Abortion access is being fought over from the United States to Australia. Here's the perspective of the people closest to the story: women who have actually had an abortion.
We received more than 2,000 submissions from all over the world — ranging from countries where abortion is illegal to those where it's fully covered by national health insurance. We heard from women who believe abortion was the right decision for them as well as those who regret it.
Here is a selection of stories that represent the broad range of experiences readers shared with us.
1. "I got misoprostol from a group of girls I met on Facebook and took it as instructed."
I was 16 and had just lost my virginity. I was taking birth control pills and I trusted them 100%, so we didn’t use condoms. I didn’t tell anyone when I found out: My parents would be angry and my boyfriend would choose to continue with the pregnancy.
I got Cytotec from a group of girls I met on Facebook and took it as instructed. I didn’t feel any effect at first and I thought it had not worked. At night, I woke up feeling wet, ran to the bathroom, and there was a lot of blood. I took a shower, but the bleeding wouldn’t stop. I got a sanitary pad and called my mother, running to the hospital without notifying my father or boyfriend.
The gynecologist asked if I knew I was pregnant and I had to deny it, because nobody could know. I was mistreated by the nurses who treated my hemorrhage, and they kept talking indirectly about how more and more, the young women were becoming "whores."
I still don’t feel clean, even now. It was an enormous trauma that stills haunts my nightmares. I don’t regret doing it. I couldn’t (and even today I can’t) take care of a child. After a few months, my boyfriend broke up with me. He never knew what happened — neither he nor anyone else.
—Victoria, 18, Brazil
2. "My fiancé and I both walked out from the clinic wanting to send all of them flowers for being such amazing human beings."
My fiancé and I knew children were in our future, but at the time we were both in graduate school, in a small student housing apartment, living in a country far away from our families and stable social networks, with no savings and living on student loans. It became clear fairly quickly that having a child right now was not ideal.
I chose to have a medical abortion in the hospital rather that at home, as I was a little worried about being in pain. I'm not going to lie, it was quite painful and I got shivers and felt shitty in general. Luckily I had a supportive fiancé and an amazing midwife to help. She brought me heating pads whenever I needed and came by every half hour or hour to check up on me.
Words can't do justice to how amazing every single person who helped me during this procedure was to me and my fiancé. Zero judgment, zero blame, zero resentment — nothing of that sort. Only lots and lots of support, kindness, care, and human love. My fiancé and I both walked out from the clinic wanting to send all of them flowers for being such amazing human beings.
—Madelaine, 24, Sweden
3. "I read as many stories online as I could, from women who had kept their babies and those who had chosen abortions."
I was 26 and in grad school doing my PhD. It was unplanned and the result of a two-week holiday fling where the one time we recklessly didn't use a condom, I fell pregnant.
I am not religious and am pro-choice, but the decision was far from easy. My holiday fling and I were "in love" and we spoke at length about keeping the baby even though we lived on opposite sides of the world and had only ever been in each other's physical presence for two weeks. He also said he would support my decision whatever I decided. I was extremely fortunate to be surrounded by such supportive friends and family. However, none of them had ever had to make the same decision, so I read as many stories online as I could, from women who had kept their babies and those who had chosen abortions.
In several states in Australia, it is only legal to have an abortion if a pregnancy would threaten the physical and/or mental health of the mother. Anecdotal evidence suggests that you can get through this loophole by going to a compassionate doctor and indicating that a pregnancy would impact on your mental health. As I have a long recorded history of major clinical depression, my doctor agreed that I met the mental health requirements for a legal abortion.
There is a never a day that goes by that I don't think about my decision. But I do not regret it. My long-distance love and I stayed together for nearly a year afterwards, crisscrossing the globe to visit each other. Sadly it couldn't last.
I often think, "What if I had the baby?" I am 35 and single. Perhaps that was my one chance to have a child. If that were the case, it is not what I had in mind for my life, but so be it. I make the most of my child-free existence. The time I would have spent raising a child I spend volunteering. Being better at my job. Seeing the world. Having furniture with sharp pointy edges.
My legacy in this world does not have to be biological.
—Rose, 35, Australia
4. "It's been about a week, and I'm doing horribly."
I'm 17 and obviously not able to take care of a baby, nor do I ever want one, so I had an abortion at six and a half weeks. I was awake during the procedure but heavily drugged. It was still the most awful pain I have ever felt.
Other than the actual procedure, my experience at the clinic was quite lovely. The nurses were very caring and kind and the staff was overall very understanding. The clinic itself was well hidden, so there weren't any protesters to get through and I'm thankful for that.
It's been about a week since I had it done, and I'm doing horribly. My mood has crashed. I can't sleep, because when I sleep I have nightmares about it.
At least I'm no longer throwing up from morning sickness. Oh, and my boobs are going back to a normal size.
—Anonymous, 17, Canada
5. "Now I have a beautiful child with the same boyfriend, and this time we wanted him very much."
