It’s been a year since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. Within days of the overturning, people across the United States lost their right to get abortions, as their home states rushed to ban the procedure.
But although abortion is deeply stigmatized, these people did not stay silent: They began to speak out about their experiences. Doctors, too, started to talk. Although conservatives insisted that abortion bans permitted people to get abortions in medical emergencies, doctors did not always agree. The language of many of these bans was often so vague or confusing that doctors were left unsure when or if they could perform abortions, even in cases where their patients’ pregnancies were doomed and their lives were at risk.
These are some of the known stories of the abortion patients who were denied abortions, fled their home states for the procedure, or performed the abortions themselves.
The first story to shock the nation was almost buried under a procedural headline: “Patients head to Indiana for abortion services as other states restrict care,” the Indianapolis Star wrote, just one week after the overturning. One of those patients was a 10-year-old rape victim who had fled Ohio, Dr. Caitlin Bernard told the paper.
Ohio had recently banned most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, and the victim was too far along in her pregnancy to get an abortion in her home state. The country erupted in outrage.
“She was forced to have to travel out of the state to Indiana to seek to terminate the pregnancy and maybe save her life,” President Joe Biden said in a White House speech about abortion rights. “Ten years old—10 years old!—raped, six weeks pregnant, already traumatized, was forced to travel to another state.”
Although outlets like the Washington Post initially cast doubt on the story’s validity and Indiana’s attorney general suggested that Bernard didn’t properly report the incident, a man was soon charged in the case. Still, Bernard quickly found her life upended and her career imperiled; the attorney general’s charge would plague her for another year.
Around the same time, abortion flickered in and out of legality in Louisiana, as abortion opponents and supporters fought over the state’s multiple abortion bans in court. Although doctors were permitted to perform abortions in medical emergencies, nobody was quite sure what qualified as an emergency—an issue that occurred, over and over again, throughout the country.
In one affidavit, a Louisiana doctor said that one patient had her water break at 16 weeks of pregnancy—too early for any pregnancy to survive. Although the patient wanted to end the pregnancy, the doctor was legally blocked from helping her. Instead, the doctor said, the patient “was forced to go through a painful, hours-long labor to deliver a nonviable fetus, despite her wishes and best medical advice.” The patient hemorrhaged nearly a liter of blood, according to the Advocate.
A Wisconsin woman bled for more than 10 days after hospital staff refused to remove fetal tissue from her incomplete miscarriage, the Washington Post reported. Yet another, in Ohio, was sent home from the hospital after a miscarriage, still bleeding and without medical attention, NPR reported. And still another woman, who also lived in Ohio, was blocked from getting an abortion in the state even after tests revealed that her fetus had kidney failure and heart defects. Continuing the pregnancy put her life at risk, so the woman traveled to Michigan for an abortion, according to CNN.
In Arizona, a 23-year-old used medication to secretly induce her own abortion at a Hampton Inn. She couldn’t find an abortion in her home state, because a morass of contradictory abortion restrictions had led Arizona abortion providers to temporarily stop performing the procedure.
“It feels like everybody is against me, saying, ‘Well, you got yourself into this, so you better figure out how you’re going to fix it or live with the consequences,’” she told VICE News. “I feel like my body is being used as a punishment.”
Nebraska police charged 17-year-old Celeste Burgess and her mother, Jessica Burgess, with multiple felonies and misdemeanors after the pair allegedly conspired to abortion Celeste’s pregnancy on their own.
Although the Burgesses allegedly induced Celeste’s abortion before the Supreme Court overturned Roe, the case alarmed abortion rights supporters, providers, and patients: Police used a court order to obtain Celeste’s private Facebook chats to make the case against the Burgesses. It was a sharp reminder of just how easily the veil of digital privacy could be punctured and used against abortion seekers.
Abortion rights advocates have also long warned that zealous law enforcement can find ways to punish abortion patients—even in cases when an abortion isn’t technically illegal. The vast majority of U.S. states, including Nebraska, do not have laws against self-managing your own abortion. However, 61 people were still criminalized for alleged self-managed abortions between 2000 and 2020, according to research by the reproductive justice group If/When/How.
(There’s no telling just how many people have self-managed their own abortions since the overturning of Roe. In the six months following Roe’s overturning, at least 20,000 abortion pills are estimated to have been shipped across the United States.)
In Missouri, Mylissa Farmer was almost 18 weeks into her pregnancy when she felt her water break. The fetal heartbeat continued—but, as doctors quickly made clear to Farmer, there was now practically zero chance that she would ever give birth to a healthy baby. Worse, if she continued the pregnancy, Farmer risked her own health.
But Missouri’s abortion ban meant that even though doctors recommended an abortion, Farmer could not get one in state. Hospitals in nearby Kansas and Illinois also did not help her.
She ended up having to travel to an abortion clinic in Illinois.
