The Choice They Made: Wake-Up Call Readers Share Their Abortion Stories

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Our community explains how they made decisions about the life-changing procedure.

Ever since the nation’s highest court struck down Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that protected the legality of abortion, access to this often life-saving procedure is drastically limited or virtually nonexistent for millions of Americans.

This controversial issue has fueled political battles for decades. Recent polling shows 54 percent of Americans believe Roe v. Wade should remain intact, but powerful conservative forces are nonetheless marching forward to outlaw reproductive care, even as the jaw-dropping price of giving birth continues to soar.

After we heard a mix of eye-opening opinions in Katie’s podcast series on this topic, we decided to ask our community about their own experiences after the draft was leaked. We received so many moving and thoughtful messages, and below are just a few stories from Wake-Up Call subscribers who wanted to share how their choices about their pregnancies have influenced their lives and those of their loved ones.

Demonstrators gather near the Washington Monument during a nationwide rally in support of abortion rights on May 14, 2022. (Getty Images)

I believe people who oppose abortion have a stereotype picture of the women who get them. They don’t want to believe that woman could be their neighbor, family member, grocery clerk, doctor, or, as in my case, their child’s teacher. 

When I became pregnant at 23, I was starting my career in special education, and I was in a marriage that was already failing. Knowing we were heading toward divorce, the decision to have an abortion was mutual.

Forty years have passed, filled with an impactful career as an educator that enabled me to provide for myself. I didn’t remarry until my late 40s and never chose to have children. I have been forever grateful that I had the resources and access to make that choice. 

I marched in Washington for women’s rights in the 1980s; I’m sad and angry that we’re in this fight again — but I will be one of the millions who rise up. 

Cathy from Michigan

I was 22 and about to graduate from college. I was engaged to get married the week after graduation, but the weekend before final exams, my fiancé was killed in an auto accident. I was so devastated I could barely function. But I realized that I was also pregnant. 

My mother, who was a kind and loving person, knew I was emotionally helpless because of the loss of my husband-to-be, and she helped me find a doctor to have the abortion. It turned out we had to go to Boston. Because it was illegal at the time (1960), it had to be done in someone’s home and without anesthesia. It was a dilation and curettage procedure, and the pain was terrible. 

I had no repercussions, but after that experience, I knew that if that could happen to me — an innocent girl who had lost her love — it could happen to others. I knew then that abortion should be made legal so that others should not have to go through the pain that I did.

Rachel from New York

The year was 1978. I was a naive college sophomore. Back then, we certainly didn’t have the sexual education needed from our parents. I was “in love” at the time. We thought we were practicing safe sex; evidently, we weren’t. The thought of having a baby when I was barely old enough to take care of myself loomed large. Thankfully there were clinics available, and my twin sister and my boyfriend supported me in the decision. I never felt as though I was ending a life, but I know I felt that if I had a child at the age of 19 I would be ending mine. 

Fast forward to 1993. I had been married for four years, and I was home with a 3-month-old. I became pregnant. We discussed the ability to have another child so soon, being new parents and having limited finances. We chose to abort, and my OBGYN handled the procedure. 

I’m a mom of three wonderful sons now (ages 29, 26, and 21). My husband and I can attest to the unconditional love we have for our family, but being able to provide a stable home for them was not always a walk in the park. Children are a lifetime of responsibility. I feel blessed that I didn’t have to make the hard choice of leaving my hometown or state to make the difficult decisions I did. 

It was my choice, my body, and I’ll forever be grateful I was able to do what I did without fear of breaking a law. 

Lisa from New Jersey

Banners rest on a fence outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on May 14, 2022. (Getty Images)

In 1976, at the age of 18, I was violently raped. I was actually a virgin at the time. Later I discovered I was pregnant. I had already been accepted to college — making me the first in my family to do so — and I was devastated to think that my entire life plan could be destroyed. After great soul-searching and prayer, I made the decision to have an abortion.

I had a choice, and I deserved that choice. To this day, I feel heartbreak about my situation, but I feel it was the right decision. I ended up becoming a teacher, taught school for 33 years, and raised two wonderful children who are aware of my tragedy. They support my decision and feel for that vulnerable girl in an awful situation. 

Claudia from North Carolina

I have rarely shared this story, and it’s still difficult for me to do so. 

