories from women who have had abortions. Knowledge is power, after all.
Deciding whether or not you're ready to have a kid is never easy—it's made even more difficult by decades of controversy, political rhetoric, socioeconomic preparedness, limited resources, and even medical circumstances. And during a time when activism and female empowerment stand at the forefront of our media consumption, the emotional and highly polarizing discussion about abortion often eclipses the details of the process itself and the psychological impact of making that decision. As a society, we are massively uneducated about the procedures, allowing the conversation to vacillate from facts to fiction in mere moments. So much so that Black Mirror wrote a wildly misleading and medically inaccurate abortion plotline as part of the fourth season—the episode confused the abortion pill (a series of pills meant to terminate a pregnancy—the first blocks the body's progesterone, while the others induce miscarriage) with the Plan B pill (an emergency contraceptive that temporarily stops the release of an egg from your ovary to prevent pregnancy).
Without a proper understanding, we're all vulnerable to propaganda, fear, and misinformation. I can't imagine how many people had to approve that script before the episode aired. Tiptoeing around the specifics regarding the choice to terminate a pregnancy will only perpetuate what is already an incubator for intense shame, guilt, secrecy, and dissension. With that in mind, I reached out to people who have experienced an abortion to share their stories, each one diverse in reasoning, age, and takeaways. Read their thoughtful words below.
Please note that sensitive content is ahead.
"The first time I was ever examined by a gynecologist was for an abortion. I was 16 years old, and I had never undressed from the waist down, never scooted back and put my feet up in the stirrups, never felt a cold speculum inside of me. I had barely even had sex—I'd certainly never had an orgasm. I had peed on a stick hiding in my bathroom and again in a plastic cup at Planned Parenthood on one of those drop-in days for teens. Being 16 can feel like living in a foreign land where no one understands you. After I was ushered into the small office and told the news, I felt like I was living on another planet.
"I was in love with the guy who got me pregnant—the desperate way young girls are in love with distant older guys who take their virginity. I knew he was bad for me. He only paid attention to me after the sun went down when we were all drunk. I finally stopped giving into him at night, knowing that he would ignore me the next day, though I still wanted him to want me. I spent a lot of time wanting people to want me. Months after I had given him up, he acted like he did and invited me over. I fell for it and found out I was pregnant three weeks later.
"He told me not to tell anyone. He knew my older brother and all my friends. He didn't want the word to get out. Because I was young and dumb and scared and lost and pregnant, I followed his directions. I didn't want to get in trouble, I didn't want to be judged—but I desperately wanted someone to give me a hug and tell me everything was going to be okay.
"But I got him, sitting in his car in the parking lot while I laid on my back focusing on the tropical underwater ocean poster above my head, gripping the nurse's hand and fighting back tears. He believed (or tried to convince himself) that forking out the $500 to cover the deed would absolve him of any responsibility or guilt after that day.
"But I moved forward with a heavy burden, a secret that would follow me for life. I eventually told my friends. It became something I felt I had to tell any new partner when we started to get close, something that I hoped wouldn't change the way they felt about me. I told my mom in my late 20s and have still not told my dad.
"I am no longer ashamed of it. It isn't heavy like it used to be, coming up in drunken late night conversations. I am so far from the scared little girl who thought she had to keep it a secret. Hey, I may have dated a few more guys who weren't great for me since being 16, but I would never be guilted into staying silent or too scared to talk. It wouldn't have gone down like that. My mom would know. my best friends would know. They would be the ones holding my hand underneath the deep sea poster if need be. That they weren't is what makes me the saddest."
"My husband and I got married in 2010 and immediately started trying to have a baby. After three years of negative pregnancy tests and seven failed IUIs, we turned to IVF, and on our third attempt, I got pregnant. I'll never forget the closeness I felt with my husband, with him resting his hand on my belly every night in bed, dreaming of names and getting through the morning sickness together. But we were devastated to discover at our nine-week ultrasound that there was no more heartbeat. I remember it was the first time I saw my husband weep uncontrollably. Then what seemed like adding insult to injury, I had to have a D&C to remove the fetus. I tried to remind myself that at least I had access to the procedure instead of having to wait for my body to expel it naturally. I got through it, had a pity party with my girlfriends and was ready to move forward.
"We did another round of IVF and got pregnant again. We held our breath to make it past the nine-week ultrasound, then at 10 weeks, I started bleeding. My IVF doctor checked and the heartbeat was still there, so we upped my progesterone shots to support the pregnancy. He assured me that some women bleed during their whole pregnancies and have healthy babies. At 12 weeks I gleefully 'graduated' from my IVF doctor to my regular ob-gyn but during her ultrasound, I could see on her face that something was wrong. The silence in the room was deafening. The fetus failed the nuchal test, a test that measures the fluid in the back of the neck, a sign that something could be wrong with the pregnancy. She referred us to a group of specialists and they too saw that something wasn't right but said to come back in a few weeks.
