Whalen told me that in the winter of 2012, her daughter came to her and said she was pregnant. Whalen told her she would “support her in any decision she made.” Her daughter, who was in high school, took a few days to think and then asked her mother for help ending the pregnancy. “She said, ‘I can’t have a baby right now,’ and she asked me to look up clinics,” Whalen said.
Together, they looked online. The closest clinic was about 75 miles away. Pennsylvania requires women seeking abortions to first receive counseling and wait 24 hours before returning for the procedure. The cost of a first-trimester abortion is typically between $300 and $600. Whalen works as a personal-care aide at an assisted-living center for the elderly. She didn’t have health insurance for her daughter. And she was worried about taking time away from work and her family to make two trips or to stay overnight. At the time, Whalen and her husband shared one car, which they both used to get to work. And she hadn’t told her husband about the pregnancy. “I knew he would be upset, and I was protecting the whole family,” she said. (Whalen’s husband, who waited outside in the car during our interview, declined to talk to me.)
Whalen called a local women’s center on her daughter’s behalf but was told no one there could help, she said. She and her daughter did more online searching, and a site popped up with misoprostol and mifepristone for sale for $45. Whalen hadn’t heard of the medication before. “I read all the information,” she said. “They said these pills would help give a miscarriage, and they were the same ones a doctor would give you.” She says she had no idea that buying them was illegal.