© 2024 KOSU
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New abortion laws changed their lives. 8 very personal stories

The Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion on June 24, 2022.
Tracy Lee for NPR
The Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion on June 24, 2022.

The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade a year ago hit like an earthquake. In many states, new restrictions took effect immediately, and more states have banned abortion in the year since.

As new bans have taken effect, doctors and hospitals and lawyers have all struggled to adjust. But the biggest effect has been on individual Americans and their families.

Last fall, NPR asked people to tell us how abortion laws in their states had affected their own lives. The response was striking — more than 350 people responded, and we featured several of their stories in a series entitled Days & Weeks.

Their stories are not simple. The impacts of the new laws are surprising and varied. Here are excerpts from personal accounts sent to NPR from around the country describing how abortion laws changed their lives in the past year.

These accounts have been edited for clarity and length.

One day to make a life-changing decision

Angel, age 30

State: Ohio

Law: A six-week ban has been on hold in the courts

Note: NPR agreed to only use Angel's first name because she fears professional repercussions as a health care provider.

I had my first child last year in August 2021. My husband and I were open to having a second child but we wanted to go through adoption or fostering. But honestly, we were unsure if we really wanted another child in general.

I struggled with hormonal contraception due to a family history of clotting disorders and unwanted side effects. I was on the [birth control] drug Phexxi and was trying to track my menstrual cycle, which was extremely abnormal since I was just finishing up breastfeeding. My cycle ranged from 21 days to 39 days.

At the end of July 2022, I noticed my breasts becoming very engorged and sore all of the time, I also realized I might be a few days late for my period. I took a pregnancy test and it came back positive. I had extremely conflicting feelings. I called my usual OBGYN to discuss my options. The receptionist simply stated they do not offer that type of consultation, but I could come in for a pregnancy test. Since Ohio had a "heartbeat" abortion ban, I knew that would just be a waste of time and I needed someone to perform an ultrasound ASAP.

/ Tracy Lee for NPR
/
Tracy Lee for NPR

I then called Planned Parenthood and got an appointment for the very next day. They advised me I was already five weeks and five days pregnant. They told me I need to make the decision as soon as possible based on the ultrasound. So I made the appointment for the very next day and went through with the abortion.

I cannot believe I only had a day to truly decide. It felt so rushed.

Getting pregnant 'could be dangerous' so she faced a stark choice

Jenni Miller, age mid-30s

State: Ohio

Law: A six-week ban currently on hold in the courts

I have rheumatoid arthritis, which means my immune system attacks my joints, causing excruciating pain if not properly medicated. I cannot manage my illness without methotrexate, a drug that is also sometimes used as an abortifacient.

When I started this drug, my rheumatologist and OBGYN made sure that I was using at least two methods of birth control. My doctors told me that getting pregnant could be dangerous. I could conceive, but a fetus cannot survive inside my body. I made the decision ahead of time that I would get an abortion if that happened.

After Roe vs. Wade was overturned, the politicians in my state began working to ban abortion. They would force me to carry a deformed and dying fetus until its last heartbeat. How devastatingly cruel to me, and to a fetus. It would die slowly inside my body, putting me in danger while I waited to get an abortion.

I considered just staying on the pill or getting an IUD, but Ohio women are worried that birth control could be taken away from us too. I considered tying my tubes, but I could still have an ectopic pregnancy and couldn't deal with the thought that I could die on an operating table.

None of these options felt irreversible enough, so last summer, I had my fallopian tubes removed completely.

It's the right decision for me. I'm in my mid-30s and that window is closing anyway. I've always been committed to adopting if I decide to have kids because of the toll going off of my meds and pregnancy would take on my body.

/ Tracy Lee for NPR
/
Tracy Lee for NPR

When her water broke too early, there were no abortion providers to help

Dani Rios, 40

State: Texas

Law: Banned with very limited exceptions

In December 2022, right before Christmas, I was 20 weeks and 3 days pregnant when I learned my water had broken early. The chances of the baby surviving were very low, but I couldn't end the pregnancy under Texas laws.

My family was so supportive, they started calling clinics in New Mexico and booking flights for me and my husband, but the clinic appointments were not available for weeks. I developed an infection and went to the hospital shortly after. There was no longer a fetal heartbeat, but there were no providers who could perform a second trimester abortion. It would have been legal, but all the providers have shut down.

I asked to be cut open. I wanted to be put asleep and not have to experience anything else. The doctors would not give me a c-section. Instead, I was induced and went through labor and delivery. I do not feel the medical team helping me at the hospital is to blame, they were doing the best they could under the circumstances.

It is so cruel to force a woman to give birth to her dead baby – to be awake and present, to endure in the most traumatic way possible the loss of her baby and hope and motherhood. It made an awful, senseless situation even worse.