I experienced my first pregnancy when I was 23. I forgot two birth control pills in the same month. I’d only known my boyfriend a few months and I had just gotten a new job. I couldn’t have a kid at the time, and I didn’t want to.
Because I was afraid of surgical abortion, my doctor said I could do the medical one, at home. She was absolutely awesome — a great listener and she never judged me. I took the pills and went home. My boyfriend stayed with me the whole time (two days). I feel lucky because my doctor, my boyfriend, and my friends had my back. I didn't suffer that much, and I didn't bleed that much either.
I saw my doctor again 10 days after, and it was over. She told me I could come and talk to her anytime about that if I needed to, but I don't regret my decision and never feel bad or depressed about it. Now I have a beautiful child with the same boyfriend, and this time we wanted him very much.
—Myna, 30, France
6. "I was coerced into it by my partner and family."
I had an abortion against my will. I was vulnerable and coerced into it by my partner and family. I wish I hadn't. I wish I had been stronger.
It was even more traumatic because it wasn't even successful. The tablets didn't work. I clotted and bled like I should, but tests showed I was still pregnant. After another scan it was determined I would now have to be put under general anesthetic to "finish the job."
The emotional trauma for the entire experience has messed with my head. I'm not the same person I was.
7. "It was safe and clean, and I'm lucky that in my country you don't get shamed in a big way."
He was studying to be a doctor. I was still trying to figure out what to do in life. We both came from religious families, but he seemed sure of wanting an abortion, and I didn't feel ready, or feel the need to ruin his life. But we kept it a secret from our families because I didn't want to hurt them and I didn't want them to talk me out of it.
It was safe and clean, and I'm lucky that in my country you don't get shamed in a big way if you choose to not go ahead with the pregnancy. Later I found out that he already had a child. That was so hard to take in. That somebody else did get to have his child, that I took mine away for nothing. But the worst thing is that he didn't look after the child that was alive and his own flesh and blood. We still stayed together for a few years but it was more out of guilt toward the child I chose to not have. It took me a long time to heal emotionally and before I could open up about it to my family.
I think I made the right decision for me and the baby, but I lost a piece of me that day. The next time I'm pregnant, I want to celebrate and embrace it. But as awful as the experience felt emotionally, especially during and after, I am happy that I could go safely to a doctor, that I didn't had to worry about having enough money, and at that point my ex was there to hold my hand.
I'm happy I had a choice. I still had to live with my choice, but at least I had a choice.
—Anonymous, 28, Belgium
8. "I wondered for a while if I should feel bad that I didn't feel bad."
I had a surgical abortion when I was 23 in New Zealand. My boyfriend and I had been together about a year and were living there for a year's working holiday. I was on the Pill when I fell pregnant. It was an easy decision. He said he'd support me if I wanted to keep it but that he really didn't want a baby and wasn't ready. I felt the same way.
As foreigners in New Zealand we had to pay $2,000 for the procedure, which we didn't have. I told my dad over Facebook Messenger. I was too embarrassed to tell him on the phone. My parents said that whatever I chose, they supported me and how could they help. My boyfriend never told his parents. They still have no idea.
NZ law meant that I had to go for two consultations, so that the medical practitioners could decide if I was "doing it for the right reasons." As far as my nurse was concerned, absolutely not wanting a child was a good enough reason.
I was booked in for my abortion just before I was three months along. I think girls who were at a later stage got priority, which makes sense but also meant I had to tell my boss why I was being sick all the time and was super tired and forgetful. That was a fairly uncomfortable conversation.
My abortion was scheduled for January. We were having Christmas lunch with people we didn't know very well. The host announced that she was pregnant, and everyone was thrilled. She spoke about her morning sickness, her fatigue. My boyfriend and I made eye contact, and it was really weird because there she was, so excited, and I was having the same experience, feeling the same physical ailments, but then not the same experience at all. That was a crappy day.
The day of the abortion, we went to the clinic together. I wasn't sure how I'd feel when I woke up. I expected a sense of loss, or sadness, or guilt. I expected to feel ashamed, or damaged. Or that I'd feel, at the very least, like I was carrying a dark secret around with me for the rest of my life. I felt none of these things. The number one, most overwhelming feeling that I felt was relief. A massive weight was lifted off my shoulders. I wondered for a while if I should feel bad that I didn't feel bad. If what I was feeling was "right."
We've been together for seven years, and we own our own businesses and recently bought a house together. Truthfully, we don't discuss it often, because it wasn't a big deal to us. The hardest part was waiting for it to be over. We both want kids one day.
Neither of us has regretted our decision for a second — it was 100% the right one. I don't remember the date it happened, and I don't have one sad day a year where I yearn for what could have been. I'm also extremely grateful that I had my parents' support and a loving partner to help me through it, and am aware of how incredibly lucky I am.
I don't see it as something that I went through, I see at as something we both experienced together. Before I talk to someone about it, I make sure he's okay with it, and he does the same for me. It was our decision, and I respect his experience as he does mine.
—Anonymous, from Australia, had an abortion in New Zealand
9. "We stole a prescription from a private doctor and that's how we bought misoprostol."
