When 45-year-old Victoria realized she was five weeks late and the lines showed as positive on two pregnancy tests, the New Orleans resident dreamed up a plan to get an abortion.
Traveling out of state was the only abortion option for Victoria, who asked CNN to withhold her last name out of fear of backlash against her and her family. Louisiana is one of several states that have essentially banned all abortions.
“It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to go through, from the moment of discovering that I was pregnant at age 45 to actually having to have to take time off work, travel across the country, do a meeting with a doctor, and then take the pills and then skedaddle back home and then go to work like nothing had happened,” Victoria told CNN of her experience earlier this year.
Victoria’s story about the distance she traveled and the hardships she endured to get an abortion reflects a wider American reality, where women seeking the procedure must navigate through a patchwork of states with varying levels of access.
The average travel time to an abortion facility more than tripled, from less than 30 minutes to more than an hour and a half, after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, according to a November study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And for women in Texas and Louisiana, average travel times to the nearest abortion facility were seven hours longer – almost a full workday in travel time to get an abortion.
Victoria says she was grateful she could drop everything and afford to spend $1,000 for the procedure, including same-week airfare with connections both ways and appointment and medication fees.
“It was so hard for me wrap my head around the fact that I was able to do this, but I’m one of the lucky ones and that there are so many women who are in much tighter positions,” Victoria said. “And, God, what are they going to do?”
Victoria says plans materialized quickly once she knew which states seemed more accessible.
She researched the parameters for abortion in a state, how long she would have to take off work, travel options and how soon she could get an appointment. She found abortionfinder.org to be a helpful and reliable source, she says.
“Because the situation is so fluid, it changes from day to day, that was really of paramount importance for me to be able to have a reliable source of information,” she said.
Driving to a neighboring state was not an option, as every state adjoining Louisiana has a similarly restrictive law that bans virtually all abortions. Victoria says she considered close states, like Florida, but she ultimately dismissed them because available appointments were farther out.
“Once I saw that Oregon was so, so protective of reproductive rights, I said, ‘Why would I think about going anywhere else?’” she said. “The second I got the definitive pregnancy result, I was like, ‘OK, let’s book a flight to Oregon. When can we do this?’”
She reached out to a friend from college and asked if she could stay with her, detailing the reason for her visit. She then made an appointment and booked a flight for that week, she says.
The provider sent instructions, including that the patient must be in Oregon for the telehealth appointment, according to documents provided to CNN. They contacted her within an hour of making the appointment to make sure she had proof of travel documents because she had made it from Louisiana, where the procedure is illegal.
Victoria planned to take a day off to fly across the country and work remotely for two days, which fits her hybrid work situation. She says she was grateful to have a supportive, female boss who showed understanding for why she had to take the unexpected time off.
“She was the only person I actually kind of broke down and cried for,” Victoria said. “I think it’s because I had been holding it back all week, and telling her was sort of the last thing that I needed to get in place before I could do everything.”
Victoria says the hardest part of her experience was telling her mother because she didn’t know how her mom would feel about it. Victoria and her siblings were raised Catholic. Her father had a strong faith and her mother was a non-practicing Catholic, her mother says. Victoria’s mom asked not to be named for privacy reasons.
Victoria’s mother says she wanted to support her daughter, even if she does not agree with what her daughter did. Victoria coming to her with tickets purchased and a full plan made it easy for her mother to support her, the mother says.
“I agreed to drive her to the airport and that that was the only thing I could do because this would be a real game-changing thing in her life,” her mother said. “I wanted to support what she wanted to do because she has supported me on several family crises. I just wanted to do it because I love her. “
Victoria said she appreciated her mom for being supportive in a way she didn’t expect. They talked about some of her mother’s friends who had abortions throughout the years, both say. Victoria’s mother even told her about when she tried to get her tubes tied, but her husband found out and she did not pursue it.
“I feel like, if anything, it’s made our relationship stronger,” Victoria said. “We already had a fantastically strong relationship, though. So, it’s another rock in the wall.”
After boarding early on a Wednesday in March, Victoria traveled for eight hours on two flights and landed in Portland, Oregon.
Victoria reunited with her friend, and they did the things that old friends do, from staying up late talking about college memories to talking about why Victoria was there. They both described the situation as surreal.
“The vast majority of reproductive conversations I have with friends at this point are people who are trying desperately to get pregnant,” said her friend, Emily, who asked that CNN not use her last name to keep Victoria’s privacy. “The sort of irony is that there could still be an unplanned pregnancy and it would still be just as devastating as it would have been when we were in our teens and twenties was kind of a shock to me.”
Emily, who has been friends with Victoria for about 25 years, says it took so little effort for her to drive to the airport and let her friend stay with her.
“I felt honored that she trusted me,” she said. “I was really proud of Victoria. I was impressed that she had taken this in stride and that she had reached out to someone she knew – I think a lot of people would have been ashamed or hidden it.”
After the telehealth appointment the next day, Victoria received an overnight package.
Victoria took two medications as part of a medication abortion. She took mifepristone at her friend’s home. The next day she took misoprostol before boarding her flight home – she was careful not to take them in her home state, where it’s illegal.
“It was like a heavy period,” she said. “I took some Aleve, had to get some extra jumbo pads, and I bled a lot on the flights home, but it was fine.”
Physically, she felt fine – it was more of what was happening psychologically that she noticed, she says.
“I had this feeling that I should be having some kind of deep, psychological moment of reckoning or something, but I didn’t really feel that,” Victoria said of the experience. “I’ve never wanted to have a kid. I wasn’t torn about this decision.”
When Victoria learned she was pregnant, a big part of the shock came from not thinking she could get pregnant at age 45, she says.
“You hear so much culturally out there about you’re in your forties, are told you’re too old to get pregnant and carry a child to term,” she said. “I feel like I had sort of a false sense of security.”
Victoria joked that she’s “careening toward menopause,” but she says she has not been diagnosed as perimenopausal.
Her pregnancy news came several months after she was treated for a uterine fibroid, a benign growth, in July 2022, according to medical records. Victoria also tested positive for a PALB2 gene mutation, which can lead to an increased chance of breast cancer, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. She underwent a preventative double mastectomy and reconstruction earlier in 2022, according to medical records provided to CNN.
She says she got an excellent standard of care around her surgeries, but it felt dissonant with her state’s laws around abortion.
“It felt so surreal to get this really high standard of care around my secondary sexual characteristics, but then to have that freeze, slam shut when it comes to reproductive health, it just felt abrupt,” she said.