In July 2022, Sarah* returned home after visiting her sister for a few days and discovered she was pregnant. It was just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and everything had, as Sarah put it, “gone to shit.”
She and her husband Matt* knew they wanted an abortion, and specifically, as a survivor of domestic abuse, Sarah wanted a medication abortion—a way to feel a sense of control over what was happening to her body. But getting care in post-Roe America is complicated, and she was having difficulty accessing one in their home state. While the two were ultimately successful—Sarah describes her abortion as “peaceful”—at times, the process left them feeling frustrated, lonely, and in light of the country’s shifting laws, scared. “Since Roe fell, there has been so much uncertainty, and it’s felt like the laws could change at the drop of a hat,” Matt said. “If politicians ban abortion entirely, who are they going to come after next?” When asked whether she considered the potential legal ramifications of traveling across state lines to end her pregnancy, Sarah said: “In the moment, it didn’t cross my mind, because all I had on my mind was: I need to not be pregnant.”
In the U.S., abortion is often presented in a silo, an occurrence affecting a singular person. But the reality is that abortion care—and the barriers to it—affect couples, families, parents, friends, entire communities. Pregnant people overwhelmingly bear the brunt of anti-abortion laws, but we do them a disservice when we ignore how hurdles to health care also affect those around them.
Below, you’ll find both Sarah and Matt’s abortion stories, told separately and in their own words. (*Due to privacy concerns, Sarah and Matt’s names and their location have been changed or withheld.) Because of differing and fluctuating laws, the actions described below may violate the law in several states. Be sure to research your own state if you’re considering an abortion, and for more information on accessing medication abortion via telehealth, check out places like Hey Jane, Plan C, and carafem.
I can’t really explain it other than I felt like my body couldn’t do it. When I first received that positive pregnancy test, my husband and I immediately knew: it was not the right time. I was navigating health complications—including autoimmune problems—and had just gone through two rounds of iron infusions, because I was fighting anemia. I was also experiencing severe pregnancy symptoms—so sick I could barely get out of bed, throwing up all the time, unable to eat anything. I didn’t want anyone to tell me that it was simply first trimester sickness, and everything would be okay. At that moment, I didn’t want to sacrifice my well-being. It was definitely not the correct choice for my body, and as a couple, we just weren’t ready.
So we decided to figure out our options. Though I’ve since moved away, I was born and raised in New York, and in high school, I had gone through a procedural abortion. Back then, I was in an abusive relationship, so that experience felt very different from this one. I couldn’t—and didn’t want to—go through a procedural abortion again, so I started researching medication abortion. But at the time, states surrounding us were losing abortion access, and more and more patients started to travel to where we live to acquire care. Our state requires people to receive an ultrasound and counseling before having an abortion, and it became increasingly difficult to get an appointment. It’s not recommended to be more than 11 weeks pregnant if you want a medication abortion, so I had a time constraint. I knew in my heart I needed this type of care, and I thought, I just have to get it another way.
My best friend still lives in New York, so I took off from work and traveled there in order to get the medical care I needed. I used my best friend’s address and received medication through a company that delivers the abortion pill. The medication was delivered quickly, and then I flew back home, because I decided I wanted to terminate the pregnancy in my house with my husband, an environment that felt safe and comfortable to me. Feeling as safe as possible, that’s what was most important to me.
During the abortion, I was preparing myself for the worst possible pain imaginable. With the pills, you get two prescriptions, as well as an anti-nausea prescription to help with side effects. You take the first medication, mifepristone, which blocks the pregnancy hormone progesterone and prevents the pregnancy from growing. Up to 48 hours later, you take misoprostol, which initiates the cramping and bleeding, allowing you to pass the pregnancy. Throughout my life, I’ve dealt with excruciatingly heavy periods, to the point where I’ve had to wear a TENS machine, which reduces pain signals from reaching your brain. During the abortion, the bleeding was pretty heavy, but nothing worse than what I’d experienced previously; for me, it didn’t feel out of the ordinary. The minute I passed the pregnancy, I started feeling better, both mentally and physically. That experience was incredibly liberating—and such a relief.
