The Woman Who Wanted A Late Abortion

This image was lost some time after publication.
This image was lost some time after publication.

"You will see me on the news." Stella* said with complete seriousness. "I'll throw myself down the stairs. I'll do what it takes. I need to get rid of this baby."

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The gravity of what she was saying hadn't immediately hit me. Stella presented at my clinic at 28 weeks in her pregnancy. She had no insurance, had become pregnant as a result of rape, and because she had still been getting her periods until about one month prior, had no idea that she was past the legal abortion limit in Pennsylvania.

She said this to me from behind sunglasses, her hands tensely gipping the chair's armrests. I can only imagine the thoughts going through her head. I talked to her about the possibility of going to Kansas (Dr. Tiller's clinic was still an option at that time) or Nebraska, but she didn't have the money for a first trimester abortion in her home state, much less the finances to travel across the country. As I was explaining what her options were, including adoption and trying to fundraise to travel to another state, she got up and left. She didn't slam the door. She collected her things and without looking at me, closed the door and walked out of the clinic.

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I didn't see her on the news. Despite the calls I made to her apartment, her place of work, her partner, I have no idea what happened to this woman. What I do know is that her desperation and anxiety were palpable, and I felt powerless to help her, to empower her to make the right decision for herself regarding her pregnancy.

In the wake of the tragedy of Dr. Gosnell's clinic, where both women and viable babies were murdered, we have to have an open conversation about abortion restrictions. It is possible that my patient above ended up at Dr. Gosnell's clinic; I have no way of knowing. What I do know is that women who do seek later abortions, no matter how uncomfortable they make us, deserve nothing less than access to compassionate, respectful, quality medical care. If we don't want these women to be hurt or worse, killed by amateur doctors willing to break the law, we need to give them legal options to terminate their pregnancies.

Sometimes in the pro-choice movement, myself included, we get distracted by philosophical disagreements or hypothetical situations. We lose the stories of individual women seeking our services and focus on the what-ifs instead of the realities. What happened in my clinic that day was certainly not a common occurrence, but years later, I still think of this woman. What happened to her? What is my responsibility to her? What is the movement's responsibility to her? The only answer that makes sense to me, that corresponds to my value of reproductive justice, is to demand better access to safe abortion, as late in the pregnancy as necessary.

What does this look like in practice? This means that even if we don't personally agree with a woman's reasons for abortion, if that's what she needs, we help her access those services. Even if we wouldn't have an abortion in her situation, we provide her with safe, affordable, medically sound treatment anyway. The job of the pro-choice movement, of abortion providers, is not to condemn or judge women for their reproductive health decisions. Our job is to support them, as best we can, and make sure that they can access the services they need. I only wish I could've done this for Stella.

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* Name changed.

Steph Herold is a reproductive justice activist, organizer and founder of IAmDrTiller.com and AbortionGang.org. Follow her on Twitter at @IAmDrTiller or email her..

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This post originally appeared on Abortion Gang. Republished by permission. Want to see your work here? Email us.

Image via Shutterstock.

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DISCUSSION

bitememitchell--old
BiteMeMitchell!

I have to say, this rings a bell with me. I found myself pregnant (by virtue of both a split condom and a morning-after-pill taken too late) aged 18. This was in Northern Ireland, where I was born & raised and was still living at that time. Even though Northern Ireland is still a part of the UK, the UK abortion laws didn't apply there (and still don't, it's only legal to perform abortions in NI if the life of the mother is at serious risk from continuing with the pregnancy). I was unemployed, living with my parents and desperate. I should add that my brother and I are adopted, as my parents couldn't have bio kids of their own. For that reason, and ONLY that reason, no religious shite, they had always frowned on abortion. Now, I pretty much knew I was pregnant from early on, because ever since I started menstruating, I had periods you could set your watch too, they were so regular. I told my mother as soon as I was certain. I should add that I became certain when I went to a pro-life charity as they were the only people I could find who offered free pregnancy testing - I didn't even know that was their MO until I got there, that's how young and naive I was.

Needless to say, my parents wanted me to have the baby, my mother even said she would raise it and I could have nothing to do with it if I so desired. I wasn't having this. But abortion would involve travelling to the UK, which in those times before budget airlines, was not cheap. Plus paying around 300 quid for the actual procedure, and an additional cost of staying in a hotel the night before and after the abortion (because UK abortion law still requires 2 different doctors to sign a decree that you are going to be severaly mentally affected by the continuation of the pregnancy - when travelling from NI, at least one of these doctors had to be practising on the mainland UK, for some unknown to me reason).

My parents refused to refund the trip for this procedure. I wasn't working, I had no money. Time ticked on. I drank heavily and took a lot of drugs, because as far as I was concerned, I would have done anything, and I mean anything to get this invading alien force out of my body. I ended up begging and pleading with almost everyone I knew to put some money towards the procedure. A LOT of people, who were either unemployed themselves or working minimum wage jobs came through. By the time I was 12 weeks gone, I had raised almost half the cost of the procedure, travel etc. At that point, I sat my parents down, I showed them the fistful of dirty, used money I had managed to get together, and I told them. I will NOT go through with this pregnancy. I do not want this fucking thing inside of me. If you don't help me to end this, I will find someone who will, by knitting needle or crochet hook or broken wire coat hanger if needs be. If that fails, I will OD, I will jump under a car, I will slit my wrists rather than go through with this. That conversation, and the realisation that I actually was pregnant, were and remain the worst moments of my life. But my parents came through, they realised how serious I was, and they provided me with the rest of the necessary funds, after much soul searching on their parts. I travelled to Birmingham in the company of my mother and her lovely friend E, the trip was organised for me by the wonderfully supportive British Pregnancy Advisory Service (or Bpas as they are now known). I got the abortion, a painful D&C procedure as by this time I was almost 18 weeks gone. It was done under general anaesthetic and I cried with both physical pain and sheer, utter relief when I came round.

I'm not sure what my point is, other than please do not underestimate how traumatic a genuinely unwanted pregnancy is, and please do not judge the poor woman in this post. Nothing but bad can come from limiting access to safe abortion procedures. We may not have heard about this women on the news in the end, but I can guarantee you that if my parents hadn't come round and helped me to end my very much unwanted pregnancy, they would certainly have been hearing about me on the news.

And apologies for writing an essay, but even now, almost 20 years later, I am still hugely scarred by the whole experience.