Five brave women open up about their experiences.

By Phoebe Zerwick
Emma Darvick

In our country’s discussion of abortion, one group of women remains largely unseen: mothers. An assumption persists that abortion services are used largely by teenage girls and young, childless women. But mothers are in fact the majority of patients. Many of these women know what it means to be a parent. They have stayed up all night with a colicky baby, planned birthday parties and holiday gatherings, and juggled jobs and child care. And when they become pregnant unexpectedly, they think about what another child would mean for their family. Their reasons for terminating a pregnancy are complex, from the state of their relationship, to personal finances, to reluctance to add another child to their family. For them, abortion is the choice that makes the best, or only, sense.

Still, the subject of moms having abortions remains taboo, even though the most recent numbers available indicate that 59 percent of women having abortions—nearly six in ten women—are mothers, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Approximately 1 million abortions are performed in this country every year and while an estimated three in ten women will terminate a pregnancy in their lifetime, many will remain silent. Increasingly, though, women are sharing their experiences to de-stigmatize abortion, such as with the grassroots hashtag campaign #ShoutYourAbortion. And the conversation is intensifying this summer with the Supreme Court weighing the arguments in a Texas case; the ruling could allow all states to impose further restrictions on access to abortion.

To understand what goes into a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy, Parents interviewed mothers from across the country. Some of the women we spoke with already had children when they had an abortion. Others had an abortion at a younger age, knowing that someday, when they were more settled in their lives, they would want children. Whatever their circumstances, one thing is certain. These women represent millions of others like them: fellow mothers on the soccer field, at the PTA meeting, or beside you at work.

Only now they are no longer invisible.

“I knew I wanted to have children, just not at 22.”

- Hannah, of Minneapolis, with her husband, Patrick, and their children (left to right): twins Naomi and Saul , 5, Raphael, 8, and Isaac, 12

It was the summer of 2012. The twins, Naomi and Saul, had just been weaned, and Hannah and Patrick were exhausted from juggling demanding jobs and child care for four kids. When Hannah discovered she was pregnant again, abortion was the obvious choice. “I think for both of us, it was an instant thing,” says Hannah, an attorney. “If you have kids and are faced with an unexpected pregnancy, you’re thinking about the kids you have and what you wouldn’t be able to give them in terms of your time, energy, and attention.”

Hannah certainly didn’t think that she could become pregnant again. Even though her first child, Isaac, was conceived easily, she struggled with infertility following his birth. When Isaac was a toddler, she miscarried—an upsetting loss. ”I was desperate to have a baby,” Hannah says. “I was devastated that I couldn’t.” Hannah gave up going to synagogue at the time because the sight of pregnant women or infants left her in tears. But over the course of six years of infertility treatments, Hannah had Raphael, followed by the twins.

As much as Hannah longed for children, there had been a time in her life when she didn’t. When she and Patrick were engaged, she had her first abortion. “I just felt completely unprepared,” she says.  “I knew I wanted to have children, just not at 22.” Today, she works part-time, specializing in employment, labor, and construction law, while Patrick works in computer programming. Their family life has settled into a steady rhythm with time for music lessons, soccer practice, and regular trips to the zoo. Thinking back, Hannah says she’s grateful that she was able to decide when to have children, and when to stop. “I know people might not understand how I can terminate a pregnancy and then be upset if I lose one,” she says. “I’m a lucky person—I have a great family. I’m blessed with what I have. People need to know more about others’ experiences so we all can better understand one another and not sit back and simply judge.”

“We weren’t talking about divorce at that point, but it had crossed my mind.”

- Rev. Susan Chorley, of Boston, with her ex-husband, Frank, and their son, Franz, 14

When Susan Chorley landed her first ministerial position out of seminary at a large Baptist church outside Boston, she had a 9-month-old. It was an all-consuming job, running the youth ministry and other duties that often kept her at work through the evening. Her husband, Frank, stayed home with their son, Franz, but Frank was getting ready to return to school. The stress was taking its toll on their marriage.

Then, a year into the job, Susan became pregnant. “We weren’t talking about divorce at that point, but it had crossed my mind,” says Susan. “And I didn’t want to bring another life into a tenuous situation.”

