Six countries completely ban abortion, even when it's necessary to save a pregnant woman's life. Dozens more have very limited exceptions that make most abortions illegal.
As abortion access continues to be threatened, discussed and hotly debated around the globe, there’s one perspective we don’t often hear enough of: people who have actually had an abortion.
BuzzFeed Health asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us about their abortions. The form was shared widely and translated into multiple languages. We received over 1,200 responses to the English form alone.
Several submissions came from women in countries with some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Here are a few that represent the broad range of experiences readers shared with us. Some stories have been translated into English from Spanish and Portuguese.
Chile bans abortion with no exceptions. Women who have abortions and abortion providers can be imprisoned under Chilean law.
"Having an abortion in Chile is really hard and very dangerous. I have had two voluntary abortions in my lifetime. The first one happened when I was still in high school. I was very young and I had no information whatsoever about it, but I made my decision automatically when I saw the pregnancy test. I know I was too young to have a baby. I didn’t have any money, and my boyfriend was even younger than me! Having that baby was never an option. To this day I think that is the most important and the best choice I've made so far.
I did it with pills (misopostrol). It’s safe, but if you do this without the right information it can be lethal. When I was 16 I had no idea about anything and I did it anyway, because it was the only possibility that I had, and the only thing that I wanted was not to become a mother. It wasn’t traumatic at all because I was so sure about my decision.
After that, it was clear to me that no one should have to go through this alone, so I studied hard and I became like an underground expert in abortion because in my country it’s so fucking illegal, there is no information at all for official media. So I try to help all the women I can, and I’ve been doing it since then.
When I had to go through this again, eight years after the first time, I was relieved because by then, I knew everything about it."
"I had my abortion about a year ago in Jamaica (where it's actually illegal) because I was living in Abu Dhabi at the time (where it is very, very illegal.) I had sex and didn't know he took the condom off. My godmother is a prominent doctor in Jamaica, so she hooked us up with someone who does abortions there.
Although abortions in Jamaica are illegal, private doctors still do them, but they're surgical. So I went back early in the morning the next day, after crying for hours, and had my abortion. I remember walking into the room and lying on a chair and there were straddles to put my feet in, and a bucket at the end of the chair. I was bawling my eyes out as they put the IV in because I was so scared.
My parents told me not to tell anyone because it might reflect badly. I didn't tell any of my friends or family, I couldn't talk to my parents, and the guy who had gotten me pregnant was an absolute asswipe. My godmother was the only one I could talk to, but I flew out the next day, and with an eight-hour time difference, it was really hard.
For me it was the stigma around women who have abortions that got to me, not the abortion itself. I felt dirty for the longest time, and being intimate with someone, even just cuddling, was difficult because I felt like I no longer deserved to be loved. Gradually I started to get over it, but it was always there in the back of my mind — it was my dirty little secret."
Ireland bans abortion except to save a pregnant woman's life. Thousands of women travel to the UK each year to have the procedure. Others use pills procured online to induce their abortions in Ireland.
"I ordered the medical abortion tablets from a charity website to get delivered to England, as it was after Christmas and money was tight enough, but as the days went on I kept getting sicker until eventually I had to tell my mum, who lent us the money to get a surgical procedure.
A severe form of morning sickness runs in my family, which if I had waited, would have meant being hospitalized for potentially weeks to months, at which point my choice to have an abortion would have been taken from me. We had to schedule an emergency surgical abortion for the end of the week in a clinic in England or I wouldn't have been able to travel.
In one way I felt better — getting the tablets and taking them and then potentially having to seek medical help in Ireland if something had gone wrong would have made everything so much worse. The surgical procedure also meant my sickness and nausea would ease up almost immediately (the tablets take hours to work and symptoms such as nausea can take up to two weeks to go away).
Waiting in the airport, both to go over and back, was awful. The clinic and taxi drivers that worked for them couldn't have been nicer, but given how sick I was, I wish I could have gotten it done at home and been back in my own bed sooner.
It's only been five days since, and I am still in pain but back at work. It's not easy pretending to have been off sick with something generic. I know 100% it was the right decision, but my body feels empty and like there's something wrong and I do still feel some guilt.
I'm lucky in terms of the financial element, and being able to borrow and tell a family member — but traveling for the procedure and my illness made it a lot more difficult and tiring than it should have been."
Honduras bans abortion except to save a pregnant woman's life.
"I was 20 when I got pregnant again. I had a 4-year-old baby, and I was terrified at the thought of a second child. I thought I would not be able to do it with my job and being at university.
Even though I was with my husband, both of us were scared and it was difficult to be a teenage parent. We could not imagine having two at the time, so we were looking for means to abort. In my country it is totally illegal — there is prison for both women and the people who provide it.
We found the way through a friend. I was maybe only four or five weeks pregnant; I did not feel so guilty. Now I am 26 years old and it weighs on my soul to have done it, just like my husband. There have been many times we have cried together, so we continue to have only our daughter and we have faith that God will allow us to have more children. Today we regret the abortion and would not suggest anyone to do it."
