According to the Guttmacher Institute, 30 percent of U.S. women will have had an abortion by age 45, a statistic backed up by the Advocate's for Youth's recent 1 in 3 Campaign. In fact, each year, 1.2 million American women have abortions — yet while we can easily access the statistics about these women, we rarely hear their stories. The 1.2 million women who have abortions each year are our friends, co-workers, parents, children, neighbors, partners, selves. But despite the fact that Roe v. Wade confirmed American women's legal right to abortion 43 years ago today — and despite the fact that, according to a 2015 study conducted by the University of California San Francisco, 95 percent of women who have had abortions don't regret them — discussing abortion, especially our own personal experiences with abortion, is still often considered culturally taboo, or even dangerous.
This taboo isolates women. It can keep us from telling each other what we're going through, or have been through. It can keep us from supporting each other or sharing important information. The taboo against discussing abortion allows abortion opponents who claim to speak on our behalf to grab more attention than they are entitled to, and for laws that don't reflect the realities of most abortion experiences to be passed. In order for women to be able to truly exercise our right to choose, we need access to abortion without undue financial or emotional burden, without fear of violence — and we also need the right to talk about our experiences openly.
In honor of the 43rd anniversary of Roe, the four women below have chosen to share their stories about their abortions — why they chose them, what they were like, and how they feel about their experiences now.
I found out I was pregnant when I was 23. I was unemployed and unhealthy; I had no business or interest in having a child, and the only sadness or anxiety I experienced in my decision-making stemmed from my fear that I wouldn’t be able to access the abortion I knew I wanted.
But I was fortunate to be living in Washington state at the time, where abortions are easy to get, and where the state covers the cost of the procedure for women without income. I went to take a pregnancy test, and the nurse there asked me how many times I had needed an abortion.
“Uh, this would be the first time,” I told her.
“And you’re 23? Oh, honey, you’re doing great!” she told me, instantly becoming my personal hero. She recommended I opt for the medical abortion option because I was only seven weeks pregnant; and she urged me to research getting an IUD, which I had installed immediately after my abortion and which I have relied on ever since.
The next step was a trip to Planned Parenthood, where a technician gave me an ultrasound and then a pill to take. “This stops development in the pregnancy sac,” she said; at no point did she use the term “baby” or even “fetus.” I was given another set of pills to take the next day to flush out my uterus, and told to come back in for a follow-up appointment, and was sent on my way.
The next day my friends came over and threw me an abortion party. They drank beer while I took my prescribed allotment of Percocet and changed my maximum-sized maxi pads every hour or so. We watched Independence Day. I was in pain but I was also in good company; even as I gritted my teeth against the worst cramps of my life, I felt grateful for how easy the process had been.
A few days later, I was back in Planned Parenthood. I got a clean bill of health and an IUD and was on my way; my body felt like my own body again a couple weeks later.
I love to talk about my abortion, because it was an important and empowering moment in my life, and because it normalizes a procedure that should already be considered normal. I had a medical problem, I received medical care, my friends helped me through it, I got better; there wasn’t much more to it. I’m tired of hearing watered-down pro-choice arguments that apologize for the necessity of abortions, even as they defend our right to have them. I’m not interested in apologizing for doing everything in my power to take care of myself.
The pill cost $39 a month, but pulling out was free. Or so I'd thought. I was 19 years old.
After a week of not feeling well, my roommate suggested I could be pregnant. I bought a test and watched in horror as the two pink lines spread across the testing wand. I cried for 24 hours straight. I knew I wanted to terminate, but I was disappointed in myself for not being smarter. And I was afraid of the experience. This was Texas — where pro-life groups plaster billboards with scare-tactic messages and gruesome images of late-term aborted fetuses. "Abortion is murder," the billboards shouted up and down the highway. "Life begins at conception!" In one spot on the freeway, there was an open space filled with crosses —it was supposed to symbolize a cemetery for all the slaughtered babies.
