The following interview was conducted with a Maine woman who has had a medication abortion. She remains anonymous in order to protect her privacy and safety.
Why do you feel it’s important to share your story?
I want to do my part to de-stigmatize abortion while using my story to help expand access and options for reproductive health care here in Maine.
When I looked around for sympathetic abortion stories, all I could find were narratives about people who chose to get abortions because they were survivors of incest and sexual assault, or they were teenagers living in extreme poverty. I understand why some organizations lift up these kinds of narratives. They underscore the profound human rights abuses that occur when people are denied the right to abortion care and provide a powerful counter-point to right-wing arguments that anti-choice laws protect women and girls. I think that these stories are important and need to be heard.
However, these stories do not reflect my own experience. When I got pregnant I was 29-years-old, in a loving partnership, and was using birth control. Neither my partner nor I had a job at the time, and our financial situation did play a role in my decision to terminate my pregnancy. But it was just one factor, and it could have been overcome. When it came down to it, I just didn’t want a child at that time. I thought I might want one in the future, but it was not the right moment. I have long believed that there is nothing wrong with abortion and that people should get to choose when and if they have kids.
The lack of access to stories like mine had a negative impact on my mental health. I began to doubt the ethical truths I had held my entire adult life. I began to wonder if I was a bad person. I felt deeply alone, experienced unexpected shame and guilt, and found it difficult to tell people about my decision. While I did share with some close family, I kept my abortion a secret from many others.
Why did you choose medication abortion? Was there a reason it felt like a better option than aspiration abortion?
I chose a medical abortion because it seemed like the most comfortable option for me. I preferred this method over other physical procedures and had read that it is safe and reliable. I liked the idea of completing the process by taking a few pills. It seemed less invasive to me.
While the bloodwork, ultrasound, counseling, and swallowing the first pill all happen in the clinic, the actual abortion happens at home or another safe space. Did you seek or create a certain environment for yourself?
When I decided to terminate, I was staying with my partner’s family. The day I went through the process, it quickly became clear to me that I needed space to complete my abortion without having to put on a good face for anyone. So my partner kindly offered to book us a hotel room. We snuggled up in bed and watched movies on Netflix. I didn’t really feel like going outside, and the anti-nausea medicine made me a bit drowsy, so I decided it was going to be an indoor day for me.
What advice would you give others about taking care of themselves during their medication abortion?
I would advise others to do some thinking in advance about what you might want or need during your abortion. There is no one right answer. For example, some might want to go on with life as normal. Others might want to do the most comforting thing they could possibly do, like watch their favorite romantic comedy and cozy up in bed. Some might want to have the company of a particular friend or family member. All of these choices are just great. The point is that it is worth doing a bit of reflection ahead-of-time on what you need. Keep in mind that there is some bleeding involved in the process, so having plenty of pads on hand is definitely a good idea.
You’ve spoken about the stigma attached to abortion. Can you say more about how stigma impacts access and health?
Abortion is very common, yet there is so much shame associated with speaking openly about it. I do not believe that there is anything inherently wrong or immoral about abortion, but rather, the shaming narrative is embraced by opportunistic, far-right political forces seeking to beat back access to reproductive health care. We’ve seen over the past several years that when anti-choice politicians and organizations control the narrative, it gives them power. It’s time we hear from those who have made the choice to get abortions and who believe others should have access to that right.
The anti-choice crusade has a real, material impact, as well as a mental health impact on anyone considering abortion. I found it very hard to shut out the voices in the media telling me I am a horrible person for making this choice. I also found it difficult to find stories of people who had positive experiences with abortion. The overwhelming stigma contributed to real internalized guilt that eroded my mental health.
If we view mental health as a vital aspect of one’s health and well-being, then abortion stigma really is violently harmful—not only because it is a political tool to chip away at abortion access, but also because it hurts us directly.
Do you have any advice to those who want to offer support to friends, partners, and/or family members who choose abortion?
Listen with an open mind and show love and support. There are so many ways to experience an abortion. Some unexpected emotions might come up, or it might be a painless experience. These are all OK responses. I encourage loved ones to simply show up, be present, and be prepared for anything.
Abortion is different for different people. Some do not find it upsetting, some do. Some get abortions because they are in dire circumstances, others because they want complete control over when they have kids. Some have several abortions, others never do but are relieved to have that option.
There has to be room for stories like mine. And there has to be a stigma- and guilt- free environment to process whatever might come up during one’s procedure and after.