Health risks, money, rape: Why these Colorado women had abortions

After two losses, Rebecca Leder doesn’t like the terms “pro-choice or pro-life” when it comes to talk about ending a pregnancy.

She and her husband had to deal with it twice, once at 20 weeks in April of 2020 and another at 16 weeks in December of 2021, after undergoing in vitro fertilization.

“We were already on a very difficult journey to build our family and grow our family with children,” she said. “At those points in our pregnancy, medical tests identified that our two sons did not have vital organs that were needed to survive.

“The language that the practitioners used was that this condition was ‘incompatible with life.’”

If Leder had carried to term, the delivery would have been risky for her, and the babies still wouldn’t have survived, she said. For Leder, ending the pregnancies wasn’t a choice, even in Colorado, a state that allows for making that decision. She also didn’t end them because she didn’t want children, and she called both surgeries “excruciatingly painful physically and emotionally.”

“We share our story so that others know pregnancy termination is not minor and is not a decision made lightly — if a decision is at play,” Leder said. “Taking away medical care for medical procedures that are painful to begin with is cruel and severely misunderstood.”

The leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that indicated justices would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling wouldn’t outlaw abortion in Colorado. Lawmakers passed legislation this year codifying it into law. But it would allow states to decide to prohibit abortions and still leaves room for Congress to enact a nationwide ban.

The Denver Post spoke to Leder and seven others about their abortions, including why they chose to end their pregnancies and what it was like for them. Those who shared their experiences were of different ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions and socioeconomic statuses. Some of the abortion experiences they shared are a result of traumas, including sexual assault or health complications, while others were more about planning for their futures.

All but one of them live in Colorado. Those interviewed agreed that access to their abortions was necessary, that their decisions were thoughtful and that medical decisions should be between patients and their doctors.

You can read those stories below. (Editor’s note: Some spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns or not having shared their stories with their families for fear of how they would respond.)

Selina Najar, 27

Bob Ross was playing on the TV at a Planned Parenthood clinic the day Selina Najar had her medical procedure. Another thing that stays with her: A man protesting outside the clinic, yelling, “Don’t do it, mama.”

“It was so dismissive of my autonomy and ability to control my life and my livelihood,” she said. “To boil down that moment to, ‘Don’t do it, mama.’”

Najar had been working as Cobalt’s political director for just six months in 2020 when she found out she was pregnant. She wasn’t trying to have a baby, living in a small apartment in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood with her boyfriend, and she even had an IUD (intrauterine device) inserted. But it failed.

Najar called the situation surreal, having an unwanted pregnancy while she was working at an abortion-rights organization. She found out she was pregnant at about five-and-a-half weeks in July of that year.

She said the decision to end the pregnancy wasn’t difficult, but it was thoughtful. For her family’s well-being and current financial situation,  she and her boyfriend couldn’t support having a child at the time.

The then-25-year-old called her mom. When she was 13 or 14, her mom told her about her own abortion at 21 years old. Najar said her mother’s experience was “imbued with distress, shame and isolation.”

“Upon hearing that story, I decided I was pro-choice,” Najar said.

Najar’s mom was living with her family in Montrose at the time, working as a janitor. She wasn’t in a stable, healthy relationship.

“Knowing that she did not have the financial resources, nor would she have her family support to carry to term a pregnancy … In the early 90s, an unwed mother, there was so much stigma about being an unwed mother, that that was a huge motivating force for why she ultimately did get an abortion was that she didn’t want to be a young single mother who was kicked out by her parents,” Najar said.

Her mother hid her procedure, having a friend drive her to the clinic. She had borrowed money from another family member without telling them what it was for. And then she hid in her closet, doubled over, so no one would see her. Ultimately, she was betrayed by a medical bill that came in the mail, Najar said.

“A thread of thinking that stayed with me throughout the entire process was the fact that my mom had so little support when she went through her abortion,” she said. And so, when Najar told her mom, the first thing the mother asked her daughter was if she had a good support system around her.

She did. Her boyfriend was supportive and a friend drove her to the clinic and back. She worked with people who understood what she needed to do.

The upcoming Supreme Court decision is one that Najar anticipated, but she wants people to know that the decision doesn’t mean abortions are outlawed everywhere — just that they are no longer a guaranteed right in every state. And even more importantly, she said, “regardless of whether or not you personally support abortion should not influence somebody else’s ability to determine their own future.”

