The following is excerpted from the book Aborted Women, Silent No More: Twenty Women Share Their Personal Journeys from the Tragedy of Abortion to Restored Wholeness by David C. Reardon.
Since the mid-1960s, abortion has been a major national issue, the subject of state and Congressional investigations, thousands of articles, and hundreds of books. But most of this attention has been focused on the ideological aspects of abortion: “freedom of choice” versus the “right to life.” While those on either side of the issue have published reams of material investigating whether or not the aborted fetus is a person, comparatively little has been done to identify and understand the women who have abortions.
To provide a complete picture of the abortion experience, this book provides both quantitative data, which is helpful in drawing general conclusions, and personal testimonies reflecting the individual experiences and lending more depth and perspective.
In the profile sections of this book, 20 women share their personal journeys from the tragedy of abortion to restored wholeness. They describe their abortion experiences in their own words. While quantitative data about coercion and other issues are helpful in understanding the “big picture,” the stories of women and families with front-line experience are very personal and real. Their value lies not in numbers and percentages, but in their human dimension.
The testimonies only scratch the surface of what aborted women face. Just as all persons are unique, so too are the stories and insights of these women. Obviously, not all women experience the same external circumstances, complications and coercion so often associated with abortion. Conditions and reactions vary. But most women do face the same internal doubts and dilemmas. The internal feelings often go beyond what words can convey. But it helps to put oneself into their “shoes” to gain a greater understanding of and sympathy for their experience and how we can best respond.
The stories in Aborted Women, Silent No More [as well as others in Forbidden Grief and Giving Sorrow Words], tell a more complete story about the abortion experience. Most other researchers interview women only a short time after their abortions. In these cases, the women are often confused and still uncertain about their feelings, and they are often anxious to preserve their anonymity. The stories collected here, on the other hand, were all written from a long-range point of view by women who have a matured and reflective perspective on what they have experienced. They have gone beyond the sad ambivalence many aborted women feel. They have reconciled themselves to the realities of their abortion and they have come to a better understanding of both themselves and abortion.
This book also includes stories of women who were pressured by others to abort and stories about abortions in cases of rape and incest, or other cases, such those involving a challenging medical diagnosis.
Because of their unique importance to the abortion debate, stories involving rape or incest were sought throughout the survey period. Because the goal was to let each woman describe her experience in her own words, very little editing was done to their stories, except to remove redundant passages.
The 20 testimonies in this book were divided into several categories, although most could have been placed in more than one category. These categories were used for the selected testimonies:
- Those women who felt pressured or coerced by others
- Those who were of a strong, feminist, “pro-choice” ideology and aborted with a firm belief that it was their legitimate right to do so
- Those who uncertainly underwent an abortion because it seemed the easiest solution for all the people involved
- Those who, in contrast to the previous group, made a clear and determined choice for abortion to satisfy their own needs
- Those who aborted because of “health” reasons, either to preserve their own health or to prevent the birth of an unhealthy baby
- Those who aborted because the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest
- Those whose abortions involved deception and/or coercion by abortion counselors or social workers
- Those who underwent illegal abortions before 1973 when abortion was legalized in America
The 20 stories in these categories all include common elements. Each describes the situation leading up to the abortion, how the decision was made, what feelings were experienced afterwards, and how feelings of guilt and remorse were finally resolved. This last point, the self-reconciliation of aborted women, is unique to this collection of abortion testimonies.
For most of these women, the discovery or renewal of their religious faith became the cornerstone around which they rebuilt their lives.
Many have publicly testified about their abortions. Others have shared their written testimony under an anonymous identity. For those who preferred to remain anonymous, it is evident that the anonymity was most often retained to preserve the privacy of others, often their parents or children, rather than to protect themselves. Whether they have gone public or remained anonymous, all of these women deserve our utmost respect and admiration for bravely sharing their stories.
It will become increasingly clear throughout this book that women faced with problem pregnancies often face coercion from loved ones or authorities who insist that abortion is “the best solution” to their problems. This pressure to abort may be done from a belief that such paternalistic care will be appreciated later on. In other cases, loved ones will push abortion not out of concern for her so much as out of concern for themselves. In either case, the woman who aborts suffers because it is not her own free choice. Those who feel compelled to compromise their own values to accommodate the demands of others may also suffer a loss of self-respect.
Perhaps the most powerful form of coercion which women face is the threat that their family or partner will withdraw love and support. For example, Sandra Morean was forced to choose between her husband and her unborn child:
The more I thought about being pregnant, I realized there was a life in me, and I wanted to give birth to it. But my husband told me, “Either you have an abortion, or I’ll leave you. You can raise it by yourself, because I don’t want any more children.” Not being strong enough to do what was right, and too afraid to go it alone, I gave in.
Another survey respondent describes the pressures she faced as coming from all directions. Sandra’s family said they would not support her decision to keep the baby. The baby’s father said he would give her 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. They said it would be detrimental to my career, and my health and that I would have no social life and no future with men. Could I actually do it alone? I started feeling like maybe I was crazy to keep it.
I finally told everyone that 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 inside feelings. I was scared to not do it because of how everyone 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.
Two days later this same woman attempted suicide. … These examples and the two profiles the follow demonstrate some of the forces that pressure women into having unwanted abortions. Coercion may come from the woman’s family, the baby’s father, physicians, welfare workers, or some other person with a measure of power and authority over their lives. Whatever the source of the pressure, these women feel that abortion was not really their choice. Whether it was out of misplaced trust, fear, a desire to please others or even because they were made to feel that they “owed” it to others who pressured them to “do the right thing,” they were unable to find a way to defend their own desires.
Excerpted from Aborted Women, Silent No More by David C. Reardon. Copyright 1987, 2002 David C. Reardon. Reprinted with permission.