Mexico's laws on abortion vary by state, but it is only legal on request in Mexico City.
When my baby was a year old, I got pregnant again. I was about to enter college and I knew it was going to be an impediment to my dreams. My husband and I researched online and found information about misoprostol abortion. I was already eight weeks pregnant, so we had to act fast. We stole a prescription from a private doctor and that's how we bought it.
We were pretty nervous, so I decided to take a few shots of tequila and before going to bed I inserted four pills. I fell asleep thinking that it was not going to work, but around 4 a.m. I began to feel horrible pains, like cramps. I went to the bathroom and expelled several blood clots, my whole body was shaking and I felt chills. After 5 a.m. I finally expelled the fetus. Really seeing it gave me a terrible sadness.
I continued bleeding for almost 50 days and did not seek a medical appointment, for fear they knew I had committed a crime. Now, two years later, it is something I have overcome; I really began to be responsible in my sexuality and my reproductive health. I'm still with my husband and my son, and I'm in the middle of my career. It was not an easy decision but the most convenient one.
—Anonymous, 20, Mexico
10. "I lay there, bleeding in my friend's spare room, praying that I didn't die. I will never forgive my country for that."
I was working as a waitress, and my partner was in a job that meant he was gone five days out of the week. I didn't have my own house. There was no way I could have supported a baby, nor did I want one.
When I told my family I couldn't go through with it they turned their back on me, so I ended up having to move into a friend’s spare room. Abortion is illegal in Ireland and I couldn't afford to travel to England, so I got pills from Womenhelp.org. It was such a horrible wait wondering whether they would get sent to my friend’s address or to an address I had to give in Northern Ireland.
When I took the pills I bled so heavily the second day that I thought I was dying. I couldn't go to the hospital because they could arrest me if I told them what I had done. So I lay there, bleeding in my friend’s spare room, praying that I didn't die. I will never forgive my country for that.
11. "The doctor could have had me arrested for being pregnant and unwed."
I had just gotten an amazing opportunity to study abroad for a year in Abu Dhabi while working on my PhD. In the months prior to my departure, I started hooking up with this guy under the pretense that it would end when I left. Needless to say. at some point we got careless.
A few months after leaving, I noticed that I had missed a couple of periods but chalked it up to being under a lot of stress and being in a new place. I continued to run two to three miles every day, didn't visibly gain any weight, and never got sick.
I finally took three pregnancy tests. Each one was positive, but I still wasn't convinced until I saw a doctor and she told me I had two choices: leave for good or go home and come back with a marriage license. She honestly did me a huge favor, since she could have turned me in and had me arrested for being pregnant and unwed, a huge no-no here.
I had actually been on the fence about my decision before going to see her, but what she said was all I needed to hear. I had worked too hard and too long to give up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The guy actually helped me do the research and we made the decision to go to Houston, Texas, for the procedure. He was super supportive through the entire ordeal, never pressuring me one way or the other.
It was a three-day process that required an initial exam to check the heartbeat and measurements and a return on the third day for the actual procedure. I was only a few days shy from being ineligible because I was nearly into my second trimester by the time I realized or accepted that I might be pregnant.
Before going in, I had been on the fence about whether I even wanted kids. But when I saw the ultrasound and the fetus moving, it solidified that I do in fact want children — but under the right circumstances, and with someone I love so that we can share that moment of seeing such a beautiful thing we created together, intentionally.
I felt guilty for a while, and at some points, I hated myself for making the decision. But through the help of counseling, my amazing mother, and a couple of other super-supportive people, I was able to heal and move on. I don't regret my decision at all because it's a part of my story and has shaped me into the woman I am. But if I had the chance to do it all over, I wouldn't make the same choices that led to me having to make this decision.
At 25, I was more than capable of raising a child, but there was and still is so much more of my life that I want to live, so that I can give my all to my children.
—Amy, 26, from the US, found out she was pregnant in the United Arab Emirates
12. "I find it hard to forgive myself...but it felt like the right decision at the time."
I was 21, in a relationship with my first boyfriend, and we were both very inexperienced. We were both in college, but I had just started working for an excellent company, was horribly paid (close to $100 per month), and was living at my aunt's house because I'd been orphaned and was struggling to finish college. All of this contributed to my decision within five minutes that I could not be a mother and interrupt my goals — plus that relationship was not going anywhere soon.
I had it surgically done in a private hospital, paid for it with money I had saved, and since my boyfriend was not working, he contributed 20% (a loan he got from someone). The procedure was successful (I went with my best friend), and I felt normal afterwards (he felt awful and cried). It's been eight years now, I have a career, pay for all my bills, and just had a baby three months ago (after HUGE pressure from the father to interrupt the pregnancy).
When I look at my child, I think of the other life I interrupted and feel horrible, and I find it hard to forgive myself — but it felt like the right decision at the time, given my social, financial, and psychological status. I wish it could be different. I wish I had talked to my family so I wouldn't have had to go through that on my own (or go through it at all!).
