What it’s really like to have an abortion in college
Note: Names have been changed or removed for confidentiality. Possible trigger warning.
Anna’s second year at the University of Virginia began like most: moving into her first apartment with some roommates, accompanied by the utter excitement to be back on Grounds. Second year is special, debatably the best of the four years you’ll spend at UVA. A renewed, invigorating freedom coinciding perfectly with relatively low academic and professional stress. But for Anna, a two-week late period and the tell-tale symptoms of morning sickness threatened to derail this experience. “I have never felt sicker. I don’t know who called in ‘morning’ sickness. I felt like sh*t all day and all night,” she recalled. “I knew I had to take a test. I just didn’t want to, I was scared.” Her pregnancy test was positive. “Seeing that little blue plus sign, my head spun. I started panicking, then crying. Then I started laughing. It was such a conflicting mess of emotion. What was I supposed to do? I was only 19, in college. I couldn’t have a baby.”
About 44% of all women who have abortions are between the age of 15-24 and 40% have never given birth before. Of these abortions, 89-92% occur within the first trimester (the first 12 weeks). Anna was 8 weeks pregnant when she found out and decided, on her own, to have an abortion. There is still a heavy social stigma surrounding women who have abortions. They are often labeled as irresponsible, unethical, and shamed for perceived sexual promiscuity. It’s not like telling your friends that you’ve decided to start pottery classes: it’s an emotionally taxing and personal decision, not to mention a politically and socially loaded statement.
Anna didn’t tell her parents, or even her partner. When pressed about the conscious decision not to inform the father, she revealed that it wasn’t because she thought he wouldn’t support her through the process, both emotionally and financially, but because of potential social implications. “I was terrified of his friends finding out, if he would tell them. I didn’t want to be known as the girl that [Removed] knocked up. And then people would know that I had had an abortion too. I felt like it would define my social life if it ever got out.” But Anna stressed that her social well-being was not a part of her decision to get the abortion, only a part of her decision to keep it a secret from her sexual partner. “All I could think about was my future and my education. I had already taken a job offer for that summer. I was only a second year. I couldn’t work or continue school with a baby and I know my family would not support or help me if I decided to keep it.”
A typical abortion can cost anywhere from $300-$1200, dependent on the use of insurance, type of abortion and duration of pregnancy, and even location. As a college student, Anna opted to pay fully out of pocket for convenience and confidentiality. She considered returning home to have the procedure at a clinic in her hometown area, but the Charlottesville option proved cheaper “by almost $400.” “It’s a very discreet place. I’m not going to say what it’s called because they were very private, but it was not a Planned Parenthood. The building wasn’t even marked and it didn’t look like a doctor’s office from the outside. [The staff] were respectful and helpful.” Sparing readers the intimate and likely gory details, the type of abortion Anna experienced is ‘surgical’ and involves a literal vacuuming the inside of the uterus, followed by a curetting process to fully remove remaining tissue. Sounds painful? According to Anna, “the pain was actually not as intense as I would have expected. Call it a 6/10. [The staff] give you a Xanax an hour before the procedure too.”
The aftermath of abortion varies from woman to woman. For Anna, “There was a lot of bleeding and cramping for the weeks to follow. I had to deal with going to class and being around my peers as normally as possible, even though I was bleeding a startling amount each day.” Ladies, imagine your normal period: now triple the amount of blood, for twice the duration of time. Most abortion patients experience similar physical symptoms which tend to let up after a few weeks, but more serious complications that can be especially difficult for college-age women do exist. Depression, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, sleep disorders, alcohol abuse and even eating disorders are all linked to post-abortion psychological distress. Fortunately for UVA students, resources like CAPS and the Elson Student Health Center are always available as are Peer Health Educators and group therapy counseling sessions. Now, months after her abortion, Anna reports that she is doing excellently and feels that all that has happened has made her stronger, more responsible and very grateful to still be at the University of Virginia. “Although I was relatively alone through this process, I never felt like I was out of options or had nowhere to turn. This community helped me through this experience without even knowing it.”
CAPS is available 24/7 at 434-243-5150 Monday-Friday and 434-297-4261 after hours and weekends and at http://www.virginia.edu/studenthealth/caps.html.