‘Sophie’, a professional nurse, recently spoke to Sky about her own experience of home abortion. Here, Rebekah Moffett, Communications Officer at Christian Concern, sits down with Sophie as she reveals the in-depth story of what really happened.
Warning: this article contains graphic descriptions of home abortion.
I meet ‘Sophie’ (not her real name) from 2 metres away. When her story first broke in the media, the headlines read ‘horrific DIY abortion’ and ‘I thought I was going to die’. Her story is graphic and painful. It feels like one voice among a sea of information being blasted out by the abortion industry – one voice to counter the swarms of articles, tweets and interviews by the pro-abortion lobby, telling us that DIY abortion is the best way forward.
Despite the social distancing, Sophie seems pretty relaxed and greets me (from afar) with a smile and a kind wave. It doesn’t take long to realise that she’s lovely; she’s open, she’s smart, she’s kind. Not the kind of person I’d automatically think had just suffered a ‘horrific’ abortion (which probably says more about my judgment than anything).
But it makes you think: if this is what Sophie – a beautiful, smiling, 30-something – has had to endure, you never know who else has endured it, too. If this is what Sophie – the type of woman the abortion industry supposedly speaks for – has had to experience, how many others are out there in her position?
Truth will out
Sophie is bold. She wastes no time in telling me exactly what happened: this is a story she wants to be told.
The truth is Sophie’s story is not pretty. It’s not neatly packaged. It takes twists and turns and exemplifies the messiness and reality of abortion. She’s eager that people know that she’s aware not everyone’s experience of abortion will be like hers. But it’s also true that she’s not the only one to have lived these experiences. In fact, she later tells me, at one of her (many) appointments, her doctor divulged to her that he’d seen many women in Sophie’s position ‘all morning’.
“There are 100% other women out there like me,” she says. “And it worries me that we’ve opened up this floodgate now with DIY abortion. It was scary enough for me, I can’t imagine what it might be like for a teenage girl who might have to go through this, how scary and isolating that might be for her.”
From nurse to patient
As a 30-something, this was Sophie’s first pregnancy. Having discovered her pregnancy early on, she explains that she found herself alone with no support and some pressure not to go through with it. “I think I Googled ‘abortion in the UK’ after I found out. It’s all a blur now.”
Despite being a qualified nurse, Sophie found herself unprepared for what came ahead. “Most of my experience has been in public health work rather than in a hospital. But I have been part of a team that’s been involved in giving out abortion pills. I suppose I wasn’t really aware of everything abortion involved when I was part of that team. I never realised that it could be like that for a woman like me; we were never given training in it. I think we’re just drowned in statistics, instead,” she reveals.
“Even when I entered into it as a patient, I was blind to what it involved. I don’t think I even realised it was Marie Stopes that I’d Googled. It comes up as an NHS page, and it’s all quite confusing. But they give you a number to call and that’s it.”
Distressed and confused, Sophie called Marie Stopes International (now MSI Reproductive Choices) to find out the process of getting an abortion. “The whole conversation is a blur to me, as I was in and out of crying. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was completely alone.”
Having called the number, Sophie was given an appointment to attend rather than being offered the pills by post. Upon reflection, she says this is probably due to her medical history, although no reason was ever given to her by a doctor or nurse. When I ask if she would have considered taking the pills by post, she tells me it would’ve been unlikely – although she’d been unsure what abortion involved, her nursing experience had informed her of the need for scans and blood checks.
“They did ask me for a reason, though,” she says of her conversation with MSI. “I said I didn’t know how I was going to have this baby in my current situation, and the advisor just said–” Sophie continues, clearly frustrated by the memory – “‘I’ll put that down as emotional, then.’ I didn’t realise that you have to have a reason to want an abortion.”
This seems to be a growing misunderstanding, not helped by the fact that the abortion industry itself advocates on this very point. During a recent mystery client investigation into DIY abortion, MSI told one of the clients, “It is indeed legal to request an abortion by choice, it certainly is. But we need to categorise it as per the Abortion Act.” Similarly, BPAS told another client, “Any reason [for an abortion] other than the sex of the baby is a valid reason to us, but [we need] to attach it to a legal reason.” This is precisely what Sophie experienced – and it’s important to remember that abortion in the UK is not legal for ‘any reason’.
“When I got the form back from Marie Stopes, the box was ticked ‘mental health’, which confused me. It’s ironic really, because if anybody had actually talked to me properly, they would’ve understood that this decision was never OK for me – it was just assumed that it was the path I was taking.”