13. "My husband and I made the excruciating decision to end our very wanted pregnancy."
December 2015 was the hardest month of my life. A standard screening showed my baby had T21. Amnio confirmed the diagnosis.
My husband and I made the excruciating decision to end our very wanted pregnancy. Many factors played into this decision, including our first son's future, unknown health complications of the baby, and the future of our family.
Because I was just over 20 weeks at the time of the termination in Canada, I was induced and delivered our second son, who was born still at the hospital. It was the worst experience of my life.
I am, however, very grateful to live in Canada, where I was able to make the choice that was right for my family without any politicians standing in the way and making this already heartbreaking experience any worse. Since then I have heard from women who also ended wanted pregnancies who were forced to travel far away and jump through ridiculous hoops, and I fear it is just going to get worse.
It should be no one’s decision other than a woman, her family, and her health care provider to end a pregnancy or not, regardless of the reasons. No one makes this decision lightly, and no one has the right to make it any harder.
—Anonymous, 34, Canada
14. "I live in a country where getting an abortion is supposed to be a fairly easy process — that was not my experience."
I had an abortion at 19, and it was the most difficult experience of my life. Not because I regret it or think that any other option would've been better, but because of how exhausting the whole process was.
I live in Finland, where getting an abortion is supposed to be a fairly easy process — that was not my experience. First of all, the pregnancy caused me to be very, very ill. I was vomiting all the time and had to be hospitalized. Because I was being directed to all these different places to get confirmation and permission to have the abortion (and I had to get a taxi everywhere because I was so sick), I only managed to have the abortion at week 11. It was traumatizing. I insisted on having the dilation and curettage, but they convinced me the pills would be a better way for me.
Because I was so far along, I had to go to the hospital so they could supervise me. It was the last day the abortion would be legal. If it didn't work out, I would have to go through the same process again to gain extra permission.
The pills didn't work. Nothing came out. I was panicking. I ended up having the dilation and curettage after all, which went fine, but I got no help or support whatsoever afterwards. Even though I never wanted children, I felt inadequate and regretful, I suppose because of the hormones, and really wanted to talk to someone but I had no one.
After my experience I've become very vocal and passionate about abortion rights and birth control — especially birth control. If you can in any way prevent having to get an abortion, trust me, it is so much easier and less painful. But if you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to terminate a pregnancy, for any reason, it should be accessible and safe.
—Anonymous, 22, Finland
15. "The doctor assumed I may have illegally uncovered the gender through an ultrasound and was looking to abort because the fetus was female."
I was fortunate to have access to one of India's top doctors at a swanky private hospital that caters to wealthy Indians in a suburb of New Delhi. Because I already had two daughters and the fetus was several weeks old, the doctor assumed I may have illegally uncovered its gender through an ultrasound and was looking to abort because it was female (in which case she would not have performed the procedure).
Though I was at first horrified and offended, I realized her assumption reflected the sad reality of sex-selective abortions in the area, mostly chosen by/for women who have the means to repeat the procedure multiple times if needed. There's been some improvement in recent years, but parts of India have so few girls and young women because of the practice that a societal catastrophe is now unfolding.
—Anonymous, 44, from the US, had an abortion in India
16. "The military base installation would not help me ('we don't do those procedures'), and I had to seek it out on my own."
I live in the United States, but was living in the United Kingdom when I had my abortion. My husband is active-duty military, and we were stationed there.
I found out I was pregnant when my newborn son was about 6 weeks old (this was 16 years ago). I had not yet started getting periods again post-delivery, and I was an idiot who thought it was safe to not use contraceptives until then. When I went to my doctor to start Depo-Provera, the required pregnancy test was positive.
I knew immediately that I did not want to continue with the pregnancy. I was 20, with a brand-new baby, I had been married less than a year, and we were broke and in a foreign country with no friends or family. The military base installation would not help me ("we don't do those procedures"), and I had to seek it out on my own through UK resources.
I was shuffled around to two different exams an hour away before they would give me an appointment for the actual procedure. I was only two weeks along when I found out I was pregnant, and was forced to wait until I was seven weeks after jumping through all of the hoops. The only clinic that would do it was in a sketchy Brixton neighborhood in London (more than three hours of travel from where we lived) and the whole experience to that point felt as though it were designed to cause shame.
The procedure itself was quick, and I don't really remember it. The hardest part of it all was the stigma surrounding abortion — especially if you're already a mother. To this day, my husband is the only person who knows about it. Feeling like it's this dirty secret I have to keep so that family and friends won't see me in a negative light has been pretty damaging. Anyway, three years after that I had a baby girl (planned for when we were ready for another child), and I have never for a moment regretted the choice I made.
—Emma, 37, from the US, had an abortion in the UK
17. "He was angry, punched walls, and told me repeatedly that he wanted it dead by the next day."
I was 17, three months pregnant by a boy I had separated from recently due to his violent and controlling nature. I had known I was pregnant shortly after we had broken up, but was fearful to tell him because he's been known to be violent and abusive, and my mother wasn't aware I had been sexually active.