The following year, Susan and Frank separated. The abortion made her sad, but with the marriage falling apart, she felt that their lives were too much in flux for another child. “I had envisioned myself as a mom of two children,” she says. “So there’s a little bit of sadness about that, but I think it was the best decision for our family at the time.” Today, she works at a church-based nonprofit organization, running a women’s shelter, domestic-violence prevention programs, and other services. Franz lives part of the week with her and part of the week with his father, now a designer and an art teacher.

When her son was younger, Susan often drove past an abortion clinic on their way to his school. One day, when he was 10, Franz noticed protesters and asked about abortion and what the signs meant. “Why would anyone ever choose to do that?” he asked. “I paused and felt weird about it,” she says. “And I just felt he should know. I told him once I made that decision myself, and that it was a really hard decision.” She believes he understands.

“I had friends who were struggling with fertility. There was a little bit of guilt. I could have this baby and be fine.”

- Virginia Duplessis, of El Cerrito, California. Married. Has one daughter (not pictured) 

“I’m the oldest of five, and the ‘baby’ of my family is 19 years younger than I am. So in some ways, I already got to be a parent growing up,” says Virginia, who with her husband had decided they would keep their own family small. “For what I wanted to do, see, and accomplish in life, I simply felt that I could achieve those things with just one child of our own.”

When her daughter was in preschool, Virginia’s IUD failed. At the time, she was working as a doula, helping women prepare for birth and coaching them through labor. After taking the pregnancy test, she met her husband for lunch to break the news. “For a moment, I was worried that my husband would want to keep the baby,” she says now. “But he was worried that I would want to keep the baby.” They were relieved when they both agreed to an abortion.

However, Virginia surprised herself when she cried so much at the Planned Parenthood clinic that the staff thought that perhaps she was there unwillingly. “It was the right decision, but so hard,” she says. “For me it was my baby. As much as people feel uncomfortable using that language, that’s what really resonated for me.” Over the years, she has hesitated to talk about the experience. “I had friends who were struggling with fertility,” she says. “There was a little bit of guilt. I could have this baby and be fine.” She got over feeling sad years ago, however, and has never regretted her decision.

Today, Virginia works in a sexual-assault prevention program on a college campus, and her daughter is getting ready to begin high school. The Bay Area is expensive, even with two professional incomes, but with one child, Virginia and her husband lead the rich life she always envisioned, with enough money for private school, overseas vacations, and saving for college. “To me it’s so interesting that the narrative around terminating a pregnancy is that it’s this incredibly traumatic, life-changing experience,” she says. “I do think about it, but I can’t even remember when it was.”

“We didn’t want to start over again.”

- Lena, of San Diego. Has one son (not pictured) 

By the time she was 31, Lena and her boyfriend owned a house in the suburbs where she lived with her 13-year-old son from a previous relationship and her boyfriend’s son, who was just a year older. Lena hadn’t gone to college but had found a fruitful career in the mortgage-lending business; she worked late nights while her boyfriend worked days at a body shop. Together, they made enough to save for the future, with money left for dinners out and relaxing weekends at home. The boys, she says, were close, spending hours together as teenagers, in their room playing video games or out in the neighborhood riding skateboards or hanging out with friends.

Then Lena became pregnant. At first, she thought she had the flu. But when her doctor tested her and confirmed a pregnancy, she knew right away she didn’t want to bring a baby into their lives. “We didn’t want to start over again,” she says. “I just felt like it would have been selfish, especially since we struggled when the boys were young. We were finally at a point where we weren’t struggling.” And their teenagers needed them, maybe not in the moment-to-moment way younger children do, but they required guidance and supervision. With her boyfriend’s support, Lena made an appointment for an abortion. “We just knew,” she says. “We didn’t want another child.”

Within weeks of the abortion, Lena was laid off. The couple began arguing over money. “Our financial strain was just unbearable, and it caused a lot of fighting,” Lena says. Eventually, she and her boyfriend split up. Today, Lena’s son is away at community college, studying marketing and dreaming of becoming a rap star, and she lives with two dogs in a cottage in the city, not far from the beach.

“It’s unfortunate that my boyfriend’s and my relationship didn’t work out,” Lena says. “But at least we didn’t have a child in the middle of it.”

“I can bring a lot more wisdom to parenting now.”

