‘We cannot go back’:
People share their stories of abortion and access

We asked our readers: How has getting an abortion — or deciding not to — changed your life? Here’s what they said.

Photo illustration of a woman's reproductive system diagram, a sonogram image, abortion rights and anti-abortion protests.

By Anna Brand
May 7, 2022

Hundreds of thousands of women opt to get an abortion in this country every year. And that’s just what’s been recorded.

There are 600,000 abortions each year, on average, in the U.S, according to the CDC. The Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights group, puts that number even higher, at almost 900,000.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, nearly two dozen states are likely to ban abortions or severely restrict access to the procedure. Thirteen have "trigger laws" that would ban abortion almost immediately, according to an NBC News analysis of data from the Center for Reproductive Rights. Whether abortion remains legal would be left up to individual states, forcing some people to travel out of state to legally end a pregnancy.

We asked our readers: How has getting an abortion — or deciding not to — changed your life? How has having access to an abortion clinic affected your decision? Here’s what they wrote to us. Some of the submissions have been edited for space and clarity.

My mother told me in my late 60s that she wished I hadn't been born. Thankfully my fraternal grandparents raised me. Thankfully abortion wasn't an option at that time. I wouldn't be here nor my two kids and two grandsons.

— Lyn Roetzel / Sioux Falls, S.D.

My wife and I have three beautiful children. However, that would not be without access to abortion. [With] an ectopic pregnancy, it was devastating that we had to choose one life over another. But we did … and to our surprise the doctor recommended continuing to try. After the elective abortion, we had two more healthy babies.

— Jamie Doherty / Torrington, Conn.

I grew up pro-choice. When I found out I was pregnant at 20, I was scared, frustrated and defensive. I chose to keep my child and I found a way to work through my shortcomings. But if I had been trapped, forced to step into parenthood, it would have been a very different world for everyone around me. I want my great- grandkids to experience the process and consequence of choice. Empowered to make those high-stakes decisions. Because that's just the first one they will make about their family.

— Julie Davies / Salem, Ore.

I was scared to have an abortion because of the stigma. I purchased pills online, took them at home and almost bled to death. I then sought out legal abortion services. Abortive services allowed me to get out of a bad situation without being beaten for being pregnant. I became a nurse and wanted to give back to the community that helped me. This decision is not an easy one to make, but it is sometimes necessary.

— Kristi Wilson / Bakersfield, Calif.

The abortion I had was significant because it wasn’t. It didn’t disrupt my life. It didn’t financially devastate me. I was surrounded by support. I had the right to choose and the accessibility afforded by a liberal state.

— Margaret Gilkerson / New Haven, Conn.

I would have never met my wife if her mother decided to have an abortion instead of putting her up for adoption. Our three amazing children would not exist today if the abortion path was chosen. And then their children would never happen. The ripple goes on forever.

— Carl Klaudt / Sioux Falls, S.D.

In 2019 I had an abortion. It was at the time the hardest thing I had ever gone through in my life, but it was also one of the best and most selfless decisions I’ve ever made. I do not regret it. After my abortion I was then able to apply to the medical program of my dreams I had been working so hard to qualify for.

— Hannah Rayburn / Houston

I have never needed an abortion but had friends who almost died from botched abortions. I never worried that my daughter would have to risk her life if she needed an abortion. Nor did I worry that my son might be indirectly responsible for a woman’s death. Now I am concerned for both of them.

— Marigene Arnold / Kalamazoo, Mich.

When I found out I was pregnant with my oldest, I was up to my head in college work and enjoying the single life. I set an appointment with Planned Parenthood. When I arrived I was counseled by a wonderful woman beforehand who was very patient, nonjudgmental and educational. During my appointment I had changed my mind. My son is 8 and thriving. While I did not choose to have an abortion, it was incredible to have the resource available to me if I needed it.

— Ashlee Buckalew-Martindill / San Jacinto, Calif.

I have never personally had an abortion but I have paid for my son's girlfriend to have one. I was born in 1962 — I remember when Roe was ruled on. We cannot go back to back-alley abortions.

— Kelly Stefl / Cleveland, Ohio

My abortion in the early 1980s enabled me to begin my career as a registered nurse, be self-supporting and time my childbearing for when I was married. I have never regretted it.

— Judith Gnau / Hollins, Va.

I got pregnant when I was 15 in 1977. I was not prepared to be a mother. Fortunately my mother, who was not totally in favor of abortion, but knew I was not mature enough to be a mother, took me to Minneapolis for a safe abortion. I would not have the life I now have if I would have been forced to have a baby at that age.

— Connie Knuth / Janesville, Wisc.

Even being in my 60s, my abortion remains the single greatest regret of my life, which has caused me immeasurable grief. Some years have been more difficult than others to weather the storm of emotions. For the most part I’ve found peace, however grief and regret lurk always just beneath the surface. Young and unable to recognize the enormity of my decision, I made a cavalier, impulsive choice. How I wish — oh, how I wish — I had been unable to make that choice!

— Diane Marie / Naples, Fla.

In high school I had to counsel a fellow student who was pregnant. She didn’t want to tell her parents because of their religion. I don’t think she knew her options at all. She ended up getting an abortion without her parents’ permission because this was legal and still is in California.

— Eric Shepard / Carlsbad, Calif.

A partner I was with decided to get an abortion after we found out about an unplanned pregnancy. We were both young and both knew we wouldn't be staying together for long. I wanted to keep the baby; she did not. I was devastated, but I supported her decision. I shielded her past protesters and waited until it was over, mourning what could have been. But that experience only reaffirmed my belief that women should have sole control over their health and bodies. People need to understand that just because I'm pro-choice, that doesn't make it any less painful.

— Ed C / Addison, Texas

While I am currently an LGBT college student, it is my hope one day to have a family. In the event that I adopt girls, I am incredibly scared for their safety, well-being and access to certain health care procedures. I am very anxious about the government going after them if they had accidentally gotten pregnant and did not have the ability to keep or care for them.

— Jordan Turner / Columbus, Ohio

I had an abortion in my early 30s. My birth control failed and I was in school and knew that I was in no position to raise a child. I have no regrets and was able to pursue a career that made me a productive citizen. I had to travel three hours and stay overnight as the only medical facility at the time was a Catholic hospital that didn't do abortions. While it was inconvenient to travel, I can't imagine not having that choice available to me.

— Jennifer Stenkamp / Redmond, Ore.

I haven't had an abortion, but my mom did when she was young. It's odd to qualify life, but I know our family would not be here without the right to abortion. There would be another broken kid from a broken home, and another broken family in America.

— Cody Hickman / Arlington, Va.

This decision may well determine whether or not my fiancé and I even try to conceive. I am a 42-year-old woman with no children, about to be married. Being as I'm "old" for pregnancy, there are a lot more risks associated with a pregnancy, both for me and the baby. We both agree that we would not want to continue with a pregnancy that would result in harm to me, or one that would end with a baby with severe disabilities. Our reasons for this are both very personal as well as financial, but they are our decision, no one else's.

— Sarah Weston / Virginia Beach, Va.

Not getting an abortion has been the best decision of my life. My daughter is the most wonderful person I could have ever imagined. If we had gone through with an abortion when we were young and scared I would never have known the joy and gift of having this person in my life.

— Douglas Coakley / Metropolis, Ill.

I was married and in love with my husband. I was in a foreign country. I wasn’t ready to be a mother. As a mom now, the decision to abort is one I have learned to live with. It’s been difficult at times because it’s taboo to discuss openly. People judge and shun. Even friends turn away from you. It’s lonely.

— J.B. / San Marcos, Calif.