When I did tell him, he was angry, punched walls, and told me repeatedly that he wanted it dead by the next day. Due to my ignorance, fear, and still being controlled by him, I took his advice, went home, had a scalding bath, and drank alcohol to the point of vomiting and blacking out. Sure enough, a day later I experienced what seemed to be a very heavy period, and the next pregnancy test I took at Family Planning came back negative.
I told the ex-boyfriend and was met with a very different reaction. He called me a killer, saying that if I had kept the baby, our relationship could've worked and we would've had a family. For a while I did think of myself as a killer, and my mind was filled with so many what-ifs. Looking back on it now, I did do the right thing. That baby would've grown up in an unstable and volatile home, and I would not wish that upon any child, being a child of a single mother who had also left an emotionally abusive marriage.
If I had continued with the pregnancy, I know the baby would’ve been loved by me. But my love alone would not have been able to raise and support a child with what it needs to succeed in life. I would never knowingly put any child of mine in a situation for them to be harmed, which is what would've happened if I had given birth. I like to think of my baby sometimes, though. I like to think they're watching over me, and that they're proud of me.
—Anonymous, 17, New Zealand
18. "I told my husband that I would get the abortion whether he approved or not."
I am happily married and have a beautiful 3-year-old daughter. We had decided not to have any more kids, but I still hadn’t gotten my tubes tied when I fell pregnant two years ago. I was first sad, then I panicked. I told my husband, and although we had decided not to have more babies, he said he wanted us to keep it. In his religion, abortion is not an option.
I had already gone through two miscarriages and one pregnancy to term, with a birth that left me scarred mentally for life. I told my husband that I would get the abortion whether he approved or not. I said even if he would divorce me for it, I would do it. He finally came around to a certain degree, but refused to talk about it. I honored that.
So I booked an appointment at the hospital two weeks later and went in. I was scared and alone, but it could not have been a better experience. The doctor who examined me to verify the pregnancy understood my situation, and we talked about my tattoos during the exam. Afterwards, I went to a nurse and had to read and sign a paper saying that this had been done voluntarily, then she talked to me for a few minutes and gave me two pills to swallow. I got another vaginal tablet to take two days later.
A week before Christmas I took it in the morning, and by the afternoon it all came out. It was uncomfortable, but did not hurt. It was weird for a few days, but I got back to normal soon enough. The holidays were not so nice, but I got through it. My husband and I never spoke about it, and three months later I got the surgery to cut my tubes.
It’s been over two years, and although I don’t regret my decision, I still think about it sometimes. I have told few people about this, but wish this was more openly talked about. It is not something done with ease, it’s such a hard thing to do. But I would do it again, and I support anyone who feels the same.
—Siv, 32, Norway
19. "I'm very grateful to the NHS for dealing with this so compassionately and quickly."
I was forced into an abortion by a family member who systematically mentally and emotionally abused me for years, and used my daughter against me. She said that if I didn't go through with it, she'd have my daughter taken away by making false allegations to social services — and since she played the part of the sweet old lady perfectly, I have no doubt they'd have believed her story.
The hospital staff were very reassuring and kept me calm, and made sure I was okay afterwards as I made it very clear I had no choice and didn't want to do it, but I was never made to feel bad or talked out of it, as they knew this would only cause more emotional upset and potentially harm me or my daughter.
The situation was sensitively handled, and I was continually reassured that there was not yet a baby with functioning cognitive and nervous systems, so there was no suffering involved. I was kept calm during the procedure and after. There was no real physical pain, it was comparable to bad period cramps.
I still struggle with guilt and wishing I had my baby, but other than my own emotional problems and personal beliefs, I have no issues with how the abortion was performed. I did the right thing for my family; I'd have ended up homeless with either two children or none, as I was threatened with physical violence to get rid of the fetus and she'd have had my living daughter taken away from me.
I'm very grateful to the NHS for dealing with this so compassionately and quickly.
—A, 22, Scotland
20. "I thank whatever is up there for my ever-loving family."
I found out on my 17th birthday. My mother hugged me and asked, "What do you want to do?" It kind of hit me. I was with my first boyfriend. I was on the Pill and we used condoms, so I was never prepared for the chance of pregnancy.
I stood there for a minute thinking, but I knew that I had already made the choice. I could not afford a child. I was almost done with high school. Just being pregnant scared me. My boyfriend was in no position to be a father, plus his parents hated me and would kill him.
My doctor scared me when she told me that I was further along than I thought. In Denmark, abortions are not performed after the 12th week, unless special permission is granted. However, the ultrasound showed I was eight weeks pregnant, qualifying me for a medical abortion.
I took the pills and cuddled up next to my boyfriend and fell asleep. After 30 minutes I was woken up by a wincing pain throughout my body. My boyfriend tried calming me, but it got worse and worse. He called my mother, and for several minutes, which felt like an eternity, I lay there, crying and shaking from the pain.
