Women Who’ve Been There Say Abortion Doesn’t Help, Causes More Harm
The New York Times recently ran a profile in their op-ed section on Willie Parker, an abortionist who recently published a book on his work and who claims to perform abortions as a result of his “Christian” beliefs. The article ends with a disturbing story:
In another case, a 12-year-old girl was with her mother in the waiting room of an abortion clinic in Alabama. When the mother stepped outside to smoke, another patient tried to offer maternal guidance and steer the girl away from boys. “Who were you messing with?” the woman asked. “Don’t you know not to go around with those boys?”
“He isn’t a boy,” the girl replied. “He’s 53 and he’s my daddy.”
Nicholas Kristof, the author of The New York Times piece, doesn’t mention what happened to that girl or if the case was reported to the police — ending the article by simply saying, “Dr. Parker reminds us that abortion is complicated. And that is why, in my view, we need choice.”
But the story is even more troubling in light of another incident Parker recounts in his book (and which did not appear in the article), involving a young woman who was also pregnant as a result of incest. As described by LiveAction News, at the time Parker was working in Alabama at a medical clinic that did not perform abortions. He writes of a young patient:
[She was] a young woman, 18 or 19 years old… This woman had become pregnant through incest by her father, a very controlling, overbearing –- and religious –- man. She was Latina, from a family of migrant workers, raised in a community defined by patriarchal hierarchy. Because she was not a minor or dependent, I had no legal duty to report this tragic situation, and I knew enough about her cultural context to understand that involving law enforcement without her consent could make this woman’s daily circumstances even worse. In an extreme sense, this woman was doing what was expected of her, which was to live in her father’s house until she moved, ultimately, into her husband’s… I referred her to the closest clinic I could, which was about 50 miles away, but I remember thinking that if I had the skills to do her abortion, I would do it, right then and there.
Parker’s response to this horrific case was to refer the young woman for an abortion and not report the incident or apparently seek other help, allowing her father to continue preying on her. Apparently Parker — along with many others — believes that abortion is the answer for this young woman and others women and girls in similar situations.
However, abortion does nothing to help in such situations — and in fact may make things even worse.
Abortion Doesn’t Help, Say Women Who’ve Been There
Research suggests that abortion carries greater physical and psychological risks for rape and incest victims than does continuing the pregnancy — something that has been attested to by women and girls who have been there.
- Nearly 80 percent of the women who aborted a pregnancy conceived in sexual assault reported that abortion had been the wrong solution.
- Most women who had abortions said that abortion only increased the trauma they were experiencing.
- In many cases, the victim faced strong pressure or demands to abort and in some cases, especially those involving teenage girls, was even forced to have the abortion by others.
- In almost all the cases where the victim became pregnant through incest, abortion was chosen by the perpetrator to cover up the incest and the victim rarely, if ever, had a say in the matter.
- None of the women who gave birth to a child conceived in sexual assault expressed regret or wished they had aborted instead.
Further, studies that examine risk factors for psychological problems after abortion have found that adolescents, women with a history of sexual assault or abuse, and those who have moral or religious beliefs against abortion — including strong concerns about secrecy and feelings of shame or stigma attached to the abortion — are all more likely to have difficulty coping after abortion. Other risk factors that might apply in such cases include feeling pressured to have the abortion, feeling that the decision is not her own or is her only choice, a lack of social support or support from one’s family, prior emotional or psychiatric problems or unresolved trauma, and having an abortion in the second or third trimester.
Teens are six times more likely to commit suicide after abortion than are adult women who abort, and more likely to have other emotional and physical complications. In fact, large-scale record based studies that have been carried out over the years in three different countries — the U.S., Finland and Denmark — all found that women who underwent abortions had a higher death rate, including higher rates of suicide, in the following years compared to women who gave birth.
The best available evidence, therefore, contradicts the claim that abortion is helpful or necessary for women or girls who become pregnant as a result of rape. On the other hand, not a single study has shown that abortion is beneficial to women.
Who’s Making the Choice?
All of this leads to a question that needs to be — but is usually not — asked: who is really making the choice for abortion: the pregnant girl or woman, or those around her?
The Victims and Victors survey found that in many of the cases where the pregnancy was aborted, the women reported feeling pressured by their families, friends, doctors and counselors to undergo an abortion they didn’t really want.
Many who become pregnant through rape do not, in fact, undergo abortions. According to the best study of the incidence rate of rape pregnancies in the United States, there are approximately 32,101 women who become pregnant following rape each year. Approximately 12,230 of these rape victims continue the pregnancy. Another 3,790 have spontaneous miscarriages. Only half of those becoming pregnant through rape end up having an abortion.
