How to Access an Abortion in Louisiana During a Pandemic

Be prepared for barriers

I am a staunch defender of abortion, but this is not my story. I am 32 years old, and I have never been pregnant. This doesn’t make me special; it makes me an outlier.

In the U.S., the average age of first sexual intercourse is 17 and the average age of menopause is 51. Within these 34 fertile years, a woman will ovulate around 408 times. The odds are incredibly high that during one of these ovulations, birth control will fail in some way. Perhaps a partner will insist on not using protection, or medication will interfere, or the sex education will be taught incorrectly or not at all, or there will be a situation where it is unsafe to refuse. As I’ve written before, I believe most sex in the world today is nonconsensual. These odds lead to a statistic that I hope makes you feel less alone: nearly one in four women will have an abortion by age 45.

As a social worker, early childhood teacher, and public health professional, I have seen all that I need to to know that no one should have to endure an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. I know that abortion is a safe medical procedure that should be available to anyone who does not want to be pregnant.

Yet the stigma and shame attached to abortion is real. Never mind the hundreds of thousands of children in the foster system. Never mind the data that shows between 95%–99% of women do not regret their abortions 5 years later. This is not my story, and yet I still struggled with the decision to publish it, wanting to protect my friend who wrote it, wanting to shield her from hateful or condemning comments. But abortion is normal and I want to help normalize it. The conversation around abortion must stop centering the ‘why’ and must start centering access to care.

Without further ado…

I got an abortion in Louisiana during a pandemic.

(Disclaimer: Nothing in this essay should be taken as medical advice — I am not a medical professional — I’m just sharing my experience with you).

It wasn’t exactly the way I would have chosen to start the New Year, but sometimes, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. I am in my mid-30s. I always expected my life would follow the traditional trajectory of having a partner and children by this point in my life, so I had mixed emotions finding out I was pregnant. On one hand, as a former teacher and daycare worker, being around children has always come naturally to me. It’s what I always thought I wanted. On the other hand, when I envisioned my future family I wanted it to be joyful and planned, with a partner who was excited and ready to start a family with me. I wanted all the puzzle pieces to fit, even though I know that’s not always how life works out . In reality, my ex (I’ll refer to him as M) and I had parted ways earlier that month and were living 4,000 miles apart. After calling and leaving multiple messages thanks to the time difference, we had several incredibly emotional and difficult conversations over the following days.We came to the mutual decision that an abortion made the most sense for both of our lives at this point. He also agreed to come back to New Orleans that following week to navigate the process with me.

After making the decision to end the pregnancy, the reality that I was living in Louisiana — a state that has an obsession with restricting access to abortion and reproductive health services — began to sink in. As someone who has worked in the public health and reproductive health education fields, I realized that even those factors did not protect me from feeling overwhelmed and fearful of what the process would entail. I began to scour the internet for firsthand accounts and experiences of what it was like to navigate the system to ease my mind and couldn’t find anything. I realized how nervous I was about going to the clinic — and it only added to my anxiety that we are currently midst-pandemic, and going to the doctor would possibly expose me to COVID-19.

After failing to find any comprehensive first-hand accounts online, I reached out to a friend who had also had an abortion in Louisiana and she shared what to expect with me. I know not everyone in this situation is so fortunate. I wrote this essay to offer some comfort to those with anxiety, fears, and questions about the process. I also wanted to share this experience with anyone who has curiosity about the realities of accessing abortion care in Louisiana (spoiler alert: it’s not easy).

Making the appointment

First of all, there are only three abortion clinics in Louisiana. Three. In the entire state. In other states with less restrictive abortion access, you can schedule an abortion in a clinic or Planned Parenthood online and simply show up to your appointment to be seen. In some states you can even be provided care in the comfort of your own home through a telehealth appointment with a doctor.

Not surprisingly, Louisiana’s three (underfunded) abortion clinics do not have a system like this in place. You have to call the clinics, located in Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and New Orleans, to schedule an appointment. In my experience, I had to call multiple times before someone picked up the phone. In a tense and anxiety-filled situation, not being able to reach someone immediately elevated those feelings. However, I was reassured by my friend that I would eventually be able to reach someone to schedule an appointment, I just had to keep calling. When I couldn’t initially reach the New Orleans clinic, I called the Baton Rouge clinic, and was able to schedule an appointment for one week later.