My parents and my boyfriend sat next to me all the time, holding my hand, humming and calming me. And then it stopped, and I fell right back to sleep for another 10 hours. I felt the fetus falling out of me.
Afterwards, I was relieved. My boyfriend and I are still together, and I thank whatever is up there for my ever-loving family.
—Anonymous, 18, from Greenland, had an abortion in Denmark
21. "Right before I went in, when it was time for evening prayers, my girlfriends excused themselves to go and pray for me."
Malaysia bans abortion except to save a woman's life or preserve her physical or mental health.
I've had two abortions. In this country, it is an illegal procedure in most cases and is often done clandestinely.
The first time I was date-raped, but I only found out nine weeks later. I couldn't understand how I was pregnant, as I had not had sex for four months since my fiancé went overseas. Based on the calculation of the fetus's age, I realized that this one afternoon when I woke up in my friend's car after lunch must've been the day the rape happened. I'd assumed I was sleeping in the car because I'd been tired.
I was in a long-distance relationship with my fiancé, and even though he wanted me to keep it, the baby would just remind me of my rape. My mother was there when I found out, and she helped me find a place to abort and to pay for it.
The second time, it happened because the condom broke. We went to the clinic that same day to get an equivalent of Plan B, but the doctor said because I was ovulating, it may not work.
My fiancé was in the Army, serving overseas (we conceived when he joined me for a holiday). My mother was battling cancer, while my brother was in jail. I was a teacher, which meant that I couldn't be pregnant out of wedlock. On top of that, I am Muslim. So it was a whole bunch of cons that outweighed the pros.
This time around, it was a difficult process for me emotionally. I couldn't tell my mom, as I worried it would break her heart, but I did tell my sister and my girlfriends, who all came to support me at the clinic for the procedure.
For some closure, I named it before the procedure took place, so I could say goodbye. It really broke my fiancé's heart that we couldn't keep it. I still feel an immense amount of guilt, but I also know that it was the best decision at the time.
What really helped me was the support of my girlfriends and my sister, some of whom were very religious but respected my decision and knew that it was not an easy one to make. Right before I went in, when it was time for evening prayers, they excused themselves to go and pray for me. That meant the world to me, that I wasn't alone.
22. "I am lucky and privileged that I live in a country where abortion is not frowned upon and is free."
I had a feeling I was pregnant after I slept with this guy. I waited for two weeks until I was supposed to get my period and kept telling myself I was being paranoid. When I was a couple of days late, I took a pregnancy test, still telling myself I was just being stupid — until the first one came back positive, and then second, and the third.
I immediately made an appointment. Because I was so fast, I only was given the pill and had a fast abortion. I never considered keeping it as I was not in a good place, and did not want to be stuck to this guy and have his baby. I am lucky and privileged that I live in a country where abortion is not frowned upon and is free.
—Anne, 26, Netherlands
23. "It's a head fuck, it's never left me, and I would not have changed a thing."
My abortion was over 14 years ago now. I still think about it every day. When I found out I was pregnant, I was 22, working the late shift in a shitty kitchen in a shitty bar in a shitty town. I was using the Pill but something went wrong and I wound up seven weeks pregnant before I knew.
I read the positive test result shaking in the basement hole of a staff bathroom and knew that I couldn't do it. As a survivor of (ongoing, relentless, for years) childhood sexual abuse, however, nothing filled me with cold dread more than the prospect of being entered and opened and having a life withdrawn from me. It was paralyzing and I knew I couldn't be awake for it.
I live in Canada, where we have fairly reasonable access to health care and I'm very grateful for this. Still, the only hospital I could find that would perform the procedure under general anesthetic was a two-hour drive from my town and booked for the next five weeks. By the time I was able to get it done, I was over 12 weeks pregnant. I had grown protective of and attached to the fetus and was heartbroken, but there was no way that I would have been able to provide any stability or future for a child at that point in my life. The doctors were aggressive and judgmental. One literally threw a packet of misoprostol (to soften the cervix — I knew because I looked it up, not because he explained it to me) at my head and barked, "Take these." I crossed myself going in and a visibly pregnant doctor sneered at me.
I sat in my friend's car on the way back, on an old blanket in case I bled through, and stopped to sob and bleed in a truck stop toilet stall.
This is not a decision any individual takes lightly. I am wholeheartedly pro-choice but recognize the agony and struggle that anyone who makes this decision goes through and respect everyone's journey through abortion. It's a head fuck, it's never left me, and I would not have changed a thing.
—Anonymous, 36, Canada
24. "I went to the clinic and it was all in Spanish. I hardly spoke a word."
My boyfriend at the time instantly said, "We are not ready for this." A part of me saw us happy and settled with a baby. In Spain the abortion law is up to 12 weeks, so the doctor told us to check. It turned out I was only about seven to eight weeks, but there were two babies. I had a massive mix of emotions.
My boyfriend basically said to me, if you want this, you're on your own and you have to go back to England. He was from a very different culture and background than I was, so it would never have worked. After a lot of thought, I decided at 21 I wasn't prepared to end my life and have two babies on my own.
