Sharing abortion stories

Eight brave women tell Glamour about ending their pregnancy, using their real names and photos.

By Amy Benfer

Published February 17, 2009 2:48PM (EST)

This month's Glamour magazine, soon to be filling mailboxes and hair salons and dentist offices across the country, has a sane, useful, extraordinary piece: an article on abortion that talks to women who actually had one, including interviews with eight women who were willing to use their full names, with photographs, to be included in a feature in a nationwide magazine for all their family members and co-workers and playgroup members to see.

These women are hardly unusual: One in three women will have an abortion by age 45. But the vast majority of published articles on abortion shroud their subjects in secrecy and pseudonyms, as if having a legal abortion makes one a criminal.

The article starts off by demystifying the procedure itself. The reporter, Liz Welch, accompanies a 25-year-old woman to her abortion at a Seattle clinic. The whole thing is over in five minutes. The woman, Anna (one of the few women in the piece who uses a pseudonym) sits up and says, "Really? That was not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be." The doctor, Deborah Oyer, tells them both, "I hear that refrain almost daily. It's as if women expect me to come at them with whirling knives."

"In the end, there's little drama to the procedure, but that doesn't make it a simple experience," writes Welch. How a woman feels about abortion may strongly affect her reaction to her own, which is why "choice" is not a mere political abstraction. The article offers some common sense guidelines: A woman who feels pressure to have an abortion by family members, her partner, guilt or her own finances should consider what she actually wants to do. And Anne Baker, director of the Hope Clinic, says straight up that women who truly believe that abortion is murder should carefully consider their choices: "If a woman truly thinks having an abortion is the same as murdering a child you might see on the playground, she should strongly reconsider other alternatives, such as adoption." But she also says, "I cannot tell you how many women call us wondering if they are somehow bad people for feeling relieved, or happy, or proud for having made it through a difficult decision."

Welch acknowledges that politics may have little to do with one's actual emotional response: "Adamantly pro-choice women may be shocked by their own sadness about having an abortion whereas extremely religious women may be stunned by their sense of relief; both reactions, experts say, are normal." (And Dr. Oyer adds that she actually performed an abortion on a woman whom she recognized as someone who had protested outside her clinic.)

Glamour's particular genius as a publication is finding the "relatable" woman, and its editors managed to dig up women from just about every perspective. About 54 percent of women who have abortions were using contraception at the time, and some of the women talk about how they got pregnant in the first place: one had just switched to the Patch, several had broken condoms, one with a latex allergy was using the notoriously unreliable Rhythm Method and another believed her husband had become sterile from the chemo used to treat his Hodgkins Lymphoma. A couple women believed their partners would welcome children, and afterwards had to consider whether or not they wanted to be single parents. Their clinic experiences range from a woman who accidentally showed up at a "crisis pregnancy center" and was forced to look at graphic images depicting the abortion of a third-trimester fetus to a woman who was glad to see that the nurse at the clinic was eight months pregnant, "which made me realize the clinic was not pro-abortion, it was pro-choice."

Several of the women found the decision extremely difficult: Jenny Egan, now 28, was raised Mormon and felt so guilty about the abortion she had at 16 that she "worried it would literally scar my insides forever and that I'd never be able to have kids." Margaret K. Mestraud, 34, pictured with her young son, was literally blinded by her first pregnancy. When she became pregnant again she was told that her baby might survive, but she might not. "I am still filled with regret," she says, "not that I had an abortion but that I will never meet that child." Tova Ramos, 26, doesn't regret her abortion -- at he time, she was taking Accutane, which can cause birth defects -- but says: "I am wistful about losing the physical sensation of being pregnant. I never realized how a baby could get into a woman's blood -- I still feel a connection to that little lima bean. My husband and I want to have a baby one day-but it will be planned."

One of the most striking women is Liz Kupcha, 37, who is pregnant in her photo. "It wasn't a hard decision at all," she says, about her first abortion, at 18, because, "I did not want to leave college to raise a kid." She became pregnant again at 23, after a condom broke and walked through protestors to have her abortion. "But they didn't bother me," she says. At the time, she was preparing for law school, and " I really believed that having a child would derail my plans. I was perfectly fine with my decision then and don't have any regrets, especially now. At 37, I'm married to a man I've been with for nine years, am running my own department at work, and am finally ready to be a mom: I'm pregnant and due May 6."

Amy Benfer

Amy Benfer is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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