You can view more information about the clinics here.

First appointment — Counseling & Ultrasound

M and I woke up early on a weekday morning to make the drive from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. I had taken the day off from work because I wasn’t sure how long the process would take. We stocked the car with snacks, even though I had been too nauseous to eat anything for weeks at this point. When M and I pulled up to the clinic — a fairly nondescript looking building nestled into a neighborhood — there was a small group of protestors out front. I was surprised that the protestors seemed less angry and shout-y than I thought they might be. One woman in particular approached our car to plead with me to reconsider, and was extending her arms with a pamphlet/brochure in hand. I was already feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what to expect, so it just added a bit more chaos to the situation. However, at every clinic, there are people (angels, really) that volunteer as clinic escorts. They bat away the protestors, and let you know what to do and where to go. If I were you, I’d bring a book, or your knitting needles — because you aren’t allowed to bring your phone, or a bag/purse into the clinic (with good reason — there isn’t an armed guard at every abortion clinic just for kicks). You also cannot bring anyone into the clinic with you (M waited in the car).

Also, the abortion clinic is right beside a Pregnancy Crisis Center; do not confuse the two (and yes, it’s intentionally confusing).

For the Baton Rouge clinic, you’ll need to bring a government issued ID, $150 money order for your first appointment (this is what I was told to bring — but some people were paying with a debit card in their own name), a pen to sign things, and your own hand sanitizer (these last two items are COVID considerations). When you schedule your appointment, they should tell you on the phone what you need to bring.

Due to COVID restrictions, the other people seeking abortions and I lined up outside of the door while the clinic opened up. I arrived about 10 minutes before I was told to show up (which was at 8AM), and was glad I was there early as the line quickly grew behind me. There was a security guard, and a car blasting top-40 viral TikTok songs. The clinic escorts were making small talk and the vibe was not nearly as tense as I thought it was going to be. The people in line with me seemed to be of all different ages and backgrounds. One of the individuals in line ahead of me was sent home because they hadn’t scheduled an appointment — note: they don’t take walk-ins.

I stood in line for 40 minutes or so and then was let into a waiting room. It was fairly small, without much decoration, and there was one vacant chair between everyone that was intentionally left empty for COVID-19 precautions. I checked into the front desk and had a seat. Soon, a nurse came out and handed everyone paperwork to fill out — the paperwork had standard questions about my contact information and health information. There is a form where you have to select if you want to see your ultrasound, and if you want to keep a photo of your ultrasound.

After waiting for over an hour while reading my book, I was called by a nurse to go and pee in a cup and use a strip to test it (positive again, no surprise there), and then have my blood drawn. Afterward I was sent back to the waiting room for some more waiting and reading. Soon after, I was called again to have my ultrasound. It was pretty much what you’d expect: the ultrasound technician put some cold jelly around my lower stomach/pelvic area and asked if I wanted the photo of the ultrasound. I did want to keep it — and so she told me to keep the photo to myself and not accidentally show it to any of the other women. I thought about this afterward; to me it showed how much the staff care about protecting the other people there and respecting their desires if their wish was to not be shown the ultrasound photo.

Afterward was the “counseling” portion of this appointment. I was sent to see the doctor and she walked me through what to expect during a medication abortion. I was early enough to be able to take an abortion pill (which you can take up to ten weeks of gestation in Louisiana) and have the abortion at home, rather than the clinical procedure. You can read more about both procedures here. The doctor was kind and to the point and explained the process and what to expect when taking the abortion pill. She also prescribed medication for nausea caused by my pregnancy — and encouraged me to hydrate and make sure I ate enough before my second appointment three days later. The doctor also shared her personal number with me in case I needed to reach her at any point.

