You Know Her: Six Pullman women tell their abortion stories

As multiple states pass aggresive anti-abortion bills, women across the nation are sharing their abortion experiences online with #YouKnowMe. These are the stories six Pullman women told The Daily Evergreen.

“It’s not a heartless decision at all,” Isa, 19, says about abortion. “Some people say it’s just cells — it’s still definitely a magical little being.”

RACHEL SUN | THE DAILY EVERGREEN

“It’s not a heartless decision at all,” Isa, 19, says about abortion. “Some people say it’s just cells — it’s still definitely a magical little being.”

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Editor’s note: The Daily Evergreen asked sources which identifying details we could publish. As a result, Isa’s last name is not included, and some names have been changed to protect sources’ employment, relationships and safety. An asterisk identifies a source’s name has been changed.

Isa, now 19, found out she was pregnant during her senior year of high school, one week before the cut-off to take abortion pills.

She did get to take the pills. She aborted at home, experienced the worst pain of her life, felt the contents of her uterus spill on the floor, and went back to school Monday morning having told no one but her mother and boyfriend.

“I’m opening myself up for the whole world to judge me,” she told The Daily Evergreen.

Lawmakers in eight states recently passed bills that would nearly ban all abortion, some even in cases of rape and incest, according to The Washington Post.

In response, women nationwide have taken to Twitter to share their abortion stories with #YouKnowMe, referring to a statistic published in the American Journal of Public Health that one in four women will have an abortion by age 45.

Actress Busy Philips started the hashtag campaign after telling her abortion story on her talk show, according to The New York Times.

“That statistic sometimes surprises people,” Philips said on air. “And maybe you’re sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t know a woman who would have an abortion.’ Well, you know me.”

The Daily Evergreen posted on Facebook and Twitter asking for local women willing to discuss their abortion experiences. These are the stories of the six who reached out.

Isa

Isa and her boyfriend were 18 when she got a copper intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control. She thought she did everything right.

“I felt so proud of myself for getting it, for getting everything together,” Isa said.

In April of her senior year of high school, Isa learned she was pregnant. Her IUD was sitting too low in her uterus, making it ineffective. She said she thinks her body rejected the IUD and cramps pushed it out of place due to a past sexual trauma.

When she missed a period, she didn’t think anything of it because she had experienced sporadic periods before her IUD regulated them.

Soon after, she learned she was pregnant at the Pullman Planned Parenthood. Her boyfriend, Basseth Salamjohn, who agreed to publish his full name, said before they ever had sex they knew she would abort if she got pregnant. When she told him she was pregnant, he said he was shocked the IUD failed, but he didn’t worry about having to raise a child. Still, the week she waited for her abortion pills was emotional for both of them.

“It’s not a heartless decision at all,” she said. “Some people say it’s just cells — it’s still definitely a magical little being.”

The day of her abortion, she took the first pill at Planned Parenthood in Pullman, then two more at home. Salamjohn was celebrating his little brother’s birthday and said he wishes he had stayed with Isa through the entire process.

“I didn’t realize how much pain it would cause her,” Salamjohn said. “It’s something leaving your body in a really traumatic way.”

She said the contractions caused the most pain she ever experienced.

“I curled up in my bed in the fetal position, and just stayed there for hours,” she said. “As soon as I got up, just — everything spilled out.”

Isa said she had “baby fever” up until the time she would have given birth. Even so, she doesn’t regret her decision because she feels her baby’s spirit is still with her all the time. She said in a way she considers herself a mother and she believes her baby is at peace and is not angry with her.

She worries about making her experience public because she thinks it could affect her job and her partner’s job and they could lose contact with family members, but she said she hopes her story will help other women. She wishes there had been a support group available to her.

“You go through it alone, and that sucks,” she said. “My conversations with women about their abortions have been some of the most connective and beautiful conversations I’ve had.”

Denise

At age 47, Denise Allen has had two abortions. The first time she got pregnant she was 27 years old living in Colfax.

“I was doing a lot of dumb sh-t,” Allen said.

She was partying, using drugs and taking her birth control pills irregularly, she said.

Allen was between four and six weeks pregnant when she found out. She had to go through counseling and other steps before she could get the procedure.

She doesn’t remember the abortion pill being an option 20 years ago. She went to Spokane for a vacuum aspiration procedure, which uses suction to remove the contents of the uterus through the dilated cervix. The procedure cost her $350.

She said the discomfort of the procedure was 10 times that of an annual pelvic exam. But she didn’t feel guilty.