'A mad dash' to understand a fetal anomaly

Samantha Spontak, age 33

State: Florida

Law: Abortion is legal through 15-weeks of pregnancy, though lawmakers are trying to make the limit 6-weeks – a court challenge is ongoing

When I was about nine-and-half weeks pregnant, Florida instituted a 15-week abortion ban. We had only just seen the OB for the first time maybe a week prior. At 11 weeks, we found out something could potentially be wrong with the baby, so it was a mad dash to get all of these tests done and hope we would have clearer answers before that 15th week hit. We found out officially at 13 weeks that our baby had a chromosomal issue and a heart defect. Instead of having the time to do research and see how it was affecting her growth and development, we had to put trust in our doctors when they told us she would only have a 3-5% chance of survival.

At 14 weeks, we officially terminated our pregnancy. I hear and read stories of women and couples being able to wait and make better plans and do better tests, and we didn't have that option. My husband and I don't regret our decision, because with the knowledge and guidance we were given, we absolutely did what was best for our family. But the idea that we could have had more time to figure it all out sits very heavy on my heart every day.

A couple quickly uproots to try to make a family

Hillary, 35

State: Texas to Massachusetts

Law: Texas bans abortion with very limited exceptions. Massachusetts allows abortion until 24 weeks gestation.

Note: NPR agreed to only use Hillary's first name because she fears professional repercussions as a health care provider.

I am a proud Texan and love my roots. My early childhood is full of memories of riding four wheelers and fishing on the Texas coast. But when the draft overturning Roe v. Wade leaked in May 2022, my husband and I promptly decided to uproot our lives and move to a state where we felt safe.

We had been trying to conceive for over two years with no success. We knew in vitro fertilization was in our future, but what was that going to look like in Texas? Would genetic testing go away? Would reproductive specialists leave for protected states, causing a physician shortage? If world-renowned infertility doctors didn't have these answers, how could I?

While I've always been a fighter, I could not handle the stress or idea of having medical complications during a future pregnancy and not being able to get the life saving care I would need. With us being in our mid 30s, we didn't have time on our side to stay behind, fight the good fight, and hope the laws change. Not to mention, the older you are the higher risk the pregnancy becomes. We decided in May 2022 to move to Massachusetts, where we knew we would have agency over our own health care and state-mandated IVF insurance coverage. Within three months, we sold our house, said goodbye to our friends and family, and started a new life.

I have now gone through two rounds of IVF resulting in four embryos. The process was grueling, but mentally I felt better knowing that I was in good hands with medical professionals who are allowed to practice without fear of jail time. While I miss my family and friends in Houston, I am thankful I listened to my gut instinct and moved to a state that protects my body and respects my choices.

We are lucky we had the means to make such a big move but so many do not. I struggle with that – knowing so many people in states restricting abortion access are stuck.

Driving home from emergency surgery, fear at every rest stop

Delmy J. Chavez, age 36

State: Texas

Law: Banned with very limited exceptions

Last August, while on a cruise, I experienced tremendous abdominal pain. I asked my partner to take me to the medical floor of the ship. The doctor informed me that I was pregnant and that I was losing blood. She ran through possible scenarios for what could be causing the issues; from an unfinished miscarriage to infection.

The doctor kept me there overnight until we got back to our home port where an ambulance took me directly to the emergency room. As the doctor handed my paperwork to the EMTs, she told them she suspected I was experiencing an ectopic pregnancy. This was the first time she had mentioned it.

Once I arrived at the hospital in Galveston, Texas, I was informed that my blood levels were dangerously low. I was losing blood internally but we didn't know the cause. I was given my first blood bag of the day. The next thing was to do a sonogram. No heartbeat or gestational sac were found. After some time, an OB/GYN came into my room and informed me I'd have to have emergency surgery for what appeared to be an ectopic pregnancy.

I was devastated. And I was scared. I wasn't sure what was going to happen.

Roe v. Wade had been overturned just a few months before my situation. I had been reading how the termination of an ectopic pregnancy [could be treated] as abortion. A Texas trigger law was in effect, making abortion a felony. Additionally, Texas had also passed a law, allowing private citizens to sue anyone aiding, assisting or performing an abortion.

There is a narrow exception in the laws where the life of the mother is at risk. Mine apparently was. I learned after my surgery that the fetus had grown so large it ruptured my fallopian tube. They had to remove that tube. This was the source of my blood loss and abdominal pain.

After I was discharged, my partner and I decided to drive back home to Dallas, which was about four hours away, that same night. Every time we stopped at a rest stop, I was afraid someone would see me and know what had happened and accuse me of murder. It was an irrational thought, but living in this state post-Roe feels dangerous.

As painful as the whole experience was, both physically and emotionally, I know that I was fortunate to have been provided care. In the months since my ordeal, I've vacillated between anger and sadness over what is happening with these laws. It shouldn't have to be this way.

Waiting weeks for a wanted abortion, paralyzed by fear

Anna, age 41

State: Louisiana

Law: Banned with very limited exceptions

Note: NPR agreed to only use Anna's first name because of her fears of legal retaliation by Louisiana officials.

