health

"I was 14." 5 women talk about how an abortion changed their life.

Earlier this week, Alabama’s Governor signed into law a bill which would effectively ban nearly all abortions, except in cases where the health of the mother is at risk. Doctors could face up to 99 years in prison for performing an abortion, and there are no exemptions for rape or incest.

So far this year, 16 states in the US have introduced legislation to restrict abortion rights, and there are fears that Republicans will ultimately overturn the 1973 Roe vs Wade decision legalising abortion.

In Australia, despite the fact that between one quarter and one third of women will have an abortion in their reproductive lifetime, it remains a criminal offence in New South Wales.

For many women, however, access to abortion has given them the opportunity to live a life they otherwise may not have had.

How women deal with the abortion differs from one woman to the next – whilst some explain they felt very “alone” throughout the procedure, others talk about how it brought them much closer to those around them.

Mamamia has spoken to five women about the time they had an abortion, and how it changed the trajectory of their life.

Amanda, 33

I was 27. I’d had a one night stand with a guy I met in a bar. I was on the pill but about six weeks later, I realised my breasts felt sore and I was nauseous all the time. I took a test and discovered I was pregnant. I knew straight away I couldn’t have a baby. I was living in a shared house in London with four other girls and only earning just enough to get by. I was making progress in my career in journalism and knew I had to focus on that if I was ever going to get to the place I wanted to be. Plus, I wasn’t in a relationship.

It was about a week before Christmas. I called Marie Stopes (UK abortion charity) and they couldn’t fit me in until early January, which made the festive period really tough as I didn’t tell anyone in my family. First week of January I went for the abortion pill (I didn’t have to pay as it’s a charity). First pill was fine. But next day went back for the second one and threw up violently right after taking it. I was then told I’d have to wait another two weeks before I could go back. It was horrible, obviously.

About a week later, I started to bleed and so passed the pregnancy. But it should have been a lot simpler than it was.

That said, I know I was unlucky. I don’t regret the decision in the slightest. The year after, I moved to Australia to further my career and I’ve done some incredible things in my life since then that I couldn’t have otherwise have done. I want to have a family when I am ready financially and emotionally.

ADVERTISEMENT
abortion women
"First pill was fine. But the next day went back for the second one and threw up violently right after taking it." Image: Getty.

Bella, 26

I was 22 and had been with my boyfriend for about a year and a half. At that point in my life, if anyone had ever asked me what I’d do if I fell pregnant, my answer would have been to abort. No doubt about it. But when it actually happened, making the choice wasn’t as straightforward. What if I could never get pregnant again? What if this was my baby? My boyfriend refused to be part of the discussion so Mum and I talked it out. I was in no way financially stable, I was living at home and I just wasn’t ready. 'When the time is right, you’ll know,' Mum said.

Before the procedure there were complications. They couldn’t find the embryo in the ultrasound so thought it could have been an ectopic pregnancy and that I’d require more invasive surgery to remove the embryo from my Fallopian tube. It wasn’t, luckily. But this just meant more anguish. I felt I couldn’t talk about it with anyone, so I felt pretty alone.

I was working my first journo job at a metro paper and people rarely took sick leave there - unless you were seriously ill the culture was to suck it up. I had to pre-book my sick leave for the procedure and there were questions. It was awful. The only colleague who was kind to me and respected my privacy was a lady who was heavily pregnant herself, which filled me with guilt. I felt like if she knew what I was actually doing she would have treated me differently.

I had the procedure (Mum came with me - boyfriend refused) and afterwards I knew it was the right thing to do. I felt clear again. My boyfriend broke up with me soon after, so if I’d gone ahead with the pregnancy, I doubt he would have stuck around. It made me realise what a toxic relationship it was. He never truly cared about me and it took going through this for me to see that.

ADVERTISEMENT

It was a very difficult time and I still think about it often but it definitely matured me and - cliche I know - made me the woman I am today. I don’t have any regrets and I’m very open about it now, but I’ll be honest - at the time I did feel the guilt.

About six months after it all happened I quit my job and went to live in London for two years. I travelled all through Europe alone, something I never would have been able to do with a baby and an experience I’m so thrilled I had. People always say to live abroad “while you still can” without children, so I’m glad I've been able to do that. When I came back from the UK I found it difficult to find a job I wanted (I didn’t want to settle for something just because I had to) so up and moved to Sydney. Who knows where I’ll move next! It would be extremely difficult to live this sort of transient lifestyle with a child, not to mention unfair to be uprooting their life constantly. It brought me much closer to mum too.

