Every year, 185,000 women in England and Wales have an abortion. After all, most women can become pregnant for over 30 years across a lifetime. It shouldn’t be surprising that one in three of us will need to have an abortion at least once during that time. Here, four women tell their story.
Elizabeth, 37, Company Director, London
Last year, when my youngest was just a year old, I found myself pregnant again. I knew before I could even take a test. This time, I didn’t feel as excited.
I had an older child at school, and physically and emotionally wasn’t ready for another. The balance of our life was held together so delicately – family life, work, relationships and friends. I was concerned that another baby could set everything off balance. I was still breastfeeding and didn't want the exhaustion to force me to stop. My youngest deserved time to continue to be just that: the youngest.
Even saying this feels like I am making excuses – "acceptable" reasons that people can understand. But any woman should have the choice to do whatever is right for her and not have to explain it or get permission from anyone else.
So, as soon as I got the blue lines on the pregnancy test, I told my partner and made an appointment at the clinic. I made sure I got seen quickly, as I knew if I was going to terminate the pregnancy, I wanted things to happen fast. It was still a mass of cells but, if I got further down the line, it would be too much like a baby to me. I did change my mind once. I needed more time to think, to be certain. In the end, I decided it wasn’t the right time for a baby and, at around seven weeks into the pregnancy, I went in for the termination.
Looking back, I don’t regret the termination, but the experience has impacted on me, changed me
My mum came along with me and she was really supportive. In the waiting room, there was so much diversity: young girls, older women, some with young kids, all backgrounds and cultures. It helped normalise it for me. I took the tablets in the hospital and went home, feeling rather out of it. Then the cramps started and it was very painful. I’ve experienced labour twice, but with those pains you at least feel like something wonderful is going to come out it. With this, you just take as many painkillers as you can to block it out.
Looking back, I don’t regret the termination, but the experience has impacted on me, changed me. The anniversary of when I would have been due was emotionally hard, though I only realise that now. Since then, my life is occasionally punctuated with wondering what it would be like to have a newborn, or a three-month-old. I see other people I know trying to get pregnant and I wonder what they would think if they knew that I'd had an abortion. I know I made the right decision, but I don't feel like I can talk to them about what's happened to me.
People’s reactions are unpredictable and I’ve become wary. It’s still taboo and sadly some people do judge. Then there are the questions about whether I'll have more children. I say, "I don't know." I do wonder why people think it's OK to ask such a personal question? After all, there’s so much stuff going on under the surface that we can't see.
Paula, 54, healthcare professional, Kent
People often assume abortions are for teenagers, but I was 45 at the time, with two teenage children and a very unhappy marriage. My husband and I had just had a big bust-up and a reconciliation of sorts.
Our sex life was patchy. I’d stopped using the contraceptive injection, as I didn’t like the effect it had had on my weight, and I wasn’t sure what to try next. I suppose I wasn’t really thinking about it properly, as my mind was on the problems in our relationship. I just didn’t think it would happen to me.
I realised six or seven weeks in to the pregnancy that I hadn’t had a period for weeks. I just felt pregnant. So, when I did a test and it was positive, it wasn’t really a shock. I felt sad and so angry with myself for being stupid. I knew straightaway I absolutely did not want to continue with pregnancy.
My husband was kind and understanding, saying he’d support whatever choice I made. I am grateful for his lack of judgement. If he’d said he didn’t want me to have abortion and continue with pregnancy, that would have been very upsetting. Equally, if he’d pushed me to have an abortion, I would have resented him for controlling my choices.
When I told my closest female friend a few days later, she hugged me and told me about her own abortion for the first time
I had two wonderful children and always felt my family was complete. Having another child at 45 years old would impact hugely financially, professionally and socially. I did feel sad to be ending a pregnancy when so many women struggle to conceive and remain childless.
My GP referred me to the nearby Marie Stopes Clinic. I remember having an ultrasound scan to confirm how far along I was. I turned my head away from screen. How different from my two previous pregnancies, when I had been so excited and eager to see and hear everything. This felt like a huge problem that just needed sorting.
The abortion was done under sedation. It was a D&C procedure and, though unpleasant, it was quick and the staff were very kind. I was home with a few hours and was up and about very soon afterwards.
