Things We Don't Say When We Talk About Abortion

Not all options for responding to an unplanned pregnancy are equal, optimal, or clear.

Shannon Ashley
Jan 2, 2019 · 7 min read
Photo by Burst on Unsplash

On December 21, 2007, I had a D&C aka dilation and curettage, or a first-trimester abortion. This past Christmas season marked 11 years since that painful day, and I've discovered that as the years pass I am exponentially less likely to ponder what might have been, if anything at all.

The reality is that I chose to have an abortion that day when I was 25-years-old, but I'll never know if carrying my first pregnancy to term would have even been possible. Every health professional who examined me suspected the pregnancy wasn't viable. On the day of the abortion, there was no heartbeat, and the doctor in charge said it was an empty sac pregnancy. Fair enough.

Nearly seven years after my abortion, I had a second unplanned pregnancy. I was pretty much a wreck about the whole situation because I loved my fiance despite our toxic relationship, but I was pretty damn sure about two things. First, I wasn't going to choose adoption. Second, I didn't think I could emotionally handle another abortion.

At the end of the day, I felt that the only options remotely available to me were abortion or unplanned parenthood. Adoption was honestly not a choice I was ever willing to entertain.

Knowing yourself is paramount to making a solid choice.

Many pro-lifers would have you believe that women who have abortions are morally bankrupt and selfish. But I'd say that plenty of people vying to become parents are about as selfish as anyone can get. Too many parents--or potential parents--believe that having a baby is all about them. They look at children as their legacy or dynasty, even. As if having a baby could fulfill or complete them.

Far too many parents forget that babies become children who become adults. And it's every parent's responsibility to help those children grow into healthy and mentally positive adults.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of facing an unplanned pregnancy and making such a difficult choice for yourself is that you need to be honest about who you are and what you can do. No one should be having children to fulfill their own personal desires. Bringing a life into this world is much too serious for that.

Abortion isn't about being selfish.

Women have countless reasons for choosing abortion, but many, if not most of those reasons melt down into one simple thing. We don't believe that we can (at that point in time) be the mother we would need to be.

It might be that a pregnant woman lacks substantial support. Or she might be in a toxic, abusive, or dead-end relationship. Motherhood might mean we'd have to drop out of school. The pregnancy itself might serve as a rude awakening to the character of our partner and would-be father.

An uncomfortable reality about abortion is that the woman doesn't owe the world her explanation. You may disagree. You might even believe abortion is pure murder. I would argue that the stigma and hatred aimed at single mothers and the poor are generally much worse. Pro-choice and pro-life people often disagree on this single point:

Being pro-life means so much more than simply being pro-birth.

The choice to have an abortion often rests on the belief that every child needs more than labor and delivery. The real responsibility begins when a baby is born, and we can't with a clear conscience force that lifetime of responsibility upon a woman.

It also rests upon the reality that pregnancy and parenthood require more of the woman than the man. Every man facing an unintended pregnancy has the ability to simply walk away and say, "I didn't sign up for this." Women don't have the option to easily walk away. Abortion is about as close as it gets, but even then it's not perfectly similar to a man's choice--no option is.

What about post-abortion trauma?

Many right-to-life advocates argue that abortion is clearly the wrong choice, because women may experience trauma or depression following an abortion. The entire notion is misleading because many women find themselves feeling significantly relieved once they make a choice and undergo the procedure.

Not only that, but pro-lifers often fail to mention that depression may as easily follow labor and delivery, and of course, adoption. Keep in mind that many women find themselves guilted into hiding their pregnancies and subsequent abortions. Many have had to wade through protesters shouting and shoving pamphlets in their face before and after the procedure.

Personally, I fell into a deep depression after my abortion, but it had much more to do with the fact that I had to hide what was happening from my mother and the friends who would have shunned me. I felt guilty, because so many people around me saw abortion as something purely evil and selfish. Completely cut and dry, so they never cared to see the big picture.

Unplanned parenthood is not inherently selfless.