During our short check-in, I also spoke to the doctor about her experiences as an abortion provider in Louisiana. She said she used to provide abortions as a part of a clinic where she worked with other doctors — and it would always shock her when other doctors refused to provide abortion counseling or even referrals because “where would their patients go?”. She said she often felt ostracized because it was known that she provided abortion care, so working from an abortion clinic feels safer in many ways. I left feeling a bit teary and overwhelmed with gratitude that there are doctors who provide compassionate care for people like me, who need an abortion, in a state (and country) that shames and stigmatizes people who go through this experience. The entire appointment from start to finish took about 4 hours.

72 Hours of Waiting

Once you have your ultrasound and counseling, Louisiana law stipulates that you stew in your own thoughts and reflections for a mandated 24 hour waiting period before being able to go back and actually get the medication or procedure you need. In my case, it was 72 hours of waiting. This waiting period is inconvenient at its best (if you are privileged like myself, and are able to afford to take time off from work, travel, and spend half the day in a doctor’s office), and completely prohibitive at it’s worst — making abortion close to impossible for people who do not have funds, transportation, and the ability to take 2–3 days off from work to go through this process.

Just a quick aside: Most states do not mandate that a medication abortion has to be provided in-person by a physician. In fact, many states allow telemedicine consultations and access to abortion pills by mail, especially in light of the pandemic. In Louisiana, telemedicine abortion has been against the law for about a decade, and the current pandemic has no bearing on changing those laws — even though it increases risk of COVID-19 exposure for people seeking abortion care.

Those 3 days were spent feeling slightly less nauseous with the help of prescription anti-nausea meds, and feeling somewhat anxious/apprehensive for the “big” impending appointment. There was some confusion about whether I would be able to go to my follow-up appointment in New Orleans due to a positive COVID test among clinic staff, so being able to directly call the doctor was incredibly reassuring and helpful in figuring that out. Everything ended up being okay and the clinic was able to keep scheduled appointments. Other than that, I mostly watched Netflix with brief spurts of responding to work emails during this time. One convenient fact I learned is you can have your initial and follow-up appointments at any of the abortion clinics in Louisiana — so I was able to go to the New Orleans clinic for my second appointment. They scheduled my follow-up before I left my first appointment.

Second Appointment — Small Talk and Mifepristone

M and I showed up about 15 minutes early for my second appointment scheduled for noon, but there was already a small group of people sitting or standing near the entrance of the building. When someone showed up a few minutes after noon, the security guard had to check with the nurse to see if there were enough pills available. He stated it’s incredibly important to show up by noon, otherwise you may not get seen that day. Like the first appointment, the small group of us chatted with one another as the clinic escorts directed individuals as they arrived. A small speaker was playing Top-40 music again. Surprisingly — no protestors. I was told they were on a lunch break, which I found pretty comical.

For this appointment, I had my ID with me, my debit card, a pen, hand sanitizer, my book, and a bottle of water. After 30–40 minutes of waiting and making small talk with this group of women — most of us were allowed inside of the clinic to be seated in and checked in. At this second appointment, I was charged $370, however, the cost can vary depending how far along you are, and if you have insurance to cover the cost. There are resources if you do not have the funds for an abortion.

In the clinic, everyone was masked and started chatting while we waited to be seen. I saw people of all ages and backgrounds in the waiting room — many had children already, and could not handle another little one. One patient shared that her partner already had a vasectomy scheduled, that she had always wanted to be childfree, and that her partner was waiting at home for her with a home-cooked meal. One patient had driven hours to New Orleans for their appointment and were lamenting that they were too nauseous to enjoy New Orleans cuisine while they were in town. One person was still in her scrubs because she had come directly from working at a near-by hospital. The mood was lighthearted, and we eventually began to talk about what the world would look like if cis-men were able to become pregnant. We said we thought there would be abortion pill vending machines on every corner. They’d even come in a “Cool Ranch” flavor. The clinics would be equipped with spas and massage parlors. We commiserated on how long the wait was in Louisiana, and how it shouldn’t be so difficult to get an abortion, and certainly not so expensive.

