On May 2, a Supreme Court draft majority opinion obtained by POLITICO indicated that the Court has voted to strike down Roe v. Wade. If the ruling in June matches the draft, it would end the federal constitutional protection of abortion rights, overturning the landmark 1973 decision.
For some Brown students, the conversation surrounding abortion is not theoretical.
“I essentially did everything right in terms of birth control,” said one student referred to here as Bella ’22, who chose to remain anonymous for privacy concerns. “I was told that pregnancy was not really a possibility.”
“That's why it was so shocking when I got pregnant,” Bella said.
Bella had an intrauterine device, also known as an IUD, at the time of her pregnancy. According to Planned Parenthood, the device, which is placed in the uterus and provides several years of protection, is one of the most effective ways to prevent pregnancy. With an effectiveness of more than 99%, fewer than 1 out of 100 people who use an IUD will get pregnant each year.
According to Bella, she started to notice something was off around February of this year.
“I was really hormonal … and I just felt like something was wrong,” she said. “I had this gut feeling.”
She went to CVS and bought three pregnancy tests — they all came back positive, she said.
“I was alone when I found that out and I just completely froze. I couldn't believe it,” Bella said. “I am very educated, … I teach sex ed to high schoolers, I know a lot about what to do, but when it happens to you, everything goes out the window. I felt on the verge of a panic attack all day, like immobile, but in a pregnancy you can’t be immobile about that because you have to act on it.”
Bella then called her mom and started looking up abortion clinics in the area, but Planned Parenthood in Providence didn’t have any availability for two weeks.
“I (didn’t) even know how far along” I was. “I got really nervous given all the laws that I'm not too familiar with,” Bella said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, what if I get to a point where I'm not able to have an abortion anymore? I need to have it now.’”
Rhode Island state law protects the right to an abortion up until the point of fetal viability, and later in a pregnancy if the life and health of the patient is at risk.
According to Bella, she could have waited a couple of weeks to be able to get an appointment at Providence Planned Parenthood. But while it was the cheaper option, she also was considering the mental strain waiting would induce.
“I actually ended up paying out of pocket for (an abortion). I think I paid like $750,” Bella said. “I found out on a Thursday and I booked the appointment on Saturday.”
Prior to the appointment, Bella said she went to Health Services to find out how far along she was.
“I had such an amazing experience. They were so great. I went and they took my blood, which was helpful, because I was able to find out I was three to four weeks along, which is quite early,” Bella said.
That Saturday, Bella went to the appointment at a women’s health clinic in Massachusetts.
“Everybody on the staff was super chill” and “very kind,” Bella recalled.
She opted for a medical abortion, in which prescription drugs end a pregnancy.
According to Planned Parenthood, there are two ways to end a pregnancy — an in-clinic abortion and an abortion pill, also known as a medical abortion. An in-clinic abortion occurs in a medical office and is performed by healthcare professionals, while a pill can be taken at home.
“I didn't feel guilty. I wasn't like, ‘Oh my god, I'm terminating a life.’ I think I expected to feel bad, … but it really just felt like it was other people that imposed that on me and less coming from myself,” Bella said. “I didn't feel sad. … I just felt anxious.”
According to Bella, her friends were her largest support system before, during and after the abortion.
“I really leaned on my friends and was so grateful for their support,” Bella said. “It was just so incredible. People got me care packages … and everyone rallied. I felt so loved and supported.”
Aside from her friends, Bella also made the decision to tell both of her parents. “I'm so lucky — they were definitely supportive,” Bella said.
Still, “it was an incredibly isolating experience. I was very, very depressed,” Bella added.
The hardest things were the stigma associated with pregnancy and how isolating the experience proved to be for her, she noted.
“I was worried about being perceived as careless,” Bella said. “When I would tell people (I had gotten pregnant), I always had to follow it up immediately with ‘but I had an IUD’ because… I feel like to some degree” I would be blamed.
