Women describe circumstances that led to abortion

Saturday - 10/20/2012, 1:34pm EDT

By LINDSEY TANNER
AP Medical Writer

CHICAGO (AP) - They say they were using birth control, but it failed.

One woman would have had the baby but the man she was in a relationship with didn't want her to. Another was having an affair with a married man and viewed a pregnancy as unthinkable. A third woman's health would be at risk if she continued her pregnancy.

Nearly 1 million women have abortions in the U.S. each year. What leads them to that choice?

"There's this false idea that certain types of women have abortions and different types of women have babies," says bioethicist and gynecologist Dr. Lisa Harris. "They're really the same types of women at different points in their lives."

It's hard to find women willing to talk about it. The Associated Press contacted eight abortion providers and three groups that work with abortion patients. No women were willing to talk.

Ultimately, the AP found three women through a nonpolitical online support group, http://www.afterabortion.com, for those who struggle emotionally after their abortions. They may not be typical of the majority who have abortions.

A fourth woman who considered abortion but didn't have one agreed to talk after her doctor asked her to consider AP's request.

The women spoke by phone and e-mail on condition of anonymity for privacy reasons, and because of shame, concern over hurting loved ones, or fear of harassment from abortion foes. AP verified their names, ages, locations, and abortion circumstances as much as possible through a public records database, phone calls and other sources.

These are their stories:

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A 24-year-old woman in Chicago, working as a bookkeeper, discovered she was pregnant earlier this year.

She'd been using a contraceptive patch that she thought was almost 100 percent effective. A missed period was the first clue it had failed.

"I was kind of in shock. I took like five home tests, five days in a row. Everyday was positive," she said.

She went to her gynecologist to confirm the pregnancy and talk about options.

"The moment I said that I was thinking about not keeping it, she stood up out of her chair and said, `This is a Catholic hospital. I could get in so much trouble for talking to you.'"

Illinois has lenient laws, no required waiting period, and there are several abortion clinics in the Chicago area. The woman found that while "abortions are easy to get in Chicago, advice about them is not."

She scoured online sites seeking objective information and made an appointment at a center that advertised confidential counseling and free ultrasounds. It turned out to be a religious anti-abortion group.

"The first thing they did was hand me a Bible. They started showing me these pictures and videos" of aborted fetuses, she said.

She said she wanted to leave. But she also wanted that free ultrasound, hoping against hope that it would show she had miscarried. Watching the video was part of the center's requirement.

After the ultrasound, the counselor said she was 9 weeks pregnant and gave her a tiny doll supposedly the same size.

The young woman said she would have considered continuing the pregnancy and putting the baby up for adoption, but that the man she was in a relationship with pressured her into going through with an abortion.

On June 23, she went to a private clinic where there were about 20 women in the small, strangely silent waiting room. "Every once in a while you'd see a woman start to cry," she said.

It turned out she was 14 weeks pregnant, farther along than the anti-abortion counselor had told her. She paid $1,250 for the abortion. Her insurance wouldn't cover it.

She said she developed an infection that kept her out of work for several weeks. That's unusual. Fewer than 2 percent of women get obstetric infections after an abortion and the risk is much higher after childbirth, according to an analysis of national data published earlier this year. The woman said because of the long absence, she lost her job but has since found another one.

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A 21-year-old retail worker in Rockford, Ill., was engaged to be married when she had an abortion on Feb. 23, 2011. Her doctor had told her a pregnancy could kill her.

She said she had a rare but benign brain tumor, and surgery had failed to remove all of it. There is evidence that hormonal changes in pregnancy can fuel growth of these tumors.