Half of all pregnancies among American women are unintended, and about 4 in 10 of those end in abortion. The numbers speak for themselves: Chances are good that we all know someone who has had, or will have, an abortion in her lifetime.
Yet as widespread as abortion is, we don't hear a proportionate number of women's stories. Or if we do, they are likely shared privately and in hushed tones. For those willing to share their stories publicly, like Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, their abortions are often framed in the problematic "good" versus "bad" abortion narrative.
In this context, "good" abortions are reserved for those women who have been raped, whose lives are endangered by the pregnancy or whose fetus suffers from fatal abnormalities. These abortion stories are more digestible and acceptable, more easily forgiven. Conversely, "bad" abortions include any that fall outside those parameters and are shrouded in stigma.
Regardless of the narrative, women are expected to feel remorse, regret and shame about terminating their pregnancies. But that is not always the case. Women are increasingly coming forward to share their abortion experiences — one woman, Emily Letts, even filmed her abortion for public consumption — without the prescribed emotional baggage.
Here, seven women share their abortion stories. While the details vary, one thing is constant: Their abortions did not ruin their lives, but instead provided them with relief, opportunities and gratitude.
Alexia Carter, Los Gatos, California
My story is unremarkable. I chose to have an abortion because I was young and didn't want to have a baby. It's one experience I had, in a whole lifetime of experiences, and the only damaging effect on me has been hiding it all these years.
I told myself I was just keeping a personal matter private because it's nobody else's business. I know I don't owe anybody an explanation, and mine won't satisfy everyone, but here it is: I was 15 years old. For me, abortion was the obvious choice and I'm grateful I had the option. I'm grateful I had a mother I could talk to, who was supportive of whatever I decided. I'm grateful that when I needed it, abortion was legal in the state where I resided, and I was able to receive care from competent, compassionate health care professionals. It's been nearly 40 years and I've never regretted my choice.
Having a safe, legal abortion meant I was able to continue my life, finish high school, go to college, start a career, get married and become a mother when the time was right for me.
Rachel Elizabeth, Clarksburg, West Virginia
I have had two abortions in my life. I am not ashamed of that, though many want me to be. I refuse. I have schizoaffective disorder and live a tumultuous life and rely on my medications to get me through each and every day. Pregnancy is not an option for me, ever. That is my choice.
My first abortion was in a hospital in Maryland when my husband and I lived near D.C. It was covered by insurance. Being on the anti-psychotics merry-go-round with my disorder, birth control often fails against newer drugs. That happened to me in 2007 when I got pregnant again. This time, the political sphere had changed, and we felt it. We no longer lived in Maryland. This was land of restriction and regulation for the "good" of women of West Virginia.
We had to leave the state and go back to Maryland to get the second abortion. No one wanted to help us, except for the National Abortion Federation's hotline. We got a referral and had to drive three hours to get to the closest provider without "bogus counseling" as my husband called it, and I agreed. The staff was wonderful. When I think back on my experiences, I have a love for the nurses who helped me at the clinic, and the for doctor who gave me the relief to continue treating my mental illness.
Ellie Rossi, New York City
The first time I decided to terminate a pregnancy, I was a 19-year-old college sophomore and there was no question — and no regrets — about what I had to do. As a scholarship student at an Ivy League university, I felt I had an academic responsibility that I absolutely would not be able to fulfill if I became a parent. And as the daughter of a woman who sacrificed her own college education due to an unplanned pregnancy (me), I had specific insight into the the long reaching consequences, many of them negative for both mom and child, of choosing parenthood over education. Of course, my mother didn't have much of a choice at the time she was making her decision in the early '60s, and two decades later, I was grateful to have options.
A later decision to terminate an unexpected pregnancy proved much more difficult, not because I doubted my decision, but because my choice was not as readily acceptable to others as the first had been. I was 32 years old at the time and four years into a happy marriage. We both wanted children, but not at that exact moment, as we had just embarked on new careers and had plans to travel the world prior to settling down with babies. My husband and I felt strongly that our first child should be cause for celebration, and the disappointment provoked by the unplanned pregnancy told us both we were not ready. Others saw it differently, however.
While no one questioned my husband's reticence, I was pilloried by a fair number of women in my social circle for choosing to have children on my terms and timeline, rather than according to a miscalculation in my birth control pill-popping schedule. I was both shocked and saddened that many women questioned my choice (calling it selfish for a married woman to choose travel and career over a pregnancy that may or may not have resulted in an eventual birth), but I stuck with my decision and relied on the wonderful people of San Francisco Planned Parenthood and my husband for support. Eight years later, after having traveled extensively and established ourselves in careers, we deliberately, consciously and joyously embraced parenthood and now are the happy parents of two lovely girls who get the benefit of the full devotion and commitment that can result from a planned parenthood.
