One of the most fiercely debated social issues faced today is abortion. Abortion is the process of ending a pregnancy by removing the fetus from the womb before it can survive on its own. These can be caused either intentionally (induced) or accidentally (miscarriages).
No other issue has ignited as much controversy — nor divided communities — as has abortion, with social groups, scholars, researchers, and even laymen having a strong and often polemic opinion on the issue, often in the form of impassioned debate.
But how much do we really understand about this issue? Despite its notoriety and widespread discussion, abortion is in fact widely misunderstood by most people. While it does indeed concern the question of life and death, many overlook the effects it has on the women involved, and why many turn to it.
Questions to Consider About Abortion
What are the psychological and emotional effects of abortion?
What is male grief?
For how long do females grieve after an abortion?
What about teen abortion?
Down Syndrome and abortion
“The more information a woman has, the more likely she is to make a moral decision that she can live with not only in the short-term, but in the future as well.” Susan N. Terkel, 1988
When does life begin? This nine week human embryo can sense movement and pain and will shortly begin to remember sensations through senses of touch and hearing.
Once “the fertilized egg has a complete set of genetic material, this cell, which is now called a zygote, is a unique individual that has some traits of each parent.” Middle School Science book (public school)–Scienceaurus–A Student Handbook
There are about 1,200,000 abortions performed in the United States annually (Guttmacher).
About 23% of pregnancies are aborted in the United States – 2004 (Guttmacher).
Approximately 10% (or one in te)n abortions performed are late-term, that is, after the first trimester.
There have been 45 million abortions performed in the United States since 1973.
86.2% of all abortions in the U.S. are by unmarried women – 2004 (Guttmacher).
33% of abortions in the U.S. are by women between the ages of 20-24, the highest age group for abortion.
Approximately one-third of women in the U.S. will have an abortion at some time in their lives (Guttmacher. 2008). Other sources put the figure at 28% (Johnston. 2008).
The abortion rate in the U.S. is decreasing.
In countries as diverse as Russia (USSR), Brazil, and Egypt, abortion has been used as a form of birth control.
Ethnicity and Abortion in the United States:
Black women – 37% of abortions
Non-Hispanic white women – 34%
Hispanic – 22%
Other races 8% – (Statistics, Guttmacher)
Why Some Abort
Why do women choose abortion to end what in most cases is an unwanted pregnancy? The reasons are many and varied. One survey reveals numerous reasons for abortion among women. Interestingly, more than one factor is often involved in a woman’s decision to have an abortion, with an average of four reasons leading to the decision. These are some of the reasons women choose abortion:
Baby would interfere with work, school, or other responsibilities (75%)
Could not afford to have a child (67%)
Did not want to be a single parent
Not mature enough to raise a child (teens)
Parents wanted them to have an abortion
To prevent others from knowing they had sex
To prevent others from knowing they had become pregnant
Afraid to tell parents or partner (reason for delaying an abortion until late-term).
In many countries abortion is legal, while in some, it is still illegal. Legal abortion us generally safer for the woman than that of having an abortion in countries where it is performed illegally, but even legalized abortion carries with it certain medical risks.
Women have abortion for numerous reasons. Most abortions are a result of an unwanted pregnancy. Another reason is defects of the fetus observed in prenatal testing indicating some type of congenital abnormality. At times that defect is major, such as in the case of Down Syndrome, and at other times the defect may be minor or there may be only a slight possibility that serious problems may develop with the baby or future child. Sometimes the risks of giving birth to a handicapped or deformed fetus or the alleged potential for birth defects are erroneous or exaggerated by medical personnel.
In the U.S., perhaps 30% of pregnant teenage girls abort their baby. In one large high school in Newark, the SAC coordinator and counselor stated that, “it seems like every girl that walks through these doors (her office) is pregnant.
Other sources put the percentage of teenage girls who abort at approximately 40%. (See: Statistics in Adolescent Pregnancy. Teen Shelter Org). Nationwide in the U.S., statistics indicate that about one in four pregnancies ends in abortion.
