My Abortion Story: Testimonials from Midlife
11 TueNighters share their very personal decisions
Updated on this dark day, June 24, 2022 as Roe v. Wade was overturned.
As Gen-X women, our pregnancy years are, typically, a distant memory. We have the hindsight of the decision that some of us had to make many years ago (for many Black and Brown women, having a choice wasn’t always possible) and, as always in our 40s and beyond, the benefit of perspective.
We’ve been horrified at the
pending SCOTUS decision on abortion and we know that sharing our own stories is one of the most powerful tools we have to normalize the experience.
Here, we share experiences from TueNight writers; some chose to use their names, others preferred to stay anonymous. You’ll find a diverse collection of women and scenarios: the moment wasn’t right, a life was at risk, a woman was raped, a woman decided not to have an abortion. As author Desiree Cooper says, “In the end, the only ‘good’ reason for a woman to have an abortion is that she wanted one.” We’ve included ages and locations where women felt comfortable to share, as well as the state where the abortion took place, linking to a useful map that shows what will happen in that state if Roe v. Wade falls.
We hope these stories encourage you to take action, perhaps share your own story with those you love, and/or give to an organization that’s meaningful to you—ideally a local organization. Here is a great list compiled by Alison Turkos to get you started.
These are beautiful and powerful stories. Read with care.
After a lifetime of being irrationally proud of never having gotten pregnant, I found myself knocked up at age 35. After we got over the shock, my then-boyfriend, now-husband and I threw ourselves in headfirst, making plans for both a wedding and a new baby. I had an amazing first trimester, with tons of energy and no morning sickness, but because I was 35 my obstetrician insisted on a number of tests. A blood test showed a slightly elevated risk of a rare genetic disorder, and our doctor recommended an amnio.
The procedure started with an ultrasound, and our technician had a reassuring air. However her mood shifted as she moved the probe over my bulging belly, and she asked if she could call in some assistance. Within a few moments the darkened room was full of silent doctors with drawn faces. The baby is very ill, they told me. Its heart was malformed and it wouldn't survive more than a few moments after being born. I was in complete shock as they withdrew an enormous vial of amniotic fluid.
The test confirmed that the baby had Trisomy 18, and we were given the choice to continue, or terminate. I've heard of women who continue with these pregnancies, and god bless them, but I knew that I could not. The night before our procedure, at 20 weeks pregnant, I felt my baby kick for the first and last time. We wept for weeks afterward, but we never doubted that it was the right choice for us and for our baby, who left this world wrapped up in my warmth and love.
— Anonymous, 57
It was 1973, and I was 17. I went for my pregnancy test at the student health center; it was negative. You’re late because you’re anxious, the doctor said, and prescribed Valium. I was anxious, a college freshman facing finals for the first time. The nausea and the fatigue persisted but I was no longer worried because the guy was a doctor, so I waited and waited and still nothing. I went back three weeks later, the day before Christmas break, and come to find out the doctor was wrong. Abortion wasn’t legal in Connecticut so they gave me a phone number for Planned Parenthood, where I was given the address of a clinic in Manhattan. Somehow, my boyfriend scraped together two hundred and fifty bucks. Three days after Christmas, we drove to New York in the pre-dawn dark. In the clinic, it was so cold, and the harsh fluorescent lights made me and the other women look like death. One by one, our names were called. One by one, we disappeared behind privacy screens to gurneys, to reemerge hours later swimming up from general anesthesia, legs aching from the stirrupping we were unconscious for. The girl next to me groaned and vomited but I just lay there, cramping. The pain meant it was over. I returned home with a UTI and raging fever and bled for weeks. Yet. What I felt then, and feel now, is grateful.
— Laura Hurwitz, 66
In 1990, a few years after my mom was killed, I became pregnant while living in Orange County, California. At the time, I was in a relationship, but my boyfriend didn’t have a job. The income that paid our rent, and other expenses, was covered entirely by me.
Economically and mentally, I wasn’t in the right mind or situation to bring a child into the world. I was, however, fortunate enough to have the means to pay the $300 to schedule an abortion at a nearby clinic and take a couple days off from my job to recover. But I will never ever forget the 50 people outside protesting and shouting, “You are a murderess."
My father, who was 3000 miles away, and still reeling from his wife’s death, felt helpless but sent my boyfriend a check to buy me 10 pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (a novelty at the time) as a token of his love. He had been a professor at a women’s college for almost 40 years and in pre-Roe years would clandestinely help students safely find reputable abortion providers.
