Abortion Stories: 10 Women Share Their Experience
Written by Erin Feher & Katie Hintz-Zambrano
Photography by Photo: Victor Bordera
With the devastating news of the Supreme Court voting to overturn Roe v. Wade, the right to abortion in the U.S. has entered a terrifying new chapter. Many red states have been severely restricting and chipping away at access to abortion for years now, and if Roe v. Wade no longer stands, 22 states across the U.S. will strip women of their reproductive rights immediately—or as soon as they are able. Meanwhile, only 16 states and the District of Columbia have laws that protect the right to abortion; not surprisingly, these states that protect abortion access are widely governed by Democrats—making participation in this year’s mid-term elections especially crucial.
There is no doubt about it—women need access to abortion. 1 in 4 American women have had an abortion—for varied reasons that are no one’s business but their own. According to 2019 data, 6 in 10 women who have abortions are already mothers and half of them have two or more children. (Read more info on “who gets abortions”).
Women, non-binary folks, and transgender people who have had abortions are now generously and often bravely sharing their stories via social media and elsewhere—and we’re honored to add ten abortion stories from our MOTHER community, below. They are horrifying, they are mundane, and they are everything in between. Because they are experienced by all types of women, for all types of reasons—not a single one more valid than another. (For another story: read this Mom Talk essay on one mother’s heartbreaking, late-term abortion).
Wondering what you can do to help? Here is an extensive list of state-based organizations serving the most vulnerable women who are dealing with—or will soon be facing—the most restrictive anti-abortion laws. You can also consider a monthly standing donation to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. Meanwhile, organizations like Sister Song, Access Reproductive Care-Southeast, National AsianPacific American Women’s Forum, and Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity (URGE) are doing the vital work of focusing on women of color, who are often the most endangered by abortion bans and restrictions to reproductive rights.
“I shouldn’t have been one of those teens who ended up pregnant. I was a star athlete. I came from a supportive and loving family, who never left me wanting for anything. I was educated in a school system that taught sex ed. I’d always felt comfortable talking to my mother about anything. And I’d only ever had two partners. I found out I was pregnant while I was home from West Virginia University for the summer. I knew I wanted to have an abortion. There was no doubt about what I was going to do. I was in no way prepared to have a child. I had too much life ahead of me. I also knew my boyfriend was not going to be my life partner. When I turned to my mother for support, she shared with me her own abortion story. I was astonished but also relieved that I was not alone. It was the first moment I saw my mother as her own person in her own life journey, instead of just the mother I knew. It was a pivotal moment in our relationship. She walked me through treatment expectations. My family had moved to the South a few years prior and was still trying to traverse the new terrain. There was only one clinic in the state of South Carolina, and let’s just say the state is one big small town—everyone pokes around in each other’s business. I didn’t want my father to know I was pregnant. I was incredibly scared of letting him down and that his opinion of me would be forever changed. Another concern was if someone saw me coming in and out of the clinic that could bring shame on my family. I had younger brothers. The fear was that other families might disown my family for my ‘mistakes.’ Teen pregnancy wasn’t a phrase you wanted associated with your family name. We found a clinic in Charlotte that we thought would be a safe place where no one would recognize me. We set the date, and a few weeks later I found myself walking into a clinic that would haunt me for years. There are still days when I wonder if this horror story really happened, or did I actually dream it? I checked in. I was sent to a back room where they were to examine me and prepare my cervix for the procedure. That’s when an older male doctor walked in and slut shamed me. ‘How could I let this happen?’ he wanted to know. I ‘was just like all the other sluts,’ he wanted me to know. ‘Was I really, really sure I wanted this? Was I not going to let this happen again?’ He assertively put gel on my cervix so it could begin to thin. He instructed me to put on a surgical gown and put my clothes out in a locker in the hall. As I made my way back from the lockers I saw to my left that a door was wide open. As I looked in I saw that same doctor finishing up an abortion. A naked woman, slumped over due to anesthesia, was being placed into a wheelchair. Completely naked, dead-like, and bleeding. Exposed and cold with the door open for a complete stranger to see. I was filled with panic. How could this be happening? How is this legal to treat a patient this way? How could this man be a doctor and have total disregard for women? I knew this was an unsafe environment. I decided to follow my intuition and grab my clothes from the locker and get dressed. I was leaving. The nurse and the doctor got word of that and came back into the examination room. ‘I knew you weren’t strong enough to go through with this. All you women are the same.’ ‘You don’t know shit about me,’ I replied, shaking. I was urged not to leave as my cervix was already thinning from the gel and I could risk a miscarriage. I felt more comfortable taking my chances. When I walked outside I was shaking and crying uncontrollably. My boyfriend grabbed me and said, ‘It’s ok. It’s over now.’ ‘No, it’s not,’ I said. ‘I’m still pregnant.’ I was running out of options and time. Within a few weeks I would be heading back to West Virginia University to start the fall semester. My mother suggested I go to the same clinic she went to herself exactly 20 year ago in Pittsburgh, Planned Parenthood. She had a positive experience there and knew it was a trusted place. Even though I had to fight my way past protestors at the doors, what I found inside was a vastly different atmosphere. Women helping women. A community helping to keep women safe and respectfully end pregnancies. It was pain free and the staff was emotionally supportive. It is how every woman deserves to be treated. A few years later, my mother would send me an article from her local paper. The clinic I fled from in Charlotte had been shut down by Health Services due to dangerous unethical practices, including multiple botched abortions, dispensing injectable drugs orally, and numerous allegations of racism against one doctor. Some women who had gone there for abortions were now infertile. I’m thankful I went to Planned Parenthood. I’m thankful my mother felt strong enough to share her own story with me. It gave me the strength I needed to trust my intuition and demand fair treatment of myself and my body. More than anything I’m thankful there was a safe place to end my pregnancy, and my hope is all people will always have a safe place and access to choose what’s right for them. The good news is if you don’t agree with abortion you should absolutely not have one. The important aspect of this is choice. Everyone deserves a right to choose. I will continue to fight for that. For my daughters and for you.”
