Women struggle when choosing an abortion

They say they were using birth control, but it failed.

One woman would have had the baby, but the man she was in a relationship with didn’t want her to. Another was having an affair with a married man and viewed a pregnancy as unthinkable. A third woman’s health would be at risk if she continued her pregnancy.

Nearly 1 million women have abortions in the U.S. each year. What leads them to that choice?

“There’s this false idea that certain types of women have abortions and different types of women have babies,” says bioethicist and gynecologist Dr. Lisa Harris. “They’re really the same types of women at different points in their lives.”

It’s hard to find women willing to talk about it. The Associated Press contacted eight abortion providers and three groups that work with abortion patients. No women were willing to talk.

Ultimately, the AP found three women through a nonpolitical online support group,, for those who struggle emotionally after their abortions. They may not be typical of the majority who have abortions.

A fourth woman who considered abortion but didn’t have one agreed to talk after her doctor asked her to consider AP’s request.

The women spoke by phone and email on condition of anonymity for privacy reasons, and because of shame, concern over hurting loved ones, or fear of harassment from abortion foes. AP verified their names, ages, locations, and abortion circumstances as much as possible through a public records database, phone calls and other sources.

These are their stories:

A 24-year-old woman in Chicago, working as a bookkeeper, discovered she was pregnant earlier this year.

She’d been using a contraceptive patch that she thought was almost 100 percent effective. A missed period was the first clue it had failed.

“I was kind of in shock. I took like five home tests, five days in a row. Everyday was positive,” she said.

She went to her gynecologist to confirm the pregnancy and talk about options.

“The moment I said that I was thinking about not keeping it, she stood up out of her chair and said, ‘This is a Catholic hospital. I could get in so much trouble for talking to you.’”

Illinois has lenient laws, no required waiting period, and there are several abortion clinics in the Chicago area. The woman found that while “abortions are easy to get in Chicago, advice about them is not.”

She scoured online sites seeking objective information and made an appointment at a center that advertised confidential counseling and free ultrasounds. It turned out to be a religious anti-abortion group.

“The first thing they did was hand me a Bible. They started showing me these pictures and videos” of aborted fetuses, she said.

She said she wanted to leave. But she also wanted that free ultrasound, hoping against hope that it would show she had miscarried. Watching the video was part of the center’s requirement.

After the ultrasound, the counselor said she was nine weeks pregnant and gave her a tiny doll supposedly the same size.

The young woman said she would have considered continuing the pregnancy and putting the baby up for adoption, but that the man she was in a relationship with pressured her into going through with an abortion.

On June 23, she went to a private clinic where there were about 20 women in the small, strangely silent waiting room. “Every once in a while you’d see a woman start to cry,” she said.

It turned out she was 14 weeks pregnant, farther along than the anti-abortion counselor had told her. She paid $1,250 for the abortion. Her insurance wouldn’t cover it.

She said she developed an infection that kept her out of work for several weeks. That’s unusual. Fewer than 2 percent of women get obstetric infections after an abortion, and the risk is much higher after childbirth, according to an analysis of national data published earlier this year. The woman said because of the long absence, she lost her job but has since found another one.

Risky condition

A 21-year-old retail worker in Rockford was engaged to be married when she had an abortion on Feb. 23, 2011. Her doctor had told her a pregnancy could kill her.

She said she had a rare but benign brain tumor, and surgery had failed to remove all of it. There is evidence that hormonal changes in pregnancy can fuel growth of these tumors.

Now married, she said she probably would have continued the pregnancy if it hadn’t put her life in danger. She was raised in a religious family and worried how her parents will react if they find out about the abortion.

She said she and her fiance used condoms and she was on the pill when she discovered she was pregnant. Her first reaction after taking a home pregnancy test was, “This has to be wrong!” She took a second test and got the same results.

Two weeks later, when she was about five weeks along, she used $550 in savings for a surgical abortion at Rockford’s only abortion clinic. It later closed.

So early in pregnancy, she could have used the abortion pill instead of having a medical procedure. But that would have required a return visit to the clinic, something she said she wanted to avoid.

Abortion protesters were picketing outside when the young couple arrived in the parking lot that morning. One protester was particularly persistent.

“She was just blatantly yelling at my fiance and I. I turned around and said, ‘Listen, lady, you don’t know what everyone is going through.’ She was just saying that I was already a mom and I have all these options — the opposite of what my doctor was telling me.

“I looked at her and told her, ‘I’m doing this to save my life.’”

Affair ends in pregnancy

An unplanned pregnancy during an affair with a married man is what led a 36-year-old Minneapolis area teacher to have an abortion on Aug. 3.

They had been using spermicide for birth control, a method described as about 75 percent effective with typical use.

A missed period and pregnancy test confirmed her fears.

“I cried for like 36 hours,” she said. Estranged from her husband and with a young daughter, she said continuing the pregnancy was unthinkable.

Though she and the man she was having a relationship with were raised Catholic, she considers herself “pro-choice — I just never thought I’d have to make that choice myself.”

Minnesota requires a 24-hour waiting period, so she called an area clinic to schedule the abortion, spoke to a doctor and went in for the procedure the next day.

She had friends and her partner had relatives who had protested at the same clinic. But on this day she didn’t recognize any of the activists there.

The protesters tried to hand her pamphlets as she drove into the parking lot, but she closed her car windows.

She was only five weeks pregnant, so chose to have a medical abortion, meaning she could use the “abortion pill.” That involved taking one pill at the clinic, and four others within the next 72 hours to finish the process. Her private insurance covered it, costing her only a $25 out-of-pocket co-payment.

Before the abortion, a clinic worker took an ultrasound and asked if she wanted to see the image. “I did want to see it,” she said. “Just because I didn’t get to keep this one doesn’t make it any less my child.”

“A pregnancy under any other circumstances would have been welcomed and rejoiced in my life,” she said.

Concerned about health

A 31-year-old mother in South Dakota learned how difficult it is to get an abortion there when a doomed pregnancy led her to consider it.

In two previous pregnancies, the fetus was afflicted with a rare, inherited and ultimately fatal condition called achondrogenesis, her doctor said. It causes deadly deformities. One of the babies died an hour after birth; the other was stillborn.

The Rapid City woman gave birth to two healthy children after that and decided to have another child.

But early in the pregnancy this year she learned this fetus was afflicted, too. The woman said she was worried she would develop breathing problems that had plagued her during one of her earlier pregnancies. But the condition wasn’t life-threatening, her doctor said.

The woman’s husband has a chronic illness, and with two children to raise, she said she was worried about endangering her health.

“That was my main reason for considering abortion this time. I needed to be here for my kids,” she said.

Her baby was delivered stillborn Oct. 14 during an emergency cesarean section. Complications developed and she lost a lot of blood but is recovering, her husband said.

Few South Dakota doctors perform abortions and the state’s only abortion clinic is a nearly six-hour drive to the east, in Sioux Falls. Her obstetrician, Dr. Marvin Buehner, treats high-risk pregnancies and does a few abortions each year when pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or health. But his hospital prohibits abortions otherwise.

Also, Medicaid pays for abortions in South Dakota only when the mother’s life is at risk, or in cases of rape or incest. An abortion would require traveling across the state, paying for lodging during the required two-day waiting period, plus hundreds of dollars for the procedure.

“In South Dakota, you have to be almost close to death” to get an abortion, she said. “That kind of worries me.”

Her religion helps her cope, and she is philosophical. She believes she will be reunited with her lost babies in heaven.

Many states making it hard to get abortions

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