— Susan McPherson, 57
I was dating a Catholic guy at college when I got the positive pregnancy test. He proposed and I cried. I told him I wanted an abortion and he broke up with me. I rode my bike to the clinic and made the appointment. I went back for the procedure a few days later, and after they gave me the valium and I cried breathlessly in the arms of the nurse, Nadine, the doctor came in and told me that I was not actually pregnant. So I did not have an abortion, but I could have and I would have. I was privileged and had access and funds — and the ability to decide that I was not anywhere ready to be a mother. We all deserve that safe choice.
— Anonymous, 60
At nearly 42, I got negligent/perimenopause pregnant and the first word out of my mouth was, "Fuck." I did not want another child. I couldn't imagine going through another pregnancy, given how sick I'd been with the third baby. We were, by then, parents to three children, and I was a longtime abortion rights activist and advocate. I was angry that anyone would be upset, or would want me to be sad about my abortion. I was not. This was a very clear decision at the time. I remain glad about it (our daughter, now 14, was adopted as an infant in an open adoption). Part of what's allowed me to be the parent I wanted to be was that not only then, but way earlier in my life, I was able to say "no" to pregnancy. "No" needs to be easy. As a parent to four, I know the "yes" is a lot of beautiful, hard work. And that decision should be only when the "yes" is clear to the person carrying the pregnancy.
— Sarah Buttenweiser, 58
I had an affair. Actually, it was a random, one-time thing with a business colleague who lived across the country from me and was married with several young children. It was obviously not the best decision, but when you live long enough, you realize that sometimes shit just happens, including occasionally making bad decisions. As soon as I discovered I was pregnant, I made an appointment and drove myself to the clinic. Afterwards, on the way home, I stopped along the way and tore up the paperwork and tossed it in a trash bin, then went back to my office and finished out my day. I told no one, ever, including the man I had had the affair with — it was no one's business but mine — and I never saw him again. To this day, it remains one of the best, and most difficult, decisions I ever made. But making it kept his family safe and intact, and it also allowed me to keep my life and family and career on track. I will never doubt that this was 100% the right decision at the right moment in time, and am grateful I had the ability to choose to make it.
— Anonymous, 62
My period was eight days late and counting. At first, I attributed it to the stress of clearing out my college apartment. I was 23 and had just relocated to California with my boyfriend. We were sleeping on the floor of an old friend's Victorian rental while we searched for jobs and learned how to navigate our new city’s public transport. But my cycle was set like an alarm clock, and I could no longer avoid taking a pregnancy test.
By the time I finished peeing on the stick, the test was already turning positive. In a panic, and a bid to stay in my denial for a few more cozy minutes, I flipped it over, shoved the cap on, and crammed it back in the box. After the allotted time, I sat shoulder to shoulder with my boyfriend looking at the + sign I knew would be waiting for me.
We sat wide-eyed and speechless for a while. One of us began to talk about what parenthood would mean for us. We’d have to move back east, probably into his parent’s house in the small town we just left. He could probably get his old job back. I could wait tables until I figured something else out. We’d get married. Dreams would be deferred. Neither one of us wanted any of those things, so I got a recommendation for a local abortion clinic with a sliding scale payment plan.
The thing I was truly terrified of was arriving at the squat brick building to a crowd of angry protestors, yelling, waving grotesque photos, or even trying to spit on me. I’d seen it at Planned Parenthoods and other abortion clincis where I joined counterprotestors to block the mob holding up signs of stillborn fetuses and trying to prevent women from getting from the street to front door. They screamed “murderer” and “baby killer” with interjections of “whore,” “slut,” “dyke.”
Now I was the vulnerable woman going into a building with my boyfriend as my only backup. He tightened his arm around my shoulders and turned me slightly away from the lone protestor to steer me to the safety of the unremarkable waiting room with gray industrial carpet and pastel walls.
I don’t remember the abortion itself. I was in “twilight sleep,” $50 cheaper than general anesthesia but less frightening than a local anesthetic (think novocaine for the vagina). As the meds began to take effect, I lay there in my worn-out hospital gown praying that no one would come into the clinic with a backpack full of explosives.
In what seemed like seconds later, I opened my eyes in the recovery area framed by flimsy curtains. It was done. I was facing another young woman lying on a gurney just a few feet away. I could almost reach out and touch her blonde hair. I dressed, my anxiety subdued by the drugs still in my system, but I didn’t yet feel out of harm’s way. I moved quickly to the street, quietly smoking a cigarette while awaiting our ride.