Anna Margaret’s Story:
“On February 8, 2006, I took the subway up to midtown, walked past a long line of shouting protestors into a clinic full of women of all ages, and had an abortion. I was a 22-year-old single mom living with my 2-year-old in New York City. I couldn’t afford to financially or logistically have another child. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was a logical and important choice. A choice that caused me a fair amount of guilt and resentment for several years, mostly due to the religious way I was raised. I’m not sharing my story because I am proud of it, or because I am ‘pro abortion,’ I’m sharing it because 1 in 4 women have had an abortion and not a single one of us can judge those choices. I adore my three (soon four) children, children that were born out of love, appreciation, and choice. If you find yourself judging a women’s choice or believing that she shouldn’t have a voice at all, you need to take a long, hard, logical look at what it is your saying; are you really ‘Pro Life,’ any life? What’s happening in our country is mortifying—immigrant children sleeping in cages, women and doctors and rape victims being faced with potential felonies. As women, it is not our duty to produce children, we are not merely vessels for new life, our lives are valuable and our daughters’ lives should be full of choices and support, access to health care, and most importantly, bodily autonomy. The truth is, they can’t ever ban abortion but they can ban SAFE abortion—we need to stand up and vote in 2020 so this doesn’t continue to happen. And to all those right wing ‘pro life’ men out there, don’t you forget that a vasectomy will quickly stop abortion!”
“When I was 25, I had two abortions in the span of a year with my then boyfriend—now husband—after the birth control I took regularly at the same time each day failed, twice. Having two abortions in a short time was difficult in a way that having any unplanned medical procedure twice in a year would be difficult. Not once did I ever question or feel badly about my decision, and I have never regretted my choice. Women should not have to defend or explain their reason for having an abortion. It’s our choice and right and no one needs to know the reasons behind a personal medical decision. I was by no means ready to become a parent at 25, something I know even more now as I near 40 with two young children. It was surely a difficult moment in my life, but for reasons beyond the abortions. Before I got pregnant, I had just finished a demanding two years of graduate school, was deeply unhappy in my job, and depressed. The abortions exacerbated what was already a difficult time, but in no way caused it on its own. When I became pregnant the first time, I acted quickly to make plans to terminate the pregnancy and moved on. I can’t remember the shock of becoming pregnant a second time but know that it shook me. I had the second D&C at a hospital, instead of the clinic I had visited earlier that year where protesters stood outside. The hospital had a discrete parking lot where no one was present save a guard at the door, and was a completely different experience with the exception of the same bullet proof glass standing between me and the check-in desk and a group recovery room. I felt respected and treated as a patient with (nearly) all the privacy that’s afforded by other standard medical procedures. I don’t know of any other instance where patients are expected to recover from a medical procedure in a group setting. The fact that so few hospitals in the United States provide abortions—reportedly only 5% or less—has only increased anti-choice attacks by isolating abortion from other routine medical services and deserves our attention. The recent abortion restrictions and bans in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Arkansas, and Utah are frightening and a direct challenge to Roe. There are similar bills pending in Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and bills that have been presented but not yet voted on in Maryland, Texas, West Virginia, and New York. Women in all 50 states are affected by these measures. It is imperative that women AND MEN take action against bills attacking women’s reproduction rights and defend a woman’s right to choose and have full autonomy over her body. White male legislators governing women’s bodies—particularly women of color in southern states—is beyond terrifying and unconstitutional. I’ll work tirelessly to defend abortion rights for all women—including my own daughter—and urge you to do the same. Use your voice, wallet, and most importantly, your vote.”
