- “Late-term abortion” has sparked national conversation in recent weeks. President Trump even addressed it in his State of the Union on Tuesday.
- In response, married couple Erika Christensen and Garin Marschall published an open letter, calling for Americans to listen to the real experiences of people who’ve had the procedure.
- Christensen has spoken publicly about having an abortion at 32 weeks because her child wouldn’t have survived once delivered.
- The letter has been signed by 123 people, some of whom are going public about their later abortion for the first time ever, Christensen told INSIDER.
The phrase “late-term abortion” has sparked national conversation in recent weeks, thanks to some states’ efforts to roll back restrictions on the procedure. In late January, New York passed the Reproductive Health Act, a law that permits abortion after 24 weeks when a mother’s health is at risk or when a fetus isn’t viable. In Virginia, a proposed bill would have reduced restrictions on third-trimester abortion when a mother’s health was threatened.
And on Tuesday, President Trump took time during the State of the Union to respond to the New York law and the Virginia bill, characterizing them as “chilling,” and calling for a ban on “late-term abortion”— a term that’s not actually used by doctors.
But there’s something that often goes missing in debates and discussion of later abortions: The stories of people who’ve had them.
Now, an open letter signed by people who’ve experienced the reality of later abortions is aiming to change that.
The letter was published ahead of the State of the Union on Tuesday
The letter was published on Tuesday morning at abortionpatients.com by married couple Erika Christensen, 37, and Garin Marschall, 40, of New York. As of this writing, it has been signed by 123 people.
“We are later abortion patients and their partners who are concerned with the politicization of this issue at the expense of both truth and compassion,” the letter read. “The stories we hear being told about later abortion in this national discussion are not our stories … These hypothetical patients don’t sound like us or the other patients we know. The barbarous, unethical doctors in these scenarios don’t sound like the people who gave us compassionate care.”
The letter responds to inaccurate characterizations of later abortions or the laws that allow them. In the State of the Union, for example, Trump said New York’s Reproductive Health act “would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth,” even though the law would only allow later abortions in cases of fetal inviability or when a mother’s health is at risk. Some who oppose later abortions have also argued that there are no medical reasons to perform the procedures in the third trimester, though doctors who are trained in and provide abortions say that’s not true.
“We are not monsters,” the letter continued. “We are your family, your neighbors, someone you love. We are you, just in different circumstances.”
In an interview with INSIDER, Christensen said the letter was Marschall’s idea.
“We knew that the president would be talking about later abortion at the State of the Union, so it was important to us to try and get ahead of it, knowing that it was an opportunity for a lot of misinformation to get out,” she said.
Christensen and Marschall have firsthand experience with later abortions
Christensen and Marschall are among the letter’s signees because they’ve also experienced a later abortion. In 2016, when Christensen was 31 weeks into a wanted pregnancy, the couple learned that their baby would not be able to breathe or survive once delivered.
“If the doctors thought there was any way he might make it, I would have taken that chance,” she told Jezebel when she first shared her story, anonymously, in 2016. “What I came to accept was the fact that I would never get to be this little guy’s mother — that if we came to term, he would likely live a very short time until he choked and died, if he even made it that far…I couldn’t put him through that suffering when we had the option to minimize his pain as much as possible.”
But, at the time, under New York law, it was illegal for Christensen to get an abortion. She ultimately had to travel to Colorado for a shot that began the process of termination.
Read more: I was 33, married, and ready for a baby — here is the painful truth about late-term abortion
After the Jezebel article was published, Christensen and Marschall were approached by the New York Civil Liberties Union and asked if they’d be willing to share their story publicly in support of the Reproductive Health Act, which would have allowed patients in situations like Christensen’s to get abortion care in New York state.
“We realized quickly that having a patient perspective in the conversation around this law was just incredibly game-changing,” Christensen told INSIDER. “This is an issue that is always treated as a political issue. It is very rarely treated as a health issue.”
The couple went on a storytelling tour across the state, recounting their experience to anyone who would listen, they said. They traveled to the state capitol in Albany eight times and started a campaign called RHA Vote to advocate for the legislation. And they were sitting in the room where New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed the bill into law in late January.
Some people signing the letter are going public for the first time
Christensen said that, when looking for people to sign the open letter, she first approached later abortion patients who she knew had spoken publicly about their experience. She also posted about it on Twitter and shared it with her roughly 1,000-member support group for people who have terminated wanted pregnancies.
“Most people that we know who have terminated later in their pregnancies are not out to their communities, so we realized that it was potentially a big ask,” she said. “We didn’t put pressure on anyone. We just sent them the letter in hopes they’d be interested in signing on.”
It turned out that many were interested. Christensen said she and Marschall are still getting emails from later abortion patients and their partners, asking to add their names to the list. She noted that many of these signees are going public about their experience for the very first time.
She also said that she’s gotten support from other women who terminated pregnancies earlier. Others have been “just sending us solidarity and letting us know that they were really moved by it,” Christensen said.
The couple wants people to understand what later abortion is really like
“At the end of the day, our efforts are about getting people to understand something that they largely don’t, which is the experience of later abortion,” Marschall told INSIDER.
To that end, the open letter includes links to several blog posts, essays, and news reports documenting the signees’ later abortion experiences.
“We are asking Americans to weigh the restrictions on later abortion against our stories, not the hypothetical cases that have been fabricated to win political points,” the open letter read. “There is no good faith effort at a conversation on later abortion that does not include us.”
Christensen and Marshall also stressed that they advocate for broad abortion access
“It’s also important to remember that people are pushed down the line in pregnancy due to barriers in healthcare, but also to accessing abortion care earlier when they first needed it,” she said.
Though abortion is legal in the US, it can be difficult for some women to get one. It can be prohibitively expensive, and some states require patients to get counseling, inform their parents if they’re minors, or endure waiting periods before they can get an abortion, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In 2017, an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute found some women in the US must travel long distances— more than 100 miles, in some parts of the country — in order to access abortion.
“It’s really important not to forget those people,” Christensen said. “We advocate for abortion access broadly with no patient left behind, and we want to make sure that this isn’t presented as only a tragic issue that affects people like us.”
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