- Ruby Sinreich, of Durham, North Carolina, with her son Izzy, 7

Ruby was 17, a rising high-school senior, when she found out that she was pregnant. At first she considered having the baby and going off to college, infant in tow. She was living in Miami with her father that year and told him she didn’t want an abortion. “I felt I had to own up to my responsibility,” she says. Then, her father’s girlfriend stepped in, asking her to reconsider. “She convinced me I could be a better mom if I waited,” says Ruby.

Once settled into college life, at UNC Chapel Hill, Ruby came to see how impossible it would have been for her to raise a baby in a dorm room. At 18, she was busy with her studies and with student activism. After graduation, she worked for a series of nonprofit organizations—including Planned Parenthood—developing websites and later social-media strategy. She doesn’t remember ever talking about the abortion, or questioning her decision. When she was in her mid-30s, still single and wanting a child, “I wondered if I had lost my one chance,” she says.

At 35, Ruby married a fellow Web developer, in large part because they knew they wanted a child. Her son, Izzy, was born three years later. By then, married and settled in a career, she felt ready to be a mother. “I had my son 20 years after I had the abortion,” she says. “I can bring a lot more wisdom to parenting now.”

Today, Ruby and Izzy’s father are separated, sharing custody. Izzy has just finished first grade. Last September, Ruby tweeted about her abortion at #ShoutYourAbortion. Hundreds of people responded, some calling her selfish and immoral. However, she also heard privately from friends, grateful to her for bringing abortion out of the shadows. “There were a lot of people who thanked me because they can’t talk about their abortion,” she says. “So I felt I was speaking for them.”

CREDITS: Wardrobe styling by Amy Soderlind for Workgroup. Grooming: for Hannah: Julie Lam for Wehmann Models & Talent. For Susan: Bryan Lynde. For Ruby: Tara DiPetrillo. For Virginia and Lena: Tricia Turner.


Comments (16)