“I had an abortion when my twins were 7 months old. Finding out I was pregnant so recently after giving birth was a total shock. I was breastfeeding nonstop, hadn’t had a period since becoming pregnant, and was still recovering from a vaginal delivery and a C-section. Everyday, I thought ‘I can NOT do this.’ I was pretty sure we would make it through twin life eventually, but every day was a struggle—physically, emotionally, financially. When I found out I was pregnant, I knew immediately that I was not capable of having another baby. That I wasn’t ready physically to bear another child. That we couldn’t afford it. That our marriage would strain (more) under the weight of having three kids under two. It is incredibly hard to give two infants what they need. Hard to comfort them, hold them, feed them, bathe them. Even now, it’s hard to listen when they’re both talking at the same time, both want to play with me. My attention and energy and body was constantly divided in two. How could I divide it in three? I could not be a good mother to three infants. I had an abortion because I was barely hanging on. You don’t have to agree that I made the right decision. Lord knows I hide my pregnancy and abortion from everyone, especially my Christian in-laws. I wasn’t ashamed. But I was exhausted and deeply sad and confused and wasn’t up for hearing other people’s judgement. As I read my friends’ online discussions about the new abortion laws, I keep coming back to this: How was I supposed to do it? Because I could not figure out how I could physically go to my neonatal visits with two infants in tow. I couldn’t figure out how I would manage bedrest or another NICU stay with three infants. How would I ask for another maternity leave? What would I do if we had another set of twins? Do you know how I could have done all that? Would you have been willing to go to those appointments with me? Hold my babies 24:7 with me? Hire me to work from home? Pay my medical bills? Come over every night at bedtime while I figured out how to nurse three babies to sleep? If not, then please reflect on the fact that I had to make this choice for myself and my family because I ALONE had to manage the consequences. Not my governor. Not my anti-choice OB-GYN. Me. Having an abortion was deeply sad, but it was the best of two bad options. And until someone can provide me and other women with a better one, I deserve to make my own choice.”
Anna Qu’s Story
“I’ve had two abortions a decade apart from one another. The pregnancies, even in their very early state, affected my body differently; the first time, it was weightless with fear, and the second, I was too exhausted to move, out of fear or any other emotion. Both times, I was in school, for my undergrad degree and then for my masters. I had no support, no family, but both times, I had a boyfriend who was willing to drop his life to help support my decision. I wasn’t in a place where I was ready for motherhood: I knew I couldn’t give up the kind of independence I needed to ensure my child would have a better childhood than I did. It wasn’t to say I never wanted kids–just that I didn’t want kids then. I have never regretted my abortions, not never looked back, but never regretted them. There’s a difference. With what is happening with our country and in particular, Alabama and Missouri, it hurts me to think of what my 22-year-old self would have done if she didn’t have the choices she did in New York at the time. My father died when I was a toddler and my mother left me with my grandparents until I was 7 years old. When she finally came back for me, she had another family and two kids. I lived with her until I was 17 and have been on my own since. Who would have helped me? How would I finish college? Everything is frightening at that age. If I could give my younger self advice, I’d say, ‘Don’t be frightened. You are not alone, there is an army of women going through what you’re going through. Do not hate yourself, do not hate what is happening, it’s going to be okay. It is okay.'”
“I. Had. An. Abortion. I do not need to rationalize why by telling the story of why I did it. The reasoning is nobody’s business. It’s my body, not theirs. Should laws dictate what women (and men) do with their bodies? No. I will never regret my decision.”
“I was in my sophomore year of university in Florida. He was my boyfriend. The condom broke. I took the morning after pill. It didn’t work. My body rejected the pregnancy. I spent the time leading up to my abortion sleeping on the floor of my dorm bathroom—vomiting and crying. I had to check myself into the ER for dehydration. When the intake nurse found out why I was so sick—’I’m pregnant. I’m not keeping it’—she refused to help me, so her colleague set me up on an IV drip. My roommate drove me to Planned Parenthood. I don’t remember much, except for apple juice and having to leave through the back door because of the protestors outside. I went home to my parents afterwards. They knew. My mom was the first person I told. I had lost over 20 pounds in the course of a few weeks. I remember standing naked in front of a mirror in the bathroom and crying. I didn’t recognize myself. I didn’t know how to feel about myself. I knew I had done the right thing, but there were still feelings of shame and confusion. I returned to university a few days later. My boyfriend did not. He had told his parents what had happened and they pulled him out of school. They were deeply religious people. This was relayed to me by friends of his—I never heard from him again.”
