Earlier this month, Donald Trump quietly signed a bill allowing states to withhold federal family planning funds from organizations that provide abortion services.
A few weeks before that, the president offered a strange ultimatum to Planned Parenthood, proposing that his administration would stop its defunding efforts if the health care provider would stop performing abortions. (The offer was rejected.)
Proposals like this aim to make abortion inaccessible for as long as it remains legal. They can be incredibly effective, and there will be more of them. The United States is already a country in which one in four women with Medicaid coverage subject to the Hyde Amendment report carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term due to lack of insurance coverage for the procedure. A country where a lack of affordability or regional access or both means that women delay the procedure or come up short on rent, groceries, and utilities just to cover the expense.
Abortion is a constitutionally protected right as long as you have the money to pay for it. For poor women, particularly poor women of color, a right without access means nothing. That’s where we are now.
Anne got pregnant at 25 and wasn’t ready to have a kid. Brittany got pregnant at 22 and wasn’t ready, either. Anne could afford the abortion. Brittany couldn’t.
These are their stories.
Anne, 38, Brooklyn
It was the end of 2003 in Brooklyn, and my boyfriend and I got carried away and had sex without a condom. The next morning, I found the nearest hospital to get a prescription for the morning-after pill. Now it’s available over the counter, but it wasn’t back then, and your options were even more limited if you didn’t have insurance, which I didn’t at the time.
They gave me a pregnancy test at the hospital and it was negative, but they wrote me a prescription for the morning-after pill. Still, their pharmacy didn’t stock it. I still can’t get over that all these years later— it felt almost mean-spirited, making you jump through hoops like that. But because I had just been told I wasn’t pregnant, I didn’t rush to another drug store right away.
Instead, I went and got it later that day. I followed all the directions and thought everything was fine. The information on the package said it would likely mess with the schedule of my cycle, so I didn’t think too much of it when I didn’t get my next period. But around five weeks later, I still hadn’t gotten my period.
I took another home pregnancy test. Of course, I was pregnant.
I had just lost a job, and I didn’t have any insurance. I lived in a 400 square foot apartment. My boyfriend was living 3,000 miles away. I wasn’t ready to have a baby in any practical or emotional sense, so I went to Planned Parenthood and had an abortion.
I’m extremely thankful Planned Parenthood was available, and that I was able to afford it. It wasn’t easy coming up with the $300, but I was able to do it. It was stressful, but ultimately I was able to go back to my life as it was. And today I don’t have a 12-year-old child.
Brittany Mostiller, 32, Chicago
This was 2006, when I was 22 years old. A lot was happening that year. I was a parent of two and involved with the father of my children, but we weren’t in a relationship or anything. I was sharing an apartment with my sister, my niece, and my two other children. I can’t remember if I was working or not at the time, but I do know that I was poor. That has been the story of my life.
By the time I found out I was pregnant I was about 13 or 14 weeks along, and I knew I didn’t want to have another child right then. I remember thinking that I would just use my insurance, my Medicaid, to pay for the procedure. That wasn’t the case, obviously. I couldn’t use it, and I couldn’t come up with the money. I couldn’t even borrow the money.
There was no “choice” either way. Because of my income, and because Medicaid wouldn’t cover the procedure, there was just no choice. That really hit me I guess when I was 17 or 18 weeks into the pregnancy, after I had been calling around about the insurance and knew I couldn’t afford it. I thought, “OK, this is what it is.” I was forced to carry the pregnancy to term, and I didn’t want to. That’s rough. That was really rough for me.
It wasn’t anything I wanted at that time, but she was coming and ain’t a thing I could do about it. That was just it. To even say that aloud, even now—you don’t wish that on anyone. I wanted to have a happy experience, I wanted to look forward to seeing my child and meeting her. There was no moment when it felt like “This is OK,” there was no moment when I felt, “Let me get happy.” There was no switch for me to turn on. It’s still something I struggle with, that feeling. I struggle with it now even trying to talk about it.
The pregnancy was hard for me. I was stressed, I was in a lot of pain, and I would just cry. I was depressed. It was just not a good space for me, mentally or physically. And I’m still trying to be a parent through all of this. I think it all had an effect. My water broke early—32 weeks—and I delivered at 33 weeks. She was my tiniest baby.
I love her dearly, but I know that wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t have an option. After she was born, I guess I went into autopilot. That was the story of my life for a long time, being a parent, being a black woman, trying to support my family. I couldn’t feel or process anything, any emotion. I needed to make sure I had diapers, that I had onesies, that I could get on food stamps. I had to make sure I was able to physically take care of my children. That was it. There wasn’t room for anything else.
When she was two months old I had to call back my previous employer at a local grocery chain and literally beg for my job back. I had left the job when I was 19, walked out like, “That’s it.” I was young. But I begged them for my job back, told them I had grown and matured and that I had a larger family and really needed the work. It wasn’t an option to hit the pavement with a newborn and two small children.
After that, I got another job, something full-time. I worked both jobs for a while and then eventually quit the grocery store and kept my full-time job as a manager at a bagel joint. I was still sharing an apartment with my sister, and now it was five of us in the two bedroom house.
This is my first time talking about this. I have spoken to a few folks about it briefly because I am trying to figure out how to tell this story. I don’t want my daughter to ever think that she is not loved. She doesn’t feel that way, I don’t think, but I don’t want her to read or hear about it at some point in her life and ever think it.
I struggle with this a lot, though. I’m still trying to figure out the language around it. I know people will try to take this and of course tear me down. You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. People will use my story however they want. I love my daughter, but if I’d had the money I would have had an abortion. I did not choose to have a child at that time. And that takes a toll on you—mentally, emotionally, physically, financially. Everything.
And people who are anti-abortion will try to use my story to say, “See, you can make it work. You struggle through it.” I don’t even have the language for that, but I want to counter it by saying it’s wrong. That’s not the truth. If people want to have an abortion, they should be able to.
Not everyone is resilient. I know it’s a feel good story—build yourself up! Overcome those obstacles! That work is taxing. It is hard. It is also not everybody’s story. Things can go a lot of different ways other than choosing to love a child that you did not choose to carry.
I think it gets even stickier because people can try to use it to feed a narrative that black people—especially black women—are bad parents. Someone is going to take all of your circumstances and frame it however they want to. That’s what I mean when I say you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Now I hear stories from the women who call the Chicago Abortion Fund and they are so similar to mine. It’s not just that they can’t afford or access abortion, but I can hear their despair. God, the desperation of it. They are tired of struggling. This is not just about abortion or carrying a pregnancy to term. Folks are out here really struggling financially, mentally, and emotionally just trying to be a person. Some don’t have running water, they have no support.
I hear these everyday experiences of folks where carrying the pregnancy to term is just not an option for them. But sometimes they do it because they simply couldn’t afford an abortion. It’s such a disservice to people. I feel them, and I feel like I am listening to myself when I was 22 and pregnant with my third child.
I love my babies. And I hate having to say that—I obviously love them. Anyone who has met me or my children can see that they are loved. And I feel, right now, like the total opposite of the person I was 10 years ago. I have been mentored by an amazing community, by amazing people. I really learned to love myself, and that helped me love my children in an entirely new way. But if someone else is experiencing what I went through ten years ago, and I can be any sort of comfort to them, then that’s what I want.
My third daughter was not something I chose, but then she was here. I needed to make sure she was loved. But I had just blocked out so much, stuffed my emotions so far down just so I could survive that time. That was my defense mechanism, to shut down. People who saw me parenting through it thought I was doing great, but inside I felt like I had to shut down just to make sure we could all see another day.