With all the talk in media, online, and by politicians, many people think that abortion is a national epidemic but the facts paint a much more hopeful picture. Abortion rates right now are the lowest they have been since abortion was legalized in 1970, with only 14.6 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age, with a peak of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women in 1980.
Many pro-life activists claim that this is due to abstinence-only sex education, criminalizing abortion, and providing “pregnancy crisis centers” that are intended to provide abortion information but, instead, provide services intended to make pregnant people grow attached to their fetuses and keep them to term. This hasn’t proven to be the case, however. As lobbyists in Texas learned, banning abortions and shutting down clinics does not decrease abortions. In fact, cutting funding to clinics like Planned Parenthood increases the number of abortions due to a lack of access to birth control. Middle-class, wealthy, and educated women have a much easier time accessing birth control through private insurance or the ability to pay out-of-pocket. Poor women, minority women, and women who do not have access to education tend to seek out abortions on a more regular basis.
When those women who don’t have access to affordable birth control become pregnant, they are faced with the choice between carrying a baby to term (whether to raise themselves or put up for adoption) or terminating the pregnancy. This is not an easy choice for everyone, and the barriers put in place financially, politically, and socially only further the stigmas attached to reproductive rights.
Ashley Lavigne, a young mother to a two-and-a-half-year-old healthy boy, spoke up about her struggle deciding to abort her fetus the second time she became pregnant. “I was still on the fence up until the night that my son came home [from my father’s house]. Putting him to bed that night, I was overcome with an immense need to protect him. I was already a mother to this sweet little boy and I knew that having another baby…would make it that much harder for me to finish high school and get out into the workforce. My son deserved better and, in the end, it just wasn’t an option for me to keep the baby.”
As many of these women seek out help either terminating a pregnancy or accessing reproductive care, they are challenged by shame from their families and churches, potentially high travel and treatment costs depending on where they live, and, most disturbingly, fake “pregnancy crisis” centers, businesses that operate under the guise of providing abortions but instead guilt and shame women into keeping their fetuses and carrying to term. These scare tactics mean that many women who cannot travel to abortion clinics eventually run out of options when their pregnancy is too far along to terminate. They keep the child and, as many mothers cannot seek out adoption for their child out of either guilt, lack of interest, or fear of abandoning the child to the foster system, they keep them.
An anonymous person I spoke with specified that the most damaging part of their abortion was recovery afterward and the personal shame and stigma they faced. “I had to go back to the clinic for a one week follow-up ultrasound to ensure all the products of conception had been expelled. There was a religious group protesting. There is nothing to describe what I felt at that moment as I read all the signs accusing those poor women of murder. I was so emotionally damaged after [terminating] my pregnancy that when I got sick, I recognized the symptoms of the infection immediately and waited… I wanted to die. I needed to suffer like the horrible person I was for the horrible decision I made. I needed support.”
While it may be confusing to some, especially those of us who have never had an abortion, many women choose to abort a fetus out of compassion for that fetus. Kelly Coviello, a woman who recently struggled emotionally and physically through a taxing pregnancy, abusive relationship, and eventual abortion, said “I had decided to keep the pregnancy and give it up for adoption but it became incredibly difficult to sustain the pregnancy…my physical health became so negatively affected that abortion seemed the only way to ensure the best situation for myself and the child, who would have quite possibly died as a stillborn in the third trimester. I loved my baby enormously and did not want to lose it. I gave it up because I loved it too much to let it suffer, which it most assuredly would have if I tried to keep it.”
Women terminate pregnancies at all points of the pregnancy, and for all kinds of different reasons. While women often terminate pregnancies in the first trimester for financial, emotional, or other personal reasons, second- and third-trimester abortions are usually done as a preventive measure for the health of the baby, the mother, or both.
The myths surrounding late-term abortions can be especially damaging. Women who have these third-trimester abortions do so out of often heartbreaking necessity, and what should be seen as a radical act of self-care or sacrifice for the comfort of the fetus is usually seen as, how our president puts it, violently “[ripping] the baby out of the womb.” Political opponents of abortion are frequently conservative and Christian, quoting the Bible as a condemnation of abortion as the murder of an unborn baby, rather than terminating a fetus before it has a chance to develop further.
The abortion debate is a sensitive and nuanced one but the fact remains that women who receive abortions should not be shamed or abused for seeking out such an intimate and personal procedure. Many, many mothers terminate pregnancies after “viability,” or when fetuses can live outside of the womb, because of severe health risks to either themselves or the baby. While mothers seeking out the best health care for their babies is seen as natural and acceptable, pregnant women who make decisions based on the health of either themselves or their fetuses is not held in the same regard.
Women who decide to abort deserve understanding and support, regardless of their reason for that abortion. Most, if not all, women who terminate a pregnancy do so because they see that as the easiest difficult decision that they have to make. Remi Brandt, for example, chose to terminate her pregnancy because her then-partner was abusive and she felt unsafe with him. “I was ‘stealthed’ by someone who wanted to get me pregnant on purpose to keep me with them. It was very scary for me especially because I was living with my abusive alcoholic father and struggling with substance abuse problems myself.” A pregnancy in an abusive situation only makes a pregnant woman more unsafe than before and endangers a second life in that relationship.
Similarly, pregnant people who are mentally or physically ill and cannot survive a pregnancy or who have themselves survived abusive childhoods do not want to perpetuate a harmful cycle. Evidence that suggests that children who are products of unintended pregnancies tend to have higher rates of health issues, psychological harm, and are generally unhappier than children from intended pregnancies. Similarly, parents who have children unintentionally are more likely to have a harder time emotionally dealing with the incredible burden that having and caring for a child includes.
People who are biologically capable of becoming pregnant should have autonomy over their bodies, even when there is a fetus inside of them. Limitations on abortion only harm people who need access to them the most. Cutting funding to birth control, similarly, causes more pregnancies and more abortions than comprehensive, informative sex education. For those of us that consider ourselves pro-choice, abortion is a necessary service for many women. It should be a decision only between a pregnant person and their doctor.
The government, male politicians, Christian pundits, and pro-birth activists owe it to society to support comprehensive sex education and easier access to birth control if they truly want to slow or stop abortions altogether. If you are considering seeking an abortion, or you know someone who is, remember that people who choose abortion are not heartless or cruel. Abortions are not chosen out of laziness or emotional immaturity or selfishness. People who choose abortion genuinely see that as the most ethical, considerate, and rational decision they can make. It’s their body. It’s their choice. It’s their story to tell.
Take a moment and support your friends and family who have had abortions. Organizations like Exhale exist to support women who have had abortions after their procedures. For those of you who have had an abortion yourself, remember that you are not alone. Reach out to people you trust, and know that you did the best thing you could do at the time.