The headline of an article at Time this week screams: HARDLY ANY WOMEN REGRET HAVING AN ABORTION, A NEW STUDY FINDS. Time describes a study recently published in the “multidisciplinary academic journal PLOS ONE” that concluded: “Ninety-five percent of women who have had abortions do not regret the decision to terminate their pregnancies.” The study, which surveyed 670 women three years after their abortions, downplayed the emotional impact on women. “Certainly, experiencing feelings of guilt or regret in the short-term after an abortion is not a mental health problem,” the study assures women. “In fact, such emotions are a normal part of making a life decision that many women in this study found to be difficult.” (Time glanced over the part of the study that said women who struggled with the decision to have an abortion had poorer emotional outcomes.)
You can examine the criteria used for this particular study, but I would caution you not to draw conclusions on the impact of abortion based on just one study. A finding about 95% of the women in this one study, at this point in their lives is very different from what Time is asserting in its headline.
My knowledge of the post-abortive woman has been shaped by a decade of experience counseling them. In the past ten years I have heard the stories of hundreds of these women as I’ve worked at three different crisis pregnancy centers (in both a staff and volunteer capacity) throughout the Midwest.
One post-abortive woman whose story impacted me the most is my friend Maggie,* who became pregnant when she was just fourteen years old. Her mother was eager to spare the family embarrassment and told Maggie to either have an abortion or take her fourteen-year-old self and find another place to live. Without any easy options and a mother who continually coerced her, Maggie had an abortion. In the following months, her grades in school plummeted and she began pursuing destructive relationships. At age sixteen Maggie became pregnant again. Fearing her mother would force yet another abortion, Maggie ran away from home. At sixteen Maggie did everything she could think of to provide for herself and her son.
Several years later, she met a man who loved her and her son and wanted a future with them both. They married and had another child, a daughter, who completed their family. A few years later Maggie recognized a pattern of anger in herself that she couldn’t explain. As she worked through counseling (over a decade after her abortion) she recognized that the anger was always directed toward her children. She realized that every time she looked at her two living children, she was always thinking about the one child she never got to meet. She could not stop thinking about her third child, and the regret of her abortion was impacting her parenting decisions every day.
Another young woman, Anna, a sophomore in college, discovered that an unplanned pregnancy would forever impact her life. She had been taking a medication with known adverse affects for pregnancy. Anna sought the counsel of every doctor she could find in the phone book and every single one told her the only option she had was to terminate her pregnancy. Her boyfriend drove her to the abortion clinic and they both decided abortion was the best decision. Several years later this boyfriend became her husband and they were eager to start a family. They soon welcomed a little boy that blessed their lives in ways they never thought possible. Anna confessed that every time she snuggled her little boy she could not help but think about the child she and her husband had aborted. They would never know if their baby was a boy or a girl. They would never get to watch their first child go on his or her first date, or graduate from high school, or enjoy the college years as Anna and her husband had. Every milestone their son reached was overshadowed by a mom and dad who were heartsick because of the “what if’s” they would never have answered.
Laura found herself suffering a similar heartache long after her abortion decision. Each Christmas Laura would enter into a deep depression and struggle to make it through each day of the month of December. While she later married a man with two children and delivered a son to complete their family, it was never enough. Laura could only think of the fourth child she wouldn’t be buying Christmas presents for. Every holiday was as difficult as Christmas as she struggled with grief. Special anniversaries were a struggle as well, remembering what the spring air smelled like the day she had her abortion, knowing the day her child would have celebrated each birthday, kindergarten graduation—they all reminded her of the hole in her life…the hole put in her life because of her decision to have an abortion.
*Because of confidentiality policies, the names have been changed in the stories to protect the identities of these women. Their symptoms and the impact abortion has had and continues to have are very real and have not been changed.
More stories on the next page…
When I first met my friend Doris, she was well into her sixties and still facing the daily impact of an abortion she had in her twenties. As a young bride, Doris was horrified to discover, while still on her honeymoon, that her husband was an alcoholic. The alcohol brought out an abusive husband, and as a young newlywed, Doris was unsure how to keep herself safe. A few weeks later she discovered that she was pregnant. She was convinced that the only way to cut ties with her abusive husband was to have an abortion without telling him and to file for divorce. Life crept along for the next forty years while she struggled to bond with her three living children and walked through two more divorces because of a fear of attaching herself to a person she may lose.
My friend April had an abortion because she was embarrassed to be pregnant again. This mother of five was too ashamed to tell anyone she was going to have a sixth child, so she immediately called the abortion clinic. Eight weeks into her sixth pregnancy, she had an abortion. The next several months were a depressing case of Murphy’s Law attacking April. Her oldest child had problems at school, her car broke down, her job was stressful, the list went on. Every day she was struck with fear that her whole life would come crashing down as she wished with all of her being that she could go back and undo her abortion.
All of the women in these true stories are very precious to me (and they’re even more precious to God). Their stories are not unusual.
Many other studies show that abortion has a negative impact on women. This study from Finland examined medical records of women who committed suicide and found an undeniable link. Women who had committed suicide and were post-abortive were six times more prevalent than women who had committed suicide and carried a pregnancy to term, especially among lower income, single mothers.
Another study found that 65% of post-abortive women “experienced multiple symptoms of increased arousal, re-experiencing and avoidance associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” My friend Karen experienced similar symptoms and found herself suffering from vivid flashbacks and trauma at the sound of a common household vacuum, similar to the sound of the suction device used during her abortion procedure over fifteen years ago.
This study “compared psychiatric admission rates of women in time periods from 90 days to 4 years after either abortion or childbirth.” It found that, among low income women, those who had abortions were more likely to have multiple psychiatric admissions than their peers who carried a pregnancy to term.
Anyone who has taken a research methods class understands that cherry-picking from one study does not provide conclusive evidence. The study digested in the Time article provides just one look at the lives of post abortive women in a three-year period of their lives–merely a glimpse into the lifelong impact abortion can have on women. This study must be considered in light of the cumulative body of work surrounding abortion. In addition, more research should be done on this topic before we make conclusive statements that women do not regret their abortions.
For more stories about real women who have experienced post-abortion trauma and stress and to find hope, healing, and forgiveness if you are struggling with a past abortion decision, please check out the following resources:
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