I went to the clinic and it was all in Spanish. I hardly spoke a word, so I had my best friend with me to translate. Then the doctor called my name and I had to go alone. He spoke in Spanish and I just looked at him. He sent me into what was basically a cupboard and told me to put a gown on and leave my bag in there. I was scared. He took me into the room, and I lay on the bed and burst into tears. I said I couldn't do it and didn't want to. Then I remember lots of people looking at me. I saw a needle on my right and an older Spanish lady who told me to relax: In three minutes, it's over. Everything went hazy and I woke up in another room with two other girls on either side of me.
For the next month I cried every day. I grew to hate my boyfriend and blamed everything on him. I drank and partied a lot. Eventually I got over it, but our relationship completely broke down. I knew I was missing something.
I fell pregnant a year later with a guy I had only been seeing a short while. We never worked out, but now I have the most beautiful 1-year-old. I know I only have her because I let someone else influence my decision before. I always to this day think, What if I had never gone through with it, what would my life be like? But I wouldn't have her.
—Emily, 24, from England, had an abortion in Spain
25. "The only hospital I could go to was full of pro-life doctors who did everything they could to delay my abortion."
I became pregnant because my ex-boyfriend didn't think it was important to tell me he had ripped the condom while opening it. When I told him the news, the first thing he said was, “Get rid of it. I don't want to be a dad, I'm too young.” That's when I realized that I would be alone through the process.
I went to see a doctor who helped me through a few steps and told me to come back once I had my ultrasound done. I did my ultrasound with another doctor who shamed me for wanting an abortion and for being pregnant. Then I went back to see the first doctor, who spent 20 minutes yelling at me that I should already be at the hospital, that I was stupid to come back (even though that was what he had asked me to do). He gave me the name of a gynecologist who could help me, and told me to pay him. I just felt terrible because I had very little money.
I finally got an appointment with this gynecologist who was of great help. She explained everything and told me to go have an ultrasound again to know if the baby's heart had started beating. I went, and they asked me to wait in the waiting room where there were only women far into pregnancy, who were rubbing their bellies and were so happy to be future mothers. I felt like a criminal among them, and I understood that the receptionist had done it on purpose, because there were five waiting rooms, one dedicated to women that would have abortions. I wasn't in it.
A med student saw me and took me to the other waiting room, apologizing for my having been placed in the wrong one. He was very sweet during the appointment and explained the whole process in detail. Two days later, I finally had my abortion.
The nurses were rather sweet with me. But it was something that completely broke me. I didn't tell any of my friends before my abortion, except one, who supported and checked on me. He's now my boyfriend, and whenever I freak out when I think about the experience, he's there to reassure me. It was really hard to have that abortion, because the only hospital I could go to was full of pro-life doctors who did everything they could to delay my abortion until I would run out of time.
I was 19, a student already dealing with mental illness, and this child would never have been a blessing. The fact that those anti-abortion doctors made it an even harder experience brought on a suicidal state of mind that didn't go away until I knew it was gone.
—Eliane, 20, France
26. "I went to a clinic well-known for reproductive health but also on the DL for safe abortions."
Kenya bans abortion except to save a woman's life or health.
I was 21 with just a month until my university graduation. I had taken my closest friend for the procedure about two months before my incident, so I knew what I needed to do. My then-boyfriend had a conscience and wanted to keep it, but I was sure I could not spend the rest of my life with him just because I had his child.
I gathered my girls and all my savings at the time — it was15,000 Kenyan shillings or about $150. I went to a clinic well-known for reproductive health but also on the DL for safe abortions.
What shocked me most was in line to get worked on there were some 13-year-olds. (13?!) It was a pill insertion because I was just a month along. There were 15 to 20 minutes where I was just shivering and shaking involuntarily, my boyfriend looking on all scared, and that was it. I bled it out like a normal period the rest of the month.
I was so calm during the procedure, surprisingly. Guilt checked in later that night and I cried my eyes out and prayed for forgiveness. Now it’s a past I don’t talk about. Wouldn’t do it again, though.
—Sheila, 26, Kenya
27. "If we somehow made it to live birth, it would mean watching him die in front of our eyes."
I conceived via IVF, and my pregnancy was very wanted and planned. However, my baby was diagnosed with fatal abnormalities I'd never even heard of until it happened to me — ectopia cordis, omphalocele, and cystic hygroma — strongly suspected at 10.5 weeks and confirmed at 12.5 weeks. It was the worst feeling of being trapped I've ever felt in my life, where every option facing me was awful. I didn't want to end my pregnancy.
However, continuing to carry meant a higher likelihood that my baby would feel pain from the abnormalities and complications. It also meant continuing to walk around every day knowing I wouldn't be bringing my baby home and wondering if he was already gone. Then the further along I ended up being when he died, the more complicated the procedure would be for removing the pregnancy. If we somehow made it to live birth, it would mean watching him die in front of our eyes, likely with vain resuscitation attempts because hospital policies provide protection for trying to keep a baby alive but not for letting one die.