“T,” 26

A survivor of domestic abuse, “T” thinks of her abortion as the moment that she saved her own life.

“T,” who is identified by a nickname due to concerns for her safety, said her abortion was one of the reasons she had the strength to get out of her abusive marriage, a relationship she had been in since leaving high school. She was married for about a year before getting divorced.

Aside from a few very close people, she hasn’t told her story much, scared her ex-husband — a man she said was very controlling — could find out and come after her.

“T” said her then-husband was attempting to get her pregnant, often trying to prevent her from accessing her birth control pills or get refills. But she was scared of him and didn’t want to have children with him.

One day, her pills went missing. She was adamant that she didn’t want to have unprotected sex. So, she said, he raped her.

A few weeks later, “T” told her ex-husband that she was leaving for work. But instead, she went to the Tri-County Health Department to get checked out. Her fears were confirmed: She was pregnant. That was her “do or die” moment, she said.

“Either I stay here (in the marriage) miserable forever or figure it out,” she said. So, she decided to get an abortion and make a plan to leave.

That included figuring out how to pay for her procedure because she didn’t have her own bank account. A close friend and the nurse at Tri-County helped her connect to the resources she needed. A week later, at about six weeks of pregnancy, she got an abortion at Planned Parenthood. And a week after that, she left her house.

Even though “T” hasn’t been able to share her story before publicly, even hiding it from family, she wanted to tell others about it so they knew they had options.

Jodi Katz, 61

In 2000, Jodi Katz, a teacher in Aurora Public Schools who loved children, wanted to try to have a little girl. She was a mother to two boys and she and her husband decided to get pregnant again.

It worked, and they had a name already picked out: Jacquelynn Paige.

At about 22 weeks of pregnancy, Katz was camping in the backyard with her boys when she suddenly couldn’t breathe. She and her husband rushed to the hospital. They found out their baby had hydrocephalus, fluid buildup in the brain. She had to go see a specialist.

Katz said they were told the baby could have mental and physical impairments.

“My husband and I just were beside ourselves,” she said. “They told me it was a fluke that my child had hydrocephalus.”

Ultimately, within a couple of weeks of the diagnosis, she decided to have an abortion, inducing early delivery at University Hospital in Denver. It took days.

“It was the most excruciating thing I ever experienced because I wanted that little girl more than you know,” she said. When the baby came out, she looked just like her two brothers. Katz held onto her stillborn baby for almost a full day.

Katz, a Jewish woman whose faith allows for abortions, said her own experience changed her perspective. She used to think that people who sought abortions didn’t care or weren’t using birth control. But she had become one of the statistics.

As a teacher, Katz saw kids in school with extreme developmental delays, and she worries about what happens to them as they get older.

“My question to everybody who’s against abortion is this: Why would you put a child on this Earth if you would not want to live his or her life? I did the most unselfish thing,” she said.

In 2002, Katz and her husband got pregnant again. They were expecting a girl: Cassondrá Anne.

But again, it did not go as planned. Katz was told the baby was very small. Although she wasn’t worried because both her boys were on the smaller side when they were born, there was a question about whether the baby was getting enough oxygen to her brain.

At about 27 weeks, Katz developed a complication of toxemia. She had to end the pregnancy to save her life.

Katz held funerals for both the babies and still constantly thinks of them. She said she hopes that sharing her story will help others experiencing loss and remove stereotypes about the reasons people choose to have abortions.

Rayna, 28

Rayna wants to have kids, but she also wants to make sure that she can give them a good life first. She saw the difficulties parents and their children faced when they didn’t have the resources they needed from her own work at both a preschool and a program for at-risk kids.

It’s one of the reasons she chose to have three different abortions.

At 25, she was three months into a new relationship and still in community college in Denver when she found out she was pregnant.

Rayna, who asked to be identified only be her first name for for fear of how family or her employer might react, said finding out she was pregnant was “terrifying.” She couldn’t afford the cost of an abortion, let alone of raising a child. She was on Medicaid, which doesn’t cover the cost of abortions, and she had to borrow money from her dad. She didn’t tell her mom until years later, worrying about her reaction because of her mother’s religious stance on the issue.

