Couples share the abortion decisions that shaped their lives

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Four couples told us about making that choice — to abort or not — and how it impacted them

M and K with their 7-month-old in their small town in Tennessee.
M and K with their 7-month-old in their small town in Tennessee. (Jessica Tezak/For The Washington Post)

In the days after Politico published a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, one in which a majority of the court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, more than 500 readers shared their stories with The Washington Post.

Many detailed abortions they had; others recounted why they chose not to have one. For many of our readers, the considerations and effects of these choices weren’t theirs alone. They left their mark on their partnerships, forever shaping the lives of families.

That’s more common than not: A recent New York Times analysis found that the typical abortion patient is already a mother.

We spoke to couples about making that choice — to abort or not — and how it affected them.

‘We know what we have to do’

YoKasta Langford, 43, and DeCosta Langford, 46, live in Dallas.

In September, YoKasta Langford found out she was pregnant in an unexpected place: her first appointment at a fertility clinic.

Even the doctor was taken by surprise, not only by the pregnancy but also by how far along he thought she was, about 16 weeks, YoKasta said. At the time, she was taking medication for her Type 2 diabetes, which disrupted her menstrual cycle.

“We were shocked,” YoKasta said.

Because YoKasta was in her 40s, her pregnancy would be considered high-risk. She was sent to see a maternal fetal medicine specialist for an ultrasound, which found that the baby was a girl. But YoKasta and her husband, DeCosta Langford, were told that the baby’s brain had not developed normally. And the heart, too, showed signs of abnormalities.

The doctor said the baby “wouldn’t be able to survive if she was born to term,” YoKasta recalled. Further testing confirmed the baby’s condition: trisomy 13.

“We were afraid, first and foremost,” YoKasta said. “But then immediately after that, it was just a very conscious clarity of thought. … We know what we have to do.”

DeCosta was in agreement with his wife’s decision, he said, whatever it would be: “I was going to be the one to stand up and let her know that I’m here for you, regardless of what we decide.”

YoKasta decided to terminate the pregnancy. But the dating on the initial ultrasound was off by several weeks: By the time she learned of the disorder, she was nearly 22 weeks along. The couple “didn’t have any time to spare,” DeCosta said.

They had to transfer their care over to New Mexico, where there are no restrictions on abortions. Texas’s six-week abortion ban — one of the most restrictive such laws in the country — was already in effect.

Because of covid restrictions, YoKasta’s husband was not allowed in the same room during the procedure. But a nurse held her hand the entire time, YoKasta said.

“Even though I’ve always been pro-choice, I never in a million years thought that it would touch me as personally as it did until it did,” she added.

The decision was a gut-wrenching one for the Langford family — and one that YoKasta ultimately made.

“I’m not a woman,” DeCosta said. “I really can’t speak on what it’s like for a woman to conceive and have a child … and to have [that decision] taken away from you.”

If Roe is overturned, YoKasta said that she would flee her home state, and even the country, if need be. The chance of once again facing a difficult choice — this time without the option of terminating the pregnancy — is too high for her.

This year, Mother’s Day was especially hard for YoKasta. The couple had already had a name picked out for their daughter: Vivienne Giselle Langford.

“Vivienne means lively, and Giselle means a pledge to love,” YoKasta said. “I couldn’t think of a better name for something I’ve wanted so, so bad.”

‘The sacrifices we made were worth it’

Diane Marble, 63, and Scott Marble, 64, live in Chattanooga, Tenn.

When Diane and Scott Marble began dating in 1985, neither of them took it very seriously. Diane, then 26, was living in Guam, where she was a teacher at a small Christian school. Scott was in the Air Force. Recently divorced with a young son, Scott, then 28, was eager to let loose. They both just wanted to have fun.

Then, after six months of on-again, off-again dating, Diane got pregnant.

Raised a Southern Baptist, Diane felt as though her immorality and recklessness had caught up with her.

She was alone in a clinic when she found out. Not long before, Diane recalled, she and Scott had watched a documentary about abortion that showed the procedure on-screen, documented through an ultrasound. Diane considered abortion morally wrong before, but after watching that film, she said, she became convinced she could never get one.