Along with some bleeding and cramping, I experienced an unexpected sadness. It wasn’t remorse — more an ineffable sense of loss that lingered in the background. I seethed with resentment at my boyfriend. I was smothered by his relief. It seemed that for him this little misfortune was done and dusted when we were in the car on the way home. I glared at him and took Vicodin for a few more days than necessary while I watched a tiny black & white TV, constantly rearranging its rabbit ears and chain smoking on a futon. I still didn’t have a job; there wasn’t much else to do. I remember falling asleep one night with the TV on and waking up to voices telling me that Princess Diana was dead. I became unreasonably invested in her story and incorporated the news coverage into my daily routine. The cycle felt endless, but in truth, I was fine within a week or two. The mysterious sorrow lifted and we resumed trying to build our new lives. We found jobs, got an apartment, and I was in love again.
As the years passed, I sometimes thought about the abortion. I entertained an alternate reality where my 20s were spent rearing a toddler and joining the PTA. Then I’d snap back to real life with a deep sigh of relief. Two years after I made the decision to terminate my pregnancy, that boyfriend and I went through a heartbreaking separation (more for me than him). If I had gone through with it, I would have ended up a bitter, single mom, and I probably wouldn’t have spent most of my adult life in New York City, which was a childhood dream. I was good with how things worked out. I roared through the second half of my 20s without looking back, traveling, partying, learning, developing, solidifying the friendships that formed my chosen family, and I finished my graduate degree weeks after my 30th birthday. I never once felt regretful.
So much has (and hasn’t) happened in the past 25 years. I successfully pursued a career as an editor, I got sober, I found love again, and I continued to support the pro-choice movement for the women coming up behind me. At 48, my hope to marry and have a family has yet to come to fruition, and I’m steeped in grief with the realization that maybe it never will. But I know I’m not being punished; this is not karmic retribution. It just is. Everything that has happened since the moment I walked out of that clinic, all of the joy and pain, fun and disappointment, accomplishments and failures, self-loathing and self-love, have led me to a place I never thought I’d be: at peace with myself. That’s beyond anything I could have dreamed of and I’m grateful to be here.
— Anonymous, 48
I was in my final semester of grad school. My boyfriend had graduated and was looking for work. We were in love, we used birth control, and the birth control failed. I learned I was pregnant the same week I was setting up job interviews for the career I’d dreamed of for years. I never wavered; I knew I wanted to be a mom, but not like this —too soon, too young, too broke with our combined grad school debt. I went to the local Planned Parenthood which offered me supportive counseling. The procedure itself was smooth and the recovery was quick.
Nine years later, married to that boyfriend and expecting our second very wanted, very loved child, I sought counsel from the minister of my Episcopal Church. I felt a calling to formally acknowledge and reconcile the abortion. I still didn’t regret it, but being a parent and a Christian made it feel like I wanted to invite my higher power into how I thought about it. Together with my minister’s compassionate and confidential guidance, I undertook the Sacrament of Reconciliation which enabled me to forgive myself fully.
This is what I think about, whenever I hear some asshat say how lightly women take the decision to end a pregnancy: how I would make the same choice again, yet how deliberately and responsibly I have carried the decision with me. I look at my two adult children and I am filled with rage that they may not have the same abilities I did to make such a life-saving decision themselves.
— Anonymous, 55
What I remember the most about my abortion experience was the cold. The air conditioning in the recovery room was so cold. It was dark and somber with dim neon lighting that doesn’t flatter anyone. I was laying on a couch, curled up in a ball, desperately trying to warm up as I grappled with the shame and disappointment that was flooding through me. It was impossible. The cold would stay with me long after I left the clinic that day.
I was only 19 years old, the pregnancy a consequence of some drunken hookup with a friend of mine. He never knew the outcome of our indiscretion and it was only after the fact that I told some of my closest friends. It would be a decade before I disclosed it to my parents and even longer still that I understood how my own history with childhood sexual trauma fed the destructive sexual behaviors in my past.
When I conceived my son, I was 31 years old. He was not a planned pregnancy either, but the circumstances around his conception were quite different. His father and I had been in each other’s lives for years and although the nature of the relationship was turbulent and at times, toxic, the night of conception was a rare moment of tenderness and love between us, as if the Universe had conjured up the absolute perfect conditions for this child to come to be. Unfortunately, my son’s father didn’t share the same sentiment. He wanted no part of this pregnancy and preferred that I terminate it.