“I never felt sadness or regret because of the abortions ever,” Allen said. “[My son] is the only child I ever wanted and I got him.”

Years later, when her son was 6 years old, Allen’s partner had a vasectomy. She said she didn’t realize that for some time after a vasectomy it is still possible to get pregnant.

She was too old to have another baby and not financially prepared, she said.

She went to the Pullman Planned Parenthood and had the option to use abortion pills. She said the process was easier this time, without as many hurdles. She took the first pill in Spokane, where clinicians advised her to take the second pill at home and not to be alone. She stayed with her step mother during the abortion.

Women should not feel ashamed for aborting, she said.

“They should feel comfortable with the fact that they know themselves and what they can handle,” Allen said.

Anastasia*

One anonymous college student in Pullman, Anastasia*, was 16 years old when her mother’s boyfriend raped and impregnated her.

Religion is deeply important to Anastasia. Though she was seven or eight weeks pregnant when she got tested, she believes she carried a soul and she never wanted an abortion. But she said her mother forced her to get the procedure to cover up her boyfriend’s abuse.

“I feel like [I was] throwing a full-term baby in the garbage,” she said. “They actually throw it in the trash — it’s medical waste, like it’s a kidney.”

The abortion was traumatic. It wasn’t her choice and her abuser never got in trouble, she said.

After her abortion at 16, Anastasia ran away from home. Now in her mid-30s, she still blames herself for not running away earlier. She thinks she might have been able to save her baby if she had.

Anastasia said she would never recommend abortion.

“A part of me feels like you’re trying to fill a void that you’re never going to fill,” she said.

Despite this, she said she is “horrified” by the new restrictions on abortion access.

She fears laws criminalizing women and doctors for abortion will leave victims more vulnerable to predatory men who could use pregnancy and custody as a means to control women.

She is especially concerned for young victims, she said, such as an 11-year-old rape victim in Ohio who, under the state’s “heartbeat” bill, would have been forced to carry her rapist’s child to term.

“No 16-year-old should go through that, let alone an 11-year-old,” Anastasia said. “It’s almost like she’s an incubator.”

Carter*

In college, Carter* and her boyfriend, who met in high school, used condoms for protection. She said she remembers the time one broke.

Now married in her mid-20s and working in corporate sales, Carter said it’s hard to remember what tipped her off to her pregnancy when she was 19. She might have missed a period.

When a nurse at her university told her the pregnancy test came back positive, she said she burst into tears.

The nurse immediately recommended ways to continue the pregnancy, including adoption. She said the nurse’s persistence shocked her.

“I’m right here,” she said. “I’m a person.”

Carter called Planned Parenthood. At around six weeks into her pregnancy, Carter’s boyfriend and friends helped her collect $600 to pay for abortion pills.

She still respects her college boyfriend, she said, but they weren’t the right match. Her abortion gave her the chance to meet her husband and develop her sense of self in the corporate world.

“I was still a kid,” Carter said. “To me, it’s not a big deal.”

Carter and her husband, a graduate student at WSU, plan to have several children and start trying in two years. They want to live on a farm and grow their own food.

“We get to curate our lives instead of [having them] dictated for us,” Carter said.

Carter wanted to remain anonymous because she worried a conservative employer might block her from promotions.

Georgia

Georgia Stewart, 38, runs a non-profit animal rescue in Orofino, Idaho, but lived in Pullman and Moscow at different times throughout her life and owned a thrift store on Grand Avenue six years ago.

Over the course of 20 years, Stewart has had four abortions. She said it’s not something she’s proud of, but she thinks it’s important to talk about.

The first time, Stewart was 19, living in Portland and using the rhythm method and the “pull-out and pray” method with her boyfriend, she said.

She found out she was pregnant at nine weeks. Her doctor wore a mask during the entire appointment, before and after her vacuum aspiration procedure.

“He was very condescending,” she said. “He was calling me ‘Sweetheart’ and ‘Honey.’ ”

Five years later she became pregnant while on the birth control pill. Her mother told her the pill didn’t work for women in their family when Stewart told her she was 11 weeks pregnant. She aborted the pregnancy.

In her early 30s, Stewart was engaged and trying to have a baby with her fiance. Once she was pregnant, she said her fiancé became very abusive and possessive. She didn’t want to bring a child into the relationship.

“I was going to leave and he dragged me downstairs and showed me the gun rack,” she said. “He said, ‘the last one that tried to leave didn’t get out,’ or something to that effect.”

Having relied on her fiancé financially, she couldn’t afford $500 for an abortion. She said she illegally bought pills online for about $50.

