Spend enough time outside your local abortion clinic, and you’ll see them: protesters, most of them men, holding signs of supposedly aborted fetuses. They plead with women to not abort their “babies.” They offer the laughable support of baby clothes, but never offer real financial assistance or express a willingness to adopt unwanted babies. They yell at women who go through with the procedure. They ditch women who back out, consistently opposing governmental policies that might offer real support to women with unwanted pregnancies.
Researchers have documented the right’s lies about abortion over and over. One of the most pernicious is the lie of post-abortion trauma. Women who seek abortions are not traumatized en masse. And when they do feel trauma, it’s often due to the tactics the right employs to “protect” women seeking abortions. Anti-choicers have created teh very trauma they decry. It’s just one more indication that their opposition to abortion has nothing whatsoever to do with protecting women.
It’s no accident that the right uses graphic images of allegedly aborted fetuses. The goal is to shame women considering abortions and guilt those who have already had them. It’s a tactic that works. Women struggling with depression and guilt may believe these images represent the fetuses they aborted. In most cases, the images are of babies much larger than those that could be legally aborted, contributing to the myth that abortion kills large, living, feeling beings.
Creating Shame and Grief
The most common emotion women report feeling after an abortion is relief. Ninety percent of women express sentiments of relief in the week following a pregnancy termination. But research suggests that state abortion laws requiring waiting periods and pre-abortion counseling increase shame. This reduces women’s feelings of relief, and can cause them to feel guilty following an abortion. This is a deliberate attempt by the right to punish women for undergoing abortions. This guilt and shame is totally unnecessary. It’s not a natural result of abortion. It’s a byproduct of the culture wars.
The Abortion Salvation Narrative
Spend enough time at a far right church, and you’ll eventually hear the same tired abortion narrative: a “troubled” woman (she’s always troubled; normal women don’t have abortions) sough an abortion. She was ravaged by grief and guilt for years. Then finally, she found Jesus. He saved and forgave her, and the congregation embraced her. Good for her. Women deserve to embrace whatever narratives about their own lives that they wish.
The trouble with this particular narrative is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. A stigma against talking about abortion means that women rarely hear positive abortion stories. They only hear the tragic tales anti-choice zealots weave. So they think it’s natural to grieve and feel bad. Those who don’t may think there’s something wrong with them. And those who do feel mixed or negative emotions may think it’s because there was something wrong with the choice they made.
Abortion Trauma: Is it Real?
Studies have repeatedly debunked the notion of post-abortion syndrome. But women can and do experience trauma related to their abortions. Some women seek abortions under duress. Others have abortions because, under policies supported by anti-choice Republicans, they can’t afford to have babies. And yes, some women grow to regret their abortions.
Does this mean abortion should be illegal, or that it’s inherently traumatic? Of course not. Some women regret becoming mothers. As many as 20% develop depression after having a child. Yet anti-choicers don’t argue that pregnancy should be banned.
The trauma some women experience after abortion is a direct result of the cultural milieu in which abortion exists. Pro-choicers do little to actually support women, arguing that abortion is a tragic decision that should be rare. Anti-choicers are there to fill in the gaps. They tell women to grieve for their “babies” for the rest of their lives. They instruct them that they must redeem themselves for their sinful decisions. They tell tales of women ravaged by the pain of abortion. And they never mention the flip side: that women denied abortions have worse outcomes, and that pregnancy has always been more dangerous for women than abortion.