By Amy Sobie & David C. Reardon, Ph.D.
Abortion advocates speak of “the freedom to choose,” conjuring up images of women freely and autonomously making decisions that are “right” for them. But research into abortion decision making presents a far different picture.
In most cases, women who abort are violating their own personal desires or consciences because of pressure from other people. Often there are coercive pressures, such as negligent or coercive medical, social-services or other advisors or authorities who also play a significant role or exploit a crisis situation.
One published study found that among American women who abort, 64 percent felt pressured by others and the majority felt rushed or uncertain, yet 67 percent received no counseling beforehand, 79 percent were not told about available alternatives, and 84 percent reported that they did not receive adequate counseling.
The sad truth is that hundreds of thousands of women undergo unwanted, coerced or even forced abortions every year because of pressure or coercion by their partners, parents, social workers, counselors, employers, school administrators or others. Deceptive, negligent or coercive medical advice may be involved, too.
In a WEBA survey of 252 post-abortive women, more than half said they felt “forced” into the abortion by others.(3) Coercion can be direct or indirect, and can come from all sides. News headlines report women being threatened, blackmailed, fired, evicted, raped or even killed for resisting an unwanted abortion.
Crisis Induced Vulnerability Affects Decision Making Capacity
There are many reasons why women facing crisis pregnancies may be vulnerable to pressure or coercion to abort. Crisis-induced vulnerability is among the many factors that often work on women who ultimately abort. Experts on crisis counseling have found that people are more vulnerable to outside influences whenever they are faced with a crisis situation. The more overwhelming the crisis appears to be, the less they may trust their own opinions and abilities to make the right decision. As a result, a person in crisis may be more influenced by the opinions and direction of others.
People in crisis “are often less in touch with reality and more vulnerable to change than they are in non-crisis situations.”(4) They often experience feelings of tiredness, lethargy, hopelessness, inadequacy, confusion, anxiety and disorganization. Thus, they are more likely to stand back and let other people make their decisions for them.
Fundamentally, a person who is upset and trapped in a crisis wants to reestablish stability in his or her life. This desire to be free of the crisis may leave the individual more susceptible than normal to any influence from others who claim to be able to solve the crisis, especially to the influence of those who have expertise or authority.(5) In such periods of heightened psychological accessibility, “A relatively minor force, acting for a relatively short time, can switch the whole balance from one side or to the other–to the side of mental health or to the side of ill health.”(6)
An understanding of this basic crisis theory helps to explain why pregnant women, especially if they are unwed, adolescent, or poor, are so vulnerable to undergoing abortions in violation of their own will and consciences. Women who would normally be very much in control of their own lives may suddenly feel dependent on the guidance of others when faced with a crisis pregnancy. In such cases, even minimal efforts by family members, their male partners, or medical authorities to encourage abortion may be experienced as the decisive factor.
What women experience as “pressure” to abort may involve indirect but significant pressure such as withholding love, approval and personal or practical support from the woman unless she agrees to an abortion. Or it may be overt, as in abuse or an outright threat to abandon or expel the woman from her home if she does not abort her child. In many cases, the pressure is applied intentionally by others. In other cases, the “pressure” is not intended, but simply perceived by the woman. For instance, if her boyfriend exhibits an unenthusiastic response to the news that she is pregnant, she may see this as his way of telling her that he will not help to support her or their child.
No matter what form the pressure or manipulation of her situation takes, any attempt to influence a woman toward abortion during this time of crisis when she is most vulnerable can be powerful. For example, one WEBA member wrote:
My family would not support my decision to keep my baby. My boyfriend said he would give me no emotional or financial help whatsoever. All the people that mattered told me to abort. When I said I didn’t want to, they started listing reasons why I should . . . I started feeling like maybe I was crazy to want to keep it . . .
I finally told everyone I would have the abortion just to get them off my back. But inside I still didn’t want to have the abortion. Unfortunately, when the abortion day came I shut off my feelings. I was scared to not do it because of how my family and boyfriend felt. I’m so angry at myself for giving in to the pressure of others. I just felt so alone in my feelings to have my baby.(7)
In cases like this, an abortion is likely to be especially traumatic. (In the above example, the young woman attempted suicide shortly after her abortion.) In such cases, women are violating their own will, their consciences, and often their strong maternal desires, only because they are in crisis and are therefore more vulnerable to the influence of those who insist that abortion is the “best” solution.