August 8, 2019
A woman should be allowed to decide whether she wants to keep or terminate a pregnancy within a reasonable time frame. Late-term abortions really should not be a thing. I think this is such an issue because so many people have so many varying views on abortion. Were these women selfish? Not to them, and not to me. It takes a lot of effort, time, patience, money, determination to raise a child. Don't forget the lifetime commitment that comes with it. That is a SERIOUS thing that people forget. "When are you having kids?" "Do you want kids? What? Why not, do you hate kids?" "You should have kids, they're great!" Yeah, maybe so, but if you are not the one paying for them and you are not the one paying their bills, if you are not the one taking them to school, picking them up, taking care of them when they're sick and possibly have more serious health challenges, fi you're not the one that will be the parent then you really need to not say anything. At 25 years old I have shamelessly decided against having children. To prevent them I have an IUD and will be getting another one soon to replace this one. I do not want anything that comes with them. I love kids, I think they are phenomenal creatures with love, life, creativity, imagination, and amazing spirits, but I absolutely do not want to be responsible for bringing another human being into this world. "You could give it up for adoption!" why would I do that and contribute to the already MILLIONS of children in foster homes and orphanages that need to be taken in and cared for? Why would I bring in another being amongst the many that already are DESIRING and LONGING to be loved, touched, hugged, told they're important and have meaning? Personally, I do not believe life begins at conception. i believe an abortion within 12 weeks should be legal. Why? Well, does it really have a life at that point? It really knows nothing. The brain has really yet to develop and about 12 weeks is when nerve endings that feel pain, start to develop. Abortion is a largely personal and complicated choice and banning it anywhere, given the fact that men do not have the same biological, physical, mental, emotional, mental and hormonal commitment when it comes to having children, is the epitome if sexism.
May 16, 2019
Im really disappointed of this article. With all respect for these women, these are 5 selfish stories. Any women should make the decision to end a pregnancy or not, because the real desicion is am i mature enough to have sex an assume any consequences?. After become a mom i changed my opinion about abortion.
May 12, 2019
Thank you for sharing this! Many women who get abortions do so for any number of personal reasons, none of them owe any of us an explanation for their personal medical decisions. The people judging here should consider themselves lucky, and should not be horrible to these women who made the best decision for their families. Thank you to these brave women who shared their stories, even knowing there would be many haters of bodily autonomy. God bless them and their lovely families.
May 3, 2019
It upsets me to see that so many women can claim that being a mother and having an abortion is seemingly proof that abortion is justifiable. When you have an abortion, you are destroying a human life. Not only that, but you are destroying a life that you brought into existence. If you don't want to have any more kids, or if you don't want to bring children into a difficult marriage situation or into a relationship that could be ending in divorce, then the answer is clear - don't have sex. Because the beauty of sex isn't the pleasure you derive from it, but is its incredible life-giving properties. Don't kill the life you have created and claim that it was for the baby's good or that it was your "only option." Instead show women how to be women by taking responsibility for your actions and raising a beautiful baby.
May 16, 2019
Lady please... just because you and your man have shitty boring sex doesnt mean other people dont do it for pleasure. I feel sorry for both you and your man. Mind your business because what others do is none of yours.
April 13, 2019
You have the audacity to represent parents yet you push abortion? What kind of cRaziness is this? Abortion is murder, it is not a choice that God allows you to make, it is not just another decision, it is life and death, it is not done today forgotten tommorrow, it will always remain in your conscionceness.One of Gods ten commandments to mankind is THOU SHALT NOT KILL.
April 1, 2019
This made me so sad - I had my two children very close together at a time when we were struggling to make ends meet, but aborting my younger girl would not have made me stronger, wiser, braver or anything else worth being. Maybe I wouldn't have had to live on beans and rice and wear used clothes, but I wouldn't sacrifice my baby for steak and a vacation. I'd have had more sleep and less stress for a tiny part of my life, but that made me stronger. Doing hard things is good for you. And the joy of having another sweet person in my life far outweigh any hardships I could've had.
May 16, 2019
It's as simple as mind ya business. Do you. But let others do them because it doesnt affect your sad life either way
April 1, 2019
Also, how much more valuable is a baby than any animal - and would anyone start campaigns to encourage you to be proud of euthanizing your pets? To offer you support and call you brave because your cat had kittens and you weren't rich or healthy enough to take care of them, so you "terminated" them?
February 21, 2019
I feel like this article is to push an agenda. Being proud of having an abortion isn’t really the direction parents should be running for. It’s sending a message that having kids is a burden and that women can’t borhcbe successful and a parent. None of these women’s testimonies were inspiring or made me think “yeah they made the right choice” in most of their cases they were being irresponsible not taking the proper precautions to not get pregnant in the first place. Especially the first mother. I think you should balance this article by taking to mothers that regret their abortions as well or women that changed their minds. Maybe keep it well rounded instead of pushing your bias.
I meant that women can’t both be successful and a parent.
February 7, 2019
Perhaps have some testimonials of moms that originally considered an abortion, but then chose to have their baby. They could be standing next to their children explaining how they wish they’d aborted them. Oh wait—those moms don’t exist. That’s because having a child changes you for the better. Some of us have realized that life is about more than just ourselves.
May 16, 2019
Actually, those moms do exist. I’m the child who was told from the time they were 6 that they weren’t wanted. My father was abusive and my mother wanted to abort me and leave him. My grandparents talked her into keeping me and staying with my father. I would rather have been aborted.
March 22, 2019
I wanted to have an abortion when i was 18 years old because i wasn't stable in any way and i wasn't ready. But i changed my mind and i was so happy i did. My baby changed my life for the better and i finally understand what love stands for. Of course i told then boyfriend now ex husband, about it because he's part of what we created and has the right to know. Now when we argue (about his lies and him coming home at 4am and other past situations) he used that against me... I didn't tell him that to use against me... I feel really horrible as a mom and I'm scared he'll someday tell my child about it....
February 6, 2019
Please offer both sides of a view. I believe it is unfair for you to push a political view to your readers. At least provide an article about the countless women’s voices who regret their decision. Not everyone can get through an abortion with the ease that you portray these women did. Do a favor to all moms and give the truth about both sides.
February 6, 2019
A baby is a baby. To have an abortion, is sickening, evil, selfishness. Would you be more upset if an animal is abused? It's called taking responsibility for your actions. You had sex, you got pregnant...that obviously can happen. So the choice should never be murder! Have the child and give it up for adoption if you don't want to take care of the baby. That is the only loving thing to do.