"It Was One Of The Hardest Decisions I've Ever Had To Make"

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This story was originally published on March 2, 2016.

On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that could determine whether legions of women have access to safe and legal abortions.

Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt
is a challenge to HB2, a law passed in Texas in 2013 that creates additional operating requirements for abortion providers.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights — the pro-abortion rights advocacy group fighting the law on behalf of clinics — only 10 facilities that provide abortions would remain open in the entire state if the law is upheld. Before the measure passed, there were 40. An estimated 5.4 million women in Texas are of reproductive age, CRR says.

The outcome of the case, which hinges on whether placing restrictions on how clinics operate violates a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy, could also have major effects on abortion access across the country, impacting other states with similar restrictions.

Real women's experiences with abortion are expected to be a big part of the case — more than 100 women have filed briefs with the Supreme Court, sharing their own stories.

Photojournalist Allison Joyce has been chronicling women's experiences with abortion in her own series, Life After the Decision. Ahead, she shares their moving portraits and stories.

Editor's note: All captions were provided by Joyce and have been edited for length and clarity.

Photo: Allison Joyce/Reuters.
Jennifer, 23

Jennifer, a nurse, posed for a portrait in her home in New York. Jennifer says she was 17 when she became pregnant and had an abortion.

"I don't really think about it as much. It's not hard to talk about…I don't regret anything. I'm still against abortion. If it's the one time [and] you made a mistake, you'll-never-do-it-again thing, it's okay. But if you keep on doing it [without] birth control, it's so not cool. Because I don't think that I would be where I am today. Like, 23, a nurse — I wouldn't have made it here, because I would be a little bit behind or I would have to make ends meet by grabbing this.

"I was able to go straight into school without having to think about anything, and finish. So it was definitely the best decision I ever made. I was against abortion. I really was — I was against it. My mom has gone through so many troubles with pregnancies that I wouldn't want to do that…But at the same time, at the time, I only had one parent there.

"My father was incarcerated, so I knew he'd be super-duper disappointed in me. And then my mom was just like, 'You know, if you get pregnant, you're out of here because you're grown.' After that, I made my decision in about two months. After the procedure, I was crying. As soon as I woke up from the bed, I was crying. Crying, crying.

"And a woman next to me asked me how old I was, and I said 17. She said, 'You did the right thing, girl. You did the right thing because you're too young. You have your whole life ahead of you.' And I still think I did the right thing because he's still a terrible person. He's not father material…When I went to the clinic and I told him, he wasn't surprised…He knew he made an accident, but he didn't tell me he made an accident so I could go get a Plan B…We didn't wear a condom…He pissed me off and he was trying to convince me to keep it, not keep it, keep it — and I was just confused.

"He's still a terrible person, and I would have had a terrible life with him. I wouldn't want to be one of those women that have different baby fathers. I would just try to work it out with him. And he's a terrible person. I'd much rather have a baby with someone I love and am going to marry."
Photo: Allison Joyce.
Aiyana, 22

Aiyana, an artist, posed for a portrait in her home in New York. Aiyana says she was 20 years old when she became pregnant and had an abortion.

"He ended up not being as supportive as I thought he would be [at the immediate time]. He did everything he could, aside from paying for it. I initially paid for everything out-of-pocket, although I was reimbursed for it. But to cover the initial costs, I took care of all of that. After it happened, when I did feel like I needed a lot of emotional support, he didn't really provide that. So that was a contributing factor to us breaking up.

"The clinic I got it done at, they allow men to be in the room, which most clinics don't allow. So I set the date for when my boyfriend would be back from tour, because I wanted him to have to experience it with me, I guess…because as a male, I felt that even though he was undoubtedly affected by it, I sort of wanted him to in some part experience the physicality of everything that was happening. I think he was kind of freaked out, but he was very supportive of me. I'm glad he was there.

"It definitely has been really rewarding in some ways…At least I know I can give friends or acquaintances of mine somebody to talk to, who can give them advice or give them resources that they might not otherwise be aware of…Obviously, it's something private. But if it's something that you feel okay talking about, I think that vocalization is important. I think it can help remove the stigma that's attached to having an abortion."
Photo: Allison Joyce.
Leigh, 26

Leigh, a bartender, posed for a portrait in her home in Pennsylvania. Leigh says she was 21 years old when she became pregnant and had an abortion.

