With regularity I speak unashamedly about the sexual abuse I endured as a teen resulting in pregnancy and abortion at age 14, which often provides opportunities to meet people with a wide array of experiences surrounding unplanned pregnancy, abortion, and those who have strong emotions and opinions regarding both sides of the abortion debate. I want to share some of what I have learned and experienced so we can consider ways of being truly compassionate and helpful to women and babies who are not in ideal circumstances. Pro-lifers think pro-choicers do not care about babies, and pro-choicers believe that pro-lifers don't care about women. While those generalizations may be true of some, I haven't found either to be true of the general population; both sides of this hotly debated topic are filled with people concerned for others who are suffering and struggling.
In the United States, three legal options are available to every woman with an unplanned pregnancy: parent, adopt or abort. Each option has immeasurable, life-long consequences for both parent and child and each warrant ample discussion. Today, I am specifically meandering the road of abortion so that we, pro-choicers and pro-lifers, can be supportive and helpful rather than unknowingly hurtful to those facing a very difficult decision. The terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice" will be used as they pertain specifically to abortion.
In this article, I will discuss the who, how, and what of unplanned pregnancy resulting in abortion:
- WHO is most likely to choose abortion?
- HOW is abortion affecting individuals and the collective whole?
- WHAT is a truly compassionate response to those considering or have already had an abortion?
My first and hopefully most prominent statement - Thank you for loving and caring for women. Thank you for loving and caring for children. Thank you from the depth of my being.
(Transparency: Before reading further, please feel free to evaluate the reports I have used for citing statistics. I have done a great deal of research to provide the most accurate and transparent information as possible that does not originate from pro-life or pro-choice organizations. The Guttmacher Institute (GI), whose research is cited in this article, was historically associated with the Planned Parenthood Federation of American but claims to have had very limited connection since 2007 and zero since 2013. I found the practices used for the GI studies cited in this article to be "good and standard" research.)
WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO CHOOSE ABORTION?
There is no national requirement for data submission or reporting, therefore abortion data submission is voluntary and is not representative of all abortions. Of the data available, abortion numbers for the United States have been on a slow decline for several years (24% decline from 2006 to 2015 1).
Discussing "who is most likely to choose abortion" is not for the sake of condemning but for understanding if certain groups are dominating the statistics and why. Abortion seekers in the U.S. are predominantly:
- Christian/Catholic (54% of all abortions 2)
- Low Income (75% of abortions are to those with low-income; 49% below the poverty level and 26% at 100-199% of the poverty level 2)
- Black/African American (almost 4x likely to have an abortion that white women... more details in next section 1)
- 20-24 years old (31.1% of all abortions 1)
- Single/not-living with partner (55% of abortion patients are single/not living with partner; an additional 31% are cohabitating 2)
Well reported and accurate data regarding the "why" women are choosing abortion is very rare, but probably the most highly quoted report is from the Guttmacher Institute in 2004 4. Summary of the results:
- "Feeling hopeless" was not an available option on the Guttmacher survey, but in almost all cases feeling hopeless regarding a baby coming into their given circumstances was the reason chosen for the abortion, such as not being able to afford childcare, unable to take time off work, an unstable relationship, or not feeling mature enough to raise a child.
- Shame over having sex outside of marriage and not wanting others to know ranked almost equally as high.
- Feeling pressured by a partner/parent and health of the mother or fetus was noted much less frequently as well as incest and rape which were only reported to be the reason in <0.5% and 1% of the cases, respectively. But if the abuser or the person pressuring the woman is standing over her shoulder, how likely is a woman to check that box?
I have spoken personally with 100+ post abortive women, and, in my experience, women who are several years post-abortive express different reasons for the abortion than they would have when the abortion took place. For example, a 17 year old girl filling out the "why" form while sitting next to her mom or the clinic counselor at the abortion clinic will likely check "Not mature enough", "it will interfere with my education", and "I can't afford the baby" because that may be the narrative told to her over and over in the days leading up to the abortion or because she is trying to convince herself of the logical choice. The young woman "adopts" the mantra trying to build courage to proceed with the abortion. In hindsight, years later the woman realizes she felt pressured directly or indirectly to choose abortion.