Still, sitting in that clinic, she found the decision difficult. She remembers asking the nurse: “What should I do?”

“This was the point at which I had to live a conviction that I thought I had going in,” she said. “There was a wishy-washiness beforehand.”

Diane knew having the child would cost her. Getting pregnant out of wedlock, she would lose her job at the Christian school. She would have to tell her parents. Grad school seemed out of the question.

Within days, she told Scott about the pregnancy.

“It shook me to my core,” Scott said. He agreed with Diane: He didn’t want to abort the pregnancy, either. The right thing to do, he reasoned, was to get married and raise the child together.

But Diane was wary of Scott’s history and religious background (Catholic), although the latter concern seems silly to her now. Scott was reckoning with his own past — a child, a previous abortion, a bitter divorce — one that didn’t seem to track with the nice man Diane thought she knew.

She would have this baby on her own, she decided.

After the first trimester, they stopped keeping in touch. Diane told Scott not to write her.

Then their baby, a son, was born, and with him, a love unlike any she had experienced before.

Diane felt supported enough by friends and family that she could be a single mom. But she couldn’t help but think of Scott: Who else could feel — and share — this incredible love?

Her pastor wrote Scott a note letting him know the baby had arrived. She wrote him her own letter, saying she had a change of heart.

For six to seven months, they worked with a naval chaplain to help resolve their issues, Diane said.

It was a time of self-discovery for the both of them, of unpacking what they believed and why, and how they could move forward together.

“I was carrying around failed relationships, abortion, fathering a child out of wedlock,” said Scott, adding that the abortion, before Diane, was not a mutual decision, and one he regrets to this day.

The Marbles now live in Chattanooga, Tenn. They have eight children: The eldest, Scott’s child from a previous marriage, is 42. Their youngest is 25. Diane home-schooled seven of them.

Looking back on the experience, the lesson the Marbles have walked away with is one of God’s mercy and goodness, something that extends to those who choose to abort, too, Diane said: “Everybody has a story. I would love to see these stories kindly received.”

In her choice, made in a small clinic on a small island in the North Pacific, Diane sees the beginning of a ripple, its effects reaching out far across space and time. She considers it to be the “first truly unselfish decision” of her life.

That choice has made their present possible, Diane said: their 35-year marriage, children whose accomplishments she is proud to list, grandchildren.

As she said: “The sacrifices we made were worth it.”

‘Very rarely is any circumstance in life black and white’

M, 34, and K, 32, live in East Tennessee.

Until the nurse used the word “abortion,” it hadn’t fully sunk in for M.

For years, M “kind of coasted” on the issue of abortion. She knew she was against people using it as a careless form of birth control.

Her husband, K, felt similarly. He grew up in a Congregational church and was taught to have a strong stance against it, he said.

But that was before Charlotte.

At the beginning of the pandemic, M, a stay-at-home mom, and K, a product designer, were eager to expand their family after their twins turned 1. After only a month of trying, they were pregnant again. (The couple spoke on the condition that only their first initials be used for their privacy and safety.)

As M entered her second trimester, the couple had already envisioned the life they would lead with their new baby: trips abroad, hikes in the nearby mountains.

But 14 weeks into the pregnancy, M learned that her fetus appeared to have trisomy 18, also known as Edwards syndrome. She wasn’t sure what that meant. The doctor kept telling her she was sorry.

A follow-up test confirmed all the baby’s organs had been affected, M said. The baby had clubbed feet and a large mass on her neck.

They learned the facts of the condition: No treatment available. Infants usually died within their first year, if they were born alive at all. The couple sought advice from their friends who worked in medicine, who told them that if the baby was born alive, it would live in pain. And if M opted to carry to term, it could jeopardize her health.

As they saw it, they were now faced with managing the end of their child’s life before it began. Two weeks after her doctor delivered the genetic test results, M had an abortion.

After the procedure, it was K’s idea to name their child, to make her presence in their life “more real.” They chose Charlotte, named after the road that led them from their old home in Nashville to the hospital.

“It was the place where we had memories with her,” M said.

