Leslie Gydos terminated her first pregnancy over 21 years ago in what she recalls as “a trip through a war zone.” Now, after decades of soul-searching, Gydos lives in Burlington, North Carolina, with her husband and twins, who, for her, represent that God has forgiven her for “murdering” her first child.
The Burlington native spent two years studying at Elon University before transferring to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where she received a degree in Psychology. She never viewed herself as a religious person until she found herself begging God for the will to live after getting an abortion in 1996.
Over the past few weeks, women’s rights activists have voiced their concerns about Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to fill the Supreme Court seat. Pro-choice activists are worried that Kavanaugh's nomination could lead to an overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide.
Throughout his hearing last week, Kavanaugh did not make his position on Roe v. Wade clear but did make headlines with his reference to birth control as an abortion-inducing drug when discussing the 2015 Priests for Life vs. Department of Health and Human Services case. The case involved the pro-life organization and its opposition to the Obamacare mandate that said employers needed to provide health insurance for their employees that included options for birth control.
In 2016, according to The North Carolina State Center for Health statistics, 6,943 females ages 20-24 received abortions — 78 of whom were from Alamance County. Alamance County does not have an abortion clinic within its parameters, forcing women such as Gydos to travel to Greensboro where the closest clinic is located.
From seeking abortion to pro-life
Gydos' partner during her first pregnancy showed little interest in starting a family and settling down.
“I felt that I was going to be trapping him in a way, into something that he didn’t want,” Gydos said. “With my lack of conviction that this baby was a life, I was open to the concept of abortion at the time."
It was around 12 weeks into the pregnancy that she made the decision to go to the clinic.
Until the day of her procedure, Gydos said she did not consider what was inside her to be a baby. That day, she screamed through the entire procedure.
A 2015 study conducted by The University of California San Francisco School of Medicine found that 95 percent of women who had an abortion said it was the right decision. For Gydos, “it was the worst decision” she ever made.
“In that moment, I realized this is real, this is a baby,” Gydos said. “I could never imagine what I was getting ready to go through.”
While national statistics do not reflect Gydos’ experience, she felt the repercussions of her abortion for over a decade. Regret, guilt and depression followed her for years, she said, until she found faith and sought forgiveness from God.
“I really did not have a faith life at the time, but I was desperate,” Gydos said. “It wasn’t long after that that I sat on my bed, I felt like I wanted to die — to get out of the misery I was in. I prayed out a prayer, out into the air like ‘Hey, God? Jesus?' I said, 'Jesus, if you’re real – people have said you are – please help me. Please, because if you don’t, I’m not going to make it.'”
After meeting her current husband, the pair went on “a journey of faith” together. They later conceived twins after over a decade of trying and almost giving up.
Now as a “so-called post-abortive woman,” Gydos works as a pro-life advocate, writes consistently on a blog by the name of "Preborn" and relays her testimony at various pro-life events in the state.
“Our society and culture has made it sort of easy to get that abortion — and now with the abortion pill, it is even more so,” Gydos said. “I think it is too easy of a way out. In the long run — in the woman’s mind — it’s not the easy way out. At least for me, it wasn’t.”
Regulating abortion access
In North Carolina today, getting an abortion does not come without hurdles. Within state lines, North Carolinians must wait a minimum of 72 hours after receiving state-mandated counseling before receiving abortion services. This waiting period is shared with only four other states and is the longest in the nation. Additionally, there is a ban on abortions being performed more than 20 weeks after conception, unless there is substantial threat to the mother's health or life.
Lynne Walter, advocacy and organizing manager at the National Abortion Rights Action League, (NARAL) Pro-choice North Carolina, said the restrictions on abortion in North Carolina have continued to increase over the years — rising rapidly in the last five years. NARAL in North Carolina’s mission, according to their website, is to protect and advance the reproductive rights of women throughout state.
“In the last 5-6 years, North Carolina has enacted more restrictions on abortion access than the state had enacted in the prior 40 years,” Walter said.
Another barrier Walter mentioned is the requirement by law for abortion providers to relay ultrasound imaging to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services for review if the procedure is happening more than 16 weeks into the pregnancy.
“It really is just an intimidation tactic,” Walter said. “If people know that ‘Oh, if I’m 16 weeks, my private medical information is going to be sent off to some branch of state government, jeez that’s scary, maybe I won’t do that,' it can also intimidate providers: ‘If they send these off, will someone question my advance training and education, will I not be able to fulfill my duties and responsibilities as a practitioner?’”
Right now, NARAL North Carolina is focusing on two main goals: protecting clinic access and insurance coverage. In North Carolina, abortion services are not paid for by public funding unless in the case of incest or a threat to the pregnant person’s life.
Gydos said she thinks the waiting period provides ample time for women to think about their decision and weigh their options.
“Perhaps she'll be blessed to find a crisis pregnancy center where she can obtain an ultrasound of her preborn baby,” Gydos said in an email. “You know that old saying, 'Act in haste, repent at leisure?' Well, hopefully during this period, she'll decide for life — the life of her preborn baby – and have little to later repent of. I hate to see a woman do as I did — pressure herself out of panic, fear and outside pressure, and cave into a seemingly ‘quick fix.’ Abortion is anything but a fix. It has such lasting repercussions.”
Adding the costs
To fill the gap that exists in many people’s budgets, organizations such as the North Carolina Abortion Fund provide aid to keep abortion viable option. Founded in 2011, the organization was brought into fruition when its founders’ observed how many people were having to veto abortion as an option because of their financial situation.
Now, the fund runs a helpline where people can call in and inquire about grants to help subsidize the cost of abortion services. According to Mars Earle, director of engagement, these services can cost anywhere from $250-$10,000 if someone is forced to travel out of state. Earle said other factors include childcare, lost wages and even lodging for procedures lasting more than a day.