"Shame" and "feeling pressured" are definitely the highest-ranking reasons I hear from women several years post-abortive. While pro-lifers are predominantly Christian, they also lead the ranks in choosing abortion most frequently due to "shame" or "feeling pressured". Women from Christian homes repeatedly tell me their parents said things such as, "You will no longer be in our family if you have this baby", "I won't let some stranger raise your baby, and you're too young to raise a baby properly... so you know what you have to do", "What will people think of me if they find out your pregnant", or "I'll lose my [job/ministry/etc.] if people know". Many unmarried, college-aged Christians never share their pregnancy news with their parents because they assume their parents will be catastrophically disappointed.
Based on statistics and my experience, those choosing abortion often do so due to their (mostly temporary) circumstances and because they feel shame and/or pressure - which means abortion wasn't a choice of empowerment, but instead it was chosen based on feelings of hopelessness.
HOW IS ABORTION AFFECTING INDIVIDUALS AND THE COLLECTIVE WHOLE?
Decisions we make every day, including ways in which we face unplanned pregnancy, can have a profound, direct impact on our life as well as collectively on our families, neighborhoods, nation and world - and not just for today but for many generations to come. It is important to evaluate the data/trends so that we can adjust as needed rather than blindly moving forward. For example, in regards to adoption there has been a huge shift toward open adoptions and honesty with adoptees because lying to adoptees about their adoption status caused unnecessary emotional pain and suffering. It is imperative to continually evaluate if we are getting the desired outcome and make further adjustments as needed because adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents all matter. These types of evaluations are necessary for the abortion option as well.
Implications for the Whole
If you are pro-woman, pro-civil rights, pro-anybody who is often undervalued and over-looked, abortion statistics are alarming both in the U.S. and around the world. Whether intentional or not, there are very serious systemic inequities tied to the abortion industry.
Let's discuss race: The rate of abortion for black women is way out of proportion than any other race in America. For example:
- On average in the U.S., 108 abortions occur for every 1,000 live births for white women; it is almost 4x that amount for black women (403 abortions/1,000 live births) 1.
- In some locations, such as New York County (borough of Manhattan), the number of abortions for black women is even greater than the number of children being born alive (1,089 abortions/1000 live births for black women in 2017 and was 1,886 abortions/1000 live births at its peak in the last 10 years). New York City as has averaged 1144 abortions/1000 live births for black women in the last 10 years versus 307 abortions/1000 live births for white women. While there has been a 63% decline in the statistics for white women in this 10 year period in NYC, it has only decreased 29% for black women 3.
- The statistics for Hispanic women are not quite as daunting, but they are (nationally) almost 1.5 times as likely to have an abortion as white women 1.
Thankfully what is happening in New York City is not the norm, but at what level do we consider the discrepancy to be "fine"? I can't stand this; I don't want this… this is not compassionate, this is horrifying. I'm crying as I'm writing this... I deeply value the strength, beauty, intelligence, and goodness of black lives and culture in America. I believe you do, too, and that's why I bring this information to light because I believe we all want more for our country than to diminish such a valuable part of it.
Let's discuss gender: The sex-at-birth (SAB) ratio, without any type of intervention is around 105 males/100 females (103-107 males/100 females may be considered normal). Throughout the world, these numbers stayed incredibly consistent until the late 1970's, when the ratio began more highly favoring males in many countries, most specifically in south and east Asia (See Table 1). In 1970, there were only 2 countries with higher than the typical SAB of 107 male/100 females, but by 2000 the number skyrocketed to 14 countries above the typical SAB (meaning many more boys being born than girls) 5. Though many studies have been completed, there is no clear evidence of biological factors for so many more boys being born than girls. On the other hand, there is very strong evidence that highly skewed SAB ratios are largely the result of prenatal gender discrimination and selective abortion ("Gender Ratio" by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser unbiasedly summarized important data and studies on this topic).