Venezuela bans abortion except to save a pregnant woman's life.
"I was 20. A friend of mine knew a girl who had done the same, and helped me get the pills. I took one or two orally and the same vaginally and lay with my butt and legs up and waited until I had the urge to pee. After that I bled for days — like a really, really heavy period — and had to drink some really hot tea.
I cried for days and sometimes still seven years afterwards. I took that decision on my own because I didn’t feel ready to be a mom. I’m not proud of what I did, and I don’t think I would repeat it, but I don’t regret it. Yet it makes me sad to this day. For times I forget it, and at times it haunts me.
I did it without medical attention and as a secret. My family doesn’t know, so it made me feel really scared and lonely."
"I have had two abortions. And being able to talk (write) about that took me some time. I have always believed that abortions happened just with women who were 16 years old, in the most stereotyped ways possible. My situation was different. I am a mother and I am married. My abortions happened when I became pregnant with my husband the second and third time, without planning it.
I had both abortions in unimaginable situations, lying on the rug of an old woman’s house. I did not even know if she had any surgical knowledge. The first time was somewhat 'calm' compared with the second, when I passed out, wanted to go to a hospital, and was sure I was going to die. After the second procedure, I spent a week with a very high fever and felt the fetus coming out of me while I urinated. I have the exact memory of that moment inside my head.
I wonder what it would be like if I'd had these two children. Last week I was wondering if the people in my life would forgive me for having those abortions, but what I keep saying to myself is that I didn’t do anything wrong and I am the one who was hurt. I’m the one who will bear this feeling inside me and I do not need to redeem myself."
El Salvador bans abortion with no exceptions.
"I found out I was pregnant when I was less than one month along. I was in college and it was impossible to have a baby because I was in the middle of my career. I was going to school and had student loans.
I did not have to think about anything — I was sure that I did not want to have it because it would delay my goals and my career. I started looking for methods on the internet and found some pills with abortive side effects. Obviously they did not sell them at the pharmacy without a prescription, but people sold them on the black market. They tell you the dose themselves. They swore they were advised by doctors, it may be true.
Each pill costs $50, and they gave me a dose of three due to the short time of gestation, but I as understand it, the longer you are pregnant, the higher the dose. I had to insert two of the pills vaginally and take one of them under my tongue.
It took a half hour for it to begin to take effect. I thought I was going to die from the violent contractions that the medicine produces, not to mention the bleeding. I couldn't sleep all night and couldn’t take any painkillers because I would vomit after just drinking water.
Emotionally how did I feel? I asked God for forgiveness, because I understand that it is wrong. However, I was not going to sacrifice my future. Besides, I was never very excited about the idea of being a mom. I understand that they are going to judge me, and that everyone is going to talk about it, but I don’t care. I do not seek anyone's approval. It's been three years now and I live my life normally.
The physical pain I experienced was the worst part. I would certainly help someone who decided to do the same as I did, but I do not judge unselfish mothers who want to have their babies. I am for the decriminalization of abortion. Those who want to consider it as the best decision, go for it; those who think it’s the worst, don’t do it. It will also allow the regulation of these activities without endangering women's health and will discourage black markets."
Guatemala bans abortion except to save a pregnant woman's life.
"I've had three self-induced abortions. The father was the same with all three pregnancies, and he thinks they were miscarriages. But the truth is that I do not want to have children, at least not for now. In my country it is illegal, so people who want to interrupt a pregnancy have to use natural things (concoctions made by healers) or falsify prescriptions to obtain the medicines that help you abort.
Each of my abortions was worse than the previous one. The pain was horrible. But the truth is that it's less painful than bringing a baby that I did not want into the world, and I do not regret doing it. This is something I've kept to myself and I have never shared it with anyone, since in the society in which I live abortion is a taboo subject. I would be crucified if I admitted that it was self-induced.
My personal opinion is that every woman should have the right to choose what to do or not do with her body, and if for X or Y reason you do not want to continue with a pregnancy, the resources you need to end it should not be so difficult to obtain."
The Dominican Republic bans abortion with no exceptions.
"I had a self-induced abortion when I was 20 years old. It was a decision in conjunction with my partner, but more his than mine. The truth is he pressured me a lot psychologically, although that did not justify my action. I used a Cytotec pill, vaginally, at home. I was about three months pregnant. It was a very painful process that took about three hours from the time I inserted the pills (three of them) until the fetus was expelled. It’s a memory that will follow me all my life.
I never thought I would do this; I was always against abortion. It is an action that I’m very sorry for, and I would not do it again.
Now that I have a beautiful 2-year-old daughter, who I never had any doubts about having, I do not judge anyone who makes the decision to interrupt a pregnancy.
I do not believe that it is an easy decision or process for the majority of women. I had never shared this experience with anyone other than my best friend."
These submissions have been edited for length and clarity. Karla Agis, Jessica Lima, Flora Paul, and Luisa Pessoa helped select the stories and provide translations from Spanish and Portuguese.
Susie Armitage is the Global Managing Editor and is based in New York.
Contact Susie Armitage at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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