We live in a conservative state where it is hard to find anyone willing to perform a termination aside from at abortion clinics, so that is where we had to go. The clinic was a three-hour drive away. We had enough money for the fee, and we paid cash. We had a surgical termination at 13 weeks and received compassionate care at the clinic, but it was an extremely traumatic day having to say goodbye, especially because I could only have conscious sedation for the procedure and was aware of what was happening.
In a perfect world, I would have liked general anesthesia in a hospital with insurance coverage and supportive people (like they do for women having a D&C who have had a spontaneous loss), but I felt we were blocked from that dignity. Afterward, I felt a sense of relief, but our hearts were crushed. We are slowly healing, but we will always love and miss our baby and wouldn't wish this experience on anyone.
—Anonymous, United States
28. "I couldn't get out of that feeling of being pregnant. Kept having my hand on my belly, kept being careful."
I was in a long-distance relationship for four years and was basically living somewhere between Germany and Turkey. My boyfriend was everything but supportive. I told him if that if he didn't want to be a dad, he didn't have to, and that I would do it on my own. We could live separate lives 3,000 kilometers apart. That's when I found out it was twins. I realized without a working support system, I wouldn't have had a chance. Single mum with two babies? Thank you, Mother Nature!
I begged for him to do this with me but he just wouldn't. By that time I was full of hormones, and to be honest not in a state of mind to make that decision. But I did. I told myself that there was no other way but abortion.
So I got my appointment and was cold about it. But when I was lying on that table, right before I got sedated, I started crying. Not a tear — I cried heavily. I woke up crying. Not this dizzy waking-up-from-anesthesia feeling, not the way you wake up when you overslept your finals. I woke up crying like I’d lost everything. They couldn't calm me down, so they had to give me something. I remember the nurse saying she sees abortions every day but had never seen someone devastated the way I was.
I felt bad for a really long time. I couldn't get out of that feeling of being pregnant. Kept having my hand on my belly, kept being careful. Couldn't delete my pregnancy app, was looking at the progress of growing my two little babies, every day not being able to accept that there was no growth inside of me. It completely controlled my life.
It's been over a year now. I had to delete the app, because after I would have been full term, it kept sending me notifications: "Did you have your baby yet?"
I still think about them. Last month I followed a lady with little twins in a mall for like an hour just to look at them. It never goes away. I have a fulfilled life: good job, nice house, beautiful location by the sea, and a caring, loving new boyfriend. As a human being, I couldn't ask for more happiness, which makes me think — and wonder how perfect my children would have made my life.
—Hilal, 26, Turkey
29. "It's obvious that banning abortion isn't stopping it from happening at all."
Chile bans abortion with no exceptions.
I was about three weeks pregnant. A friend connected me with an OB-GYN who secretly performed medical abortions, as the surgical abortions here carry higher risk due to lack of proper training.
Not having a network to fully talk about and process my feelings with was hard, as it's still taboo to discuss abortion openly. I felt a lot of apprehension about going through a procedure I wasn't sure would work, as my friend herself had multiple complications. The physician was professional, kind, and thorough. He answered all my doubts about the abortion, and I felt generally safe in his care. Overall the procedure was $600, which is double what the average Chilean makes monthly.
The abortion itself took about three visits, or a week, more or less. The anxiety never lessened every time I stepped into the doctor's office, making an excuse to his secretary about why I needed to see him without an appointment. I don't regret going through with my abortion — but seeing the secret network of women who also walked in with vague reasons for seeing her physician, it's obvious that banning abortion isn't stopping it from happening at all.
I asked the doctor why he chose to do such a risky thing that could cost him up to three years in prison. He told me that for him it wasn't some sort of "leftist, liberal agenda," but it was more a matter of doing the medically ethical thing. Women will do it regardless of its legality, so why not provide a safe source and prevent unnecessary deaths?
—Alexandra, 26, Chile
30. "You can be completely confident in your decision and still be sad, angry, and disappointed. And you should allow yourself to feel all those things without shame."
I had a medical abortion when I was five weeks pregnant. At the time it felt like an easy decision, and I have never regretted it. But it's still something that's with me and that affects me over four years later. The potential child is nothing I ever think about. But the feeling of being lonely is something I don't think I'll ever forget.
I pretended for a long time that I was completely fine — I didn't allow myself to feel a lot of emotions during that time, like being sad or being lonely. I thought that it would mean that I regretted my decision. And my friends who'd had an abortion were so fine with it, it wasn't really a big deal to them.
But with time (and therapy) I've learned that you can be completely confident in your decision and still be sad, angry and disappointed. And that you should allow yourself to feel all those things without feeling shame. And if you have a supportive partner or supportive friends, reach out to them instead of trying to deal with it alone.
—Anonymous, 29, Sweden
Submissions have been edited for length and clarity. Some stories were translated from Spanish and Portuguese by Karla Agis and Luisa Pessoa.