Just before I turned 19, I had an abortion. I was a college student in upstate New York. I had a serious boyfriend, and we made the decision together. He borrowed money from a friend to pay for it. I went to a clinic near campus. They were kind and offered counseling. I got through it.

At 19, I didn’t realize how grateful I should have been for the Roe vs. Wade decision. I did not have to travel further than a few blocks from campus. No one was protesting outside the clinic to scare me even more than I already was. I had choices. I had the freedom to make my own decisions.

Last night was my 37th wedding anniversary with the then-boyfriend that I made that difficult decision with, so many years ago. As we walked home from dinner, we talked about the leaked documents coming out of the Supreme Court and about the choice we made. We went on to have two sons, but I carry that abortion with me every day of my life. I wish things could have been different. I wish I didn’t feel like an abortion was my best option. Some days I still feel guilty, and some days I’m still so sad.

I pray for the young girls out there now. I pray they have a safe place to make their choice. It breaks my heart to think that they may not.

Suzanne from Maryland

I had an abortion at 35 as a result of a failed birth control device. I had three kids, ages 9, 13, and 15. I had an IUD implanted, and it migrated from my uterus. My husband and I were blindsided by the pregnancy and had no clue what to do. The IUD was still present in my body, though we didn’t know that at the time. We were told that it “could be” a viable pregnancy if we wanted to try. Could be? Not very comforting. 

I was well past the point of wanting babies, and my husband had decided that raising three was more than enough for him. I didn’t live my life like someone expecting to get pregnant, either. The what-ifs were overwhelming. I never imagined that I would be put in a position to make a decision like this, but there I was. 

At the clinic, I was surrounded by very young girls, mostly, and a few seemed to be in their mid-20s. No one was anywhere near my age, and I felt extra conscious of it. It isn’t always the young girl in trouble scenario — but I don’t think that made it any easier.

Catherine from Maine

A group of Americans living in Paris, organized by Democrats Abroad, meet near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, to protest the possible U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade, on May 15, 2022. (Getty Images)

Many years ago, when I already had three children, I was sick and given antibiotics by my doctor. Apparently these antibiotics made my birth control pills ineffective, and I unknowingly became pregnant.

My OB told me the specific antibiotic I was on had many known problems, and the fetus would likely be born without limbs, be mentally challenged, and live a short and painful life due to other health problems. This doctor strongly suggested I terminate the pregnancy ASAP.

I did, and I have no regrets.

Barbara from New York

When I was 17 years old, I found myself pregnant. I was terrified. I had no one to turn to; my father had a terrible temper, so I knew I couldn’t speak to my parents about my situation. 

A friend of mine knew a woman who lived in a basement apartment; she agreed to help me terminate the pregnancy. I was so naive and had no idea what I was up against. She concocted drinks with castor oil, cayenne pepper, and hot spices that she said would terminate the pregnancy. Of course it did not. She realized she had to do more, and her next attempt was inserting knitting needles into my uterus. After several failed attempts, I knew I had to do something. 

All this time, I was attending medical technician school and praying my period would come. One day I woke up to go to school and felt I had to take matters into my own hands. I inserted the knitting needles inside me and got on the train to go to school. The cramping started, and I made it home just in time to go into labor. I walked into my parents’ room and told them I was having a miscarriage. I passed out and woke up in the hospital with the doctor telling me that I was OK, but I had almost died.

That’s what will happen to more women when the right to choose is taken away.

Linda from Florida

I was raised Roman Catholic and still practice my faith. Morally, I am still opposed to abortion, especially when people talk of the “inconvenience” a birth would have on their life and career.  Having three sons, trust me, I know all about inconvenience.  

My view changed on being pro-choice when my 18-year-old son and his girlfriend became pregnant. He came to my wife and I and asked us to pay for the abortion. In good conscience, we could not. We tried to talk him out of the abortion. We told him we would do everything we could to help raise the child. They could live with us and finish college. We would support them until they got settled on their own. We never talked directly to his girlfriend but asked that he convey our feelings.  

Ultimately, she did have the abortion, and her parents paid. I realized at that moment that neither I nor the government have the right to decide such a personal issue for someone else. If Roe is overturned, I believe we all suffer the consequences. 