"I tried to have faith that everything was fine and this was finally our baby. But at 16 weeks, the doctors could see that she had a rare congenital disorder preventing the organs below the waist from growing or growing properly. They told me that the baby would most likely miscarry, but if she made it full term without these organs, she would die within hours after giving birth. I didn't want to believe it, even though we could see it on the ultrasounds, so we got a second opinion, then a third opinion, and then we finally realized it was over. I was already so attached to this little soul growing in my belly, and at the time, it was impossible to comprehend terminating the pregnancy, but we had no choice. We were referred to a doctor who performed D&C's this far along, and he confirmed the diagnosis and scheduled us for the following week. He asked if, because this congenital deformity was 1 in 500,000, I was open to donating the fetus to research, but after explaining I would have to induce labor so I could deliver it in one piece, I declined and opted to wait a week for the D&C. I was so heartbroken and emotionally exhausted that I couldn't fathom laboring something so premature only to watch her die. Such a surreal time, looking back.
"The morning of the procedure I remember taking a bath and talking to my belly, trying to say goodbye gracefully, but I couldn't do it. My husband walked in, and I told him 'nope, I changed my mind. I rather keep going and see if they're wrong or even let her die naturally.' He knelt down beside the tub and reminded me of all the reasons we needed to end it, and I knew he was right and I was being irrational. I pulled myself together, found strength I didn’t know I had, went to the hospital, and let her go. You don’t really know how strong you are until you’re faced with these incredibly excruciating moments. But you surprise yourself, lean on your husband, and make it through, taking that strength and that bond with you for the rest of your life. It's almost like that little baby came here to give me that gift in her short special time with me, and I'll never forget it.
I pulled myself together, found strength I didn’t know I had, went to the hospital, and let her go. You don’t really know how strong you are until you’re faced with these incredibly excruciating moments. But you surprise yourself, lean on your husband, and make it through, taking that strength and that bond with you for the rest of your life.
"We tried a fifth then a sixth round of IVF to no avail, but during the last round, I had a moment in the medical building that forever changed me. My husband and I decided that families were built in many ways and embarked on our adoption journey. In 2016 and 2017, we were blessed to adopt two infants domestically. I was always meant to be their mother, and I feel like the luckiest woman in the world. Maybe I needed to go through those trials and tribulations to learn to let go of things that don't belong to me and grow in ways I couldn't have without them so I could become a strong badass mom for my two boys."
"My period wasn't even that late. To be honest, I've never had a regular period, so 'late' is not even an objective term. Yet another reason Trump's dubious 'calendar method' fails nearly a quarter of women every year. I was 26 and had slept with a friend a few weeks prior. I was alone in my apartment when the test turned up positive. 'Shit,' I said to no one and didn't cry. I barely reacted. I don't think it ever really felt real.
"I didn't have health insurance. The bill, $767, was more money than I'd ever spent on anything other than rent at one time. I applied for a credit card just so I could pay for it. The earliest I could get the medical procedure (I'd heard horror stories about the abortion pill) was two weeks later. Waiting was excruciating. Two days before my appointment, the clinic called and mentioned their anesthesiologist wouldn't be in that day and he'd have to perform it while I was awake. 'I can't do that,' I told them, knowing how faintish I get. 'I guess, if it's my only other option, I'll take the pill.'
"On the day of my appointment, I was warned there might be protestors and it would probably be scary. I expected a mass of right-wing conservatives with hateful signs. Instead, there were two silent men walking in circles. Before I knew it, I was on my back getting a sonogram. It all felt so surreal—I'd only ever seen a sonogram machine in movies and television. I still remember the nurse turning the screen away from me and sliding the print-out facedown, so I wouldn't have to see it. I had my finger pricked and took the first half of the doses necessary (I was instructed to take the other 24 hours later) and was out in about 30 minutes.
"The next day I dutifully took the second round of pills and left them between my cheek and my teeth, as instructed. They dissolved and I didn't feel anything. Waiting for whatever was supposed to happen next was a terrifying brand of anxiety. About a half-hour later, I started to cramp up—first, a sort of palatable, PMS-like ache and then the worst pain I've ever felt in my life. I got dizzy and slid off my brother's bed onto the floor for fear I might faint. This went on for a few hours, with the cramping subsiding slightly as the pain medication I was prescribed kicked in. I was bleeding a lot. I'd fill up a jumbo-size pad and moved on to the next every hour until I fell asleep that night. I couldn't eat. I could barely move.
"The next morning I woke up feeling a bit better and most of the pain had eased up. I got on a bus back to New York and had to send a 'doctor's note' to my boss to explain my absence. I went on to bleed like that every day for three months. With each passing week, I'd call the clinic to make sure it was normal and they'd assure me that every body is different and that mine was just taking longer than others to flush out. Over the next few months, I lost 25 pounds, couldn't wear tampons, and definitely couldn't have sex.