Eventually those of us that were there for the pill(s) were called into a room. The abortion pill is taken in two doses. The first dose is Mifepristone, and Louisiana is one of 18 states that mandate you take your first dose in the presence of a physician (completely unnecessary, but again — our legislators make things difficult). A nurse came into the room, and shared with the group what we should expect from the medication abortion:

  • You’ll take your first dose during this appointment
  • You’ll take the second dose up to 48 hours later
  • You’ll begin to cramp within an hour or two of the second dose and can pass clots as big as a lemon or even orange — (this part was difficult to hear)
  • The entire process should take between 4–5 hours
  • You may have bleeding/spotting for 2 weeks after
  • You should contact the doctor if your bleeding is heavy enough to soak 2 pads/hour for 2 hours (4 pads total), or you don’t bleed or cramp at all after taking the second dose

Whew…yeah, that was a lot to take in. The nurse also recommended:

  • Take the prescribed pain pills, there’s no medal for suffering
  • Use a heating pad for your cramps

Afterward, each person was called one by one into the doctor’s office to complete paperwork and take the first dose of the medication. She also provided a prescription to pick up the second dose and the pain medication. She mentioned picking it up at a specific pharmacy close by that the clinic trusts. Apparently, a pharmacist can “refuse to dispense” a prescription if they see fit — and there are no protections for the individual seeking that prescription in this case. After I took the first dose of Mifepristone, which stops the pregnancy from growing, I left my appointment and M and I went straight to the pharmacy to pick up my other prescriptions. My appointment took about 3 hours, and my visit to the pharmacy took another 20 minutes or so. The doctor scheduled me for my follow-up appointment for 2 weeks later.

D-day (or A-day)

Fast forward 27 hours. It was a Friday night and I had equipped myself with a barf bucket, a buffet of prescription medications, and several gatorades. M picked up an electric heating pad from Walgreens, and I made a bed for myself on the couch and laid some towels down just in case I bled through my pajamas. I was incredibly nervous, and was already feeling nauseous and crampy from the Mifepristone. I took 800mg of Ibuprofen and I put on the most massive maxi pad I have ever worn in my life. After one hour (enough time for the Ibuprofen to kick in) I vaginally inserted the second dose of pills (Misoprostol) while lying down (you don’t want them to fall out of you if you’re standing). M settled in on the other side of the couch, and I put on some Netflix (Big Mouth was entertaining enough to take my mind off of the cramping) and waited for the Misoprostol to kick in. In an hour or so, the intense cramps/contractions started. Immediately, I remembered what the nurse had said about there being “no medal for suffering” and took the strongest medication that was prescribed (Tramadol). I also had my heating pad turned all the way up. Beware, however, that Tramadol can induce nausea — and I puked shortly after. While waiting for the Tramadol to begin to work its magic, I experienced some of the most intense pain I have ever experienced in my life (not to scare you). The pain felt like a fraction of what I imagine pregnancy contractions to feel like. I kept my fists clenched over the heating pad and tried to press it as close as I could to my body, and waited for each wave to pass. I could tell M felt terrible for me, but I was in too much pain to really even acknowledge his presence.

In another 30–40 minutes or so (it felt like much longer), the pain had dulled and I continued to watch Netflix with my eyes half-closed in a haze. M was napping at the other end of the couch. The cramps intensified as the time got closer to taking my next dose of Ibuprofen and Tramadol, and came like waves over the next 4 hours or so. In between the waves I went to use the restroom — and I’ll spare you the details, but the nurse’s description was accurate.

The bulk of the abortion was over by the wee hours of the morning — and I felt physically exhausted, but I made it through (and you will too). The medication abortion is hard on your body — and if you are able to have someone there to help you through it, let them be there for you. At the very least, have someone you can call in case you need help, and keep the number of your doctor close at hand. Oh, and the heating pad REALLY helps.

After the Abortion

I had what felt like a light to medium period for the following two weeks after my abortion. The nausea that I had experienced with pregnancy cleared up a couple of days after. But the day right after the abortion, I was wiped out, and was still dealing with severe waves of nausea — so take it easy, if you can. I didn’t get out of bed until the afternoon. If you are having trouble keeping food down, try BRAT (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast -I was a big fan of applesauce for the first time in decades). Also, try to stock up on Red Raspberry Leaf tea, which can help with the pain as well.