“A lot of clinics will do student, military or Medicaid discounts as much as possible, but we work with other funds across the South, the National Abortion Federation and Planned Parenthood — who has a justice fund — but for a lot of people on the hotline, their need is usually from $200 to $400 on average,” Earle said.
The North Carolina Abortion Fund can fund 10 people a week on average — giving a couple hundred dollars toward each procedure.
Earle got involved with the Fund after their own experience seeking funds for an abortion three years ago.
“About a year later, when our paths [with the Abortion Fund] crossed again, I was like, 'I really want to be that person that was on the other end of the phone talking to me,'” Earle said. “Just someone to talk to and tell that I was going through this thing because I felt like I couldn’t really talk about it with anyone.”
Earle said their experience was “particular as a trans-person of color going in to access care and also having a partner who was a trans-person of color, and dealing with the weird gender politics of all of that.” The medical service they received at Planned Parenthood was “quick and easy."
“People need to be able to access this care, but they should know what it is that they are doing, and feel informed and empowered in making that decision,” Earle said of their devotion to the Fund’s work.
In the future, Earle said they hope the North Carolina Abortion Fund will become obsolete due to abortion care becoming affordable and accessible to all.
“Hopefully we won’t exist because we can liberate abortion healthcare, and people will have access when they want and need to,” Earle said.
Earle noted that while many feel differently, the fear in the current political climate of defunding clinics or further limiting access are not new sentiments to people in the south. Elizabeth Freeze, director of philanthropy for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said because Planned Parenthood in North Carolina is no longer state-funded, in addition to funding received through the Title X federal family planning program, individual donations have become more imperative.
“In the current climate with a very anti-women’s health legislature, it would be hard to roll those restrictions back,” Freeze said. “By working each year at election time to help put women’s health champions in office we are closer and closer to having more folks that are supportive of women’s healthcare in office, so that there will be a time when we are more able to roll back restrictions and add positive legislation for women’s health.”
More recently, Freeze said Planned Parenthood is at risk of having to begin denying Title X Family Planning, which Planned Parenthood previously received funding from, if the Trump Administration's proposed “gag” rule is put in place. The ruling would make it so that health care providers receiving Title X Family Planning funding would no longer be able to refer, provide or discuss abortion as an option to their patients — unless a woman has already decided she wants to terminate her pregnancy.
“If the gag rule is implemented we would decline the funds because we believe in providing abortion care for our patients,” Freeze said in an email. “Title X funds are used for sex education and birth control as well as testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. We generally do not receive grants for abortion care, most often patients pay out of pocket. Title X is very helpful because we can provide subsidized care for folks at 250% of the poverty level, helping to increase access to preventive family planning care.”
Seeking Resources in Alamance County
In Alamance County, organizations like North Carolina Right to Life have been working for decades to maintain/increase restrictions to abortion services. Amy Huffman, coordinator of Alamance County Right to Life, doesn’t think it’s right to take away a life and believes that life starts at the moment of conception.
“When you talk about abortion care, I see that as kind of an oxymoronic statement because when a woman chooses to end the other life that is in her, yes she needs care, but that baby is dead,” Huffman said.
Huffman’s views date back to 1984 when she was pregnant with her second child and miscarried at three months.
“There was something about seeing that three-month-old formed, dead child that just got me thinking,” Huffman said. “Keep in mind this was 1984, there was sonography, but not like there is now. Seeing that and going through that kind of made me think about ‘Who is that person?’ and what are we doing when we say that’s OK?”
Huffman has done pro-life work in Alamance County for decades, and she said she is proud of the lack of places for women to receive abortions in the county.
“I’ve been around this county long enough to know that there was a time when hospitals were doing abortions, and we worked with them to get that stopped because we think it’s wrong,” Huffman said.
One of the organizations North Carolina Right to Life works with in the county is Alamance Pregnancy Services, a non-medical facility that services women who are considering abortion.
According to Huffman, the director at Alamance Pregnancy Services says they see about 150 women a year and typically the women want to keep their babies but either a parent or significant other disagrees. Alamance Pregnancy Services will not refer them for abortions but will refer to the health department if they choose to continue with the pregnancy. The women can usually gain access pregnancy Medicaid.
Woman who decide to terminate their pregnancies do not return.
“It is not under their purview to follow up with them,” Huffman said.
Receiving an abortion in the Triad
One of the places women in the Alamance area can go to receive abortion services is Chapel Hill where Antoinette Nguyen works as an OB-GYN both in a hospital and freestanding clinic setting.
Nguyen is a self-proclaimed physician advocate who said she believes her role as a gynecologist is “to support a woman’s well-being, and that includes comprehensive reproductive healthcare.”
Nguyen performs abortions in the state and said she feels the current restrictions on access are only hurting North Carolinians.
She said she notes that while every patient and situation is different, there are overwhelmingly positive responses to people who decide that abortion is the right choice for them.
“We do know from studies, on a national level, that women are overall satisfied with their care,” Nguyen said. “Some of that is because they are so happy and relieved to be getting a procedure that they so desire.”
Earle echoed this sentiment despite the emotional variables that played a part in their experience with abortion services in the state.
“I had a really great experience in the clinic for the most part,” Earle said. “There were a lot of a factors, emotional things, overall not the greatest experience for me, but I felt really lucky that I was even able to make that choice.”
Leslie Gydos, Mars Earle and their counterparts all represent the ongoing conversation around reproductive rights in the United States. The Trump administration could pose as a threat to the long-standing laws in place that protect a person’s right to choose. Here in North Carolina, that conversation shows no sign of fading away.