"Honestly, I don't think I'm ever going to really forget any detail about any of it, down to the one decision that made it actually end up becoming that…It happens. All of a sudden, it's a month and a half and getting nauseous with beer and, you know, [the] test came back positive and everything. We sat out and we talked about it, and he was a sweetheart about everything, for the most part. He made it very clear that it was my choice. But at the same time, he was also very honest about what would happen, going this way or that way, with the decision.

"…If we were to have the kid, we would get married and be together for the rest of our lives. If we didn't work out and we broke up for some reason, he would fight for full custody of the kid and make sure I never saw them again. I was still in college. I was a year away from graduating, and I was having a hard enough time making ends meet, between a part-time job, work, study, a full class load…trying to keep him happy being home all the time.

"I knew [that] as much as I cared about him (and I thought I was in love with him), I knew we weren't destined to be together forever. It was a really hard decision. I really did consider going through with everything. But it just was one of those, you just have to do what's right at the time. He was a sweetheart and totally understood and, you know, was completely supportive. He paid for it. He went with me and held my hand…

"It actually really hit my body hard. It took me a good three days before I could actually get out of bed. It was not an easy experience. It was very painful. The relationship took a natural course south. We ended up breaking up eventually…For the important part of the story, I couldn't have asked for a better experience. The support and the care and tenderness that he showed made a really difficult experience as painless, I guess, as possible.

"I didn't take it lightly…It took every inch of strength inside of me to be able to do it, but I knew it was the right decision to make…I know it was the right decision to make. I've never doubted that…I don't regret it, but I don't think I could ever stomach being able to do it again. I think I was just about to turn 22, [so] I would have had a 4½ -year-old right now.

"It's still something that I think about every day. It changes you. Before that, I swore I never wanted to get married, I never wanted to have kids. All of a sudden, this thing woke up inside of me. Now it's like, I want 2.5 kids and to eventually get married and I want the white picket fence. I don't know what happened, but in that experience, this thing woke up inside of me. And it hasn't gone away.

"Obviously, I'm not rushing into anything or whatever but…it changes you. And honestly, if I were to be faced with the decision now, I don't know if I could go through it again. It was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make."
Photo: Allison Joyce.
Lisa, 27

Lisa, a restaurant manager, posed for a portrait in her home in Massachusetts. Lisa was 24 when she became pregnant and had an abortion.

"I told my husband at the time — we weren't divorced yet but… I was leaving him — and he was really supportive. [It was] surprising because it was not a great relationship anyway…I didn't have to think about it. It wasn't like, Will I or won't I? It was like, This is happening. I think I was kind of fortunate in a really sad way that it wasn't a difficult decision…I was alone. I didn't have any family, and I didn't have any friends, really. I had one friend, but she was not a very good friend. So I kind of went through it all alone.

"You can always look back in retrospect and say, 'This is what it would have been like,' but you never know…I'm happy. I'm very happy. I was leaving. I was trying to cope with moving out, having no money, no support. I had two jobs. I was working like a maniac just trying to cope…So it was like, all these things are happening at the same time. I was like, Okay, now I'm pregnant. Okay, I have no money. And when I left my husband and divorced him, I didn't take a cent or a dime from him. I didn't want anything…I just felt completely alone.

"They have doctors at the clinic, and they ask you what your life situation is like right now...I think they are trying to see if you're psychologically fit to do that, because it's a really painful thing emotionally to go through. And some people maybe need extra psychological care if they're going to do it...She was asking me a list of questions, and she's like, 'So, you're getting divorced.' And then I had to move a few times, because I didn't like where I was living and I didn't have money and…she's like, 'Oh, the most stressful things in this country are divorce and moving.' And I was like, 'I just got divorced and I've moved twice. And now I'm doing this.'

