Sharing My Abortion Story Helped Me Heal

This article is part of POPSUGAR's 50 States, 50 Abortions, a large-scale storytelling project that aims to elevate the voices of people who've had abortions. For more information about how to find an abortion clinic near you, please visit The Cut's abortion service finder.

Content warning: The following essay contains descriptions of domestic abuse.

I was 21 or 22, I think — I'm 26 now — and I was in a bad relationship. It was pretty abusive. It was just not good.

While he went away on vacation, I became really sick. I immediately knew, but I took a test anyway and found out I was pregnant.

I was living paycheck to paycheck. I was in no position to have a child. So at the same time I found out I was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to have an abortion.

I told my mom, and we made an appointment at Planned Parenthood. Where I'm at, there's only one Planned Parenthood, and it was so booked out, I actually almost missed the time limit to get one. I was right near the end, close to 13 weeks. (Editors' note: South Carolina law technically allows for abortion up to 20 weeks postfertilization, but the clinics that provide abortions in the state don't provide abortions past 13 to 14 weeks.)

My mom took me to my appointment. It was a really hard decision for me. Even though I knew it was what I wanted, it still broke my heart at the time. They gave me Xanax, and it helped for a little bit. But I think I sat in that waiting room for almost two hours, and I was miserable.

I had to have a surgical abortion rather than take the pills, and it really traumatized me. The front staff were friendly and everything, but the doctor performing the procedure seemed like he didn't want to be there. He just wasn't very nice. Also, the medicine they gave me in the waiting room had worn off. It was just very, very traumatizing at the time.

I remember crying for the next few days, and I slept a lot. They don't really tell you what happens after they push you out the door. I bled so much. I was kind of concerned, but after doing some research on my own, I found out that it's normal. Obviously, I was just emotionally drained. I think I took six days off. I would say probably around the fourth day, physically, I was OK. The bleeding had slowed down, and I was getting a little bit more energy back. Emotionally, it was just really hard for the first few months. Anytime I thought about it, I would become really upset.

My mom and my dad were a great support system. I stayed at their house afterward for the next few days. My boyfriend was supportive at first, and then he quickly used the abortion against me later on when I tried to part ways with him. He would sometimes say I cheated on him and it wasn't his baby and that's why I aborted it. Other times he would say that I ruined our potential family due to my selfish actions in having an abortion. He also said at one point that I killed his baby. It still hurts when I recall those conversations. I feel like he had thought those things that he said, probably from when I got it, and he just didn't say anything until I broke up with him and used that as ammo.

I live in the South, in the Bible Belt, and I just didn't talk about it for the longest time. But I began opening up about my story when I was diagnosed with HIV in 2020, around two years after my abortion. I started with HIV advocacy work, and then I met some friends who did abortion advocacy. People talked about it in my online advocacy group, Advocates For Youth. I realized how common abortion is.

Once I started sharing my story and talking about it more, I was able to heal myself. I realized it was a hard decision for me, but it was the right decision, and that's OK. It doesn't have to be a hard decision for everyone, and that's OK, too. Everybody has their own journey.

Other people started coming forward with their abortion stories in my advocacy groups and community work — and friends, too, once I began speaking of my own personal experience. If they didn't have one, they know someone who did, or they drove someone to an appointment. Being able to tell my story helped other people heal as well. And I love that.

It took me a really long time to open up, and if a person doesn't want to come forward and share their story, I understand that, too. That's why I like to share mine, because there are people who can't.

If I had to go through it again, I don't know what I would do differently. I didn't know there were financial resources, such as grants, to help pay for abortions. Mine cost like 500 bucks, so it was a setback — a big setback back then. If I were giving advice to a younger self, I'd tell myself that there are resources online, financial and counseling-wise. I'd also say that the experience doesn't have to be hard, and it's OK if it is, and your story is your story, and no one can take that from you. Whatever you're going through, there are millions of people who back you — people who have had one or have had a loved one go through it, and so you're not alone. It might feel that way sometimes, but the many people who have been in that situation understand.

As for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, it's a huge step back, and it's also really terrifying. In South Carolina, they're trying to pass the heartbeat law, which prohibits abortion after six weeks. I only found out I was pregnant at six weeks. The bill has been blocked, but it is still a really scary time for people in reproductive rights. I'm still going to do advocacy work and not stop, but I'm absolutely terrified.

Karli VanZile (she/her) (South Carolina), as told to Eden Arielle Gordon

If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 toll-free at 1-800-799-7233, or text "START" to 88788.

Image Sources For "Click For Stories From Each State": Unsplash / Aaron Burden, Getty / Sergii Iaremenko/Science Photo Library, Unsplash / Manik Roy and Photo Illustration: Patricia O'Connor