"I haven't lost trust in care, but I’ve lost trust [doctors] will be allowed to make the medical decisions they need to make,” Farmer told the Springfield News-Leader.
A 24-year-old woman fled her home state of Wisconsin to get an abortion in Chicago—only to find out that, upon her return, the abortion may not have worked.
The woman’s uterus still contained tissue from the pregnancy, the woman’s doctor told her. Before Roe’s overturning, the doctor could have immediately helped her—but now, with abortion banned in Wisconsin, the doctor would have to wait for testing to determine if the pregnancy was still viable.
In the meantime, the woman had to wait, bleeding and at risk of going into deadly sepsis.
“That was the part that was really incredible, that they couldn't trust the expertise of a doctor that has trained and has been working in her field and has accreditations, passed her boards—that her opinion wasn't enough,” the woman told VICE News. “This is so stupid. This is a massive nightmare.”
After days of waiting, the woman found out that her pregnancy was no longer viable, and she was able to complete her abortion.
In Louisiana, another woman was not able to get in-state abortions even though her fetus was nonviable. During an ultrasound, Nancy Davis found out that her fetus had a condition known as acrania, where a baby is born without the top of its skull. Babies who have acrania die soon after birth.
While Louisiana’s abortion ban listed numerous medical conditions that would justify having an abortion, acrania wasn’t one of them. Ultimately, Davis had to travel about 1,400 miles to get an abortion in New York.
Affidavits filed in a court battle over Ohio’s abortion ban also pulled back the curtain on the chaos wrought by that ban. Two children had recently fled to Michigan and Indiana for abortions after getting pregnant through rape, the affidavits alleged. Two women couldn’t get treatment for cancer while pregnant. Two women had pregnancies with fetal anomalies so serious that no baby would ever survive. Three patients’ pregnancies had left them vomiting so much that they were unable to live their lives. One of those patients was a high-school senior who ended up in the hospital on suicide watch.
Three patients said they would die of suicide if they couldn’t have abortions. Another patient said she would drink bleach if she couldn’t get one.
Even people who weren’t pregnant, or didn’t want abortions, felt the fallout from overturning Roe. In Arizona, a 14-year-old who used methotrexate to control her rheumatoid arthritis had her prescription denied because, her doctor believes, methotrexate can be used to end a pregnancy. In Wisconsin, an OB-GYN had to fight with her pharmacist to give her misoprostol, which the OB-GYN needed to help manage the miscarriage that she had just endured.
“It’s not right,” the 14-year-old, Emma Thompson, told a local Arizona news outlet. “They’re trying to make any girl who’s on this medication drop a pregnancy test when they get their medicine, and I feel like it’s really unfair.”
Over in Florida, a middle school student who had become pregnant through rape was denied an abortion due to the state’s 15-week abortion ban, Buzzfeed reported.
Doctors had also started to fear that not only would they be blocked from permitting abortions in emergencies, but that the next generation of doctors would never learn how to perform abortions in the first place. In Ohio, one OB-GYN resident had a patient stagger into her hospital after her water had broken too early on in pregnancy. The resident had to perform an abortion—but one of her colleagues had never learned how to do it.
“The ultimate concern is the trickle-down effect of this,” one Indiana doctor told VICE News. “In those 2 am moments in the middle of the night, will you know what you need to do to save someone's life?”
“I had not given the idea of abortion as health care much thought until I watched my daughter come close to death during a miscarriage,” one parent wrote in an open letter to an Ohio newspaper in November. “A resident of Washington, D.C., visiting Ohio over Labor Day weekend, she began to miscarry a fetus that wasn’t viable. The hospital emergency room released her and said good luck. Four hours later, lying in the bathtub, she became unconscious, returned to the hospital and waited some more.”
She only got an abortion, the parent wrote, once her life was deemed to be “in danger.”
For some people who desperately want children, the overturning of Roe has jeopardized or even ruined their ability to have them.
Mayron Hollis wanted her baby—but when her doctor told the Tennessee mother that her latest pregnancy could kill her, Hollis decided to have an abortion, according to ABC News. However, Hollis made the decision too late: Under Tennessee’s abortion ban, she was too far along in her pregnancy to have an abortion. Ultimately, she delivered a baby prematurely and was forced to undergo an emergency hysterectomy.
Two women in Texas and Florida, who had become friends through their struggles with infertility, both had their water break early, the Washington Post reported. Although it’s standard for doctors to offer abortions in those cases, neither woman was offered one. Later, they had to undergo procedures that may limit their future fertility.
In early March, five women denied abortions in Texas sued the state, in what’s believed to be the first post-Roe lawsuit of its kind.
