The rallying cry for abortion activists is that women have the right to choose what they want to do with their own bodies. Leaving aside the fact that the preborn child is not actually part of the woman’s body, what is rarely talked about is how often women don’t actually choose abortion for themselves. When people think of forced abortion, they tend to think of a woman being physically dragged into an abortion facility and held down while the procedure is committed against her will. While those kinds of coercions do happen, particularly in places like China, the reality of coercion can look quite different.
A recent entry into an advice column shows that heartbreaking reality and how it can affect women for years to come. An anonymous woman wrote into Slate’s “Dear Prudence” column, expressing the anger she was still battling years after a coerced abortion.
“My stepfather, ‘Ian,’ married my mom when I was 3. He raised me as his own,” she began. “When I was 17, I got pregnant. I told my parents I wanted to keep the baby, and Ian was apoplectic. He raged at me for having sex, being dumb enough to get pregnant, and thinking I could raise the baby. My mom wasn’t happy either, but she initially said she’d support me whatever I did.”
Her mother’s offer of support was soon rescinded, however — Ian moved to threaten to divorce her if her daughter kept her baby.
“[S]he began pressuring me (just as he did) to have an abortion or put the baby up for adoption,” she explained. “My little brother and sister were still very young, and I believe Ian was scared of being responsible for another baby (even though I didn’t intend for my parents to raise the baby). Long story short: I had an abortion.”
The woman explained that her relationship with her mother has healed somewhat, and after the abortion, Ian became loving towards her once again — but she said she remained scared of him, and that their relationship never recovered. She’s since married and had a child, but her anger and regret remains. “It hurts and makes me so angry when they act like this is my first pregnancy,” she admitted. “I want to confront them but don’t even know where to begin. Sometimes I don’t want Ian near my baby at all, but a proclamation like that would hurt my mom and siblings. Mostly I realize how much I’ve pretended to be OK to keep Ian from being as angry at me as he was then.”
This is the more common form of coercion. Women, especially young women, are threatened with a loss of support and resources, and potentially even homelessness. As therapist JoAnne Crough explained,
This happens more often than you might think. In most cases it’s the teen or woman’s parents who suggest this way of dealing with the pregnancy. They make it clear that an abortion will “solve everything.” They typically keep the entire process as secretive as possible. The young woman in this situation is extremely vulnerable to being coerced to make the others in her life happy. She has upset those closest to her with the news of her pregnancy. She feels confusion, shame, and fear. She becomes isolated from other forms of support. Combined, these put tremendous pressure on her to comply.
In addition to facing the loss of their home, their job, or their support system, pregnant women can also face extreme violence if they refuse to go through with the abortion. And yet these stories, these issues, are never brought into the debate on “choice.”
Fortunately, there are resources to help women who are being forced into an abortion. Alliance Defending Freedom, The Thomas More Law Center, and Life Legal Defense Foundation are legal organizations that help women, often at no cost, when they are facing coercion. Save the Storks, Stand Up Girl, Option Line, and Pregnancy Line can connect women with trained counselors who can give them resources, including prenatal care for both mother and baby. Pregnancy resource centers can also help provide ultrasounds, baby supplies, prenatal vitamins, and emotional support.
Coerced abortions should never happen. But as long as people pretend they don’t exist, they will continue to happen.
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