This article originally appeared on the Alliance of Pro-Life Students (U.K.) blog and is reprinted with permission.
I’ve learned that the word ‘choice’ is often the last word a woman in a crisis pregnancy feels applies to her when she’s looking for an abortion. As I put down my mobile having spoken to yet another distraught woman for over an hour, I look at the time and realize it’s gone 10 pm. I yawn and stretch – it’s been another very long, emotionally draining day. I listen carefully to see if there’s anyone else upstairs who may have accidentally overheard my conversation. Thankfully, it appears not. The privacy of the woman I’ve been speaking to is crucial as she’s in an extraordinarily difficult situation and I’m one of only four people on the planet who currently knows she’s pregnant. Also, I’m staying with family members who don’t know I work with women seeking abortions.
It’s a difficult subject you see, and one that elicits extremely strong emotional reactions from almost everyone, whichever side of the debate they stand on. As someone who naturally tries to avoid confrontation at all costs, I find it very hard to explain to people that the majority of the “women in need” that I work with came to me wanting an abortion. My father, who does know, begged me to find some other charitable work: “Go and dig a well or something! No one can argue that that’s a good thing to do!” In some ways, I would love to. It would be a lot simpler and I would be significantly less of a social outcast. I’ve always been a good girl, and never felt remotely inclined to do anything controversial before. The thing is, having stepped into this strange, unseen world full of extraordinarily courageous women in the most difficult circumstances, with nowhere else to turn, I don’t think I will ever really leave.
Having worked with hundreds of women seeking abortions over the last few years, I’ve learned a great deal about life. As a recent article written by a trainee abortion doctor attests, “pregnancy at the wrong time, with the wrong person, or in the wrong situation, can be a very lonely and unsympathetic place to be.” I’ve spoken to women from every conceivable background, ages ranging from early teens to late 40s, and each has their own story explaining why they’re pregnant, and why they want an abortion. It is never a decision that is taken lightly, and there is always a very compelling reason why the woman is seeking an abortion. There is also an almost universal, overwhelming sense that they have “no choice” and that given the crisis they’re in, abortion is the only possible option. Far from empowered, this leaves most women I’ve spoken to feeling utterly wretched.
As an example, I have spoken to many women who are seeking an abortion because their boyfriend or husband wants them to. Some are have been married for years and already have “enough” children – their husband wants them to further their career rather than waste time and money on another baby. Some are very young, with a boyfriend who doesn’t feel he can commit financially or emotionally to supporting a child. A significant number of their partners are abusive and have threatened physical or psychological violence. Most were using contraception. Many are convinced that, although they would like to keep the baby, their partner will leave them if they do. Almost all feel that they have no choice, that abortion is the only answer.
Let’s look at the problem though. In a crisis pregnancy like those described above, the crisis is the situation that the woman is in, not the pregnancy. The crisis is the fact that her workplace is prejudiced against pregnant women, or that she feels she has to do what her partner says, or that she is not financially stable, or that her boyfriend won’t commit, or that she is in an abusive relationship, or that she is being threatened with homelessness. These are the crises, the pregnancy is simply acting as a magnifying glass, allowing us to see more clearly the problems that are already lurking. The pregnancy is not the crisis, and whilst stopping the pregnancy may mask the problems that it has highlighted, it will not stop them.
One woman I encountered spent the majority of the consultation sobbing, begging me to tell her boyfriend that she was not eligible for an abortion. She desperately wanted to keep her baby, but he had decided that she wasn’t going to. Despite being married to someone else, he was in control of her finances, her housing and her visa. She was completely dependent on him and he was physically and emotionally abusive. I told him that she was not eligible for an abortion so he grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the building. The fact that BPAS [British Pregnancy Advisory Service] performed an abortion on her later the same day is disgusting. In no way was her crisis solved by that abortion. Her child was forcibly removed against her will (even if she signed a consent form) because a man threatened the destruction of her life as she knew it. Silent complicity with abusive boyfriends is not what feminism has fought for.
I completely agree with the trainee abortion doctor when she says, “As long as unplanned pregnancy exists, we need to help women in this unfortunate situation, not harass them.” I cannot, however, agree that abortion is the way to do this. My job empowers women by giving them the chance to live independently, ultimately by their own means, away from the fear of abuse or judgement, be that by partners, parents, schools, jobs or other women asking why they didn’t exercise their “right to choose.” It gives them a real choice, where keeping the baby is a realistic option. It helps them escape the crisis that the pregnancy has bought into focus. Surely this should be the focus of society? Women in the 21st Century should not feel they have to enter this secret world where “their mistake” can be “fixed,” no questions asked. They should feel that those who are putting pressure on them will be held accountable and that they have control over their lives.
Their lives may not be easy, but I’ve never spoken to a woman who regretted keeping her child. Their smiles, and the smiles of their children, are the reason that despite everything I’m glad to have the privilege of answering my phone so late at night. In the short term, abortion may appear to “improve life and prevent harm,” but however difficult and unpopular it is to say it, abortion is not the answer. Stop the crisis, not the pregnancy.
The Alliance of Pro-Life Students is run by students and recent graduates for students, with a “mission to build university pro-life communities in England, Scotland and Wales that have a lasting and profound respect for human life from fertilization to natural death. [They] do this by building, supporting and connecting student pro-life societies.” This article originally appeared on their site and is reprinted with permission.
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Special Report on Coercion in the Abortion Industry
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Conscience Leads to More Complete Support for Women
“This Wasn’t Really Counseling At All:” Raising Questions About “Choice” and Pre-Abortion Counseling
Disclosure and Coercion: Concealing Relevant Information Is “An Act of Coercion”
Forced to Abort? Don’t Count on Clinics to Help
In the Name of “Choice,” Women Have Lost True Choice
Understanding the Flaws in the British Abortion Laws