“There's no fucking way that you don't know somebody that … has gone through this,” Bella added. “I just kind of wished that there were more people that I could recognize and say, ‘Okay, she's gone through it and she's been okay.’”
Nearly one in four women will have had an abortion by age 45 as of 2014, according to a Guttmacher Institute news release. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women in their 20s accounted for more than half of all abortions performed in 2019.
“It felt like … I was the only one that I knew, and that's just simply not the case,” Bella said. “You're not as alone as you feel. But in that moment, I felt so fucking alone.”
For Bella, the hormones associated with pregnancy also had profound negative mental health effects.
“I didn't realize how much the hormones fucked with my brain, but a couple of days after the whole process was complete, it was like night and day,” Bella said. “It was insane –– like a switch had been turned on in my brain.”
At the time, she didn’t realize pregnancy was affecting her mental health.
“I only found that out after,” she said. “But at the time I (wondered), ‘What if this is just like who I am? What if this is the way I'm going to exist (now) in this more sad state?’”
In spring 2018, Anna House ’20 and her long-term partner realized that House was pregnant.
“We had been using secondary contraception all the time, and eventually I was like, ‘You know, I have this permanent birth control, I’m monogamous, I’m not super worried about it,’” House said.
Soon after she stopped using secondary contraception, House found out that she was pregnant. “I’m pretty sure that (the IUD) was never in the correct place,” she added.
House said she figured out she was pregnant fairly early – around four weeks into the pregnancy. After taking at-home pregnancy tests, House had an initial appointment at Planned Parenthood for pregnancy testing. She then had to wait weeks before she could receive an in-clinic abortion.
“I remember being really frustrated that I couldn't go in earlier because I was having really horrible symptoms,” House said.
Around six weeks into her pregnancy, House returned to the Planned Parenthood in Providence –– located on 175 Broad St., just over a mile from campus –– for the procedure.
“They were great,” House said. “I went in. I had them do full anesthesia — the overall procedure was pretty easy.”
House’s then-partner covered the procedure, which cost about $600. House said that her military insurance, TRICARE, would not have covered the abortion. Under federal law, TRICARE only covers abortions in cases of rape, incest, or endagerment of the life of the mother, according to their website.
While the abortion itself was straightforward, House said the time leading up to and after her abortion were difficult for her physically and emotionally, as well as academically.
“I was in the middle of a very intense sophomore slump,” she said. “I was a biomedical engineer.”
House told one professor that she had “health issues” and got a Dean’s letter to request an extension with another. But she said her instructors were “not super great about offering support.”
“That whole department is pretty strict, typically, so I wasn't really expecting them to be super helpful,” she said. When her grade dropped from an A to a C in one of her courses, the professor said they were unable to help.
In a statement to The Herald, Dean of Engineering Lawrence Larson wrote, "While we wouldn’t find it appropriate to speculate about the specific circumstances being described here, it’s important to say that any student can come to me, Dean Toussaint or Dean Casasanto with any needs or concerns and we will help them. We care and want to support all of our students."
“That (lack of support) definitely made it less of a fun experience than it already was,” House said.
House added that she felt disconnected from her friend group that year, which “made it worse because I ended up not telling them” about the abortion, she said.
“I regret that at this point because … they were very supportive once they found out. It would have been better to have told them as soon as I found out I was pregnant,” she added. “That was a much more stressful period.”
At the time, she also chose not to tell her mother.
“I wasn’t really getting support from anyone but my partner,” House said.
“I ended up telling my mom the summer after. I think that that was the biggest emotional thing for me. My mom's family is very Catholic and we're Midwestern, so (abortion) is not something that is done. And if it is, then you never tell anyone,” House said. “But my mom ended up … being very supportive and was just sad that I hadn't told her as it was happening.”
But House said that she saw antagonism toward women who had undergone abortions from the Brown community through anonymous posts on the Facebook page Dear Blueno.
“A lot of people think that (abortion) is not a super common thing at Brown,” House said. But “people definitely know people who have had abortions.”
