The Limits of Choice: Three Women Share their Late Abortion Stories
Beth Vial – Portland, OR
Beth Vial, a resident of Oregon, has a different abortion story than many. For that, she’s subject to a level of criticism that those who seek “justifiable” abortions can avoid. Beth had her elective abortion just before 28 weeks, about two weeks after she found out that she was pregnant.
Diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) at age 19, Beth has reproductive organs that function differently than the average person. Like many PCOS patients, she doesn’t have a monthly menstrual cycle, and she was told at the time of her diagnosis that she would never be able to conceive naturally. Other PCOS symptoms include weight gain, acne, hair loss or excessive hair. A common medication used to alleviate these symptoms is the birth control pill.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Beth, 24, is able to be on her parents’ insurance until she turns 26, and the cost of the pill is covered. At 22, although Beth hadn’t aged out, she was getting kicked off of her insurance every three months, meaning she’d either have to wait for the problem to be fixed or pay for her prescription out of pocket.
“One instance, I couldn’t afford it, so I had to wait,” she says, “and I guess in that time, I got pregnant, even though I was told I never could.”
Throughout the first six months of her pregnancy, Beth experienced none of the common symptoms of pregnancy. She didn’t have morning sickness, and she didn’t have a baby bump, and because she’d lived without a period for so long, the absence of one didn’t alert her either.
What drove her to get her first pregnancy test was a story of a friend who didn’t know she was pregnant and ended up going into preterm labor, “Which terrified me. So, for peace of mind, I took a pregnancy test,” she says.
Beth went with her older sister, also a PCOS patient, to the hospital to get some fibroids removed from her uterus. At the time, she took the opportunity to get the pregnancy test. The result that came back would end up being a false negative.
Six weeks later, Beth went back to the doctor’s office. She said she didn’t know she was pregnant, but it had crossed her mind, and although she wasn’t experiencing any of the typical signs of pregnancy, she felt an overall discomfort. She wanted to talk things out with her doctor.
As part of the routine exam, her doctor did another pregnancy test. This one came back positive.
Her doctor recommended a clinic that could tell her how far along she was, because not having had a “last period” to reference made it tricky. That clinic ended up being a crisis pregnancy center (CPC). CPCs are typically religious-leaning facilities that offer free ultrasounds to pregnant women to get them in the door, then attempt to pressure women to either carry the pregnancy to term or delay their abortion.
“The CPC told me I was 16 weeks along,” Beth says. “They were really awful to me. They said awful things to me, harassed me, called me incessantly, forced me to look at the ultrasound.”
Not fully trusting the situation, Beth went to the hospital later that week. “That’s when they told me I was 26 weeks along, so [the CPC] told me I was 10 weeks less pregnant than I actually was.”
Beth says she knew from the outset that abortion was the right choice for her. Not knowing about her pregnancy for almost seven months meant she had missed out on important prenatal care and wasn’t taking care of herself like she would have if she’d known. She also had ended the unhealthy relationship with her partner, and co-parenting was not an option; she had little to no support from friends or family; and she had no stable employment or housing.
“I just didn’t know I was pregnant and I didn’t want to be, and I hadn’t been given the opportunity to take the best care of myself, given my state, because I didn’t know,” she says. “I just wasn’t in a spot where it made any sense to pursue this.”
Initially, Beth thought she could get an abortion in her home state. In the fall of 2018, Oregon passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, covering abortions under state Medicaid with no gestational limit. But even with that in effect, she had trouble finding doctors who would perform the procedure.
“I couldn’t find a doctor that would help me. I was in this weird gray area where it was legal but I had no access,” she says. “They didn’t feel comfortable, because it was too new of a law.”
Beth did find one doctor willing to provide care, but he needed approval from his department board, and they voted it down.
Desperate, Beth did some searching and found a clinic in New Mexico willing to provide abortions up to 28 weeks — to the day. That gave her 10 days to find $10,500 for the procedure, along with funds for travel and lodging. Oregon’s Northwest Abortion Access Fund, of which she is now on the board, ended up covering the costs.
At that point, Beth, who has a tough relationship with her family, let her parents know about her pregnancy and her decision to abort.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to need your help. I don’t know what to do,” she says, “and they were supportive. They were, I wouldn’t say actively supportive, if that makes sense, but, ‘You’re going to do what you do, we trust you, and we’re here for you in whatever way you need.”
At 27 and a half weeks, Beth was able to induce labor, which due to some complications, including high blood pressure, took about 20 hours.
When she returned home, Beth was able to stay with her parents while she was out of work. She continued to experience other health complications and endured mastitis, or plugged milk ducts, resulting in inflammation, fever and soreness. After three weeks, she was able to return to work.
Since her abortion, Beth has experienced a range of feelings, but “regret was never one of them,” she says. As a nominated board member of the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, she’s made friends in the abortion funding network all over the country, including Ohio. She’s also gotten many opportunities to share her story.
She gets mixed feedback, she says, some calling her a “baby killer” and “murderer.” Some call her stupid for not knowing she was pregnant.
“I have a chronic illness that masked all my symptoms. My body has never operated and had a normal, consistent period. My life has never looked like that,” she says. “And it’s about bodily autonomy. I tried to seek out healthcare and someone was able to give it to me. Why does that make me a bad person?”
Those who’ve had similar experiences, though, thank her.
“They say ‘I never had the opportunity to talk about it, never found any [story] like mine,’ and it’s so alienating,” she says. “If there are people out there feeling alone, as I was, they maybe feel a little bit more valid in their story.”