Also, hormones are a real thing. Leading up to my abortion I had many emotional and tearful moments, even after I firmly decided to have the abortion. For weeks after, I had many emotional and tearful moments too. I would spontaneously burst into tears and think to myself “Why? I’m literally just reading an email.” I was full of intense feelings (and hormones) and tried to remind myself to be gentle with myself and my body. Even though M and I weren’t together, the fact that we were able to share this experience helped tremendously. After he left to go back home, what helped me was reaching out to the people that I love and trust, but it took time. It took awhile for me to start telling even my closest friends about my experience, because I wasn’t ready. But when I did, the love that I was met with *still* makes me teary. All of my friends knew someone else that gotten an abortion as well. So, just a reminder if you are going through this experience — be kind and gentle with yourself. And remember, you are **so not alone**. Being in the waiting room with so many other people sharing this experience made me realize that.

Follow-up Appointment — Two Weeks Later
Two weeks later, I went to the New Orleans clinic for my follow-up, and this time I was able to walk right in and find a seat, rather than waiting outside.

Some people were there for their first appointment, others were there for their second. Some of the same individuals I met last time were there for their follow up as well. Similar to last time, everyone was chatting with each other again. At one point, one young woman was sharing that she was nervous because of her low pain tolerance, and the rest of the people there were giving her tips on how to manage the pain of the medication abortion.

This time, I was called in fairly quickly — I was given another ultrasound to ensure that the pregnancy had passed (it had). After another quick consultation with the doctor, I was in and out in a little over an hour this time. With the end of that visit, I finally felt some finality.

Just some thoughts…
There were a couple of things that especially impacted and moved me throughout this entire experience.

  1. There is so much power in sharing this experience alongside other people going through the same thing. So many people get abortions, and never speak of it again because of shame and secrecy. There was a lot of power in being there for each other (even if it was only for a moment in a waiting room), and sharing knowledge & experiences with one another. The shame and stigma around abortion strips this from us — and that is a sad loss. The isolation and shame surrounding this experience can be more traumatic than an abortion itself.
  2. People from all demographics and backgrounds get abortions. That’s just a plain fact. The reality that it is so difficult in Louisiana as opposed to simply being able to book a single appointment in another state, or have medication abortion pills mailed to you, is a damn shame. At my most frustrated, I considered driving 7 hours to Atlanta and getting an Airbnb for a few days to have the procedure done there. There are far too many people who need abortions who can’t drop everything and cross state lines.

Resources

Luckily, there are amazing human beings that tirelessly advocate and provide resources, funds, and information for people in need of an abortion.

  • New Orleans Abortion Fund provides compassionate and empowering assistance to patients seeking abortions who are unable to fully fund their abortion, and distribute pledges as available. (If you can, donate!)
  • CanIGetAnAbortionInLouisiana.com: a website project that is aimed at disseminating information about getting an abortion in Louisiana.
  • Abortionpillinfo.org: a secure website with information about safe abortion with pills and a secure portal where women can get information about how to self-manage their abortion safely, minimizing legal risk, and with dignity.
  • Reprolegalhelpline.org: a free, confidential helpline where you can get information about your legal rights regarding self-managed abortion.
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: ACOG answers commonly asked questions about the various methods of abortions, risks and side effects, when and where the procedures are performed, and what the patient may experience following an abortion.
  • Planned Parenthood: Find information specifically for teens about birth control, sex, pregnancy options, relationships, STIs, and more.
  • National Abortion Federation: Information about pregnancy options, what to expect before and after your abortion, help finding an abortion provider, and myths and facts about abortion.
  • My Sistahs: Learn about HIV/AIDS, STIs, birth control, abortion, sexual violence, and healthy relationships from young women of color.
  • Yo Soy: National campaign to end the stigma and silence around sex education, birth control, abortion, & young parenting within the Latina/o community.
  • Guttmacher: Learn the cold, hard facts about the safety of abortion, abortion laws in each state, abortion incidence, etc.

*Resource list from https://liftlouisiana.org/

If you’ve read this far, and if you are thinking about getting an abortion, or are supporting someone through an abortion — you are not alone. I hope you found this helpful.

With so much love,

Just another human being who has had an abortion

Early Childhood Educator. New Orleans, Louisiana. Travel Writer — Fodor’s Essential Guide to Vietnam.

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