When I told my closest female friend a few days later, she hugged me and told me about her own abortion for the first time. Since then, have I have shared it with one or two close friends and also my current partner, whom I share everything with.
I have never regretted it. The impact of the abortion was totally positive. My husband I divorced a few years afterwards. How much more difficult it would it all have been if we had had a young child to consider?
Manuela, 40, Childbirth Educator, London
My partner and I started seeing each other when I was 22. A year-and-a-half later, I discovered I was pregnant. I felt excited when I did the test, but he was visibly terrified.
I was with someone I loved (and am still with today), but felt conflicted about what I wanted, what he wanted and what was right. I am Spanish and, despite being atheist and pro-abortion, I had been raised in a Catholic country. Abortion was something sordid, to be done in secret. It was much simpler for my partner. If we weren’t ready for a baby, he felt we didn’t need to have one. We saw it all quite differently.
We argued back and forth. I was clueless about motherhood and was scared of losing my partner. It sounds ridiculous now but, back then, I was pretty selfless and felt I had to please others. Raising a child in London alone without family and without a partner wasn’t something I could see in my future.
A year later, we did have a baby and went on to have two more. We are a happy family
So, I went for the termination. I wasn’t afraid but I was still very unsure. The staff were kind and caring and keen to make sure I was certain. Somehow I decided to go through with it, though I still wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do.
I woke up when it was over. Culturally programmed to feel guilty, I felt very odd and numb. I think I had detached myself from what had happened.
Looking back on this, I regret what lay behind my decision, though not necessarily the decision to have the termination. Would I have wanted to have a baby? Probably not. I just wish that I had made that decision for myself.
As it was, a year later, we did have a baby and went on to have two more. We are a happy family. Would I have had these amazing children if I had continued this first pregnancy? I will never know.
The termination has been a real issue for us and something I’ve struggled to come to terms with. Over the years, I have felt guilty for not having been strong enough. It’s only now I can discuss it.
Now I have a very strong sense of identity and self-value, I know I would have acted very differently.Yet despite – and indeed because of – all that, I remain firmly pro-choice. My feelings about my own abortion are complex, but my belief in abortion being available to all is very straightforward.
Kate, 49, psychotherapist, Kent
In my twenties, I had very low self-esteem. An older man I worked with swept me off my feet. He seemed sweet, leaving little gifts on my desk every morning. I’d never had anyone show this kind of interest in me before and it worked. I agreed to go out with him, without really taking on board that we had absolutely nothing in common.
When I was 27, about six months in to the relationship, my period was late. The moment I found out I was pregnant, I had a very strong feeling that all this was not right for me. My GP asked me if I planned to marry this man and have his children, and I could feel myself screaming inside, "No way! This is a huge mistake."
Deciding to have the abortion was a no-brainer. It was without doubt the right thing to do
I told my boyfriend about the pregnancy, but ended the relationship immediately. He quickly became abusive and started harassing me. He would call me and my friends at all hours. He spray-painted and stole my car. He would follow me down the street, shouting abuse. I remember him, screaming at me down a corridor at work: “That’s my baby that you are killing.” I was terrified of what he might do.
I threatened to take an injunction out against him and, in doing so, found out that two other women had already done so for similar, or even worse, behaviour. This was his pattern. I felt lucky to have got away from him when I did.
Deciding to have the abortion was a no-brainer. That might sound flippant, but I don’t feel the shame about it that society tells me to feel. I felt totally ill-equipped to bring up a child alone and wanted to cut all ties with this dangerous man. It was also so early on that I didn’t feel that I had a baby inside me. It was without doubt the right thing to do.
There was a little anxiety beforehand, as with any kind of operation, but it was extremely quick and painless and done under general anaesthetic. Coming around from the anaesthetic was probably the most difficult aspect, but the treatment I had was wonderful. I felt cared for and not at all judged.
Becoming pregnant and having an abortion saved me from an abusive relationship but, apart from that, I don’t feel it had any impact on my life.
Information, support and abortion services can be found via the British Pregnancy Advisory Service: www.bpas.org, 03457 30 40 30.