Being able to get care in my house and on my own terms made me realize how unfair barriers to abortion access really are. It also made me realize why this was so important to me in the first place. Throughout the process, I felt like I was always going with my gut: I need a medication abortion. I need this to be the care I get. Looking back on it, it’s clear to me that as someone who’s a survivor of abuse—I met my abuser when I was 15, and he was 21; I received a restraining order when I was in my senior year of high school—the thing that’s taken me the longest to heal from was my lack of autonomy or feeling like I had absolutely no control over what happened to me, and that someone else had more say over the decisions I could make and who I could be. This experience, needing to get the care that felt right for me, really tied back to my ability to feel in control over my own health care, over what I’m willing to put my body through and what I’m not. My husband, prior to us even being married, knew the territory I had navigated. We both wanted to terminate the pregnancy—there wasn’t a doubt in our minds—but when it came to what that actually looked like, he was really supportive. He trusted that I had gone down this road before, and I couldn’t do it the same way that I did it the first time.
Overall, my experience was really peaceful, though I will say my husband was always taking care of me. He works from home, so he didn’t leave my side, and had my favorite foods, tea, and heating pads at the ready. He also did a lot of self-education; when I got the medication, he read all the directions with me and helped make sure I was taking the right doses at the right time. Ultimately, it was a partnership. In the ways he could step up, he did. Having someone to support you, to help you get up and go to the bathroom when cramps are too bad, to make you comfort food, or just sit and be with you—I couldn’t recommend it enough. I just can’t overstate the value of having someone who was there to look after me, who knew me intimately, and had my best interest at heart. Not everyone has that luxury.
As a couple, it also made us stronger. We didn’t share this with almost anyone. I knew right away I didn’t want this pregnancy, but I couldn’t help but feel guilty to some degree. The choice to keep our abortion private was largely due to the fact that I knew some family members with opposing political views would label me as a murderer if they knew what I did. Our different outlooks create this barrier; my husband and I have come to the realization that we will never be able to fully be ourselves around certain people. I’ve also taken myself away from social media, because it’s hard when a family member I love posts something that, even though they don’t know it, is about me and how they claim to view me. There’s a large part of me that wants to ask, “Do you still love me after I made this choice?” That part of me wants to see if my family could look me in the eye and call me out for what I did. I’m pretty confident I know what the answer would be, and it’s just caused us to pull away a little bit.
I can’t change my decision. I don’t regret it, and I’d probably do the same thing over again. But now—with the legal situation as grim as it is—there’s a fear of who we can trust. I’m worried if I tell somebody I shouldn’t, if I try to have that conversation with a family member, and it goes badly, and abortion becomes criminalized in my state, what could happen to me? I wouldn’t put it past certain politicians to take it a step further and try to obtain records for who’s had an abortion in the last year or two years. I feel like all logic has been thrown out the window. These conservatives are acting solely out of power and hatred, so I don’t know where they’ll stop. The scariest part is the unknown.
When Sarah told me she was pregnant, we looked at each other and, before we even said anything, we knew what we needed to do. It wasn’t like there was even a decision to be made.
Sarah knew the ins and outs of what the process looked like, and, being a survivor and having had an abortion before, it was clear to her that she really needed to feel in control of her body. I was constantly emphasizing: anything that happens here, it’s your decision. You choose how we go about this. I am just here to help support you in executing whatever you need to do.
I’ve been with Sarah for years now, and we’ve been through a lot together, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her as uncomfortable or as perpetually anxious as she was in the weeks leading up to getting treatment. She wasn’t anxious about the treatment itself, but about having this thing in her body that she did not want. Seeing her jump through hoops just to receive what should be basic health care was really difficult, because, at a certain point, there wasn’t much I could do other than physically and emotionally be there. The process was just not nearly as simple as our decision was, and that discrepancy was really, really tough to navigate.