“The past few days have felt like years, and those years have set us back a lifetime. I don’t know where I would be—or who I would be—if I hadn’t had safe access to abortion. I do not regret my choice. Reproductive care is health care. The right to choose is a human right. Challenge heteronomy. Champion autonomy. Check in on your female friends. Listen to their stories. Support their breath. Take the time to educate yourself on the risks associated with these bans. Chances are you know someone who has had an abortion. Or who has miscarried. Or who has a uterus. Be compassionate. Be understanding. Be aware that these laws will serve as a tipping point for further systematic inequality, affecting those in marginalized communities the most. I am sharing my story because I can. And because there are many who can’t.”
“I had an abortion two years ago. While I don’t regret my decision, it was a devastating loss and the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make and I’m still struggling with the grief. Every time I see a baby, hear someone talking about babies, hear joking conversations about pregnancy scares and making light of not using protection, it’s triggering for me. I’ve been wanting to share my story for a long time, but have been so scared to, partly because I think it’s hard for me to accept this as part of my story, and sharing it makes it more real. And then the obvious fear of rejection and judgement. I want to share my story because when I don’t, it feels like I’m hiding this huge secret and a huge part of who I am, and that feels icky and unauthentic. I also think we need to be talking openly about this more, and it would be hypocritical of me to try to educate people on abortions without admitting that I had one myself.”
“I had an abortion when I was 23 and I had the advantage of access to a clinic that was affordable and a safe procedure that I recovered from quickly and without complication. At the time I had my abortion, I was jobless and in grad school. Having a child would have been devastating to me if I had been forced to carry to term. Instead, I had autonomy over my own body and my life, I was able to finish graduate school, get my masters degree, and start a practice helping others to have autonomy over their bodies and their reproductive health. Even with these advantages, it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I can’t imagine the pain and trauma of not having these advantages—of not having access to a safe, legal, or affordable procedure, of being forced to carry a child as the result of rape or incest, of being even younger than I was and being forced to stay pregnant. And whenever we talk about these issues, we have to address the fact that black mothers are 3-to-4 times as likely to die from complications related to pregnancy, so banning abortion disproportionately affects them. Abortion IS healthcare, it’s as simple as that.”
“I’m proud of a difficult decision I had to make when I was 15. I’m incredibly grateful for those who stood by me when I did and for those that choice to slander me and talk behind my back—thank you for the life lesson and teaching me who my real family and friends are. I’ve shared why I made that choice before—today’s not the day to share it—today’s the day to stand and protect our rights to make our own medical decisions. Women have abortions for many reasons. Some can’t provide, some aren’t ready, some are sick, some had a stillbirth or their pregnancy is killing them… But guess what? The reason doesn’t fucking matter. And it’s none of your business. A woman is the ONLY one who owns their body and deserves the right to make any and all choices that affect their body and wellbeing.”
Want to share your own story? We welcome you to do so in the comment section below!
(This article was originally published on May 23, 2019, and updated on May 5, 2022).
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While I appreciate and support every woman’s story in this article, I feel like there are WAY more kinds of stories that need to be told to further educate people on why this is so important. Like when having an abortion is your absolute worst nightmare but you’ve discovered the life inside of you has no chance. My story is in the link above, though I’d be happy to go into more detail about the actual abortion itself which I think many people would find eye opening and not ‘easy’ in any shape or form no matter why you’re choosing to do it.
Hi Alisa, Thanks for your comment and sharing your own heartbreaking story—I am so very sorry you had to go through that. We published this woman‘s story a few weeks back—she also found out her baby had a fatal genetic condition and had an abortion. We hope to continue to share the innumerable experiences of all types of women, especially in regards to this issue. Thank you for sharing yours!
I couldn’t agree more. While all these stories are meaningful and valid they all are similar in that they were unwanted pregnancies. What about women who have to terminate a wanted pregnancy? I was faced with this horrible decision this year when I found out my baby would not survive after birth because of abnormal development. Ending my pregnancy was the hardest thing I have gone through. But, I’m so thankful to live in a liberal state and was able to get an abortion at 23 weeks and not have to go through the agony of delivering a baby full term that would not live more than a few minutes. Where is the humanity in that? I wonder if these policy makers who are putting bans on abortions, would be okay with their daughters suffering through my situation without the option to terminate? Abortion carries so many different stories and no women should have someone making a decision about her body or life for her. Period.
This topic has always felt so much bigger and complicated to me than just pro-life and pro-choice and I think it’s amazing that the women above are willing to share their stories. Also think it would be interesting to hear stories about women who kept an unplanned pregnancy even though it was scary and felt overwhelming, along with women who were forces to make the decision based on the health of the babe (like the other comments mentioned).