Specifically, the lawsuit seeks to clarify the medical exceptions written into Texas’ abortion bans. The complaint detailed their gut-wrenching stories. One woman, after being diagnosed with a medical condition that made a healthy delivery impossible, developed a 103-degree fever and life-threatening sepsis. Another woman had to flee to Seattle for an abortion after she learned her fetus would never develop a skull and likely die shortly after birth, while yet another traveled to Colorado after her water broke early and her doctors told her she was at high risk of developing sepsis or hemorrhaging.
Another two women, both of whom were pregnant with twins, had to leave Texas for what are known as “single twin reductions,” where doctors typically abort one fetus to preserve another or the life of the pregnant person.
“I begged my doctors to give me the care I needed. ‘Please just induce me while I’m still strong and healthy. There must be an exception in this situation,’” one of the women told reporters at the Texas capitol. “Finally, one doctor told me, ‘You’re wasting your time trying to obtain help here at home.’”
March also saw the arrival of a very different kind of lawsuit: A Texas man sued his ex-wife’s friends for allegedly helping her obtain an abortion. He accused them of contributing to “wrongful death,” and used text messages between his ex and her friends to make his case. For abortion rights supporters, the case was yet another example not only of the risks to pregnant people’s digital privacy, but also of how anti-abortion laws could be used to control or threaten women.
In return, the ex-wife’s friends countersued the man, accusing him of invasion of privacy and emotionally abusing his wife. A police report filed by the man also indicated that he knew about the abortion before it took place.
Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, a 25-year-old woman with a molar pregnancy—that is, a cancerous pregnancy that will never result in a baby—was told to wait in a hospital parking lot until she became so sick that she could have an abortion.
"They were very sincere; they weren't trying to be mean," the woman told NPR. "They said, 'The best we can tell you to do is sit in the parking lot, and if anything else happens, we will be ready to help you. But we cannot touch you unless you are crashing in front of us or your blood pressure goes so high that you are fixing to have a heart attack.'"
Eight more women who had been denied abortions announced that they, too, were joining the Texas lawsuit, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 15. The women were diagnosed with a myriad of conditions that made bringing their pregnancies to term impossible or meant that their babies would die soon after birth—but none were able to get abortions in Texas, even when their own health deteriorated.
“My caring and capable Texas doctors could do nothing for me. Under these laws, they couldn’t speak openly or even tell us my options. I remember saying to my doctor, ‘We have a place in Colorado, should I go there?’” one woman, who had to travel to Seattle for an abortion, told the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the women. “As if in secret code, she said, ‘Yes, I think you should go to Colorado.’”
In Alabama, a committee of doctors refused to let Shannon Kelly undergo an abortion, even though Kelly’s physician believed that Kelly’s pregnancy was unlikely to survive to term and another committee had already approved the abortion. When Kelly’s specialist called to tell her the news, Kelly was so overcome she couldn’t speak.
“I just sat there and sobbed,” Kelly told ABC News. “I was in a parking lot and I pulled out my phone, and I texted my husband, I was like, 'I need you to come see me and I need you to bring our daughter.'"
Kelly ended up driving to Virginia for an abortion.
The Biden administration found that two hospitals that turned away Mylissa Farmer, the Missouri woman who was denied an abortion, had broken federal law that requires hospitals to treat patients who are in emergencies. The Biden administration has repeatedly urged hospitals to follow the law, and even invoked it in a lawsuit against Idaho over its abortion ban, but Farmer’s case marks the first publicly acknowledged investigations into hospitals since Roe’s overturning.
In May, Indiana also reprimanded Caitlin Bernard, the doctor who spoke out about the 10-year-old rape victim and revealed just how devastating the end of Roe would be. A state medical board rejected more serious charges that would have rendered Bernard unfit to practice medicine, but it did issue her a letter of reprimand and fined her $3,000 for violating her patient’s privacy. Bernard’s employer, Indiana University Health, had previously found that Bernard didn’t break privacy laws.
“The cause and effect that happened here was not: ‘Dr. Bernard’s story leads to the patient having her protected information shared,’” said Alice Morical, Bernard’s attorney, told the New York Times.
Finally, Celeste Burgess, the teenager accused of inducing her own abortion, pled guilty to a felony charge of concealing or abandoning a dead body, the Associated Press reported. Her mother, Jessica Burgess, has pleaded not guilty and is due in court in July.
Celeste now faces two years in prison.
More than 60 percent of Americans think that overturning Roe was a “bad thing,” according to polling from Gallup. Sixty-nine percent of Americans—a record high—also believe that abortion should be legal in the first trimester of pregnancy (when the vast majority of abortions are performed, according to CDC data).
In the six months following the overturning of Roe, more than 66,000 people were unable to get abortions in their home state, according to data released in April from the Society of Family Planning. More than 30,000 seemed unable to get legal abortions at all. But did these people leave the country for abortions? Did they induce their own? Or did they simply stay pregnant?
There will likely never be a full accounting of just how many people have been denied post-Roe abortions, or what they did in response. But the stories are sure to continue.