Abortion is legal in this country, but access to the procedure -- which the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has called "an essential component of women's health care" -- has become increasingly limited. More than 200 abortion restrictions have been enacted into law since 2010 alone. These measures run the gamut from regulations requiring clinicians at abortion facilities to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, to bans on abortions after 20 weeks and mandatory waiting periods.
And those changes directly affect whether women have to fight to access care that is high-quality and affordable. We asked our readers to share some of the challenges they've faced when trying to access abortion services. Here are nine of their powerful accounts:
"The worst part was the ultrasound they are required to do ... the doctor even apologized to me before he started going through everything."
I found out I was pregnant when I was about four weeks along, and I made the decision fairly quickly. It wasn't the right time. It was unexpected, unplanned. I called a clinic and they told me it would take about two weeks to get in to do the initial consultation that's required by law in Texas. And then after that, I had to wait 24 hours before I could have the actual procedure.
The consultation is lengthy -- it took two or three hours -- and unnecessary. First, they make you watch this video that explains everything they're going to do. It's not necessarily traumatizing, but it's not something I wanted to watch. I knew what was going on. I was informed. I didn't need it spelled out over and over again. But the worst part was the ultrasound they are required to do. The doctor tells you how far along you are and then describes the fetus. He says things like what organs it has; if it has feet; if it has fingers and toes. The doctor even apologized to me before he started going through everything. He said, "I am required, by law, to do this." -- Laine, 32, Texas
"I was told by the genetic counselor at the specialist's office that only three clinics in the country would terminate at that stage in pregnancy."
I had an abortion nine years ago this past July. I was 28 weeks pregnant when a skeletal condition was discovered during a routine ultrasound, and then confirmed by a specialist. It was deemed "fetal condition not conducive to life beyond the womb." Within the day, I'd decided I wanted to terminate the pregnancy, but I was told by the genetic counselor at the specialist's office that only three clinics in the country would terminate at that stage in pregnancy. I called the two closest and felt most comfortable with Dr. Tiller's group in Kansas. [Dr. George Tiller was one of the few clinicians in the United States who performed late-term abortions. He was shot and killed in 2009.]
I drove five or six hours with my now ex-husband and mother. My mother loaned us the money we needed -- it was around $9,000 for the procedure, plus three nights in a hotel. Insurance eventually reimbursed us for most of it, but it took over a month. Ultimately, I consider myself lucky: the ability to take off work, to access money and have family support are not things everyone has.
Dr. Tiller's clinic had been attacked, and so had he. There was bulletproof glass on the very small windows they had. We were verbally accosted by protesters daily, as was every woman entering for earlier terminations -- most of whom were alone. The whole experience would have been a nightmare if it hadn't been for the fantastic clinic staff. I cry when I think about how much harder it is for women now that Dr. Tiller is gone. -- Katie, 34, Texas.
"She was shouting the entire time, 'You're a murderer!'"
I got pregnant when I was 19, and I had a difficult time deciding what to do. I actually cancelled one appointment with Planned Parenthood, then calmed myself down again, and made another one. At that point, they told me I had a week left. [Maine restricts how far along in her pregnancy a woman can be and still get an abortion.]
I was confident in my decision, but nervous on the day of. My mom drove me. By the time we got off the interstate, I was crying, and then when we pulled into the clinic, I saw the protestors. They had signs, and they were shouting things. Even with the windows closed, I could hear them yelling. We parked the car and had to walk right by them. They tried, aggressively, to look me in the eye, but I just looked forward and kept moving. My mom held my hand. There was one woman who was so intense -- she was shouting the entire time, "You're a murderer! You don't have to do this!" You're going through something so difficult and to have that right in front of you... it's unimaginable. That walk, past those people, it's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. But I don't have any regrets. -- Beccah, 24, Maine
"I do have health insurance, but of course, this 'voluntary procedure' was not covered."
I found out I was pregnant last spring, when I was 22. I had just been accepted into a great college on a full scholarship, and I knew I couldn't have a child at that point in my life. There is a Planned Parenthood in my town, about 10 minutes from my house, but I was told I couldn't get the procedure done there, as they do not have the right medical staff or equipment to perform abortions -- I was told only specific Planned Parenthood locations perform abortions, and on certain days. I had to drive more than an hour away to get it done.