TABLE 1: SEX-AT-BIRTH (SAB) RATIOS - SEVERAL COUNTRIES WITH VERY HIGH MALE RATIOS 5
While the ultrasound was invented in the 1950's, it didn't become widely used in hospitals in many countries until the late 1970's, and became routine in maternity clinics by the end of the 20th century. Basically, if technology reveals the baby's gender to be female in many countries, then the pregnancy has a much higher likelihood of being terminated. Several countries now ban gender revealing because of the severe discrepancy of males to females at birth. The ratios within the U.S. have remained relatively stable, and data is very limited regarding gender of the fetus being aborted and SABs of the mother's origin. One report published in 2005 by the National Vital Statists (CDC) reported in the U.S. the SAB is higher for women who originated in south and east Asia than women who were considered white, black, American Indian, etc., but only Japan was above the "norm" at 109 males/females 6. These numbers indicate that gender-based selective abortion may still be occurring in the U.S., but due to the large number of abortions happening earlier in the pregnancy before the gender reveal and with women who are predominantly white or black, it is too difficult to determine without more data.
It has been a valiant and necessary effort to promote the value of women all across the world because women have been, and in many cases are still, mistreated and have no voice. It seems that as some cultures have begun to adopt abortion as one of the rights of women, that same right is used against them to discriminate and reduce the very people we are trying to protect. Unfortunately in many of these cultures, even women feel having a boy is of greater value and choose to abort female babies, even illegally. The reasons a mother may prefer a boy in these cultures may be motivated by social factors (family values her only if she births a boy), economical factors (a boy can earn income for the family while a girl's family may require a hefty dowry to be married off), or self-preservation (boys and their wives take care of the parents later in life). In China, the "one child" law (which is now relaxed) caused parents to feel incredible pressure for their only child to be male, which has had alarming implications for them. It is estimated that as of 2015, 1.69million females were aborted throughout the world due to prenatal gender discrimination 7.
Implications for Babies
For those who believe life begins at conception, the effect of abortion on the baby is brutal and permanent. For my pro-choice friends, even if you vehemently disagree that life begins at conception, please consider how horrified you would feel if you saw or even knew someone who was brutally murdered, especially an innocent infant. This is what it is like for a pro-lifer... it is disturbing and horrifying beyond all they can imagine.
Implications for Women
For women, there are potentially short and long-term physiological and emotional/psychological effects of abortion, but studies vary on results. Many studies have produced one common result - women often feel a great deal of relief shortly after the abortion. From there, the studies get murky. Many studies suggest long-term psychological impacts such as regret, anger, nightmares, relationship issues, suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, and increased risk for addiction, but often these studies are sponsored by pro-life agenda groups leading some to question the validity. One highly quoted study that followed women from the time of the abortion to years later suggests women rarely feel long-term remorse and are more successful after abortion, but the drop-out rate in this study was very high. Without any information as to why so many participants dropped out of the study, this data is not a reliable source because it could be that those who were struggling with depression, guilt or regret decided to not continue with the study.
Of the many post-abortive women I have spoken to through the years, almost all carry some, or many, of the symptoms mentioned in the former studies. Only two women expressed no regrets or psychological affects years later. One of the two women returned later to convey that while she didn't think much about her two abortions, apparently her body did. On the dates of her abortions every year she would get sick and require medical attention even though she is a physically healthy woman. After making the connection, she sought help and began to dig into the psychological affects of the abortion and is now relieved of the physical symptoms. She believes she was in denial about the emotional pain she was experiencing, which was leading to physical pain. Now that leaves me with only one woman who expressed no short or long-term implications of her abortion.
This doesn't mean every single woman who chooses abortion has long-term regret or psychological impacts, but these impacts are seemingly common and therefore worth discussion because women are valuable and deserve emotional health. But, to my pro-life friends, we should not be quick to assume that if the choice of abortion were removed and a woman chooses life or adoption for her child that she won't experience difficulty or some of these same emotional traumas - every choice comes with difficulty.
Many support abortion specifically for those who have been raped or molested. Sexual violence is a nightmare, and dragging it out for nine months of pregnancy and for a lifetime seems like added cruelty. As a person who was in this position at 14 years old, may I personally say "thank you" for empathizing with me and others who have had this experience. Have you ever asked a woman who has been in that position if she feels like abortion is a healthy option? One incredibly compelling book is "Victims and Victors" by David Reardon (Acorn Books, 2000), where 192 victims who experienced pregnancy as a result of rape or incest got to speak for themselves.