I found out I was pregnant June 20, 2022. It was unplanned and unwanted. My partner and I are both in our 40s. He has children from previous relationships and I had never been pregnant before. We were both shocked.

I knew Roe was in danger of falling any day so I called one of the only remaining clinics in Louisiana immediately to schedule an appointment. It took several tries to get through. The woman who finally picked up the phone sounded rushed and frazzled. They must have also known what was coming so they scheduled me for my first appointment for the following Saturday at 7:30 a.m.

I made a backup appointment at a Planned Parenthood in the northern state I grew up in, just in case. The earliest appointment I could schedule was three weeks away. I didn't really think I'd need it.

/ Tracy Lee for NPR
/
Tracy Lee for NPR

On Friday morning, the day before my appointment in Louisiana, the news dropped. The Dobbs ruling ended my right to a safe and legal abortion. My partner left work and came to my house to be with me. I felt like everything in my periphery was dark and I was in a tunnel. I felt lonely and abandoned even though I was surrounded by people who loved and supported me.

Although my Saturday appointment was canceled, a court injunction was filed and the trigger law that had gone into effect was temporarily halted. When you are pregnant and don't want to be, every additional second that you remain pregnant feels like a betrayal. Physical and psychological torture. I called the New Orleans clinic 20 times in a row before I got through and was able to reschedule my appointment for a few days later.

The day of my appointment my entire body was full of adrenaline and fear. I was afraid of protesters. Of violence. Of being arrested. I had visions of the police charging into the clinic and arresting us all.

That morning, Louisiana Attorney State General Jeff Landry sent out a letterto hospitals and doctors threatening that he did not believe the injunction to have legal standing and that he planned on prosecuting any doctor who performed an abortion. One of my closest friends is a doctor. She forwarded me the letter. I called her and asked her what to do. She didn't know. I canceled my appointment an hour before I was supposed to go in. I apologized over and over for taking up a precious appointment and I hope that someone else got it.

At that point, I still had my appointment up north. It was weeks away, but I was glad to have it. I knew I was lucky. I knew I would probably be okay. But fear had crept in and taken hold.

I stayed in bed for the next couple of weeks, sure that a knock on the door was the police, there to take me away to some jail cell. I guess that fear seems irrational now, but it didn't at the time. My partner worked from my home and did his best to make me feel safe.

Three weeks after my original appointment in Louisiana, I was able to fly to another state, stay with my family, and receive a surgical abortion. I felt incredible relief when I finally walked through the doors of the clinic. It felt like a fortress of safety. The women who staffed the clinic – from the people behind the desk at intake, to the nurses, to the doctors, to the volunteers – were so incredibly gentle, warm, and kind.

My story is not tragic. I needed an abortion. Because of my privilege, I got one. But I certainly did suffer needlessly. And my agency, dignity, and safety were compromised. I think about how different my experience would have been if I had been able to make an appointment with my trusted primary care doctor, in my own hometown, and receive the care I needed within days of needing it. I don't think that's too much to ask. An abortion story doesn't need to be sad to be important. A person doesn't need to be a martyr to deserve a say over their body. I didn't want to have a baby. So I had an abortion.

She's afraid she'll have to start a family elsewhere because of pregnancy risks

Emily Grimes, age 33

State: Kentucky

Law: Banned with very limited exceptions

Kentucky's abortion laws have prompted me to reconsider whether or not I want to become pregnant. I'm married, in my early 30's, and have always thought children would be on my radar in my mid-30's, but the longer I wait, the higher my chances of having a complicated pregnancy become. Twins also run on my side of the family as well as my partner's – if I were to become pregnant with twins that would immediately raise the stakes.

I fear that if I became pregnant here in Kentucky and something went wrong, I might need access to immediate health care. I have the means to travel to a different state, but would I have time to board a plane or endure a long car ride to get the health care I might need?

It honestly terrifies me to think about becoming pregnant. When I was talking about it with my mother-in-law, she said to me "You better have a will," and I almost fell to my knees.

It's prompted me to reconsider everything, including whether or not I want to stay here (in Kentucky or in the U.S.), which is really difficult because this is my home. I have an international family, and have the ability to get permanent resident status in two other countries where this wouldn't be an issue – where it would be safer to be pregnant and also to raise a child. But I own a house here, I have a vibrant career here, I have family and friends here, and I intimately know and love the land. My soul lives here as well as my body.

I find the new laws in Kentucky to be torturous, and the fact that we don't have exceptions for rape or incest is just mind-blowing to me. The lives of pregnant people matter. The ability to plan a family matters. I have dreams, I have feelings and emotions, and there are people who care about me - I am a person.

Selena Simmons-Duffin, Carmel Wroth and Diane Webber edited these stories. Meredith Rizzo edited the visuals. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

KOSU is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.