A family member who was a nurse helped her through the abortion. She told her fiancé she miscarried and got a restraining order.

A few years ago, with her current husband, Stewart used a hormonal birth control, the Nuva ring. This method didn’t work for her.

She went to Pullman’s Planned Parenthood, where a doctor originally detected twins, and she got abortion pills in Spokane. The medicine failed to abort the fetuses.

At a later appointment, a doctor detected a third heartbeat. At this point, the first abortion medication’s effects would have caused major developmental issues for the fetuses. She underwent the vacuum aspiration procedure.

“I can’t handle one child, let alone three,” she said.

Stewart said she has struggled with an eating disorder and drug and alcohol addictions. She said, given that the globe is already overpopulated, she shouldn’t bring children into the world.

Penny*

In 2015, Penny*, a WSU graduate student, had been on the birth control pill for years. She went off the pill that year during a long trip abroad where she conducted research for her doctorate.

Penny said she knew she had taken a risk when she had sex with her boyfriend in her first week back in the United States and back on the pill. So she took Plan B to be safe.

Weeks later symptoms including hair loss, intense stomach pains and exhaustion brought her to a doctor. When she learned she was seven weeks pregnant Penny was in the second year of her doctoral program.

She worried she wouldn’t be able to travel for her research and that she would be less appealing to potential employers as a new mother, she said. She and her future husband chose to abort.

Penny’s boyfriend, Leo*, whom she since married, brought her to a clinic in Spokane to take the first pill of three. He said he was surprised to see a few people holding anti-abortion signs outside the building.

“I’ve seen protesters on TV, but I never thought I’d see it in person,” Leo said.

Penny vomited throughout the drive back to Pullman. At home, she lay on the couch with stabbing contractions for hours.

“That was the most pain I’ve been in, in my entire life,” she said.

Leo felt guilty, he said, because he knew was equally responsible for the pregnancy and although he experienced mental anguish of his own, only Penny endured the physical burden.

Despite her pain, she said she had no regrets.

“It went as well as it could have,” she said. “I’m nervous to say that because I know women have the opposite experience.”

She said she was grateful Leo supported her through the abortion and that insurance covered her costs. If she became pregnant now, at this later point in her education, she said she and her husband agreed they’d likely continue a pregnancy.

Penny has not told her parents because of her mother’s own traumatizing abortion, the result of an abusive relationship, before Penny was born.

‘We’ve gone so far backward’

At the end of their interviews, The Daily Evergreen asked the six women and two men about their reactions to the restrictive abortion bills passed in Alabama, Ohio, Georgia, Utah, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi.

Carter said she thinks the bills are based on emotion rather than science. She said even the word “heartbeat” is misleading.

“A ‘heartbeat’ is pulsating cells,” she said. “[When I aborted] I had blood clots come out 10 times the size of the zygote.”

Several women said they think male lawmakers don’t understand the realities of abortion.

“Nobody is gonna say, ‘Oh yes, I’d rather have a painful abortion than take a pill every day,’ ” Stewart said.

Leo said the public discussion about abortion is oversimplified. He remembers protesters’ signs at the Spokane clinic quoted Bible verses.

“It seems like a lot of people are hiding behind the Bible,” Leo said. “I think their belief in that blinds them to the reality of human anatomy.”

Men should do their research on reproduction and abortion, Leo said. Salamjohn echoed this opinion. Had he known what to expect from Isa’s abortion, Salamjohn said he could have supported her better.

It baffled Anastasia when she read that doctors could serve longer prison sentences for performing abortions than people convicted of first-degree murder, she said.

All six local women have had pregnancies detected at or after six weeks, meaning none of these women would have been able to abort legally under the bills passed in some states.

“I’d be up for the death penalty,” Carter said.

Salamjohn said people assume women are irresponsible about their birth control if they get pregnant, but that’s not always the case. He didn’t think it was possible for Isa to get pregnant with an IUD because he knew it is one of the most effective forms of contraception.

“If you’re eliminating abortion you’re eliminating the last line of defense,” Salamjohn said.

Penny, a woman of color, said she thinks the bills will hurt minorities the most, especially those who can’t afford birth control or to travel and take time off work for an abortion.

Carter, a white woman, said she was grateful that she was able to get $600 together for her abortion.

“I think [these bills] will disproportionately affect women of color and poor women,” Carter said. “And I think that’s the point.”

All of the women said they felt the bills are regressive.

“I feel like we’ve gone so far backward,” Penny said. “I don’t even know what we’re supposed to do.”