Almost all the women interviewed in the survey who chose abortion for their baby conceived via rape and incest said they regretted it, and more than 90% would discourage other victims of sexual violence from having an abortion. Among women profiled that carried to term, not one expressed regret about her choice. While there are some difficult long-term implications to every choice available to a woman when pregnant, it appears that regret does not typically accompany women who choose to carry the baby while it almost always does with those who choose to abort - even for rape and incest victims.
When I was 14 years old and walked into a clinic pregnant, not one person, including my parents, ever asked me how my child was conceived and if I needed help. Everyone assumed I had made a questionable choice (and I had made many bad choices that had depleted my parents trust, so I understand why they made the assumption). I so often wonder, how many times has violence been covered-up by trying to "erase" the evidence? The abortion covered the crime of my abuser, and being young and scared I had no voice or words to bring it to the table without being asked directly. After the abortion, I was left with two great sufferings rather than one. I had more nightmares about the abortion than I had about the sexual violence. I have almost never thought of my abuser without also thinking about the abortion, the trauma, the table, the doctor, the sounds, the blood, … the baby. Every routine trip to the gynecologist triggers memories of the abortion and the abuse. Interestingly, on a very similar table I have given birth to a healthy baby boy and a stillborn baby, but laying on that table rarely triggers memories of either of those events - only the abortion and the abuse. Because I have received a great deal of support and healing these triggers no longer define or control me, but they still exists and still bring grief.
WHAT IS A TRULY COMPASSIONATE RESPONSE?
So what should we do with this information? We could spend a great deal of time discussing governmental policies, but, instead, I am going to focus primarily on ideas for being truly compassionate on a more personal level. To be truly compassionate means providing "help that helps" not "help that hurts". Some ideas presented here are for everyone, but some will be more directed to either those who are pro-life and others toward those who are pro-choice.
Set pride aside.
This is mostly to my fellow Christians, though it is applicable to everyone. The language you use with your child when discussing sex and unplanned pregnancy, long before unplanned pregnancy occurs, will impact their decision to confide in you if an unplanned pregnancy occurs. Speak out of truth and love rather than condemnation and hopelessness. Instead of "If you get pregnant, it'll screw everything up" or "Boy, if you ever get a girl pregnant, you'll be on your own", consider "Pregnancy outside of marriage can be really difficult and it will require a lot of sacrifice for everyone. If this ever happens, please come tell us so we can work through it together."
If your child ever announces an unplanned pregnancy, remember this doesn't mean you are a bad parent; it doesn't mean your child is doomed; it doesn't mean the Christian world will hate you (and for those that do - you need them out of your life anyway), and it certainly hasn't changed God's perspective of you or your child. He already knew this was coming. Here is a solid first response: First, hug her just like you did when she was five years old - I mean really tight and don't let go. Tell her, even if it's through tears, "Thank you for telling me. I love you so much. Let me have a little time and then lets talk some more. Before I go, can you please tell me are you in a safe situation - has anyone hurt you or are your feeling pressured by anyone?" After parting ways, pray your guts out, cry, scream, punch a pillow, then immediately call a third party that has a strong faith, loves you and can help you keep your eyes planted on Jesus rather than all the evoked fears. Let this approach drive your follow-up conversations with your child. So many parents try to hide the situation, which perpetuates Satan's lies and the shame/suffering.
Consider Proverbs 16:19, "First pride, then the crash - the bigger the ego, the harder the fall." Approach these situations with a great deal of humility and trust in the Creator so that your relationship with your child will not be hindered and so that together you can think more clearly about the next right thing in regards to the unplanned pregnancy. Christians must stop making up the majority of the abortion statistics while also being the ones who fight loudest against the legality of it.
Love the people long before and after the crisis pregnancy.
There is a huge distaste for Planned Parenthood and similar organizations in the pro-life community due to the number of referred and performed abortions; they prefer, instead, for women to reach out to crisis pregnancy centers which provide some very valuable resources for pregnant woman (e.g. ultrasounds, maternity clothes, parenting classes, baby items, adoption referrals). But here's the thing - Planned Parenthood meets a need that is otherwise unmet. Impoverished and higher than average minority communities often have little access to good health services, and based on the 2010 census, 79% of surgical Planned Parenthood facilities are within a 2 mile walking radius of a black or latino neighborhood (defined as more than 1.5% the number of black or latinos in the surrounding community) 8. This means that Planned Parenthood has a relationship developed with the women long before the crisis pregnancy because they are providing women with medical care beyond abortions.