Initially, she looked at getting care locally, but because there was a massive influx of people seeking care from out of state, it was going to take her a while to get an appointment. She didn’t want to wait any longer than absolutely necessary, so we talked over options and ultimately decided it was better for her to travel to New York to get the medication, and then come back here to be able to go through treatment from the comfort of our home.
Throughout the abortion, we were constantly together. I don’t think we left our house, except when I went to get groceries. I just tried to make it as low effort for her as possible, because going through that, physically, is more than I would ever wish for her to go through alone.
Before this experience, I didn’t know much about abortion care. I already had my political views, but, admittedly, I really did not have a clear idea of how abortion actually works. I grew up in a very fundamentalist, Southern Baptist household where abortion was a taboo subject. So it was a big learning process for me; I did a lot of research about the medications and what side effects to expect, what complications to look for, the timing, when things start to take effect. One of the main ways I was able to help was making sure I was as knowledgable as possible, because it took some of the pressure off Sarah.
It was interesting—learning more about the medical side of abortion further cemented how I feel politically, because it is, in so many ways, just like any other health condition. Certain things require medical intervention, and an unwanted pregnancy shouldn’t be thought of any differently.
And while physically, the abortion was very difficult on Sarah’s body, I was surprised by how simple the process was. It’s just two medications you take, and the success rate is extremely high. Growing up the way I did, I had a very skewed idea; I always thought it was more intrusive and complicated. People can have this boogeyman idea of what abortion is, like it’s this big, monstrous, dangerous thing. That misconception is used to fear monger and justify bans by claiming it’s dangerous for women getting abortions—and it’s just not the case.
Those kinds of political differences were the reason we weren’t able to talk to other people about this, and as a result, I did feel isolated and lonely throughout the process. Sarah is always the one to help me through challenging moments, but I didn’t want to burden her with talking about how hard this was for me, because I knew it was so much more difficult for her. Seeing my wife not just physically sick but struggling emotionally—especially in the context of the political state of our country—was very anxiety-inducing, because I was so worried about her. I kept a lot bottled up during that time and tried to focus on getting through it, knowing that once Sarah was feeling okay again, we would have a chance to decompress and talk through it and move on.
At this point, there’s less than a handful of people we’ve spoken to about the abortion. With the way things are politically right now, we need to know that anyone we talk to about it is not only safe, but that they know how important it is not to let it slip out to any random person. The people we spoke to were very supportive, and while it was comforting, in a way, it was also very sad, because it highlighted how few others we could share our story with. Since Roe fell, there has been so much uncertainty, and it’s felt like the laws could change at the drop of a hat. If politicians ban abortion entirely, who are they going to come after next? Are they going to try to prosecute people who’ve had abortions previously? That was a big source of anxiety for both of us. Having to worry about whether getting the medical care Sarah desperately needed would be legal or not was a whole other burden that we never should’ve had to think about.
In the future, I just want abortion to be treated like any other kind of health care. I wish it wasn’t politicized, though it feels like we are so far from that. Part of what I struggle with is trying to imagine how things can get better, because oftentimes, it feels so hopeless. But I don’t want to fall into that sort of thinking. The majority of people in this country are to some extent pro-choice, and it’s frustrating that these laws are being enacted by such a minority.
For anyone else whose partner is getting an abortion, if you’re fortunate enough to have someone in your life you can trust to lean on during the process, you should do so. It’s a very difficult thing to go through just the two of you. I also want to reassure people that while the politics and culture around abortion access can be frightening, the medical process doesn’t have to be. That’s something everyone should be aware of: abortion itself is not a complex or scary thing.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Madison is a senior writer/editor at ELLE.com, covering news, politics, and culture. When she’s not on the internet, you can most likely find her taking a nap or eating banana bread.