It is especially appalling that abortion is often used as a tool to allow the abuser to cover up and even continue his crimes. For example, in 2002 a judge found a Planned Parenthood affiliate in Arizona negligent for failing to report a case in which a 13-year-old girl was impregnated and taken for an abortion by her 23-year-old foster brother. The abortion business did not notify authorities until the girl returned six months later for a second abortion. A lawsuit alleged that the girl was subjected to repeated abuse and a second abortion because Planned Parenthood failed to notify authorities when she had her first abortion. The girl’s foster brother was later imprisoned for abusing her. Another such case happened in India in February 2015 when a teenage girl died, allegedly after being forced by her attacker to swallow an abortion pill. Numerous other cases have also been reported in the news media (see more cases here).
In Victims and Victors, Edith Young, who had been forced to abort at the age of 12 after becoming pregnant by her stepfather, wrote:
Throughout the years I have been depressed, suicidal, furious, outraged, lonely, and have felt a sense of loss. …
Even if my daughter had been put up for adoption, instead of killed, some of the pain would not be present. Often I cry. Cry because I could not stop the attacks. Cry because my daughter is dead. And I cry because it still hurts. They say time heals all wounds. This is true. But it doesn’t heal the memories, at least not for me.
… The abortion which was to “be in my best interest” just has not been. As far as I can tell, it only saved their reputations, solved their problems, and allowed their lives to go merrily on. … My daughter, how I miss her so. I miss her regardless of the reason for her conception. … Problems are not ended by abortion, but only made worse.
Providing Real Help and Hope, Not Abortion
In 1979, Dr. Sandra Mahkorn carried out the first published study (and even today, one of the few studies ever done) of the experiences of women who became pregnant as a result of sexual assault. She found that most of the women she surveyed stated that their primary problem was the need to confront and deal with “feelings or issues related to the rape experience,” although a significant minority (19 percent) placed primary emphasis on the need to confront and explore feelings about the pregnancy, including feelings of “resentment,” “hostility toward the child,” and “denial of the . . . pregnancy.”
When asked what conditions or situations made it most difficult for them to continue the pregnancy, most women responded that it was social pressure—the opinions, attitudes, and beliefs of others about the sexual assault and pregnancy. Reasons included “family pressure [to abort],” “attitudes of boyfriends,” and the belief that “people will not believe that she was raped or that it could have been prevented.”
Though some women initially felt angry with the unborn child because of the attack, Mahkorn found that these women consistently had more positive attitudes as the pregnancy progressed. The overwhelming majority of the women had a better self-image and a positive view of the child by the time of delivery. None of the women displayed more negative attitudes, a fact which prompted Dr. Mahkorn to write:
The belief that pregnancy following rape will emotionally and psychologically devastate the victim reflects the common misconception that women are helpless creatures who must be protected from the harsh realities of the world . . . [This study illustrates] that pregnancy need not impede the victim’s resolution of the trauma; rather, with loving support, nonjudgmental attitudes, and empathic communication, healthy emotional and psychological responses are possible despite the added burden of pregnancy.
She went on to note:
Perhaps as a result of their own biases and an unwillingness to deal with the more emotionally difficult complications of a pregnant rape victim, many physicians suggest abortion in this case as one would prescribe aspirin for a tension headache . . . While on the surface this “suggestion” may appear acceptable and even “humane” to many, the victim is dealt another disservice. Such condescending [“quick-fix”] attitudes on the part of physicians, friends and family can only serve to reaffirm the sense of helplessness and vulnerability that was so violently conveyed in the act of sexual assault itself. At a time when she is struggling to regain her sense of self-esteem, such a “take charge” attitude can be especially damaging. Often the offer of such “quick and easy” solutions as abortion only serves those who are uncomfortable or unwilling to deal with the special problems and needs that such complications as pregnancy might present.
. . . [The] attitudes projected by others and not the pregnancy itself pose the central problem for the pregnant victim.
By no means am I attempting to conclude that pregnancy as a result of rape is a simple matter. Such a conclusion would indeed be naive. This study does seem to suggest, however, that even though emotionally and psychologically difficult, these burdens can be lessened with proper support.
Mahkorn’s conclusions were echoed more recently by Dr. Ingrid Skop, a fellow with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, who had this to say about a case involving a 10-year-old girl who became pregnant as a result of incest:
As the mother of an 11-year-old daughter, I was saddened to hear of the 10-year-old girl in Paraguay who is pregnant as a result of incest. It is natural when one hears of such a tragic situation to want to reverse the clock and return her to her childhood innocence. But that is not possible. So the question should become, what should be done now?