If we want to be helpful and compassionate toward those with unplanned pregnancy, let's also support the eradication of health disparities in these communities; the disparities are real and consequential - it's not just affecting pregnant women. It's affecting every person in that demographic from before birth to often untimely deaths. In Tulsa, OK, one such organization is Crossover Health Services, which provides a holistic approach and quality medical care for the community ("General Care", "Women's Health" and "Pediatric Care"); they even host youth and adult sports leagues!
The more we love women and the children they've given life to, the more likely it is that on-looking women with unplanned pregnancies will have confidence to choose life even if their circumstances are not ideal. Be supportive of opportunities to improve their difficult circumstances such as being generous with our time and money to organizations that assist with education, food, housing, domestic violence, etc., or, on a more personal note, offer babysitting to single parents, help with school supplies, cook a meal for an overwhelmed parent, be a "grandparent" or "aunt/uncle" figure. If you have the means, blow their mind by giving something extravagant such as paying for a house cleaner twice a month, providing them with reliable transportation or paying for tuition to college or trade school. If you had a child outside of ideal circumstances, share your testimonies of encouragement if possible. You don't have to do all of these things, but consider doing something for single-parent families.
Remember the old saying, "it takes a village to raise a child"? Show the world that the "village" still exists and is ready to come alongside. Let's spend less time raising our voices and blood pressure in heated discussions and more time loving our neighbors well.
Abortion is a choice, but stop acting like it is a great choice.
Using plastics for everything has been convenient and seemingly helpful in many ways, yet now, years later, we see the actual costs more clearly. Abortion is similar in some ways. On pro-choice websites, the statistic is often touted "Millions of women face unplanned pregnancy every year, and 4 out of 10 choose abortion," almost as if to say, "See, everyone is doing it. This many people wouldn't be doing it if it were horrible, right?"
The statistics are in... there are many women choosing abortion, but the cost to them and society is high. If you support a woman's right to choose, consider these ideas in order to be truly compassionate:
- Supporting a woman's right to choose does not have to be equivalent to abortion being "no big deal". The abortion option is touted as a "women's health issue", so be honest about how abortion may affect a woman's physical and mental health, which in turn can affect her and all her relationships for a lifetime. For years, the medical industry thought it would best to take a stillborn child away from parents before they had the opportunity to see and hold the child because if they didn't see him/her then it would be as if the child didn't exist and everything would be "fine". Well, it wasn't fine. Abortion is not an easy solution to a difficult problem - it comes with many consequences. Also, to pretend like it is "no big deal" can hinder a traumatized, post-abortive woman from seeking help. Why does there need to be treatment for people who did something as common as going to church on Sunday?
- Treat the other options with respect. Abortion is often treated as a noble choice, whereas a mother who chooses adoption is said to have "given her baby up." This language subconsciously affects women to think of adoption as an abysmal choice because "what type of person would give her baby away?" Instead we can use supportive, uncondemning language such as "choosing adoption" or "placing baby for adoption."
- We can empathize with the difficulties a woman with an unplanned pregnancy is facing while also acting as a sounding board of discernment between temporary versus permanent circumstances. So often women have long-term regret because they made a permanent, irreversible decision based on fleeting circumstances.
- Promoting legal and social equality for women does not have to be to the detriment of men. We have cried out for years for men to play a healthy and crucial role in parenting, yet when it comes to their unborn child we want them to be quiet. I recently interviewed a man who grieved silently for 20 years after his girlfriend miscarried and then aborted the twin. He didn't feel a "right" to voice his grief.
- Simply put, we must be honest about the racial and gender genocide that is happening through the abortion option. Why do the statistics lean so heavily in America toward Black Americans and in other countries toward female fetuses? I have some hypotheses, but today I'm just asking you to consider, are you, and is our society, okay with this?
Don't let fear drive your behavior.