This conflict between the heart saying, “don’t do it,” and the mind saying, “it’s the only thing I can do,” is at the heart of the deep ambivalence that is felt by most women having an abortion. Indeed, many women describe going into the clinic and waiting for someone–their boyfriend or husband, a parent, even the counselor–to burst into the room and stop the abortion from happening. When no one attempts to prevent the abortion, this reaffirms in women’s minds that abortion is the only choice that their loved ones will support. One woman described her feelings of powerlessness this way:
I didn’t want to kill my child; I just made the decision to be weak and not care about any of it. I made a decision not to make a conscious choice at all. In fact, Planned Parenthood and all the abortion mills tell you that you have NO CHOICE but to get an abortion. This is the irony of the ‘pro-choice’ rhetoric.(8)
There is no disputing the fact that many, perhaps most, women who have abortions feel pressured into an abortion that is insufficiently informed and otherwise directly or indirectly coerced, against their own personal will and conscience. In many cases it is clear that coercion by others is deliberate and blatant. In other cases, the pressure to abort is more subtle, or even unintended. In still others, the “decision” is literally made by those in positions of authority or out of fear of abuse or even violence. (Download the Forced Abortion in America fact sheet and special report to learn more.)
This is why it is vitally important to develop safeguards that will, at the very least, protect women from unwanted abortions. Unfortunately, abortion clinics generally make no attempt to fully inform and advise or screen for coercion or even forced abortion. Indeed, more than 80 percent of women with post-abortion problems report that their abortion clinic counselors showed no interest in helping them explore other options, and two-thirds of the women said the counselors were strongly biased toward encouraging abortion.(9) A survey of the general population of American women who had abortions found that even though most felt “rushed” or “uncertain,” nearly 70 percent were not counseled at all and nearly 80 percent were not informed of available alternatives. This is not reflective of even the most basic standard of care and only adds to the pressure women face … often from the counselors themselves.
Simply put, abortion counseling is usually designed to “sell” a woman an abortion, not to help her escape the pressure of others who may be pushing her into an unwanted abortion. In essence, rather than taking the side of the woman, abortion counselors often take the side of those pushing for the abortion.
In many cases, they are themselves the coercers. One woman whose sister committed suicide after abortion said her sister was crying before, during and after the abortion. In her words, “three children are growing up without their mother because nobody wanted to ask questions.” Another woman reported breaking down outside the clinic as the staffer ordered her not to keep everyone waiting and said, “You have five minutes to make up your mind.”
Abortion clinics must be held fully liable for failing to – at the very minimum – fully inform and protect the rights of women who are being rushed or pushed into unwanted, coerced or even forced abortions. Laws to require proper screening for the known risk factors that predict post-abortion psychological problems would necessarily include screening for any evidence that the woman feels pressured or manipulated by others to consent to the abortion. In this case, the clinic should be held liable for failing to refer the woman to resources that can help her resolve her situation without undergoing an unwanted abortion.
In cases where the abortion clinic knew or should have known through proper screening that a woman was being pressured into an unwanted abortion, the abortionist should be held liable not only for her psychological pain and suffering, but also for the wrongful death of her child. Such liability is the only way to ensure that abortion clinics will be held accountable for failing to screen for unwanted, coerced or forced abortions.
Learn More: Visit www.TheUnChoice.com for articles, information and free educational resources about unwanted, coerced and forced abortion. See also A Generation at Risk: How Teens Are Manipulated Into Abortion.
1. Los Angeles Times Poll, March 19, 1989. See also Zimmerman Mary K., Passage Through Abortion (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1977) and Reardon, David C., Aborted Women: Silent No More (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1987).
2. Reardon, op. cit., 12.
3. Reardon, op. cit., 10-11.
4. Stone, Howard W., Crisis Counseling (Fortress Press, 1976).
5. Morely, Wilbur E., “Theory of Crisis Intervention,” Pastoral Psychology, Vol. 21, No. 203, April 1970, p. 16.
6. Caplan, Gerald, Principals of Preventive Psychiatry (New York: Basic Books, 1964).
7. Reardon, op. cit., 31.
8. Reardon, op. cit., 143.
9. Reardon, op. cit., 16.