As an obstetrician, I realize that pregnancy in such a young girl carries increased risk. Statistics tell us young teenagers are more likely to give birth prematurely, have a lower birth-weight baby, suffer from anemia, poor nutrition, and substance abuse, and are at higher risk for cesarean delivery.
Yet, the proposed alternative of terminating her pregnancy late in the second trimester (she is reportedly 22 weeks pregnant), also carries substantial risks. Abortion complications increase in number and severity as the pregnancy advances. Physical risks include infection, hemorrhage, perforation of the uterus leading to infertility, damage to the cervix leading to increased risk of subsequent premature delivery, and in rare cases, death.
Mental risks are difficult to quantify, and a young girl who is the victim of incest is likely to suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress regardless of the pregnancy outcome. While she may not be fully aware of the long-term implications of carrying a pregnancy to term, she undoubtedly understands that it is a baby she carries inside her body. By the mid second-trimester she can feel its kicks. Young girls usually love babies, and to forcibly terminate the baby growing inside her body is likely to cause severe emotional trauma. Conversely, to allow her to carry the baby to term is likely to provide some comfort, because some good has come out of her difficult situation.
Too often on the abortion issue we are given false choices. The choice in this situation is not solely between an abortion or a dangerous delivery. Since she has come to international attention, I am sure that there would be those willing to provide care and comfort to this young girl if she wants to continue her pregnancy. With social support, good nutrition, and prenatal care, the odds are great that she will remain healthy as she delivers a healthy baby. An open adoption might allow the girl to maintain a relationship with the child, who is also a victim of the crime of incest.
The sexual abuse of women and girls is a worldwide problem. Sadly, when a victim of rape or incest becomes pregnant, instead of receiving real help with the goal of helping her heal from the trauma, she is often encouraged or even forced to abort — often to cover up and continue the abuse. Abortion advocates and some “human rights” groups have used the cases of pregnant victims to demand that countries overturn their abortion laws. But abortion will do nothing to help the already traumatized victims, and can only cause additional harm.
In the book Victims and Victors, one of the survivors, Jackie, wrote:
I soon discovered that the aftermath of my abortion continued a long time after the memory of my rape had faded. I felt empty and horrible. Nobody told me about the pain I would feel deep within causing nightmares and deep depressions. They had all told me that after the abortion I could continue my life as if nothing had happened.
Wiping out the pregnancy is a way of hiding what happened, a “quick and easy” way to avoid dealing with the survivor’s true emotional, social and financial needs. As Kathleen wrote:
I, having lived through rape, and also having raised a child “conceived in rape,” feel personally assaulted and insulted every time I hear that abortion should be legal because of rape and incest. I feel that we’re being used by pro-abortionists to further the abortion issue, even though we’ve not been asked to tell our side of the story.
Learn more about women’s efforts to have their voices heard, here.
Abortion and Sexual Assault Pregnancy
Rape, Incest and Abortion: Searching Beyond the Myths
Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions and Children Resulting From Sexual Assault
Special Report on Sexual Assault Pregnancy and Abortion
Rape Hurt My Mother, But Abortion Devastated Her
I Was 17, Drugged and Raped … But Abortion Wasn’t Best for Me
Women Who Have Experienced Pregnancy From Sexual Assault Say “Ask Us”
Suicide, Higher Death Rates and Other Problems
Higher Death Rates After Abortion Found in U.S., Finland and Denmark
Women’s Suicide Rates Higher After Abortion: New Study
Most Studies Show Abortion Linked to Increased Mental Health Problems
Study Finds Abortion Provides No Mental Health Benefits to Women, Even When Pregnancy is Unwanted
Congressional Hearing on Abortion’s Link to Suicide and Mental Illness Needed
Choices4Life (support for those pregnant as a result of rape or incest)
Pregnancy Help and Resources
Pregnancy Help Worldwide
Center Against Forced Abortions (legal help for those being pressured or forced to abort)
Help & Healing After Abortion
Help After Abortion Worldwide
2. “Planned Parenthood Found Negligent in Reporting Molested Teen’s Abortion,” Pro-Life Infonet, attributed to Associated Press; Dec. 26, 2002.
3. Sandra Kathleen Mahkorn, M.D. and William V. Dolan, M.D., “Sexual Assault and Pregnancy,” in Thomas Hilgers, Dennis Horan, and David Mall, New Perspectives on Human Abortion (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1981), 191.