Having done the initial phone consultation, Sophie went on to the clinic appointment – and in the height of a pandemic, had to go alone. “I wobbled a lot, asking if I was doing the right thing,” she explains. Sophie was given a scan and was asked basic safeguarding questions. There were no pleasantries and no checks on her mental or psychological state. “When I got back to my seat, the nurse just started explaining how to take the tablets. Then she gave them to me to take away and have at home when I had someone with me.”
Sophie tells me the nurse wasn’t particularly forthcoming with information. “I had to ask how many weeks I was. I was really concerned about there being a heartbeat – I didn’t want there to be a heartbeat. But I was told that I was 5 weeks and 2 days.
“She did ask me if I was sure about my decision,” she says, “but she never looked at me. I felt like she was playing down the situation, as if people just come in, take the tablet and that’s the end of it. She told me that I was so early on, I was ‘barely pregnant’.”
I ask if Sophie was told about any of the risks involved. She shakes her head. “The nurse put a piece of paper in front of me with the problems that can occur and told me that these pills were 98% effective. She did say if I bled a lot, I could go to the hospital. But it was all done very quickly. I wasn’t given anything to take away with me, and nothing was sent to me.
“I know I’m a nurse, and I feel like I should have understood, but I was in utter shock. I had all of this information thrown at me and I couldn’t take it all in. It all gets jumbled into statistics. When you’re told 98% and ‘barely pregnant’ you don’t expect anything to go wrong, you just take it at face value.”
From one complication to another
The weight of her decision wasn’t lost on Sophie; she says it took her the rest of the day to muster up the will to take the tablets. “I just couldn’t do it. I was telling myself it was just a bunch of cells. I still can’t understand how I took that tablet.”
The clinic had told her what to do with the pills and advised that it was fine for her to take both pills – mifepristone and misoprostol – one after the other. “You’re told that the first pill is a high-level hormone, that will stop the embryo growing and that the second tablet will just remove it. You’re basically told that it’s just a stronger version of the morning after pill and that it’ll feel just like a heavy period.”
Sadly, this was far from Sophie’s experience. She tells me it began with unbearable cramps, and then started bleeding the next day. “It was the most excruciating pain of my life. It felt like something was wrong, because on top of the bleeding, I was having contractions every 10 to 20 seconds,” she remembers. “I couldn’t move. I lay on the floor, crouched up and crying in pain.”
For anyone else in this situation, Sophie says that as a nurse, she’d worry they could be tempted to overdose on pain medication – it had even been a temptation for herself.
The pain only subsided for a short amount of time. “The next day I started bleeding again – it was coming in waves, pouring out of me. I couldn’t do anything. Every time I moved, I started cramping and bleeding.”
This continued for no less than 10 days. But having called MSI to check if this was normal or not, she was told she would have to wait another 10 days to be seen elsewhere.
Finally, she was given a scan by the gynaecologist, who told her she was essentially ‘still pregnant’ but that the baby ‘wasn’t viable’. Upon going to get a second opinion, doctors told her that they had found ‘products of conception with a blood supply’.
“They gave me options,” she tells me. “I could take the pills again or I could have surgery to remove it. But they recommended that I didn’t wait for too long as it could cause problems.”
Terrified, Sophie went home to think over her options. She waited a few days to try and decide the best thing to do – she was uneasy about the idea of taking the pills for a second time, but the risks that came with surgery were surely greater. However, the decision was almost taken out of her hands when she started to bleed again.
What she divulges to me next sounds like something straight out of a horror film. But Sophie approaches it very matter-of-factly. “There were big chunks coming out of me. I would break down sobbing in the shower because chunks were coming out of me – it was absolutely horrifying. I know that this isn’t everyone’s experience, but I think most people can agree that it isn’t a nice sight to see coming out of you.” She stops for a second in a moment of reflection. “Imagine what it would be like for a woman that was further along than me – a fetus doubles in size every week.”
Hoping that this meant the ‘products of conception’ had passed, Sophie went for another scan. But she was told once more that they could still see a sac. “I was in denial at this point,” she says. “I went to get another opinion, but they just said they could see more blood.”
With so many opinions and differing advice, Sophie says there was no end to her confusion. But after weighing up the options on offer, alongside a worrying visit to A&E with a high temperature, she felt she had no other choice but to go for surgery.
Dilation and Curettage (or D&C for short) is a surgical procedure which involves dilating the cervix and using an instrument to scrape out the uterus. It is usually carried out in miscarriages to remove any remaining pregnancy tissue, but is also used as a form of abortion. Although this procedure is quick, it carries the risk of causing further miscarriages in future and can even stop a woman from being able to conceive. It does not guarantee that it will solve the issue at hand.
Months after having this surgery, Sophie tells me that her body still hasn’t fully recovered. She has had to take three months off work purely due to the physical and emotional trauma.