Tara Rose, Chattanooga, Tennessee
I was 22 years old and struggling to finish college while being perennially broke. For me, aborting was the only logical choice. I had neither the desire nor means to raise a child. And given my frequent drinking, I had to believe the fetus was unhealthy. My boyfriend said he'd support any choice I made, and though we were not ultimately "meant to be" as a couple, he did everything just right (including raising cash for the procedure).
The worst part of the experience was dealing with the clinic staff. They offered the sort of typically unpleasant health care I'd always received as a poor person. For instance, after I asked to not view the ultrasound, a nurse said, "Whoa!" when she looked at the screen. I have no idea why she said that, but it made me feel awful. Then again, I was extra-sensitive because I felt so dumb for getting pregnant in the first place. While I never regretted aborting, I gave myself a hard time about "being dumb" for years.
But I don't anymore.
That shame kept me silent. I'd rather be fired up and outspoken about reproductive rights. That's why I share my story now.
Harper, New York City
I had my first abortion after a rekindling of a former relationship where, in the heat of the moment, we didn't use any protection. I completely (and naïvely ... and stupidly) thought I had timed my cycle accurately, so when we found out I was pregnant we were both very freaked out. There was never any discussion about keeping it; we were both 24 years old and in no way ready to raise a child, especially when we were no longer together. I paid for the procedure by myself out of pocket, because I didn't want my parents to find out from insurance records, and my ex couldn't afford to help.
The worst part was feeling like I had this huge secret that I was afraid to share because I was so afraid of judgment. The experience was sobering but I don't regret it. If anything, it made me more determined to achieve my goals now before I do decide to have kids.
I had my second abortion when I got pregnant with an intrauterine device. I was upset that I had gotten pregnant again with such an effective method of birth control, but there was some relief in knowing that it was completely out of my control. I didn't feel any need to defend or emotionally grapple with the choice to end a pregnancy that I had taken every measure to prevent. I was in a relationship, and I was briefly sad thinking about how much I cared for the man I was with and would like to see what our child could have been like. The relationship didn't last, which made me even more certain that we had made the right call.
Cat Cooper, London
Soon after turning 30, I fell pregnant and ultimately had an abortion. The father and I weren't in a relationship and he explained in no uncertain terms that our baby would ruin his life. Any thoughts I had were invariably drowned out by how things would affect him. There were many traits I failed to recognize that marked him as an abuser.
I don't think I was fully prepared for the procedure, and I certainly hadn't anticipated the complexity that followed.
I would learn that he had shopped for new jeans whilst I was in surgery. And when I was admitted into A&E [the U.K.'s emergency room] with complications, he stayed at home to order takeout. Three days later, he left the country to travel for a month, to become "a better person." That did not happen. Instead, when he returned, the violence started.
A year later, and having pressed charges, I cannot say that I wouldn't have made the same decision. And I will remain forever indebted to the care given to me by our national health care system and its staff. I know how fortunate I was compared to so many women who have no options or support at all. My only wish then, as it is now, was that the decision had been mine alone to make. As it should be for us all.
Anonymous, New York City
It was the summer before my senior year of college, and I had just turned 21. Instead of spending the summer celebrating the fact that I could finally legally drink (Hooray!), I spent it peeing on pregnancy-test sticks and setting up doctors appointments. Yes — I got pregnant. And I didn't mean to. I knew right away that I didn't want a child, so it was more a question of "How?" than "If?" The problem for me was that I was an idiot ... seriously, I knew nothing about my body, how it worked, and what to do about my reproductive health. Getting pregnant at 21 was a crash course in human sexuality, just a few months too late.
Thankfully, Planned Parenthood had a hotline (1-800-ABORTION), and I spoke to a kind, compassionate woman on the phone who helped me figure out my options. I learned that if I acted quickly, I could have a medical abortion because I was under 7 weeks (the law at the time). I went through a series of less-than-pleasant doctor appointments, a somewhat invasive sonogram, and then finally signed a piece of paper and the nurse handed me some pills to swallow. A few days later, my body reacted and ended the pregnancy. I spent the first weeks of my senior year recovering and then went on to graduate magna cum laude and start the career I always wanted.
This was a turning point in my life — but in a good way.
Having an unintended pregnancy woke me up to the realities of my body and being a woman. I learned for the first time how and when women ovulate, what a menstrual cycle really looks like, the benefits of birth control (and no, they don't make you fat!), and how to protect myself from not only pregnancy, but sexually transmitted diseases. It also made me realize what women go through in this country — it made me want to help them, to fight for them — and how all of this would've been different if I had been given comprehensive sexuality education from the start.