I am lucky to have the mother I have. She made the phone calls and arrangements for me. She knew of an OBGYN who performed abortions in his office. I didn’t have to endure the waiting periods or sonograms or picket lines with their grisly signage at the women’s clinics around town. As I lay on the table half-naked with my legs splayed open, the needle of sedative about to enter my veins, my mother whispered to me of the joy she felt when she'd learned she was pregnant with me. Hot tears pooled in my ears. If I didn’t feel that same joy, she'd said, then it wasn’t the right time. I have a brief memory of awakening to a stabbing sensation in my gut and the whir of the aspiration machine.
Two years later, I took a class led by Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued Roe v. Wade. It wasn’t lost on me that it was because of her tenacity 30 years earlier that I was even able to focus on school and sit in her class. Silently, I thanked her.
The second time I was pregnant, I was 29 years old. I'd had a blurry one-night-stand with a friend. I'd been on the pill at the time, but knew I'd missed a dose the week earlier. I decided to take Plan B after 48 hours, but it was too late — a couple weeks later, I watched those two lines spread again on the pregnancy test wand, and again as I took three more tests just to be sure. It was not a miracle, it was an aberration. I did not feel the joy.
That time, though, I wasn’t as scared. I handled everything myself. I had good insurance that allowed me to terminate in the safety of my gynecologist’s office, but this time without sedation. I was acutely aware of everything being done to me. It didn’t feel good, but it felt necessary. It certainly did not feel like murder.
When I chose abortion, I chose myself. I chose college and grad school. I chose moving to New York. I chose moving to California. I chose personal indulgences. I chose doing what I wanted whenever I wanted. I chose to be young and unattached.
Maybe one day, the joy my mother spoke of will come. Maybe not. Either way, because of legal abortion and the IUD currently nestled in my uterus, I am able to truly decide when and if that happens.
I remember walking to class, a junior in college, completely dumbfounded that such an extreme pro-life group would visit our campus. They were yelling in our otherwise peaceful square, carrying oversized pictures of bloody fetuses and claiming that was what abortion looked like.
I shook my head, continued walking and wondered how a group comprised primarily of individuals who (I can only assume) have never experienced an abortion could so callously and inappropriately rally against it.
That same question would revisit me, a little less than three years later, when I chose to have an abortion of my own.
My relationship was far from healthy — the majority of our nights in our shared condo were spent with him drinking until he was drunk and me complaining about our mundane and complacent life together. We argued frequently, we said horrible things to one another, and although we didn't want to say it out loud, we both knew our end had already begun.
I had graduated from a 4-year university and was enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teaching program, while working full time and fulfilling my practicum hours as an assistant teacher at a nearby middle school. In other words, I was exhausted. I had never been that busy, or stretched so thin, which was obvious thanks to the weight I was losing.
I also wasn’t great at taking my birth control consistently.
Going from school to work to school to teaching to work to home, I lost track and skipped days and, before I knew it, I was pregnant. Pregnant, terrified, and completely lost.
When I told my then-boyfriend that I peed on a stick and the stick told me something I didn’t like, I remember the look that devoured his face. He was petrified. It was very clear that he didn’t want a child — especially with me — and was the first to suggest that we get an abortion. At first, the very word made me feel ill, thanks to the stigma and shame society has attached to the procedure and the women who choose it. After a few arguments and nights apart and some relatively calm conversations, the decision was made. It wasn’t a decision I didn’t want to make and it wasn’t a decision he forced me to choose. It was the best choice for two people who didn’t have a future, who didn’t have the ability to be decent parents, and who didn’t want to bring a child into an unstable, unloving, and unforgiving environment.
As I walked through the Planned Parenthood doors, I felt a sense of calm wash over me, even though tears were crawling down my cheeks. The women were kind, thoughtful, and completely professional. I was asked questions with a gentle tone, every health care provider doing what it took to make me feel comfortable. I was separated from my boyfriend and asked if I was there on my own free will, making this decision for myself and not under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or fear.
I said I was there because I wanted to be, and we went into the room.
The nurse held my left hand while my boyfriend sat by my shoulders and held my right. I looked up at the ceiling, closing my eyes and breathing heavily as the procedure began. The pain was nothing more than an intense cramp, and it took just a few hand squeezes for me to make it through. The doctor was thorough and explained the stages of the procedure as they happened. I felt informed and, most importantly, I felt safe.