So, there I stood in front of an abortion clinic door weighing my options. The cold had returned, but this time from the dreary damp air of December. I sat on the steps in front of the door, letting the misty rain envelop me and asking myself if I would regret not having this child. It was the only question I needed to ask myself and the answer was clear. I thought back to my 19-year-old self, who lay alone in that cold room, feeling as though I had no other choice, perhaps taking for granted that I did have a choice.
Twelve years later, I chose life.
— Anonymous, 50
After 13 months of trying to conceive, I became pregnant for the first time. I hated it. I had it easier than some, but I was low-grade nauseated for my entire first trimester. When I hit the second trimester, I finally felt better physically, but we got devastating news: The fetus had abnormalities. My certified nurse midwife (CNM) told me that a variety of things could cause these abnormalities. Two of the causes were deemed incompatible with life, one of the causes would need a wait-and-see approach (which is to say, the resulting issues could be minor or major), and that last "cause" was no cause at all—which is to say, what they saw on the scans could resolve on its own during the pregnancy with no resulting issues, but that tended to be less likely in XX fetuses, which ours was.
The CNM ordered an amnio to rule out the two causes that she deemed incompatible with life. Due to the timing of it all and some planned travel from California to the East Coast that I couldn't change (, we would get the amnio results and, if necessary, would have to make a lighting-quick decision about aborting the pregnancy, so as not to miss the cutoff for a legal abortion in California.
I essentially spent my entire second trimester feeling physically fine and emotionally broken. We had wanted a baby for so long. But "incompatible with life" is incompatible with life.
But you know what I didn't have to worry about? A safe, legal way to end a pregnancy. Because that was a given in my state and in my country meant I could focus on what I needed to focus on, without considering what it would mean to carry a pregnancy that was incompatible with life to term and suffer a forced birth.
In the end, the condition resolved itself. We had a healthy baby who turns 13 next month. But what we went through, though minor compared to some, was excruciating and would have been a million times worse if a safe, legal abortion wasn't a given. All births need to be wanted births. We are nothing as a nation if we can't guarantee that.
— Jamie Beth Cohen, 46
They say everyone loves somebody who’s had an abortion. I’ve shared my story with a few close friends over the 18+ years since, but most of the people who love me don’t know any part of this story. When I was 26, I was raped by a guy I knew from high school. Confusing for me, because I liked him. So I wasn’t sure how to talk about the complexity of liking someone who rapes you and gets you pregnant.
This was before the days of plan B.
Fast forward, I found a doctor and found out about the French abortion pill that you could take if you were under 5 weeks.
Something no one tells you about is “abortion math” or the way “weeks pregnant” are counted is from ovulation. So, say you get pregnant on the 14th of the month, you’ve actually been pregnant for 2 weeks before you had sex, since the 1st of the month. This matters a lot when the RU46 pill is only allowed within a narrow timeframe. Lucky for me, I knew instantly that my body was different.
Fast forward to the clinic where the whole situation seemed surreal. Protesters in the parking lot. The wallpaper in the bathroom was floral, but it looked so much like uteruses I had to wonder who made that decorating choice.
The doctor actually slut-shamed me, and he said weird stuff to me about how I should learn how condoms work. He asked, “How much sex was I having?” And, “How was I even sure that I got pregnant when I said I did?” Of course, I didn’t share the details of how I came to be pregnant — that was the one night in well over a year that I had had sex. So, I was one hundred million fucking percent sure. All I wanted to do was get out of there and I knew this man was the only service provider I had access to.
These were the pre-Me Too days, so I never did anything about the rape. I just did what I had to do to move on with my life. From time to time, I think about how old my “rape baby” would be and how that would have shaped my life in such a different way. My rape baby would turn 18 this year.
It’s my high school reunion next weekend and I’m pretty sure he’ll be there and wanting to talk to me, just like he was at the last reunion. 🤮
— Anonymous, 44
Finally, we end with a powerful video from one of our contributors from 2018, Desiree Cooper. Desiree wrote to us, “One in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime. There are so many financial, relational, emotional, physical and spiritual reasons that bring women to the decision to end a pregnancy — and they all feel differently afterward. By using the first person plural, this film conveys the feeling that women as a group were testifying. In the end, the only ‘good’ reason for a woman to have an abortion is that she wanted one.”