But her parents had her at a young age, getting married because they were having a kid, even though they weren’t compatible, Rayna said. Their life wasn’t always easy, especially financially, so she didn’t want to perpetuate the cycle. Her partner similarly came from a household that experienced poverty.

It was still a hard decision, though.

She remembers playing with one of her favorite kids at the preschool after the first pregnancy and crying afterward, thinking, “I don’t want to do this, but it’s something we need to do.”

At about five weeks, she went to Planned Parenthood and got a prescription for an abortion pill. She was at about six weeks of pregnancy for the second and third abortions, both of which also came during school when she was working a minimum wage job. None of the pregnancies were expected.

“I’m so thankful to live in Colorado,” a state where abortions are easily accessible, Rayna said, unlike where some of her family still lives in Oklahoma. She hasn’t told them about the second or third abortions.

Rayna said she doesn’t understand how people on the opposite side of the abortion debate can say “they love an unborn child and then the child is born and they don’t support the systems that help a child live.”

Priscilla Condon, 76

Two weeks after graduating high school in 1964 in Alabama, Priscilla Condon was raped.

She was 18 and was on a youth trip when a priest chaperone assaulted her. At the time, she accepted the blame placed on victims in the conservative environment she lived in, and she didn’t tell anyone.

Condon had taken on many adult responsibilities in her family’s household, her mother struggling to cope after the death of her husband, son, mother and mother-in-law within a year. That meant, Condon had to figure out what to do on her own when she began seeing signs of pregnancy.

She couldn’t go to any doctor because her family knew everyone in their small community. So, Condon went to the county health department where she had previously interned and unofficially met with a nurse she knew.

The nurse confirmed to Condon that she was pregnant and said she had two choices: keep the baby or put it up for adoption. She also told her she couldn’t tell anyone about it because of societal expectations.

But as Condon was leaving, the nurse handed her a piece of paper with a phone number. She didn’t say anything else.

Condon called the number, not knowing what to expect. A man answered the phone, she told him a nurse had provided his number after she’d gotten pregnant. He then told Condon not to say anything else but gave her a cost and address. She was in what she called an “enviable position” because she had enough money to pay the $400 needed at the time for an abortion.

But it was still years before the Roe v. Wade decision protecting a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

“I realize that it sounds so black and white,” Condon wrote in a letter about her story. “I can assure you that it wasn’t. I don’t know how to put the emotions into this scenario. The elation that there was a solution, the terror of the unknown, the back and forth of whether I should try and keep the baby.”

Condon said she went with a friend to a house in rural Alabama outside of Montgomery, in a town called Ramer, at about eight or nine weeks pregnant. She drank something a woman gave her when she walked in and then went to the back to the house. No one asked her for personal information and she doesn’t have a strong memory of the actual procedure. She doesn’t even know who performed the procedure or if he had any medical training.

But she remembers the strong scent of air freshener. To this day, she said smelling it makes her ill.

After the procedure, Condon stayed with her friend. For days, she was bleeding so much, she thought she was going to die.

Then, for the next two decades, she put the memory away, suppressing a sense of guilt. She didn’t even tell her mother about the abortion until she was in her 40s and her mom was in her 70s, after years of therapy.

Condon spent her career as a nurse practitioner, working in low-income clinics and even counseling other people considering abortions. This is the first time she’s decided to publicly share her story, working with her daughter Tyler Traficanti who lives in Colorado and co-chairs Cobalt’s abortion fund.

“I don’t want anybody to ever have to go through what I went through, but I always want it to be an option for everyone,” she said.

Now, with the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision, Condon said she will do “anything to get help for people who are in the same situation I was in.”

“What I want is for people to understand that you’re not pro-abortion, you are pro-choice. And if you’re in the situation, that you have to make that choice, that is between you and your doc. It has nothing to do with legality,” Condon said.

Elisabeth Epps, 42

Elisabeth Epps first considered getting an abortion after she got pregnant at 16 years old in 1997.

She was living in North Carolina at the time and had waited a while before deciding what to do about her pregnancy. Her family did some research and found out that she could go to Colorado for a later-term abortion. She had a ticket ready.

But then Epps decided not to go through with it and instead gave birth to her son.

Twenty-five years later, she’s in Colorado advocating for giving women the right to choose what to do with their bodies. While Colorado codified the right into law last year, Epps wants to see better access with a constitutional amendment that wouldn’t limit state-funded insurance from covering the procedures and a way for people to get abortions, regardless of income or proximity to cities. Epps is seeking the Democratic nomination for Colorado House District 6.