Even more controversial than abortion is late-term abortion, with about 10% of abortions considered to be late-term. Pregnancies that are beyond the first trimester, from 20 to 27 weeks, fall into this category.
Abortion as a form of contraception:
Contracept.org, Los Angeles, California, a resource for contraception and healthy sex, says this about using abortion for birth control,
“Using abortion as birth control is not healthy physically or psychologically, and is not a mature or responsible approach to sex. If you are using abortion as birth control, you are encouraged to rethink your sexual decisions.” One option it suggests is to “wait on sex until you find a relationship where you could continue a pregnancy should one occur.”
According to the book, Intended Consequences: Birth Control, Abortion, and the Federal Government, D.C Donald T. Critchlow, Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former professor at Hong Kong University and Warsaw University, states that Planned Parenthood, the Population Council, and the Ford Foundation promoted abortion as a form of birth control in the 1970s in the United States.
Possible Psychological and Emotional Effects of Abortion for Females
Education provides one solution towards preventing abortion. Girls need to be taught by their parents and through their public education to respect themselves and their bodies, and to learn the value of monogamy, of long-term relationships, and of emotional commitment before engaging in sexual relations. This is beneficial both emotionally, psychologically, and physically. How to avoid what might lead to an unwanted pregnancy is also of necessity in a girl’s education.
Young men, on the other hand, need to learn not to use their procreative powers as a sport or as a means of proving one’s manhood, and to be responsible. They need to realize that they are held accountable for any life they bring into the world through sexual relations, and that governments, in general, hold the male responsible for providing for that child. Promiscuity in itself can carry a heavy emotional and psychological price tag for both the girl and the boy.
Abortion can also leave emotional and psychological burdens that are sometimes long-lasting. The mother needs to think seriously before having an abortion, and not make a decision due to pressure from others; she is the one that is going to have to live with that decision for the rest of her life.
It is said, surprisingly, that even the father of the baby that has been aborted is oftentimes in need of therapy because of guilt or grief over the lost life (Kalish, S., May/June 2004. Psychology Today). Depression can result when a girl or woman has an abortion or series of abortions, and this is not uncommon.
A mental health social worker then in her 30s in Princeton, NJ, describes how she aborted her fetus, with subsequent depression. She says that her conscience plagued her after the abortion, with the words “Thou shalt not kill”, echoing in her mind. Whether or not proponents of abortion agree with that religious statement, the psychological backlash to the abortion happened after the fact and left her with serious depression. She sought help from mental health professionals and did recover from debilitating depression, but still spoke sadly about her abortion many years later. She started in the mental health profession as a result of the depression and subsequent treatment she received that all stemmed from her abortion.
Another woman wrote about her abortion:
“Being a woman who experienced an abortion, I can tell you that withholding information from women that may affect them for the rest of their lives is both dangerous and demeaning. Doctors may explain more about tonsillectomies or appendectomies than they do about abortions. I really believe that if I had been fully informed, both medically and as to my options, I would have chosen not to abort my baby.” Susan Neiburg Terkel, author of Abortion – Facing the Issues. (1988. p.123)
Parents – Keep the Communication Lines Open
In many states (New Jersey being one), abortion is permitted for minors without parental consent or even parental notification. A 13- or 14-year-old can go to a neighborhood Planned Parenthood center and have an abortion without her parents being informed (ACLU). If a teenage girl becomes suddenly withdrawn, depressed, or behaves erratically, an abortion that parents are unaware of can be one possible reason.
Parents need to keep lines of communication open with their children and teens, and not to overreact to their errors. Parents need to express approval of their children. If they do this, should a girl or young man get into serious trouble for any reason, they won’t be afraid to come to the parent. Open communication also makes a child or teen much more likely to consult with the parents before making major decisions such as having an abortion, even though in approximately 10% of cases, it is the parent that encourages the teen to have an abortion.
