Youth Testify Abortion Storyteller Beth Vial wrote about her 28 week abortion for Teen Vogue.
In recent weeks, New York and Virginia have made headlines for their efforts to cut the medically unnecessary regulations on later abortion. The bills sought to ensure that people seeking abortions would no longer have to travel out of state for care and, in Virginia’s case, ask one — not three — doctors for approval. The policies even made it into the president’s State of the Union address. Anti-abortion advocates have been intentionally misleading the public about the policies and misrepresenting what later abortion is and why people have them. I know because I had an abortion at 28 weeks.
I’m 23, and I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and irritable bowel syndrome, which means I’m in a constant state of pain; I have absent and irregular — if present at all — periods, nausea and vomiting, weight fluctuation from the PCOS, as well as cramping and more from the IBS-C/D, all of which are symptoms of an early pregnancy. I’d recently heard about a friend of a friend who didn’t know she was pregnant and went into premature labor. The idea of being pregnant for that long and not knowing scared me, and taking a pregnancy test is pretty standard anytime I go to the doctor to address PCOS-related issues. So I took a pregnancy test just in case, but the test came back negative and a doctor told me I was infertile due to my PCOS. When the symptoms persisted, though, I sought further care.
It was then that I found out I was pregnant, and then that I started experiencing challenges to accessing an abortion.
Unsure of what to do after I learned I was pregnant, an aide at my doctor’s office told me to go to a clinic, which turned out to be an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center, for a free ultrasound I thought I needed. There I filled out the paperwork, took a pregnancy test, and went into a small room with a counselor, who gave me a ton of literature and talked to me about my options. Because the crisis pregnancy center didn’t have nurses on staff, she said I would need to go to a different location for an ultrasound. I started to feel weird about the way they were trying to convince me not to have an abortion. But I was panicking, so I was willing to accept any free help I could get.
At the second clinic, they gave me a “diagnostic ultrasound” and broadcasted the image on a huge television screen. They pointed at the fetal parts and said macabre things like “Let’s check to make sure the head is attached.”
I was sobbing and couldn’t bear to look at the screen. They handed me six ultrasound images and said I was 16 weeks pregnant. I explained I wanted an abortion, but they said it was dangerous. I now know it’s a very safe procedure. I realized they were never going to help me, so I left.
The next day I went to a hospital near my home to get a real ultrasound. That’s when I couldn’t believe what they told me: I was actually 26 weeks pregnant.
All the while, the anti-abortion advocates from the centers I had visited kept calling me day and night, harassing me about my decision. I finally yelled at them on the phone and blocked their number. They made an already stressful situation worse — something crisis pregnancy centers frequently do. They use deceptive practices, like telling someone they are much earlier or later in their pregnancy than they really are, or frightening people with myths about abortion, seemingly in an attempt to sway people away from the procedure.
When I finally saw a doctor who could provide me with an abortion, she said she had to get approval from the hospital board because of hospital policy, which was denied. I cried. I didn’t know what I would do. I didn’t want to continue the pregnancy because I was too sick, not ready, and I simply couldn’t afford it.
Despite living in Oregon, a state with one of the most progressive abortion laws in the nation, I encountered so many obstacles to accessing abortion just because of my situation. Eventually, my doctor referred me to a clinic in New Mexico, but that meant I had to fly across the country just to get an abortion — and it would be expensive. Because I was later in my pregnancy, the abortion would cost $10,500, another $1,500 for blood work and ultrasounds, and about $1,000 to fly there. My insurance would only cover $200.
The clinic told me about the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, an organization that helps people cover the cost of their abortions when they can’t afford it. They helped me cover $1,000, and the National Abortion Federation helped me out with another $1,000. It seemed insurmountable. But thanks to some loved ones, I was able to raise the money.
Two weeks later I flew to New Mexico and stayed with a family friend for six days. It was a long process, but I was able to get the abortion I needed.
Afterward, I searched the Internet to look for later-abortion stories like mine. Most focus on fetal anomalies and health issues, and not the barriers that keep us from being able to access care by design. In fact, research shows that the anti-abortion restrictions on early abortion have created an increased need for later abortion in Texas. I know I’m lucky — I live in a state with no restrictions on when in pregnancy an abortion is allowed and Medicaid coverage of abortion care, yet it can still be inaccessible if we’re misled or just can’t afford it. This is especially true for young people.
People are also impacted by financial constraints in getting access to abortion services. Young people are less likely to be able to afford travel for multiple clinic visits. Even with access to reliable transportation, if we live in an abortion desert or in one of the eight states with only one abortion clinic, we may miss school or work to make it to our appointments. It also means risking disciplinary action by our schools, teachers, or bosses.
A nation that acknowledges our constitutional right to abortion is not the same as a nation that makes abortion accessible to us when we need it. There are no rights without access.