Many people consider unplanned parenthood the default choice for most unintended pregnancies. For whatever reason, if your method of birth control fails, you are generally expected to carry your pregnancy to term and become a mother. With or without the father's assistance.

The biggest problem I see with this choice is that far too many unplanned parents lack the resources or self-awareness to get past the unintended aspect of their situation. You have to get over the fact that you didn't want to get pregnant, because no child deserves to go through life feeling like they are a burden or a mistake.

I chose unplanned parenthood with my second pregnancy. Although it was high-risk, doctors had no doubt about its viability. But for a moment, I seriously considered abortion. For me, choosing parenthood over abortion meant that I was willing and able to do everything I could to be an intentional and positive parent.

As a result, I've discovered the joys of being a mom. My daughter will be five in April, and I have never regretted having her. Yes, parenthood is rewarding. Even so, too many people underestimate the sacrifice and responsibility it takes to parent effectively and with love.

I've never regretted my choice, but my adjustment to motherhood was terrifying for many months.

Even the most well-meaning parents have a hard time understanding that parenthood isn't all about them. Children are not here to fulfill their parents' need for love, companionship, meaning, or anything else. Many kids suffer needlessly, all because their parents expect too much from them and don't know how to establish healthy boundaries from the start.

Adoption isn't always the amazing solution we want it to be.

Unfortunately, adoption is not a Disney movie or ticket to happily ever after for anyone. Women who choose to place a child up for adoption do so mostly because they believe it's the best shot at giving their child a better life.

But that's all it is--a crapshoot. There's no guarantee that a baby placed for adoption will get that better life. The greatest screening can't weed out all dysfunctional people, and even an open adoption can mark the beginning of a lifetime of strife with people whom a birth mom eventually may not like.

Many pro-lifers see adoption as the great solution to abortion. If that were true, we'd have millions of people lining up to adopt needy children. But we don't. According to the World Health Organization, there are 40–50 million abortions performed worldwide every year. As of 2015, there were 140 million orphans around the world.

What does that tell you? Adoption is not a viable alternative to abortion, no matter how you slice it. It is expensive and hardly simple. But women are still being guilted and shamed into thinking that they're depriving a child of life whom countless couples so desperately yearn for.

When does a woman's mental and emotional health matter?

Whatever decision a woman makes about her unplanned pregnancy, she’s got to be able to live with the results. Mentally and emotionally. And honestly? I have never believed I could handle having a birth child raised by another family. I commend the women who choose adoption because it takes so much inner strength and fortitude.

But of course, unplanned and single motherhood requires inner strength as well. Even making the often difficult choice to terminate a pregnancy takes strength we don't like to talk about.

It's easy to come in as an outsider and say, "Abortion is wrong. You should do this instead." It's easy to tell yourself that women who have abortions are basic bitches and selfish, while those who choose parenthood or adoption are all selfless.

Like it or not, you don't have to live with her choice--but she does. Mothers today are still fighting to have their prenatal and postpartum mental health taken seriously. Women still struggle for informed consent during labor and delivery. Many still have to fight for the right to choose sterilization.

It's not that I can't see the ethical arguments surrounding abortion. But there are multiple ethical issues on both sides of the fence. There is currently no viable alternative to abortion. Who's going to prevent at least 40 to 50 million men from having sex every year? Because it isn't only women creating unplanned pregnancies.

Men are right there with us--except that they are more likely to shirk their responsibility and less likely to suffer for those unplanned pregnancies. So if you want to reduce abortions globally, you've got to increase sex education and access to birth control to reduce unintended pregnancies.

Next, you've got to do what you can to make it viable for more women to carry an unintended pregnancy to term and take on motherhood. That means offering tangible, long-term support. But be honest. Most people who want to stop all abortions are mostly pro-birth and remain sorely unrealistic about the limitations of adoption and unplanned parenthood.

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Shannon Ashley

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It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. 🍵 📧

Honestly Yours

No topic is off-limits, and nothing human is unmentionable. Read on.

Shannon Ashley

Written by

It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. 🍵 📧

Honestly Yours

No topic is off-limits, and nothing human is unmentionable. Read on.

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