"I had a boyfriend after I got married, and I wrote down what that decision would be if I found myself pregnant again. Ultimately, I think I would go through with the pregnancy, even if it didn't work out, just because, I don't know…I would know I was in a better place and the person that I was with…they would support me and a child and whatever I wanted to do.

"After I had it, I got an IUD right away. I was like, 'I'm not ever getting pregnant again unless I'm sure.' So I'm taking extreme measures — not extreme, but as much as I possibly can to never have that happen again.

"No regrets. You never think about how you're going to feel when you do it. And when I did it, it was pretty straightforward…The decision to do it wasn't hard, and afterward it hasn't been hard in that area. I mean, I've had struggles, but — no. And I thought I would maybe think about what it would be like if I went through with the pregnancy and having a child and…I don't think about it. I don't try to think about it. I don't try not to, I just — I don't."
Photo: Allison Joyce.
Lisa, 45

Lisa, a writer, posed for a portrait in her home in Massachusetts. Lisa said she became pregnant and had two abortions when she was in her 30s.

"His immediate response was, 'Well, you can't have it!' It was such a fast and such a visceral response that he had. I asked him why, and he said, 'Well, you just have to get an abortion…You can't have this baby, and there's no way around it.'

"All I kept hearing was, 'I will never love you, and I will never love this baby.' When I looked down the road five years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, I didn't see any happiness in this child's life. I wanted the baby. I knew that I could love it and I could give it certain things, but hate is a powerful emotion to overcome in a child's life. Not being wanted is a very powerful emotion in a child's life. You can do a lot of damage to a child with that feeling. I couldn't inflict that kind of pain on a child — knowing what that felt like…So I agreed to terminate the pregnancy.

"After some while…I said, 'Look, if you didn't want children, you should have controlled — fully controlled — your reproduction.' And that's what upsets me so much about when I hear the abortion debate now, is that I don't hear any part of that at all. There's nothing about men needing to control their reproduction. Because it's almost like women enjoy having abortions. It's like it's a cavalier decision.

"We've been conditioned that there's a certain kind of woman that has an abortion. You know, that it's poor women who have abortions, who just don't want to control their reproductive rights…It's not the more common thing where it's women who do control their reproductive rights, but things happen. Nothing is 100%. And when nothing is 100%, you will have an unplanned pregnancy.

"I've been in there with married couples, who had too many children and were deciding to terminate because they had four kids or something. And they thought the fifth was too many. It's not what you think it is…We're conditioned that it's bad, and we're conditioned that, 'How could you let yourself be so stupid to get in that position? What is wrong with you? And how could you do that?'…There was another person there who shares 50% of it, and somehow they walk away scot-free.

"I will always regret not having children…I think when I was pregnant, that was probably the right time to have kids. Because children bring a certain clarity to your life. There's a sense of humor and there's a wisdom to kids that most adults lack…I regret the choices that I made with regard to the men I was with… that's time that I can't get back. But I do not regret the decision to terminate those pregnancies. That was the right decision for each one of those pregnancies that was tied to each one of those men."

Lisa said the second time she became pregnant, it was with a man who had two daughters and was in the process of getting a divorce from his wife. Lisa said she was off birth control for medical reasons.

"I said, 'You can't support what you have financially.' He couldn't support what he had. I ended up finding out I was pregnant, and I said it to him. And he looked at me and he goes, 'Well, you know, I don't know what to tell you, but I can't have another child. I don't want another child.' He said, 'It's going to be really damaging to the girls.' We had a fight in this house that I think they can still hear.

"I was mad at myself for allowing it to happen. I just remember feeling disgusted and used and just hating him so much…In that case, I decided to have an abortion. He wasn't somebody that I wanted to be tied to. I felt like it was one of the stupidest things that I ever could have done…I had put my reproductive future in his hands. And I trusted him with that. And he violated that trust.

"It was almost unforgivable to me that I would get pregnant — that I would be so stupid to put myself in that same situation that I had just two years previously with someone else who couldn't commit, with someone else who was pathetic. And I was right back in that same situation. But I didn't want to be tied to him. And it was terrible and I hated myself for it, I hated myself for it. I hated how quickly I made the decision."
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