In 2013, New York Magazine published an article titled “My Abortion.” The headline read, “One in three women has an abortion by the age of 45. How many ever talk about it? New laws, old stigmas. 26 stories.”
Twenty-six women found the courage to come out and share their stories. Some of them were laced in comfort and relief, others with horror and shame. Of these stories, one that especially stood out was Michelle’s, age 62, who got an abortion in 1968, when she was only 17.
Michelle’s abortion story
Convinced that her mother wouldn’t be supportive, Michelle went to the hospital alone. She doesn’t describe the operating room or what feelings she felt, but she remembers the cold words of her doctor and her nurse. The part that stands out is after the procedure—her dangerous amount of bleeding on the train ride home, then in her bedroom and, even more so, the way she felt the need to hide, to isolate, to keep quiet throughout all of it. Michelle closes her story saying, “I thought I might die there in my apartment. In retrospect, I should’ve gone to the hospital, but I thought I would be arrested. It’s such a horrific thought that anyone should feel that alone again.”
No one should feel that alone, and yet, when it comes to having an abortion, many women find themselves in the same situation. Despite a December 2016 study published in the New York Times, revealing that abortion does not have a lasting effect on a woman’s mental health, the stigma is still strong.
Why women hide their abortions
Another study cited by Advocates for Youth revealed that 58 percent of women interviewed felt a need to keep their abortions a secret. Why do they feel this way?
The answer is easy. Our fear of judgment and/or personal guilt: Did I make the right choice? What will people think/say about me? Will they support my decision? What if I lose someone I care about? This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fear of judgment around having an abortion.
But abortion is much more common than people realize. Hundreds of sources promote this statistic to bring out the truth: one in three women have an abortion before they are 45. These same women—mothers, grandmothers, sisters, girlfriends, co-workers—are all around us. Debra Hauser, President of Advocates for Youth, said, “We all have these stories, but we aren’t sharing them.”
The benefits of having support
When a woman keeps her abortion a secret, the stigma remains in power. Feelings of guilt and shame are allowed to fester without anyone to help her believe otherwise and counter her negative thoughts. She misses out on communing with women who can assure her, “Your decision is valid. You are loved and accepted.”
If you’re considering or planning an abortion, don’t allow yourself to go through the process alone. Studying the impacts of support during an abortion, Providence College found:
- Support from loved ones reduces stress during the abortion and quickens recovery time
- Feelings associated with stigma, secrecy, lack of support, and avoidance or denial all negatively affect a woman’s experience of abortion
- Women who feel supported during the abortion process develop stronger coping skills after the procedure
- Having any kind of support (whether from a partner, friend, counselor, or recovery group) can improve the way women feel throughout the abortion process
The statistics are clear. Women undergoing an abortion have a more positive experience when they feel supported throughout the process.
Steps for finding support for abortion
Whether you’re apprehensive about the abortion procedure or just want a solid support system, consider these steps:
1. Take Inventory of Your Support System
Make a list of the family, friends, and loved ones in your life. Of these people, which ones do you feel will provide you with support? Who do you feel would be open to journeying through this process with you? Most likely, there will be someone that immediately comes to mind, but have some backups just in case they aren’t available. If you can’t think of anyone, consider joining a support group or seeing a counselor.
2. Decide What Kind of Support You Need
Maybe you’re nervous about going to the doctor’s office for the procedure. Or perhaps you’d like for someone to pick you up and drive you home, or even stay with you in the following days. Maybe you want to do it alone and just want someone to be aware of what’s going on. Whatever it is, knowing what you need can help your support system show up for you in a way that will be helpful.
3. Decide What You’re Willing to Share
No matter what people say or ask about your abortion, remember that it’s your body, your life, and your decision. You can choose what to disclose—how you got to this place or why you’re choosing abortion—but asking others for support does not mean you are obligated to share anything more than you want to. Knowing where your personal boundaries lie will help you feel more secure as you allow others into the process.
4. Ask for what you need
For some women, this will be the hardest part. There is no promise that this will be easy, that you won’t lose friends, but it is experiences like this that reveal the people we really matter to. Fear of rejection is a valid feeling, but do not let that stop you from voicing your needs.
Hope for support among women
The same year “My Abortion” was published, The New York Times came out with My Mother’s Abortion, the story of Beth Matusoff Merfish, who was raised in an actively engaged, pro-choice family and, at 18 years old, found out that her own mother had an abortion. She writes, “I naïvely believed that only other women—not my family and certainly not my mother—needed this right that our family had long supported.”
Reading on, you can almost see Merfish beaming as she talks about her mother’s courage to share her story with her daughters and, later, her friends, who then opened up about their own abortions. The story is a beautiful picture of the way women and loved ones can come together in the face of what’s considered taboo.
Michelle’s story and Beth’s story take different approaches but were written with the same intention: to empower women and to end the belief that we must endure abortion alone.
Allow others to walk with you during your abortion process and recovery. Share your story, and you will probably hear stories similar to yours. Some people may not agree with your decision and they might disappoint you with their response, but others will surprise you with their empathy and support. Can you imagine it—the sense of community and empowerment women could have if they did not feel the need to hide?