“We have to be in a position to both be that safe place for patients and providers here and also think about what does it look like to be in support of our folks where legislatures are trying to control our bodies (such as Texas and Oklahoma),” she said.

Even though Epps chose not to end her first pregnancy, she became pregnant again in 1999, not long after having her baby boy. She once again waited a while into her pregnancy — past 20 weeks — before deciding what to do, ultimately leading her to need to go to a hospital in Charlotte to induce labor and have the abortion.

It came down to Epps realizing, “I didn’t want to be pregnant and I wasn’t ready for another child.”

Epps recalls that in her circles at the time, abortion was treated as health care — the phrase often repeated by reproductive health advocates, “abortion is health care,” wasn’t a slogan then, but it’s how it was discussed, she said. There was more debate, and even some disappointment, from family members about her pregnancy while she was trying to pursue a college degree, than there was about seeking an abortion.

“I actually took a picture with my nurse and doctor afterwards,” Epps said. “They were wonderful and warm.” For years, Epps would take out the picture on the anniversary of that date, remembering how kind they were to her.

She said she later learned about how brave doctors were at the time, and how some had to “calculate dates” to ensure patients received the care they needed.

Epps is grateful for the access she had to a safe and affordable abortion, because she said she knows if she didn’t, she would have found another way to end her pregnancy. She felt a huge sense of relief when the procedure was over and she was no longer pregnant.

She chose to keep her first pregnancy and try to continue her education and pursue a career, but it was really hard, Epps said. She chose to end the second pregnancy for that reason.

Epps considers both choices as being the right ones for her.

Kayla Frawley, 35

When Kayla Frawley had her abortion two days before she turned 28, she was working as a home birth midwife in Austin, Texas.

Abortions were legal in Texas at the time, but the other Christian midwives she worked with would not have supported it, she said. And it was the same year, 2015, that a new law in Texas forced abortion clinics in the western part of the state to close, meaning the closest abortion clinic for some Texans was hundreds of miles away.

She didn’t want to go to a clinic nearby in case her employer found out or it leaked to some of her religious clients who may have viewed her differently if they knew.

Frawley also identifies as queer and said she didn’t think she could find a provider who she trusted at a clinic. She added that there need to be more care providers who believe people are experts of their own bodies — particularly for the LGBTQIA community and others who are often marginalized in health care systems.

So, Frawley took a few days off work, told her employer she had a miscarriage and decided to have a “self-managed abortion.” She ordered Misoprostol, which she could carry as a licensed midwife, and then got Mifepristone through an underground network of abortion resources. She also found a doula from a nonprofit called Bridge Collective to go to her home to help her through the process.

“At the time, even though we didn’t have those restrictive laws we do right now in Texas, there was just so much stigma,” Frawley said. “And there was so much stigma even for somebody like myself who like works in women’s health. … There was just certain political climate that kept us all really, really quiet when those experiences happen.”

Frawley had been dating someone before she found out she was pregnant. She was using contraception and they were being careful, but she still got pregnant. She knew she wanted to have kids eventually, but she wasn’t ready financially and didn’t want to be a single mom. She also didn’t have health insurance.

Even though Frawley was working as a midwife, it still took her a couple of weeks to find the resources and support she needed before she administered the abortion medication at about eight weeks of pregnancy, so she understands how hard it is to navigate these systems without that knowledge.

The experience was different than an abortion Frawley had at 18 in a clinic in Minnesota. She also had an unplanned pregnancy then, despite using contraception, but at the time, she didn’t know enough about the process or what to even ask. She had the abortion at a clinic, walking in and out among protesters, and said the procedure was so physically painful. The memory still traumatizes her.

But Frawley said even when a person knows the decision to have an abortion is right, that doesn’t make it easy physically or mentally. There are still physiological effects, hormonal shifts and emotional baggage, and she fell into depression. Four days after the abortion, while still bleeding, she was back at work delivering babies. The person she was dating at the time wasn’t supportive.

Two months later, she decided to start over in Colorado.

Frawley no longer works as a midwife, but has helped support others in both Colorado and Texas with at-home abortions. She plans to start a new job next week advocating for reproductive rights.

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