The rhetoric “is really disappointing because it can get pretty inflammatory,” House said. “You’re talking about your fellow students here.”
Another student referred to here as Miranda ’21, who chose to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns, found out she was pregnant around February 2021, about a month into her senior year.
Like House and Bella, Miranda said she got pregnant despite having an IUD.
“I’ve always been kind of a paranoid person about pregnancy for some reason, so I frequently took pregnancy tests,” Miranda said. When she missed her period, she said she tested herself and found out she was pregnant.
“What the fuck? Come here!” Miranda remembered yelling to her roommates when she saw the result. “I remember being pretty thrown off,” she said, joking with her friends about it to keep a positive attitude. Still, she said, she remained “calm” in the weeks after she found out.
Miranda decided to go through with a medical abortion rather than an in-clinic abortion.
Miranda said that she scheduled the appointment for roughly a week after that day. In the week leading up to the appointment, she was anxious that she would get COVID, which would force her to delay the abortion.
Miranda went to Planned Parenthood, where they gave her a pill and instructed her to take a second medication while at home.
“I remember a bunch of my friends were in my room and brought me a cake,” she said. “It honestly wasn’t too long of a process. The appointment was on a Friday afternoon, so I missed class and then for a few hours was in a lot of pain,” Miranda added.
Miranda said her friends remained supportive throughout the experience. “I was pretty calm … and kind of light-hearted about it, so I think in response they were too,” Miranda said.
Miranda had originally decided not to tell her parents about the abortion because she thought it would give her mom too much stress, thinking she would tell her female professor instead. “I was feeling like I wanted some kind of a motherly figure, … but then I was like, this is silly, let me just tell my mom,” she said.
According to Miranda, her mom responded well and sent her a care package but advised her to not tell her father.
“He’s pretty Catholic,” Miranda said of her father. “That wasn’t my own decision. My mom made it seem like I shouldn’t tell him, so I didn’t.”
Potential overturning of Roe v. Wade
The recent news about the Supreme Court’s potential decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has led some to question how this will affect Rhode Island.
Rhode Island codified the protections afforded by Roe v. Wade in 2019. The Reproductivity Privacy Act ensures that the state cannot restrict an individual from “preventing, commencing, continuing or terminating that individual's pregnancy prior to fetal viability.”
More recently, the state Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge brought forward by Catholics for Life and other plaintiffs — who claimed the Reproductive Privacy Act violated the Rhode Island Constitution — in an opinion penned by Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg.
Rhode Island’s state-funded insurance currently does not cover abortion services. The Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, introduced to the state senate in March 2022 and in the House Feburary 2021, would amend this so that abortion services would be covered.
The Herald also followed up with House, Miranda and Bella to gather their thoughts and reactions.
“The potential Roe v. Wade decision is both ridiculous and upsettingly not that surprising, the way the country is going,” Miranda wrote in an email to The Herald. “Just very disappointing.”
Still, “it’s been interesting because a lot of my friends have been texting to check in, but for some reason I don’t feel like this personally affects me more than anybody else,” Miranda wrote. “I’m definitely nervous about what future abortion access will look like and I think it will take a lot of work that I’m not sure people have the energy for.”
Bella is similarly worried about a future without access to reproductive rights.
“I’m super lucky to live in a place where my rights will most likely not be put in such extreme jeopardy, but it’s infuriating and devastating that a lot of young women will have a much harder time seeking care and support,” Bella wrote in an email to The Herald.
House wrote that she worries overturning Roe v. Wade will be bad for many people, especially “our most vulnerable populations.”
“It's really difficult for me to watch the country backslide on reproductive rights,” House wrote in an email to The Herald. “I'm from the Midwest, and it's particularly stressful to be living in a red state right now.”
“My heart breaks for everyone who is going to be affected,” House added. “Pregnancy is no joke. It's not fun and it's incredibly hard on a person's body. No one should have to go through it without their consent.”