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People who took mifepristone share their stories

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Mifepristone, sometimes known as the abortion pill - it's at the center of a legal battle underway this week. Tomorrow, attorneys gather in New Orleans at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to argue a case about the future of access to this medication across the entire country. So who takes mifepristone and why? NPR asked to hear your stories, and more than 150 people wrote in. NPR reporters Selena Simmons-Duffin and Becky Sullivan spoke to some of them. Here are their stories.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: It took Larissa Adams and her husband a long time to get pregnant. And when she finally did, she had a miscarriage.

LARISSA ADAMS: And we thought that was going to be the end of it and that we would get pregnant again. And what ended up happening was that we spent the next four or five years getting pregnant regularly, and then miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: With each one, her doctors needed to intervene to complete the miscarriage. She would take mifepristone and misoprostol, the two drugs that are used together for miscarriage management or for abortion. Sometimes, she also needed a procedure called a dilation and curettage, or D&C. Eventually, she figured out she had a genetic condition. After an expensive round of IVF, she got one viable embryo.

ADAMS: Via sheer luck - I don't know. I've always wondered - I'm like, are we the luckiest people in the world or have the worst luck? But it stuck, and now we have a 3-year-old. And she's totally healthy.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She says she's grateful, in all those years of miscarriages, that she had medication to take so she could get ready to try again.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: This is Becky. One big theme we saw among the responses was how mifepristone gave people privacy, like Alexandra. She told me about how, when she was 21, she was in a relationship with an emotionally abusive boyfriend. NPR's only using her first name for professional concerns. He was controlling. He isolated her. He destroyed her self-esteem, she said. And even though they were using birth control, she got pregnant.

ALEXANDRA: And I was like, if I have a child with this guy, I'll never get away from him - never. I will never get away from him.

SULLIVAN: So Alexandra quietly sought an abortion. She took the pills and recovered at home in Ohio and was able to break up with him the next year.

And for many people, the medication gave them a sense of control. When Michelle Brown was engaged and planning her wedding, she found out she was pregnant. At first, she said she was a little panicked.

MICHELLE BROWN: But then we, like, after doing more reading and thinking, we were - we then got pretty excited, actually, about the pregnancy. And then we found out that it was not working out.

SULLIVAN: She was having a miscarriage. Her doctor told her she could just wait for the bleeding to start. But at the time, Brown lived in New Orleans, and she worked at a university about an hour away. She said the commute involved driving on these long bridges over a swamp or lake, where it's hard to pull over.

BROWN: Every time I had to commute to and from my university, I just had all of this, like, dread, essentially, 'cause I was, like, really afraid - like, what if it happens now - right? - like, the cramping and the bleeding.

SULLIVAN: So after a few days, she went back to her doctor to get mifepristone and misoprostol. Brown was able to take the pills in the comfort of her own home with her fiance by her side. They've since married and now have two kids.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: This is Selena. I also spoke to Dawn. NPR is only using her first name because she fears family and professional repercussions. Her first pregnancy was extremely complicated. She had severe preeclampsia. Her daughter was born at 29 weeks and spent months in the NICU. Dawn ended up quitting her job.

DAWN: You know, I spent most of my time in that year, like, trying to keep her alive, taking her to different doctor and specialist appointments.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She found out she was pregnant again when her daughter was less than a year old.

DAWN: I knew in that moment that it would be physically, emotionally, mentally, like, devastating.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She agonized over the decision, but ended up deciding to get a medication abortion at Planned Parenthood.

DAWN: Honestly, I feel like it saved my life. I really feel that way.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Many of the people who wrote to NPR said this medication changed the course of their lives. Mifepristone's fate will be decided by federal courts in the coming months. Selena Simmons-Duffin...

SULLIVAN: And Becky Sullivan, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.