‘There is no choice’
Despite her ordeal, Sophie describes herself as vehemently ‘pro-choice’. Yet, when I ask her about this, she tells me that it’s for this very reason that she has chosen to speak out: “The thing is, from my experience, we’re not giving women a choice. Choice is when you give a woman all the facts, you treat her like an intelligent human being and respect her, so that she can make an informed decision.
“But I was never really given full choice. Certain information was never disclosed to me – I’ve had to look it up later. And when I asked why they never told me, they said, ‘it would be cruel to a woman to tell her, it’s already a very difficult choice, it would be cruel to go into detail’. But that means you’re only given half the facts.
“Do we really think that’s acceptable? Keeping women in the dark in order to make their decision ‘easier’? That’s not a choice then, is it?”
I ask her what she was told and what she had to look up. Aside from having to ask about whether there was heartbeat (according to the NHS, a heartbeat begins to develop around 5 weeks), she also tells me that she was never informed of the risks to fertility. In fact, the NHS itself says that “having an abortion will not usually affect your chances of becoming pregnant and having normal pregnancies in the future.” The only risk to fertility is mentioned in relation to developing a womb infection.
“They told me abortion doesn’t affect fertility. That’s the message out there. But D&C can affect fertility – and that is abortion. And the truth is they don’t know, there’s not enough research about whether it affects fertility. So, which ‘facts’ are we really believing?”
She also tells me that taking the pills is downplayed, that the nurses had all told her it was ‘just a pill’: “it’s not ‘just a pill’. When you take the abortion pill, a lot has taken place already – you’ve got something physical inside you that you’re wanting taken out, something that you’ve created. It’s a very intrusive thing that you’re giving your body. It’s far more intrusive than just ‘taking a pill’ – it’s removing something physical.”
Sophie is very clear that most of the information she was given was in the form of statistics. “They say over and over again that 98% of abortions are effective and don’t suffer complications. I’m not even sure I believe that number anymore, but even if it’s true, that’s still 2% of women who have had to suffer that you never hear about.”
In fact, figures for January to June 2020 show that 109,836 abortions were performed in the first half of the year. If we take the 2% figure at face value, that’s still well over 2,000 women who could have suffered some form of complication. April 2020 saw 4,500 more abortions compared to the same month in 2019, following the introduction of DIY abortion on 30 March 2020 – 88% of abortions in April were medical rather than surgical, which the government says is likely to be a result of the approval of the DIY abortion policy. Even in April alone (which saw over 17,600 medical abortions), if 2% of women suffered complications, that’s over 350 women in similar positions to Sophie.
“Where are these women now? We never hear about them. I’m positive they’re out there, but we’re never warned that we could be one of them.
“Even if people don’t see this as an ethical issue, it’s still not telling the whole truth,” she says. “There was no discussion of all the facts for me. There is information that’s missing, and contradictory information, and it makes it disrespectful to women who find themselves in that position of having to decide. But people in that position need to be given proper information so they’re not given a life of regret.”
‘Not enough support’
“I think I’m like a lot of women,” Sophie tells me. “I’d say I’m pro-choice for other people out there, but for myself, it’s not something I’d ever do.”
With this in mind, Sophie says she’s shocked that nobody ever really checked with her whether this was the right decision for her to make. “If they’d given me some sort of psychological check, I probably wouldn’t have gone on to do this.”
This is something else that Sophie has since become passionate about – supporting other women who have gone through similar ordeals. She believes that more support needs to be given to women much earlier on, and in addition to giving women all the information, real medical and psychological checks should also be done before allowing women to go through with the procedure.
“I was very alone during lockdown, I was crying every single day for hours – even before I’d gone through with taking the pills. It was extreme sadness, I was almost grieving what I was about to do. But there were no checks done, no psychological examination – there just isn’t for abortion because it’s seen as a barrier, as making it too difficult for women.”
I ask whether they offered her counselling. “Later, during one of my appointments with a doctor, I was crying so much that he told me he was more worried about my mental health in that moment than the complications I was having. He told me that they had a counselling service and to use it – although it isn’t mandatory. But then he left me to go on my merry way. No follow up.
“I did have some counselling,” she nods. “But I was just told that most women don’t regret the decision they’ve made. The only practical thing I was told to do was write down my thoughts.
“I think it requires much higher intervention before you make this decision. Like from a psychologist. I didn’t have any checks done – I never once spoke to a doctor until I had a problem. I’m a nurse, and no disrespect to nurses, but we’re not gynaecologists, we’re not psychologists, we don’t know.
“If someone has mental health issues or is making these decisions in a state of shock, they’ll end up like me – and I regret my decision every day. It’s a decision that I cannot understand how I made.”