The grief or guilt that comes with having an abortion can last (for some women) for decades, and some never fully heal emotionally. Some women have expressed the thought that they always wonder who or what the baby could have become. Having an abortion, then, is not something to be taken lightly, even in the case of a baby with congenital defects. About 20% of women who have had an abortion have severe mental distress five years after, compared to around two percent who had miscarriages (Health, BBC News. December 12, 2005).
“I went through, and still go through, severe mental problems — visualizing the procedure in my mind, hating myself, grieving, and wanting to escape from the whole situation. No one ever told me about the emotional side effects after having an abortion.
The abortion precipitated years of drug and alcohol abuse, an eating disorder, and eventually, serious clinical depression. That supposedly safe procedure has had fourteen years of serious repercussions. “Depression can surface immediately after an abortion, or years and even decades later. A woman may be depressed, guilty, or angry.” (Abortion: Facing the Issues. p. 55)
Down Syndrome and Abortion
The majority of Down Syndrome babies are aborted in the United States. Things to keep in mind are, not all children with Down Syndrome are equal in the severity of the disorder. Some are quite functional, and one teacher who has worked with numerous Down Syndrome children in special education, contend that many are very lovable, gentle, and intelligent. The alarming statistic that close to 90% of fetuses detected with Down Syndrome is being aborted in the U.S. is disturbing, and reflects a disproportional alarm towards raising a handicapped child.
Many Down Syndrome children attend school, are able to learn, are well adjusted, and “make it,” when they are raised in a loving family. “I am so lucky I get to do so many things,” said Sarah, 11 1/2 years old, with Down syndrome. “I just want you to know, even though I have Down syndrome, it is OK.” (Harmon, A. 2007, May 9. New York Times).
Coping With Guilt and Religious Issues involved with Abortion
For those who have had an abortion and feel that they are depressed as a result or who are having difficulty coming to terms with it, one’s faith and the spiritual or religious aspect of life do come into play. The grief of abortion goes beyond the borders of psychology and into the realm of religion. Please see here for spiritual and religious considerations of abortion.
“For some women, their decision to have an abortion is made in such haste or with so little knowledge, that later, when they have had more time to think about the morality of it, become convinced that their abortions were immoral. This leaves them feeling guilty, angry, and remorseful… The more information a woman has, the more likely she is to make a moral decision that she can live with not only in the short-term but in the future as well.” (Susan Terkel. 1988).
References for abortion and effects of abortion
About abortion, psychological effects of abortion
1. Abortion ‘leaves mental legacy’, (December 12, 2005). Health, BBC News.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4520576.stml Off-site link
2. Harmon, A. (2007, May 9). Prenatal Test Puts Down Syndrome in Hard Focus. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/us/09down.html Off-site link
3. Henshaw, S. K., Kost, K. Trends in the Characteristics of Women Obtaining Abortions, 1974 to 2004. (2008, September 18). Guttmacher Institute. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/2008/09/18/Report_Trends_Women_Obtaining_Abortions.pdf
4.Johnston, W. (2008, October). Percentage of United States women who have had abortions. William Johnston Archives. http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/uslifetimeab.html
5. Kalish, S. (2004, May/June). After Abortion: Hidden Male Grief. Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20040625-000001.htmlOff-site link
6. Terkel, Susan N. (1988). Abortion – Facing the Issues. New York: Franklin Watts.
7. Forrest, T. A. (1988, July-August). Why do women have abortions? Family Planning Perspective. 20(4):169-76.
Abortion and teens
NJ Supreme Court Strikes Down Parental Notification for Abortion Act. (August 15, 2000). ACLU. http://www.aclu-nj.org/news/njsupremecourtstrikesdownp.htm (off-site link)
Discovery Channel documentary video
Other Pages on Abortion
Abortion Help – Moral, psychological, and spiritual aspects of abortion
Late-Term Abortion – Information and Procedures