Welcome to Bustle's Abortion AMA column, where reproductive rights advocate and Romper editor Danielle Campoamor will speak to experts and medical professionals to answer people's questions about abortion in a way that is educational, unvarnished, and judgement free. Ask us anything.
I’ve shared my abortion story countless times, in whispers among friends and into a mic in front of 800 people. And after each story, days, weeks, or months later, a woman will contact me privately and ask, “Should I get an abortion?” Whatever has brought her to this very specific moment in her life — a missed birth control pill, a broken condom, a sexual assault — she has found herself weighing her options. She is trying to make the best decision for herself, her body, and the future that feels suddenly, even terrifyingly, uncertain.
The truth is that the only person who can answer this question for you is you — not me, not your partner or parents, not your friends, not anyone who is not living in your body and circumstances. And however stigmatized and politicized the situation you're in has become, it is a common one. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 45 percent of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. And while the rate of abortions performed in the United States is at its lowest since Roe v. Wade, according to The New York Times, a Guttmacher Institute report published in March found that 652,639 abortions were performed in 2014, the most recent year for which there is data. In other words, if you’re pregnant and weighing your options, you’re not alone.
But while no one can or should make this decision for you, there are a few things women I spoke to considered — and experts advise you to think about — that might help in choosing the course of action best for you.
When deciding whether or not to have an abortion, women weigh many different factors, all of which are valid. "It's a question of, how is this pregnancy going to affect you? — whether it's a health standpoint, from a social standpoint, a financial standpoint, or a safety standpoint," Dr. Meg Lawley, an OB-GYN specializing in family planning at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, tells Bustle.
"I was really thinking about my future," Veronika Granado, 19, a Youth Testify storyteller from San Antonio, Texas, who had an abortion when she was 17, tells Bustle. "Like, the fact that I had just graduated and that I was already gonna go to a new city, new school, with my boyfriend, and I was about to attend university." No one in Granado's family had attended college — outside of a few online courses — so her continued education was extremely important to her.
Finances loomed large for Granado when she was making her decision, too. "I was just thinking, like, if I did this, I would be really struggling in the future," she says. "I mean, I didn't have a job at the time, my boyfriend didn't have a job at the time. I also thought about the fact that my mom had actually had a kid when she was 17, and growing up it was kind of hard because my mom had, like, three jobs. I really reflected on the way that she had to live her life, after having a kid at 17, and I was just really looking at how much I would have to struggle."
Devon Summers-Collins, 32, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, found out she was four months pregnant when she was 17. "I made the decision to keep my son even though I had no job and was still a junior in high school." Summers-Collins tells Bustle. "My mom tried to explain how hard emotionally and financially it would be," she recalls, but she felt very strongly that she wanted to keep the pregnancy. "I now see that one of the reasons I kept my son was the fact I had constantly moved when I was growing up and my family is very distant with each other. Having my son would be my family," Summers-Collins recalls.
She eventually moved back in with her mom, who provided for her, her son, and her son's father financially. "I was very fortunate and grateful I had a mom who was able to support us. She never pushed me to get a job, only pushed me to go to college so I could obtain a good career and support my son without her help," Summers-Collins says. "By 19 I had graduated with a medical assistant degree and landed a dream job at Planned Parenthood. I was finally making my own money and got an apartment of my own! I was able to tell my teen mom story so far to other girls my age." Now, as a married mom to three children, ages 14, 9, and 8, she says she loves her kids, but financially it's still not easy. She works long, late hours as a restaurant manager, continues to depend on contributions from her mom, and still struggles to make ends meet.
Money aside, other women I talked to say their career aspirations played a role in their decision to end or keep a pregnancy. "I had just been hired on as an assistant director with one of my favorite theatre professors from Western Washington University," Danielle P., 30, from Portland, Oregon tells Bustle. "That’s kind of when I made the decision to terminate my pregnancy, because I wasn’t in a place where I could be a mom yet." Any pregnancy, planned or not, can affect how much time you are able to devote to your job, so it's good to figure out how much help you would have with work and childcare and whether having a child right now would sideline your aspirations to an extent you're not willing to tolerate.
Of course, choosing to go ahead with a pregnancy doesn't automatically mean your career will fall to pieces. Dorota Umeno, a 48-year-old business owner, found out she was unexpectedly pregnant with her fourth child when she was 45. "I cried for a couple of weeks as I was weighing this decision," Umeno tells Bustle. "I worried because I knew having a child would mean sleep deprivation and a lower salary because I would need to reduce my weekly hours. So it was something I had to think deeply about." But after weighing her options, Umeno decided that she could continue with the pregnancy and maintain her work position as a business owner and management and marketing consultant.
"I am so lucky," she says, "because if I did not have the spouse I have and the business partner I have, I would have likely decided the other way or would have a really hard time."
In special health circumstances, safety can be the primary concern. Women who have heart conditions and poorly-controlled diabetes, for example, are individuals who should consider their risks in deciding whether to continue a pregnancy, Lawley, the OB-GYN, counsels. "They're a lot of health problems out there where an unplanned pregnancy can substantially affect their life. They can also impact the pregnancy itself," Lawley says. Of course, most women can and do carry pregnancies to term and birth healthy babies without complications, but whether your pregnancy is planned or not, it's a good idea to talk to your health care provider about any known risk factors you may have.