After answering questions and scheduling an appointment, they told me what it would cost. The fee is income-based, and they determined I could afford the entire fee, which near me is $450. I only made about $840 a month, and had to dip into my savings, which fortunately I had, because I have been working since I was young and saving. I do have health insurance, but of course, this 'voluntary procedure' was not covered. -- Anonymous, 23, Pennsylvania
"Forcing young women to hear the heartbeat -- to see the shape of the embryo or fetus -- makes an extremely difficult time even worse."
I live in northwest Arkansas, and to get access to a Planned Parenthood clinic here, you call a number and you get a date maybe three weeks out. You are required to go to three appointments, and I was told the cost would be $725. At one appointment, they force you to see an ultrasound. The cost is prohibitive, and forcing young women to hear the heartbeat -- to see the shape of the embryo or fetus -- makes an extremely difficult time even worse.
If your daughter is a young teen, and was raped -- like my 15-year-old -- and if she doesn't tell you until weeks later, it's too late for the morning-after pill. She has not yet received a positive pregnancy test, but has not started her menstrual cycle on time. I'm still praying the pregnancy test will be negative, so she doesn't have to go through [all that]. -- Anonymous, 43, Arkansas
"In order for the procedure to be paid for, I had to speak with a psychologist affiliated with the clinic."
I was a few days shy of 21 when I had the worst day of my life -- I found out I was pregnant by a guy who slipped drugs into my drink and raped me on a garage roof. We were at a cook out, and I fell off the roof trying to get away from him, from what I remember.
After digesting everything, I talked with a friend who is a nurse and she came with me to the clinic, which was in the same city where I was living at the time. In order for the procedure to be paid for, I had to speak with a psychologist affiliated with the clinic. Fortunately, after I explained everything, she contacted the clinic to let them know the procedure would be covered with a grant program. People can have their judgements and opinions, but until they've been in this life-altering situation, they just can't understand. -- Erin, 29, Wisconsin
"We were required to come up with $5,000 within 24 hours."
I terminated my pregnancy at 21 weeks and five days because of a poor fetal diagnosis -- a neural tube defect, that made his survival very, very unlikely. We were lucky that we had access to fantastic doctors and did not have to go through a mandatory waiting period. After we saw several specialists and made our decision, it was only one week from when we got the diagnosis to when we started the procedure.
That said, our insurance denied the pre-approval from the hospital, so we were required to come up with $5,000 within 24 hrs. We were lucky that we had family that was willing to help us financially. For me, abortion bans after 20 weeks are very, very personal. We're the families they're targeting. -- Amy, 38, Colorado
"The places were all booked three months out."
I got an abortion 18 months ago, and I had mine on the last possible day I could based on my menstrual cycle. I called three different places, and the first two couldn't fit me in before the deadline; the third only did after "rearranging" things, because I told them nowhere else was open. The places were all booked three months out, which I don't really understand. I paid just shy of $1,000 for this (insurance wouldn't cover any of it), and I had to go in for a consultation before where I watched a video that basically seemed like an anti-abortion ad. I live in a reasonably liberal state, and it baffled me that it still seemed so frowned upon, and that I had to fight to get an appointment, and then fight my way through protestors. -- Anonymous, 30, Pennsylvania
"I needed it to save my life. It's crazy to me that they had to wait at all to get permission."
I basically had to ask a hospital administrator for permission to live. At 28 weeks, after weeks of bleeding, I developed a uterine infection. We had been trying everything to save the pregnancy -- I even got blood transfusions, but with the infection I got very, very sick. By the time I needed the abortion in order to keep me alive, I was so sick that I was hallucinating. But because I was past 20 weeks, they had to stop and call up some hospital administrator -- they had to wake this person up -- to get permission to do it. I didn't want to [have the abortion], but I needed it to save my life. It's crazy to me that they had to wait at all to get permission. -- Dana, 44, Pennsylvania
These accounts have been edited and condensed.
Also on HuffPost: