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A secret abortion shaped the rest of these two sisters' lives


Tennessee is one of several states with a so-called trigger law on the books. It would effectively outlaw abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court. That would reduce the options available to pregnant people. WPLN's Paige Pfleger has the story of two sisters, years apart, who each got pregnant during their teenage years. They ended up taking different paths, with profound effects on their later lives.

PAIGE PFLEGER, BYLINE: Marianne Sung lives in a small brick house in a sleepy town outside Nashville. She has a partner, two dogs and two sons - Eli, age 11, and toddler Charlie.

MARIANNE SUNG: This is Charlie. Ready?

PFLEGER: She likes the quiet here, the rolling hills and the spotty cell phone service. She says she feels at peace with her life. But she admits that she sometimes wonders about how it might have turned out differently if she had made a different decision over a decade ago.

M SUNG: You know, had I known more, had I done - you know, been able to talk to my parents, talk to my sister, I probably wouldn't have two kids right now.

PFLEGER: Marianne got pregnant with her first son when she was 16. Her story is a familiar one in Tennessee. The state is in the top 10 in the nation for teen pregnancies. Marianne says growing up, there were things her family just didn't discuss, sex included. So when she started feeling nauseous and missed her period, she didn't say a word. Instead, she rushed out to buy pregnancy tests.

M SUNG: And I took five tests because the first one was positive, so then I just kept taking them thinking, like, surely it's wrong.

PFLEGER: It wasn't. Her first instinct was to find a way to get an abortion. But the only research she'd ever done was for school projects. She couldn't figure out if she needed her parents' permission, and she really did not want to tell her parents she was pregnant. So she hid it for six months.

M SUNG: If I just pretend like it's not happening, it's not happening.

PFLEGER: Eventually, her belly got too big to hide under baggy sweatshirts. Her mom noticed and called Marianne's sister Fanny to come home.

FANNY SUNG: I don't know that we ever had a family meeting until this moment.

PFLEGER: And have they had one since?

F SUNG: No. (Laughter) Just the one in the past 40 years.

PFLEGER: That's Fanny, Marianne's sister. She's 11 years older. She remembers this family meeting vividly. She was 27 at the time.

F SUNG: My dad was just sitting at the kitchen counter eating his dinner, like, while this is going on. My mom was like, well, is it too late to get an abortion? I was like, yes. Like, look at her.

PFLEGER: Fanny says adoption wasn't an option. Their family is Taiwanese, and culturally, they felt they couldn't give up a child they could care for. So they decided as a family to keep the baby. But during this meeting, Fanny was sitting on a secret of her own.

F SUNG: When I came to that crossroads, the path that her life took is the path that I avoided.

PFLEGER: Fanny had gotten pregnant years before. Unlike Marianne, though, Fanny had an abortion.

F SUNG: I felt a lot of relief because my life could move on in a way that it wouldn't have been able to.

PFLEGER: Fanny traveled all over the world. She graduated from college. She met her future husband. Marianne's parents expected her to follow a similar path. She says getting pregnant as a teenager wasn't part of the plan.

M SUNG: Just feeling the overwhelming weight of, like, I've really, like, messed up. Like, now, like, both my parents are upset, and in that moment, it's like, are they ever going to love me the same? Will it ever be the same?

PFLEGER: Marianne left high school. She skipped college and started working. And Fanny has always wondered if Marianne's life would have turned out differently if she'd shared her secret and told her about the abortion.

F SUNG: I think at that time, I probably had more shame and more secrecy around it, you know?

PFLEGER: And Marianne was only 9 then. Once Fanny found out Marianne was pregnant years later, it didn't feel like it would help to share her experience. Marianne was too far along to consider an abortion. It wasn't until Fanny heard the news about the leaked Supreme Court draft decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade that she finally told her sister. Marianne understands why Fanny kept it a secret, but she wishes she'd known sooner.

M SUNG: Then I would have known, like, oh, like, I'm in this situation. Let me talk to somebody who might be able to help me, who has been through this, who is close to me.

PFLEGER: Marianne says without someone to help her, it felt like abortion wasn't really even an option. She says it's a glimpse of what life will be like for others if Roe is overturned.

M SUNG: Until you've gone through something like that, you don't truly know how hard and how scary life can be. In just a few - like, your life - your whole life changes in an instant.

PFLEGER: And Fanny says that Marianne wasn't alone in feeling that way.

F SUNG: I had options, and I was fearful. I cannot imagine not having options. You're already afraid.

PFLEGER: As many as 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion if the court strikes Roe down. For NPR News, I'm Paige Pfleger in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Paige Pfleger