I’ve also been able to broaden my career horizons while still in my 20s - in London I worked in interior design, management and marketing, and I’m still “figuring out” what I actually want to do with my life. I might want to go back to uni, which as a single woman with no children I would be able to financially support myself to do. If I had a baby I’d probably still be at the paper, and wouldn’t have the freedom to explore my options as much.

Sam, 30

I was 25. I had my first baby just three months previously and couldn't fathom having another baby so soon. I wasn't exactly coping with my newborn so the thought of another was terrifying.

It was easy. They sat me down and I had an ultrasound, they showed me the baby, asked if I was sure and then stated they thought I had a justified reason.

The experience itself was fine. My husband and I went to the clinic, and they put me under and I woke up a little while after. A bit dazed but fine. No complications at all.

I definitely don't think my marriage would have survived if we had another baby. Our daughter is now five, in Kindy and it's the best decision we made. We would be in a very different place right now if we didn't have the access the abortion that we did.

Lucy, 40

women abortion
"I knew immediately that I couldn't have a baby. I was 14, in Year 10 at High School and had big plans for my future." Image: Getty.
ADVERTISEMENT

I was 14. In South Australia you're only allowed to have a termination without your parents' permission when you're 15, but I was about one month shy of my 15th birthday and the doctor gave his permission... a decision I thank him for every day.

I was young and stupid and believed a much older guy that he didn't need to use contraception because he could just pull out... I didn't have ready access to condoms. I went to a clinic where a nurse confirmed I was pregnant and she gave me all the options. I knew immediately that I couldn't have a baby. I was 14, in Year 10 at High School and had big plans for my future. The guy in question was unemployed and still lived at home with his parents. He wouldn't have been able to take care of a child.

I went to see the doctor and he talked me through the procedure. I can't remember how far along I was but in the lead up to that appointment I remember trying to punch myself in the stomach in the hopes that it would end it faster. I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep.. I passed out in the shower one morning before school because I hadn't eaten in days from the stress of it.

The doctor spoke to me about putting me under general anaesthetic and clearing out the lining of my uterus which would also remove the embryo. I didn't want my parents to know. I didn't know whether they would support my decision and I was scared of how they would see me knowing what position I'd gotten myself into. I forged a note from my Mum to get out of school and walked to the hospital.

When I woke up I cried - not because I was unhappy or scared or sad, but because I was so relieved that I wouldn't have to put my body through the birth of a child at 15 or be tied to the guy forever or put my parents through all that turmoil.

I had some spotting afterwards but it was not painful and I was back at school the next day, a happy, well adjusted, very relieved 14-year-old girl. I didn't have any psychological ramifications from my decision. I had told the guy about it and he basically accused me of being a slut and that he wasn't responsible for anything. Bullet - dodged.

ADVERTISEMENT

It's easily the best decision I could have made for myself at the time. I was too young, too stupid and it forced me to learn a very valuable lesson. Since that day I educated myself on contraception and how to keep myself safe in these situations and have never had to make that decision again.

Hannah, 24

I was 21 and at University at the time, and had just gone off the contraceptive pill because it changed my mood. I remember the exact sexual scenario that resulted in it (the pull out method doesn’t work!), and remember thinking I didn’t want to get the morning after pill in case it gave me anxiety. I told my parents straight away, and they were beyond supportive - even paid for it for me. In that regard, I was incredibly lucky.

I went to the doctor because I’d missed my period and she told me I was pregnant. I cried in her office and called my best friend and sister, but I made my decision the second the doctor told me. Having a baby was not an option, I didn’t want one, couldn’t afford one, and I had no future with who would have been the father. I was also half way through my degree, I hadn’t worked that hard to give it all away, and no man ever has to do that! I have never for a second regretted it - it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

The abortion clinic was seedy, but it was easy to access an abortion. I got a referral from a doctor and made the appointment, then just turned up for a surgical abortion a few days later. The only bit that was uncomfortable was a doctor asking me for my reasons (which they legally have to I think). I remember thinking - “look at me, I’m a child myself” - but told them I wasn’t mentally capable of having a child.

While it was seedy, shocking, and a lot to process, I had a really positive experience. I think so many people scare others into think they will regret having an abortion, when in my eyes it was just the next level of contraception. The most important thing for me was being surrounded by support, financially and socially. My boyfriend and family were incredibly supportive, and it would have been a completely different situation if I went through it alone.

The abortion was something that happened, and then my life continued on the same track. The trajectory of my life would have changed if I had a baby - so I’m very, very grateful to have had access to that service.

*Names have been changed. 

00:00 / ???