Editor’s note: The full names of people who spoke to us for this story have been withheld to protect their privacy, given the sensitivity of the subject matter.
As the Supreme Court considers a Mississippi law restricting abortions after 15 weeks, much of the vitriol regarding abortion access is aimed at people who have abortions after the first trimester. TODAY Parents talked to four people who had abortions later in pregnancy, who say their stories show how important abortion access is and how far people will go to get the abortion care they want and need.
Abortions after 20 weeks gestation represent 1% of all abortions, yet most Americans believe they are five times more prevalent than they actually are. Medically inaccurate phrases like “late-term abortion” have also caused a general misunderstanding of later abortion care — medically, “late-term” refers to a pregnancy past 40 weeks gestation, not a time when abortion is provided.
Research suggests people have abortions later in pregnancy for two main reasons: They’ve learned new information — for example, realizing they’re pregnant after the first trimester, discovering a fetal or maternal health complication, or the loss of a job or partner — or they’ve encountered barriers to care that made it impossible for them to have an abortion earlier — including limited access to child care for the children they already have, existing anti-abortion laws and a lack of clinics that provide abortion services.
While it’s a common talking point in both pro- and anti-abortion circles that no one wants to have an abortion, the following people say they did want — and need — abortion care later in pregnancy.
Jenn, 30, New York
Jenn had her abortion in New York City in 2010, when she was 18 years old. She had a medical condition that causes frequent period loss and was using birth control, so she didn’t realize she was pregnant until she was past 15 weeks. The procedure itself cost $20,000. Because Jenn lived in New York at the time, her parents’ insurance covered the procedure.
“I actually found out I was pregnant when I was at my at-the-time best friend’s house. She supported my decision, until she found out I was in the second trimester. That was devastating — that someone was ‘pro-choice’ and still didn’t support my choice — and it also scared me when it came to telling my parents. But as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted an abortion. I never doubted my decision.
She supported my decision, until she found out I was in the second trimester.
“I thought I could have a medication abortion and that it would be relatively inexpensive, but when I called a Planned Parenthood clinic, they said that wasn’t possible. When I realized it would be a more complex and expensive procedure, it felt like the rug was being pulled out from under me. The fear of navigating the process alone overrode the fear of telling my parents, and thankfully, they came through for me almost immediately.
“There was only one place I could go to, and they had a significant waitlist, so I had to wait several weeks. I was miserable — having a body that was pregnant and getting more pregnant by the day, and being trapped in that body unable to do anything about it was the worst thing I’ve ever been through. I contemplated suicide during the pregnancy, because I was so scared I was going to have to carry the pregnancy to term.
“Now, I’m in law school, have a fiancé I’m madly in love with, and intend to start a family.”
Erika, 40, Arizona
In the third trimester of her wanted pregnancy, Erika’s doctors discovered serious fetal abnormalities that were not compatible with life. Faced with the reality of giving birth to a baby that would die, Erika chose to terminate.
“I had brain surgery the year before, so we knew early on that if I went into labor at any point, my health would be threatened. It would be dangerous for me to push. An abortion at this gestation involves a shot to induce fetal demise, then an induction of labor and delivery. The shot part was illegal in New York, and my doctors couldn’t refer me to someone else like normal. I found a doctor in Colorado who would help, but they wanted me to deliver in a hospital setting given my medical history. My insurance wouldn’t cover it, so it would cost $30,000. The shot alone cost $10,000. When I heard that, I thought, ‘OK, we can’t do that, so I guess I’m carrying to term, hoping my head doesn’t explode, and we’ll be the people who have a baby who dies.
My mom cashed in her 401K to pay for it.
“The doctors figured out that I could fly to Colorado to get the shot, then immediately fly back to New York to a hospital that was covered by my insurance. We didn’t have the money to cover the $10,000 plus travel ourselves — my mom cashed in her 401K to pay for it. My husband and I flew to Colorado the night before my appointment at 8 am, then flew back home.
“We weren’t allowed to take the time to work through our emotions, because we were so wrapped up in the logistics of trying to get care and dealing with the stigma and shame of the state having an invisible hand in our pregnancy.
“When we compromise (on abortion rights,) we’re purposefully compromising on the most systemically marginalized — you’re talking about poor people, pregnant children, disabled people, and people with complex medical situations like me.”
Kelly*, 32, Texas
Kelly, who asked that her real name not be used to protect her privacy, had her later abortion at 33 weeks gestation in 2010 after being raped. She first thought her pregnancy symptoms were the result of a new birth control method, only to later realize she had been impregnated during the rape. Unable to access care in her home state, Kelly flew to New Mexico by herself to receive care. Her abortion, including the procedure, travel, food, and lodging, cost over $10,000.
“I had to contact different abortion funds, including local funds in Texas and funds in other states, and I had to go out of state because there was no way I was going to be able to get an abortion in Texas.
I’m not the first person this has happened to and, unfortunately, I won’t be the last.
“I had one really good friend I could confide in, but I didn’t know how or even if I could communicate that with my family members, and honestly I still haven’t. For the most part, I did have to go through it by myself. And I guess I chose that, but I just did not know how it would be received.
“After my abortion I felt relief, but it’s still hard to talk about, especially certain aspects of the whole experience. But I think it’s important to share, especially because of the sexual assault — I’m not the first person this has happened to and, unfortunately, I won’t be the last.”
Leo, 31, New York
Leo, who is trans and uses they/them pronouns, found out they were pregnant at 19 weeks. Living in a state that protects access to abortion care, their insurance covered the cost of the procedure, and they did not have to travel out of state.
“It was confusing, because I’m not someone who has never wanted to be pregnant or have a child. For me, it just came at the wrong time. There were maps of clinics that provide abortions online, and the higher the gestational age, the smaller and smaller the number of clinics got. It was really frightening — I wanted the simplest abortion possible, but I also wanted to give myself time to make my decision. Luckily, I had a lot of support, from my partner at the time, my therapist, a couple of friends and my sister.
My abortion was an act of self-love.”
“Sometimes insurance companies give trans people a hard time and deny people the care they need, so I called beforehand, flat out shared my situation, and asked them to double, triple check to make sure they understood who I was. A friend drove me, and my then-partner brought me food.
“I felt love towards the fetus, but ultimately feel like that love for the fetus was redirected to me, and gave me the opportunity to continue my dreams. I’m a Ph.D. student now — I have certain ambitions, aspirations and accomplishments. My abortion was an act of self-love.”