Shortly after Esmarie* learned she was pregnant in mid-March, the city in South Central Texas where she lives started to shut down in response to the coronavirus. Her college classes went online and she lost shifts at the two restaurants where she works, leaving her barely able to afford groceries. She knew right away that she did not want to continue the pregnancy, but feared abortion clinics would soon be shut down, too. It would be another six weeks before she was able to resolve her pregnancy with a self-managed abortion using abortion pills, which, when used as directed, have a success rate of 95 percent and are an increasingly popular option during the pandemic (one study showed a 27 percent rise in requests across the U.S., and a 94 percent increase in demand in Texas). Esmarie, 19, told us about her experience obtaining an abortion during the pandemic.
The day I found out I was pregnant, I saw all over Facebook that Texas was going to be shutting down the clinics. I thought, I’m not going to be able to have this abortion. I thought that I didn't have a choice—I was going to have to just live with it. It was very scary because I couldn't tell anybody. I was trying to get as many hours of work as I could.
It was also scary because of everything going on. Everything was closed. I wasn’t making enough money. The restaurants were only giving me ten hours a week, so I couldn’t make enough to support myself. I was scared I would get COVID-19 because I was pregnant. I didn’t have a car, so I had to walk in the heat. No transportation, no work—I couldn’t meet my basic needs.
The abortion clinics were closed at that time, but the CPCs, the crisis pregnancy centers, those were open. When I was making phone calls, trying to see which clinics were open for abortion, they were the only ones who answered. They said, we don't do abortions but you can get an ultrasound and we can talk to you about your choices. But they only really give you two choices—adoption or parenting. I was definitely not going to do adoption because I was adopted and it just didn't go well. But I knew I couldn't raise my child at this time.
They try to tell you, we're going to help you do this, we're going to help you do that. I've had friends say they told them that, too. But once the baby was there, there was no help. So I was just scared, just thinking, I'm really going to have to give birth. I just felt stuck. They just kept saying, “When you do have the baby.” I was wondering, who am I going to tell? How am I going to get money? How am I going to get to my prenatal appointments? I was barely even able to make the two-hour bus ride to that CPC.
I started reaching out to anyone who could try to get me to a different state. A few years ago, I had an abortion in a clinic. I took the first pill in the clinic then the second one at home. I reached out to someone who was out of state who had helped me the first time. I thought they weren’t going to be able to do anything. But they said they could fly me out to a different Texas city or to a different state, if the one in Texas closes, too.
Like I said, I've had an abortion before, so I know how it is. If I had to go out of state, who knows what state it was going to be? I only have family in Texas. I wouldn't have had anywhere to stay. I didn't have money for a hotel. I could barely even get food for myself. They found me an appointment at a clinic, but then they asked, do you want to go to that clinic or or do you want to do it at home? I said I would do it at home.
It took two weeks for the pills to arrive. I'm pretty sure the mail was backed up because of COVID-19, so after a week I asked them to send another package. While I was waiting for it, I was just thinking, I'm only getting further and further along. It was so stressful. The people who sent them buy them outside of the U.S. and send them to women who need them.
The first time I had an abortion, I was eight weeks along. Eight weeks and ten weeks is actually a very big difference. The first time it was not that bad; I was able to handle the pain, I guess. But the second time it was so bad. I couldn't move, I had chills, and my stomach was hurting. It was so bad I brought my blanket into the restroom just so I could be next to the tub, be next to the toilet. I feel like this wouldn't have happened if I would have just gotten the help earlier.
I was staying with a friend and I didn’t tell him anything about the pill. I remember my hair was all wet like I had been in the bathtub. It was around three in the morning. I was crying and I was bleeding; I bled through three maxi pads. You’re not supposed to bleed through more than two during a medical abortion. I was trying to take as much pain as I could, and I actually dealt with the pain for a good two hours. But then I just couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't lay down. I couldn’t sit down. I couldn't do anything, so that's when I decided to go to the emergency room even though there were COVID-19 patients there. My friend took me. The hospital was not that far off, maybe five minutes, but it felt like the longest drive ever. My phone was dead so I couldn't tell anybody I was there. I was just on my own during that time.
I had forgotten my mask—that was not on my mind at all. I was nervous. I didn't want to touch anything. I think I was having a panic attack because I couldn't tell them I was having a miscarriage. They were asking me what's wrong or what I needed, and I couldn't breathe because I was in shock. I just remember holding my stomach because it was hurting and I was crying because I was scared. I told them, I'm bleeding and I was pregnant.
Then I lost so much iron from bleeding that I passed out on the floor. I'm 4’11” and I weigh about 98 pounds. I remember a receptionist told me to go put hand sanitizer on. I walked to go get hand sanitizer and I woke up on the floor. They put me in a wheelchair. It was kind of embarrassing—I was bleeding all over the wheelchair, all over the floor and the restroom.
They gave me morphine for pain through an IV. I was on anesthesia because I guess they had to finish taking out whatever was left, so I was asleep. When I woke up I used the hospital phone. I was trying to get ahold of my mom or my brothers or sisters. I wasn't going to tell them what happened, but I did want to tell them I was in the hospital and I needed a change of clothes. I had bled through my pants and didn't have extra clothes. I got ahold of my brother at 6:30 in the morning. He came to give me some clothes and stuff but I couldn’t have visitors, so he gave it to the front desk person and they brought it to me.
The baby’s father gave me a ride home from the hospital, but I didn’t tell him why I was there. No one knew about the abortion, which I was sad about, but still everyone was calling me, asking, are you okay? My mom told other family members that I was in the hospital, so they started blowing up my phone: my sisters and my tias, my tios. They started asking questions, so I told them, I don’t know, I was asleep, they had me on all kinds of medicines. I didn’t want to tell them anything because they’re going to judge me. They wouldn’t be supportive. I haven’t told my friends either.
To the politicians who closed down the clinics, abortion is a basic human right. Young ladies have the right to this. If they know what they want, they shouldn't have to wait longer, because it can just make things worse.
*Esmarie's name has been changed to protect her privacy. This article was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
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