In fact, there have been multiple attempts to make sure that all women in Sophie’s position are offered independent counselling. Most recently, Fiona Bruce MP asked the Department of Health and Social Care what it was doing to ensure this provision was made just before DIY abortion was introduced in March 2020. The government responded: “all women requesting an abortion should be offered the opportunity to discuss their options and choices with a trained counsellor and this offer should be regularly repeated.” However, in practice, abortion clinics often fail to make such offers.
Sophie takes a moment to think before going on. “I don’t think anybody in the world would think it was acceptable in our healthcare system to say to women when they were miscarrying at home, ‘stay at home, go through this alone, you’re not going to have any medical checks, you can’t go to A&E to get checked, we’re not going to follow up…’ We know that’s not acceptable. And I’m horrified, I cannot understand how that can be possible for an abortion. I’m shocked that we’re giving women pills without any checks, forcing them to have a miscarriage on their own. Because that’s exactly what an abortion is – a forced miscarriage.”
In fact, Marie Stopes had even told Sophie that if she did have to go to hospital, she didn’t have to disclose to them the details of her abortion, she could simply state that she had miscarried.
I ask what she’s doing now to get support. “Since all of this happened, I’ve been having therapy to try and understand and make sense of it all.” But it’s clear that Sophie wishes she’d had more support from those with a duty to care for her in her hour of need.
The lasting psychological effects
I’m pleased to hear that Sophie is getting the help she needs now, but it’s also clear that the scars of this ordeal run deep. “When I look back on how it happened, I can’t believe that I did it.”
Although Sophie wouldn’t describe herself as a practising Christian, she tells me she definitely believes in God. “Every day I was praying for a miracle because I just wanted to undo what I’d done. Every day I regret what I’ve done. My therapist believes I’m now suffering PTSD from having gone through it, I often have recurring nightmares, babies in washing machines, that sort of thing.
“I know it’s not logical. I can try and rationalise it: it was just an embryo, just 5 weeks and 2 days. But I feel so bonded to it. I’m always going to wonder. I’m never going to be able to meet my first child because I prevented it from happening.”
She compares the loss of her pregnancy to losing her grandmother, whom she was particularly close to. “I don’t know how it feels the same. I never met this baby. But it feels like the same sense of loss. I don’t know how I’m going to reconcile this.
“Regret is a strong word and I don’t use it lightly. I think this is the first time in my life I’ve actually understood the meaning of regret. It’s so deeply personal.
“There isn’t a day when I don’t think about it. I hope at some point there is a day when I don’t think about it, but I just have to take each day as it comes.”
I ask her what she’d say to those who would object, who say this was the decision that she made, and it was her choice to make it. “I believe it’s a woman’s choice. But that’s not helping me to not regret the situation, it’s not helping with the recurring nightmares. The amount of grief I feel is horrific. I never realised that it would be this painful.”
What’s the solution?
So, what does she want people to take from her story? “I would urge anyone in my situation, thinking about going for an abortion, to just take time and think. I know that every day that goes by counts and matters, but you just don’t get offered the chance to really think and decide by any of the doctors and nurses. I want people to realise that we can’t just take the information they’re feeding us at face value.
“More than anything, I want people to understand that your mental health is fragile. I want people to see the issue for what it is – whether you want to admit it or not, it is something you’ve created and it’s going to affect you physically and probably mentally whether you carry on with the pregnancy or not.”
What about those who have suffered the complications like Sophie?
“I want them to realise that they’re not alone. There are absolutely women out there like me.
“I don’t feel strong enough yet to come out in name – I know it’s such an emotive issue and I know this will probably create outcry from both sides of the debate. I don’t yet feel strong enough to receive those comments personally. But at some point I do want to connect with other women in my position. I think it’s important to be able to chat with other people through the practical ways that we can move on from this.”
Finally, I ask, what does she want people in the abortion industry to take from all of this? What would she say to doctors and nurses?
“The bottom line is that it’s their duty of care to do no harm. But this has caused me physical and emotional harm. If nothing else, I hope that this will make the people at the top really think about what it is they’re doing.
“Institutions like Marie Stopes and BPAS need to be called out, they need to be checked. The situation we’re now in is archaic – we’re going back to the times of hidden abortions. And I want to stress that these services we’re offering women are not good enough.
“We need to be more respectful to women, to give them proper information and allow them to make informed choices. More checks need to be done, physical scans, regulating the pills that go out.
“Women in this situation need to be looked after. There are consequences to these decisions that you live with for the rest of your life.”
You can watch the full Sky documentary on ‘Is abortion being revolutionised?’ below:
Find out more about DIY abortions