"My life changed that day, but not in the way I expected. I didn't feel a sense of loss, but I did feel an emotional switch inside me flip. Previously, I hadn't ever felt empowered or qualified to talk about political issues. I recognize now that my privilege got in the way of such legislation ever feeling close to home. But it was just a few months before Trump was chosen as the Republican candidate for president and anti-abortion rhetoric was rampant. I learned to use my voice and my experience as a tool in any way I could. This is a terrible thing to have to go through, no doubt about it. But I now have the knowledge and experience to talk to other women on the subject. If I ever have a daughter, I can talk to her about it. If I have a son, I'll talk to him too. Nothing hard happens without the chance for something powerful to come from it. I'm stronger for it."
"I had purchased the test on a whim; a 'better safe than sorry' attempt at pretending my period wasn't three days late and I hadn't been perpetually nauseated for almost a week. I dried my tears and spent the entire day in a haze, having trouble believing it was real.
"The second I saw the two lines on the stick, I knew immediately what I wanted to do—I was 24, in a fast-paced, extremely challenging career, and the partner in question was my ex-boyfriend with whom I had enjoyed a brief regression earlier that summer. It was clear to me that I didn't want to have a child. However, when it came down to actually getting an abortion, I had no idea where to begin. Did I just google 'abortion NYC' and see what popped up? Did I call my elderly male ob-gyn and shamefully let him know that I had missed a couple of pills and regressed with my ex after a boozy lunch? Another wrinkle, I was 24 and still on my parents' insurance. After calling Planned Parenthood, my ob-gyn, and a few other Google search results for 'abortion NYC,' I realized both that available abortion appointments were challenging to find, and if I didn't want to put it through my health insurance, I was going to be out $500 minimum. This was the second time I cried. The first was from shock and disbelief, and the second was a lonely and frustrated cry. I lived in New York City. How could this still be so difficult in such a seemingly liberal city? I remember feeling utterly alone and still too ashamed and embarrassed to tell my friends, roommates, or ex-boyfriend.
"When I finally managed to secure an 'affordable' appointment without insurance ($575 in cash for a medical abortion because I was under the six-week mark), I had to travel to receive the pill. I had caved and finally told my ex-boyfriend two nights prior, and he dutifully accompanied me into the waiting room full of women who had looks of either desperation or relief. I got my ultrasound, received my first dosage, and was given instructions on what to do when I took the pills. The thing I remember most was how cold and harried everything was. The office was clearly understaffed, underfunded, and was trying vainly to see more patients than they had time for every single day. When I finally got onto the subway to go home, I cried for the third time. This time though, I was just relieved. I so badly wanted the whole experience to be over, and thank god it was about to be."
"I was in the bathroom, alone and unemployed—I thought, things are already so bad. How could it possibly get any worse? I checked the test, and it was positive. My body sank to the floor. I immediately called my gynecologist (before my mom) sitting against the cold bathroom tile in the middle of the day. I word-vomited I'm pregnant when the receptionist said hello. She responded 'Congratulations! When would you like to come in for your first check-up?' 'Oh, no', I said. 'I can't have it.' I've never felt so guilty in my life.
"My gynecologist wouldn't perform the procedure, and 'too politicized' for the office was the reason. So I went to the outpatient office at the hospital. It was all very procedural—no one really looked at me. But I was painfully self-conscious in the waiting room. I was out in about two hours. I went home, slept, and was back at work the next day. I called [the father] about a week later to tell him. He said, 'How can you even be sure it's mine?' I hung up the phone and cried. The next day, he asked me to dinner to discuss and we talked about how it wasn't the right time. Two weeks later, he broke up with me for the last time, for good, and we have not seen each other since that night four years ago.
"I've never felt closer to my mom than the day of my abortion. I came home from New York City to Long Island. My mom and I are close, but I would not say we're friends. I don't confide her—I love her—but I have aunts I go to for advice and grandmothers I look up to. We are very much the opposite, me and my mom, and growing up, I felt like she just never really 'got it.' We went to a diner on Northern Boulevard, to eat something and take the first set of pills that would force the abortion. It was at that diner over fried eggs on whole wheat toast where my mom told me about her abortion. She was going through radiation at the time for breast cancer, I must have been 12-years-old. She aborted the pregnancy because there were no conclusive tests at the time of the effects of radiation on a pregnant woman's baby. She didn't want to take the chance, and never told me or my sister. Here she was sitting across from me crying, not because she was disappointed in me, but because she was so happy she could share the wisdom only women who have gone through this situation can share. You feel relieved, but guilty. You feel pragmatic because you know you're not ready to have a child, but you feel reckless that you had let this happen. She knew it all. I've never felt luckier to have my mom that day."
Ed. note: Names have been changed.