Dennis from New Jersey

Abortion rights activists march up Constitution Ave near the U.S. Capitol building during a Bans Off Our Bodies rally on Saturday, May 14, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

In my junior year of college, I found out I was pregnant. My boyfriend at the time was very supportive of whatever decision I wanted to make. I was 20, scared, and not prepared for a child. 

I ended up going to my OBGYN, and I qualified for a medical abortion. I took my pills as prescribed — one at the doctor’s office and one in my college dorm room — with the support of my roommates and boyfriend. 

I was ashamed for many years. I grew up in a religious household and thought I had failed everyone, even if they didn’t know my “dirty little secret.” I can now look back on the experience with much kinder eyes. I did the best I could. We used protection. We had an accident. I’m forever grateful for the experience and my support system that I had. It afforded me (and my boyfriend) the ability to graduate college, get good jobs, become financially independent, break up, and start families with our respective husband and wife when we were ready. 

I had my first child just shy of turning 32. I had a house and a job and felt confident in the timing of bringing a child into the world — and being able to support the child with anything they needed. My life would have been dramatically different if I didn’t have that choice. It wasn’t without guilt or shame, but it was the best path for me, and I’m deeply grateful. Today I can even say I am happy with my decision to have had an abortion. 

I’m deeply saddened by the SCOTUS decision to overturn Roe v Wade. We deserve the right to determine when it’s right for us to start families. No one else should tell us that, and no one should be forced to grow a fetus inside them unless that is 100% their will. 

Kate from North Carolina

After miscarriages, my wife and I had a son in 1985. He turns 37 this year, and he’s intellectually disabled and supported with a combination of a Medicaid waiver, Medicare, and personal funds. Postpartum depression and challenges our son was having made our future together look challenging emotionally, physically, and financially.   

Hopeful in 1987, we became pregnant with a second child. But genetic testing in the first trimester showed trisomy defects likely to result in severe disability if the baby lived. After genetic counseling and much soul-searching, we elected for legal abortion. Heartbreak and my wife’s now-chronic depression convinced us: No more tries. Tie tubes or vasectomy? We chose the latter.  

We live with the decision and would do it again. We ask, and answer to the best of our ability every day: If our son outlives us, who will take care of him? Who will watch out for him? 

—Steven from Virginia

In 2003, I had an abortion at 18 weeks, which was later outlawed as a “partial-birth abortion.” I was 40 years old, and I had a son who was 6 and a daughter who was 3. My husband and I hoped for a third child, and I had several miscarriages.  Finally, one of my pregnancies continued past the first trimester, and a chorionic villus testing (to check the chromosomes for abnormalities) was performed at nine weeks. The results came back great — everything was normal.

Then in early May, I had the “quadruple screen” test. I had no worries since the earlier testing had gone well. I had a great Mother’s Day and thought about how next Mother’s Day, I would have three children.

The day after Mother’s Day, my doctor called. He said the test results concerned him and that I should get to his office immediately. My husband was at the airport, about to take an overseas trip for work. He turned around and met me at the doctor’s office.

A technician took the initial ultrasound, very quietly and with no eye contact. Then the doctor came in and repeated the ultrasound and told us the unimaginable news: Our much-wanted baby had anencephaly, and the brain was growing outside the skull. I was horrified and immensely saddened.

Fortunately, I live in New York City, so my doctor called over to a surgeon at Mount Sinai who agreed to see me the next day. I met with the surgeon and began the pre-op procedures. I told the doctor how desperately I ached for a third child and asked to please do the procedure that carried the least risk to my uterus. I wanted to preserve my fertility first and foremost. The doctor explained that he would perform a dilation and extraction (D&E) — an intact D&E that Congress had already outlawed, but the law was enjoined while SCOTUS considered it. That procedure would involve the least amount of uterine instrumentation, and thus the least risk of rupture or bleeding.

The next day, two days after the diagnosis, the surgeon performed the abortion. We explained the situation to my son and daughter who were looking forward to a new sibling. We hugged and cried and healed over the next few weeks.

In August 2004, I welcomed a new baby daughter. She is a dancer, and next year she will be a freshman in college. She likes to tell people, “If it weren’t for abortion, I wouldn’t be here.”

Ilene from New York