They have a 7-month old daughter now, but saying goodbye has been a long and ongoing process. And it came to the fore again in the days following the Supreme Court leak.

That week, they drove past downtown, alongside a throng of abortion rights protesters. They rolled down their windows and took in the chanting.

“It was incredibly empowering, and it felt supporting,” K said.

Tennessee is one of at least 13 states that have “trigger laws,” which would automatically ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned. It’s unclear whether their procedure would still be legal under such a circumstance, but that’s less of a concern: They said they feel obligated to stand up for those with less privilege.

“Nobody wants to make that decision,” M said. Now, no matter the situation that led to an abortion, “my heart goes out to those people.”

For K, the experience taught him that “very rarely is any circumstance in life black and white.” He hopes sharing Charlotte’s story can teach others that, too.

“It’s so sad to have gone through that experience,” K said. “But another part of me is very grateful to have been in that gray area.”

When he posted about it on social media recently, he was met with support and encouragement — and hateful messages.

“I feel for them,” he said, referring to the people posting hurtful comments. “You haven’t had an experience where you’ve lived in that gray area and you’ve had to struggle with it yourself.”

‘I realized women needed decision-making power’

A Harris, 45, and T Harris, 45, live in the suburbs of Houston.

When the Harrises describe their life in 2009, the first thing that comes to mind is a lawn ornament they once saw: a squirrel holding up a sign that read, “Welcome to the nut house.” That, they said, is what their life felt like.

After years struggling to get pregnant, the Harrises had three kids younger than 3, two of whom were difficult, needy babies, said A. Between their kids and their careers, she and her husband, T, didn’t know how they could keep up with everything. (The couple spoke on the condition that only their first initials and last names be used for the privacy of their family.)

Two years after going back to work, A got pregnant again. She knew she couldn’t go through with it.

A had experienced bouts with depression since she was a teen, and had endured a particularly bad spell of postpartum depression with her firstborn that still scared her. She didn’t know if she could mentally survive another pregnancy.

“I think I became increasingly pro-choice after I had my first child,” A said. “When I realized how hard motherhood was, I realized women needed decision-making power” over their bodies.

T remembers how resolute A was. He didn’t feel any different than she did, he said, and he was going to support her all the way.

The Harrises found an abortion clinic. A was eight weeks pregnant.

T remembers how awkward he felt sitting in the waiting room. It was important for him to support her: He was her husband, her co-parent. But in that moment, he said, he felt like the dude who “knocked her up.”

“It’s awkward being a male in this conversation,” T said, referring generally to abortion. “Because it’s such a private thing, it’s not normalized.”

A, on the other side of the waiting room doors, was handed a pill. Afterward, there was a quick surgical procedure. Then, A was led to another room, where, still bleeding, she was told to wait.

A remembers sitting next to another woman, also a mother of three. They shared their stories: The woman couldn’t afford a fourth child, financially or emotionally, recalled Harris.

“It didn’t matter the differences between us. … We’re in the same exact head space,” A said. “She made that decision for her children, for their well-being. We were the same.”

Thirteen years later, the Harrises, now retired, live with their three children, now teens, in a conservative community on the outskirts of Houston.

A prides herself on being forthright with her kids about sex. After the Supreme Court leak, she bought a couple boxes of Plan B for her eldest, who is getting ready to go to college, and they discussed starting birth-control pills.

A also bought a box of condoms, which she placed in their kitchen medicine cabinet so her kids can access them whenever they — or anyone they know — need them. She hasn’t talked to them about her own abortion, but she sees a day, perhaps soon, when they might have that conversation.

Nothing about the decision or the procedure was traumatic, and she and T don’t regret it, A said. What has been painful is feeling constantly mired in debates about it.

A is unsure what life would have looked like had they not terminated the pregnancy (at eight weeks, the abortion would be illegal in Texas now). She suspects their family could have found a way to make it work financially.

But the toll on her mental health? That, she’s less sure about.

A was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the years since the pregnancy. “Where I am today has not been an easy road,” she says. “There’s a lot of times when I’m still not in great shape.”

She pauses. “I don’t know what would be left of me.”

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