Lynne*, from Chicago, was aiming for the best health outcome overall when she decided to terminate one of the triplets she was carrying. The agonizing decision came on the heels of a two-year-long struggle to get pregnant. "My husband and I ... had been told by multiple doctors multiple times that we wouldn’t have kids," she tells Bustle. "I would wake up every morning and my first thought was: I’m infertile."
But after her first round of intrauterine insemination (IUI), Lynne found out she was pregnant with three fetuses. "We knew there was a pretty strong chance for multiples, and multiples also really run into our family," she says. "We were really excited about the prospect of twins because we thought this was our one shot." But triplets increased the risk of numerous complications, including preterm labor, and after consulting with her physician, Lynne ultimately decided to have a multifetal pregnancy reduction, a first- or second-trimester procedure that reduces the number of fetuses in the pregnancy.
"My biggest thought was the health of [the] babies," Lynne says. "And I would read these statistics, and the percentages of having live births go down significantly when you have multiple pregnancies. It's already risky to have twins because of all the health factors involved, and I have severe asthma."
Complications associated with a multiples pregnancy include preterm labor, anemia, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, hyperemesis gravidarum, miscarriage, or stillbirth. Lynne wasn't willing to risk her own health and the health of her unborn babies. "If this was my only chance, I was just really, really going to do whatever it took to try and make sure that I could become a mom," she says.
Finally, relationship quality was a big consideration for many women I spoke to when deciding whether to proceed with an unplanned pregnancy. According to Parents, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that "the quality of a child's parents' marriage had as much influence on his or her future mental and physical health and wellbeing as his or her own relationship with either parent.” How the relationship would impact a potential child, how a future child would impact the relationship, and whether or not the woman feels willing and able to parent if that relationship ends are all factors.
Mallory McMaster, 32, from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, was married to her first husband when she found out she was unexpectedly pregnant. "I had been with this guy for three years before we decided to get married, and he was already abusive," McMaster tells Bustle. "But like a lot of people who are in abusive relationships, I was empathetic, and he had mental and emotional health problems that he was trying to work through, and I didn’t want to blame that on him — I know that you can still be a really good person and struggle with mental and emotional health."
Two weeks after McMaster was married, she started Googling her physical symptoms, thinking she had food poisoning or maybe pulled her back. "I thought something was wrong with my internet because it kept taking me to pregnancy blogs," she says. "I was in total denial because I was on birth control." McMaster found an old pregnancy test and, minutes later, her pregnancy was confirmed.
"Like a lot of people who have abortions, the minute I saw that pregnancy test I knew without a doubt that I needed to have an abortion," McMaster tells Bustle. "And the reason for the decision was because I couldn't bring a child into that relationship. And my husband at the time — even though he was abusive and even though he was a terrible person and a terrible partner — also recognized that, and recognized that our relationship was not healthy and we both came to the conclusion that, 'Oh hell no, we’re not doing this.'"
Years later, when McMaster had a child with her second husband, the gravity of her decision really hit her. "After having a baby and becoming a parent several years later, and going through that unbelievably hard and jarring first year with a newborn, I recognize how grateful I am for making that decision," she says. "You have to be able to trust a partner, because it’s hard to do it alone, and it pushes even the most patient, calm, empathetic people to their limits on a daily basis. And if you don’t feel like you’re safe around your partner, you won’t have that support, and you won’t feel safe leaving your baby with your partner."
Phoebe* only knew her partner for a few months when she faced an unplanned pregnancy, but she knew she was going to carry her pregnancy to term regardless of what her partner said. "I was definitely madly in love," she says, "but I didn't know what would happen. If he had not wanted to keep the baby and stay together, I would've gone back to my home state and had it by myself."
Phoebe's partner didn't think she should carry the pregnancy to term but knew where she stood. "The option of breaking up and me raising the baby without him was totally impossible for him," she says. Phoebe and her partner now have a 15-year-old daughter and just celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary. "I cannot imagine not having had [the choice to abort] available to me," Phoebe says.
I weighed all of these factors myself when I realized I was pregnant, but I only ran them by two people: my present self and my future self. I wanted to know what both "now me" and the me I wanted to become thought about motherhood and how it would change my life. That's it. I didn't ask my mother what I should do, or my friends or my partner or my coworkers. I didn't call my legislators or the president and ask them to weigh in on a personal, medical decision. And while 62 percent of women who choose abortion identify as religious, I personally didn't ask a higher power what to do. In the end, the only one who could answer any of my questions with total accuracy was me. I was the only person who could decide what my future would be.
If you are stuck, though, there are resources available to you that can help you talk through your options. All-options.org, a free, national talk line for individuals thinking about having an abortion or needing after-abortion support, is staffed by trained counselors who provide judgement-free information, resources, and emotional support, and can be reached at 1-888-493-0092.
While my abortion was the single best decision of my life — without it, I wouldn’t have my career, my healthy relationship, my son, nor would I be 33 weeks pregnant with my soon-to-be second child and in a financial position to expand my family safely — I know that terminating a pregnancy is not the best decision for every individual who faces an unwanted pregnancy. In the end, listen to your own voice over others', and remember that whatever you decide to do is the right choice for you.
*names have been changed.
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Correction: A previous version of this story referenced a national talk line that is no longer active. It has been corrected.