Here are the biggest fears I see driving damaging behaviors in regards to abortion:
For pro-choice individuals, there seems to be a fear of going back to the way things used to be in regards to how women are viewed and treated if we admit to the horrifying realities of abortion, as if to say, "since we were wrong about abortion, then the whole nation will think we were wrong regarding the value of women." Instead of spending a vast amount of time, energy and resources trying to progress and promote abortion, let's use our resources on things that will bring out the best in women rather than putting them in a more difficult place.
For pro-life individuals, fear and sheer panic over the loss of life for babies tempts us to completely shut out other valuable lives that are standing in front of us. Shutting-down the voices of those giving birth to these precious little lives, in turn, can cause feelings of anger, worthlessness, lack of capability, etc., making abortion a more likely choice. Let's love these women extravagantly. We can still be a voice for these little ones that have no voice, but it should never be apart from loving the women who give them life.
You may be wondering if I am pro-choice or pro-life. Before I give more definition to my beliefs, I need to make clear that no matter the "category" I fall into, neither pro-choicers nor pro-lifers are my enemy. I hope you feel the same. Rather than putting a label on myself, here are a few statements regarding my beliefs:
- I believe life begins at conception, therefore, I don't think abortion is a good choice because a life is at stake.
- I value women to the deepest parts of my being and they are as valuable and as worthy as the babies I'm trying to protect. Therefore, it is incredibly important to seek solutions for the reasons women are choosing abortion because evidence and personal experience loudly declares abortion has a global impact and a detrimental, psychological impact on the majority of post-abortive women. I firmly believe we can do so much better for women than encouraging them to make decisions out of hopelessness, fear, or shame. Even if life did not begin at conception, I would look for alternatives to abortion for the sake of women and other demographics that are most impacted by abortion.
From God's perspective, loving the unborn child will never be in contradiction to loving that child's mother or vice versa, yet we have made it seem that we all must choose who to love - baby or mother. I want to love both. I choose to love both. To do both is not a contradiction.
- Jatlaoui TC, Boutot ME, Mandel MG, et al. Abortion Surveillance - United States, 2015. MMWR Surveill Summ 2018;67(No. SS-13):1-45. www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/ss/ss6713a1.htm. Accessed 05 Sept. 2019.
- Jerman J, Jones RK and Onda T, Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients in 2014 and Changes Since 2008, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2016, www.guttmacher.org/report/characteristics-us-abortion-patients-2014. Accessed 05 Sept. 2019.
- Induced Abortion and Abortion Ratios by Race/Ethniciy and Resident County New York State 2008-2017; Table 23. www.health.ny.gov/statistics/vital_statistics/vs_reports_tables_list.htm. Accessed 06 Sept. 2019
- Finer LB, Frohwirth LF, Dauphinee LA, Singh S, Moore AM, Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2005 37(3):110-118, www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/journals/3711005.pdf. Accessed 10 Sept. 2019.
- Ritchie H, Roser M, Gender Ratio, 2019, https://ourworldindata.org/gender-ratio#; originally published by Choa, F., Gerland, P., Cook, A.R., Alkema, L., (2019). Systematic assessment of the sex ratio at birth for all countries and estimation of national imbalances and regional reference levels. PNAS (https://www.pnas.org/content/116/19/9303). Accessed 18 Sept. 2019.
- Mathew TJ, Hamilton BE. Trend Analysis of the Sex Ratio at Birth in the United States. National Vital Statistics Reports; vol 53 no 20. Hyattsville, Maryland; National Center for Health Statistics, 2005, www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr53/nvsr53_20.pdf. Accessed 18 Sept 2019.
- Ritchie H, Roser M, Gender Ratio, 2019, https://ourworldindata.org/gender-ratio#; originally published by Bongaarts, J., & Guilmoto, C.Z. (2015). How many more missing women? Excess female mortality and prenatal sex selection, 1970-2050. Population and Development Review, 41(2), 241-269. (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1728-4457.2015.00046.x). Access 18 Sept. 2019
- Protecting Black Life, Map, 2012, https://www.protectingblacklife.org/pp_targets/index.html#. Accessed 20 Sept 2019.
Feature photo credit: Jayson Hinrichsen