In May, Georgia passed its version of a “heartbeat bill,” legislation that bans abortion after six weeks of gestation. The bill — like other anti-abortion bills that cleared statehouses across the South and the Midwest this year — sparked protests, condemnation from doctors and advocates, and legal challenges.
But for some women in Georgia, the abortion debate hasn’t included a key voice: women who have undergone the procedure themselves.
“A lot of what’s talked about are women who have unwanted pregnancies, but there are so many women who have wanted pregnancies — desperately wanted pregnancies, that have to make really hard decisions,” said Erika, who had an abortion at 22 weeks after she and her husband learned their baby had hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid on the brain that can cause brain damage. “This bill doesn’t seem to recognize that at all, and neither do the conversations.”
Erika is part of a support group of Georgia women who decided to have abortions in their second trimesters, after doctors gave them poor prenatal diagnoses. While most of their interactions happen in a private Facebook group called “A Time to Heal,” the women meet about six times a year to talk about their physical and emotional recovery.
As the debate around abortion has intensified recently, the women say it’s been “very triggering” to hear politicians, and especially the president, making graphic comments.
“I'm angry mostly at the false rhetoric that's out there that defines or is is making an attempt to define what situations like ours entailed,” said group founder Trinity, who had an abortion at 21 weeks, after she and her husband were told their baby lacked a part of her brain stem and had skeletal dysplasia. “When people like President Trump stand up and talk about babies being ripped from, you know, mother’s wombs at birth and then murdered by doctors, I mean that's just, it's, it's asinine and it's infuriating.”
Trinity said she formed the group after not finding any place for women who'd made this decision to safely speak about their experience. Being in a conservative state, the risk of judgement and repercussions, both professionally and socially, felt too high.
“The last thing I wanted to do was to go to some other support group for either miscarriage or stillbirth and make other women feel uncomfortable or to feel shame or guilt or anything about my situation,” Trinity said.
VICE News was given access to a recent meeting and spoke to seven members individually. Most have never told their story publicly before, including Michelle, who had an abortion at 21 weeks when she and her husband learned that their baby had severe facial and brain abnormalities.
“We have not shared [our story] for fear of our safety, of our kid’s safety of what, how extended family or other people might judge us,” she said. “We had people who were staunchly pro-life, and it changed how they thought about it because it's easy to separate yourself from a situation when someone close to you hasn't experienced it.”
But given the current political climate, Michelle and husband Zach thought they might be able to change the conversation around abortion.
"To assume that everybody that makes this choice is irresponsible or they shouldn't have sex and they should put the baby up for adoption and when you find out about these stories from people that are close to you, it changes and it shifts how you think about it.”