There were no dead baby parts flying around. There wasn’t a sense of insurmountable loss. I didn’t feel like I had committed a crime or was banished to hell or was in need of religious council.
I just felt exhausted and ready to go home.
My boyfriend and I shared a moment alone in the room before I dressed myself and left. We hugged one another, we both cried uncontrollably, and he kept saying he was sorry. In that moment, I realized that we weren’t crying because we had made a bad decision or felt guilt or regret. We were crying because we knew this was the end of our relationship. He wouldn’t be stuck with me and I wouldn’t be tied to him. We wouldn’t be struggling to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck or raising a child in an unhealthy environment. We wouldn’t be "we," at all.
And just two weeks later, he moved out. Now, he is happy and successful and living a carefree life, and I am happy and successful and have a 18-month-old son with a wonderful man.
I wish they could find a way to put a picture of that on an oversized sign, because that is what abortion really looks like: freedom. Freedom to decide for yourself. Freedom to make your own life choices. Freedom to be happy and healthy and one day, if you choose, to bring a child into an environment that is safe.
Connected to the World
In 2006, I opted to terminate my one and only pregnancy. I was a corporate office employee working for a life insurance firm in Portland, Oregon, at the time. I was also a woman without a safety net, without a biological or adoptive family connection to lean on, and I did not have a loving, respectful partner at the time.
When I became pregnant, I was a 30-year-old woman who did not even think that pregnancy could ever happen to me. Ridiculous, right?! I had never been pregnant before, never even had a scare, and for the most part, all of my partners used condoms. I thought I knew my body and cycles well enough to know that when I would be fertile. Well, despite all of my best efforts and intentions, I became pregnant.
For the first 2.8 months, I was in complete denial. My periods had occasionally been irregular, so I thought I was either ill, had some ovarian problems, or some other medical complications were going on with my body… then I realized, as a healthy adult female, I was probably pregnant.
The baby’s father was a disorganized, unreliable sort of fellow. The type of fellow that did not want a baby and would never be a fit parent. I later learned that he was a known domestic abuser with a pattern of violence.
I immediately made an appointment with my gynecologist’s nurse practitioner for blood tests to confirm and to discuss my options.
At the appointment, I asked for referrals to abortion service providers. That was Wednesday — and I made an appointment to terminate my pregnancy the Friday of that same week.
There are so many orphans on this planet. As an infant, I was one of those abandoned girls on the streets of Seoul in 1975. The only reason why I survived, after I was left on the street to be discovered, was probably because it was a beautiful warm, spring day. Had it been the middle of autumn or winter, my tiny infant body would have likely succumbed to the elements.
As a child, my hands bore the scars of frostbite and nerve damage from the orphanages I was shifted to in South Korea while I was awaiting adoption — in November and December of 1975, as a baby at the orphanage, the saliva on my wee hands froze. Those state-run institutions barely provided any heat/warmth during the colder months.
I was adopted in late 1975 by a North American U.S. Army family and taken to live with them toward the end of December. We moved around constantly. There was no one that I was connected to biologically, and my adoptive family and I became estranged.
It was a difficult decision. Having a child biologically would have been the only connection to making a family for myself. Having a child would have been my only way to what it is like to know someone that shares my DNA, a little human that looks like and shares my character and traits.
At the clinic in Portland, I went to the appointment between shifts at work. I went alone. I left alone… and I felt like I had to carry the weight, the grief, the burden, and the tears of the experience all alone.
There are so many orphans on this planet. Yes, adoption is a long and arduous process and yes, transnational adoption has become more complicated and always has serious socio-cultural impact on children so far from their birth countries — but adoption fills the needs of so many already orphaned and abandoned on this planet.
I always knew that I would never have my own biological children. I’m a 40-year-old motherless, childless, family-less woman now. Terminating my pregnancy was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made in my entire life. It was the best decision to make at that time and I don’t ever regret it.
Images: Courtesy of Julia Wentzel, Heather Mockeridge, Danielle Campoamor, Gabriel Song