For the last four days, conservatives have manufactured a national crisis around a Virginia abortion bill that modestly loosens restrictions after the second trimester. The virality of the bill — which would affirm access to third-trimester abortions only if one medical provider says it will result in death or the impairment of mental and physical health, as Roe v. Wade allows — has led to misinformation about later abortion.
Nearly every conservative has something to say about abortions that happen later in pregnancy — from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), who called them “repugnant to civilized people,” to President Donald Trump, who said the latest outrage would “lift up the whole pro-life movement.” All the while, the Virginia bill’s sponsor, Kathy Tran, has been receiving racist, threatening messages.
A voice noticeably missing from the conversation is that of women and gender minorities who have abortions later in pregnancy. This is a critical voice to hear from, given all the vilification of people who have them and doctors who perform them.
ThinkProgress spoke with one woman who was willing to share her experience. Sharon’s story is one of many; there is no one reason why people have later abortions. Katrina Kimport, who’s interviewed dozens of women who’ve had later abortions for the University of California San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program, would tell you as much. Comprehensive data doesn’t exist, she said. Because, first, later abortions are rare, as just over one percent of abortions are performed at or after 21 weeks. Second, people are complicated. The best way Kimport could describe why people have later abortions is there is “a piece of information” that’s so critical it makes it impossible for the person to continue with the pregnancy.
For Sharon, there were a host of reasons why she had an abortion later in pregnancy. For one, she lived in Texas, a state where there are a lot of abortion restrictions, even during the first trimester.
“Research shows that anti-abortion restrictions created an increased need for later abortion in Texas. Anti-abortion activists have created the system they are now decrying and making us pay the price,” said Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds.
ThinkProgress agreed not to disclose Sharon’s last name or the precise gestational age that she had the abortion because she feared retaliation. Here’s our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Sharon, can you talk to me about when you got pregnant and what was going through your mind?
I got pregnant in 2015, and oh well I didn’t, I didn’t know. What was going through my mind when I found out I was pregnant is that I want an abortion because my partner wasn’t supportive. My first thought was I want an abortion. So I was trying to find answers to where I can get an abortion.
So you said you didn’t know that you were pregnant?
Yeah I didn’t. I didn’t know I was pregnant… I was in Honduras for the summer when I got pregnant… I returned to Florida where I was attending college and that’s where I found out I was pregnant. I kind of knew I was pregnant when I started seeing my belly grow and I went to buy a pregnancy test from Walmart and it tested positive. I [kind of] knew I was pregnant when I started to see my belly grow and my period didn’t show. But I thought it was the Plan B that I took, because it was my first time and I thought it was hormones. But it tested positive — the home pregnancy test. That’s when I knew. The first thought was ‘oh what am I going to do?’ but obviously my decision was I want an abortion.
And how far along were you in your pregnancy when you learned you were pregnant?
That was November, [so] five months?… Let’s just say four and a half months.
Can you describe to me the process of trying to have an abortion in Florida during that time?
Well in November, I was in Florida. But then I moved in December because I transferred schools and I came here, to Texas. For the process of the abortion, I was here, in Texas. Because I was so far along… I couldn’t have an abortion here because of HB 2 [a law that banned abortions after 20 weeks, among other things] so I went to New Mexico to have the abortion.
So you were transferring colleges, right? And so you were in the midst of that big move. Then you were in Texas when you decided ‘I’m going to have an abortion,’ but you said you couldn’t because of the law.
I was more focused on college and thinking about what I was going to do. My first thought was ‘I want an abortion.’ But… I’m from Honduras and I didn’t know that abortion was legal here because in Honduras, it’s illegal. So I didn’t know what was going on in this country and I just thinking about what I’m going to do if it’s illegal? Can I have an abortion here? …. Am I going to be in trouble if I do it? But then I went to a crisis pregnancy center [and] they told me that I couldn’t have it. And I started searching, and I knew that… you can’t have an abortion after 20 weeks because of the law. So that’s when I started to call another clinic. And then they said that they have a clinic in New Mexico.
I’m wondering now, Sharon, did you have any kind of family or support?
All of my family is back in Honduras, so I didn’t have [anyone] here. I came to Texas and I came to like a place to live — they [had] a house and I stayed in that room. But I didn’t have friends. I had no one here in Texas.
Right because you transferred? You were also a new student and didn’t have any friends.
I didn’t have friends. There were just classmates. I didn’t have like a friend [that] I could tell ‘I’m frightened’ or something like that. Also because in the back of my mind I was like, ‘What am I going to do? I want to go back home.’ But I didn’t want to talk to anyone because I was pregnant and ashamed. My friends in Florida, they were asking ‘oh are you pregnant’ and I was in a Christian university in Florida so you can’t talk about that.
How much did it cost [to have the abortion]?
Was that for the flight and procedure?
The $12,000 was just for the abortion. And then the abortion fund helped me raise the money because I didn’t have money. Then another fund gave me a flight and a hotel so I can stay there.
What would you want people to know about abortions that happen later in pregnancy?
First, it’s our option. It’s our body. We decide… I wanted an abortion because my partner wasn’t supportive and I wanted to finish my studies. And if I didn’t have enough money for me or a place, how could I have a baby, you know? So sometimes it is for our future. It’s not the right time. We make mistakes and it’s not the right time to have a baby, right… I cannot speak about the time. If you want an abortion, it is your choice. That’s what I can say.
Does your family know that you had an abortion? Does anyone in your personal life?
No, not yet. But I’ve been trying to ask my mom questions about abortion… She told me that she had an abortion because — before my little brothers. I’m like ok. I’m trying it out like asking her more and more. But I’m not prepared [yet] because I don’t want her to be disappointed. I think that she might be open-minded when I tell her — or not. But that’s the first person I want to tell that I had an abortion.