Commentary Abortion

Who’s to Blame When a Woman Experiences Abortion Regret?

Amanda Marcotte

Iowa legislators want to pass a law allowing women to sue abortion providers if they regret their abortions. Why not let women sue the people who actually caused the regret—the people who shamed and guilted them about the abortion—instead?

Anti-choicers would like you to believe they are very concerned about abortion regret. Conservative websites fill up with tales of woe from women who claim they would like to take an abortion they had back, even though they often don’t consider that doing so would mean they’d have to give up the life path that led to their current happy circumstances—husband, children, and so on. The implication is that abortion regret is so terrible that if only a few women regret their abortions, abortion itself must be banned. This logic is not carried over to other decisions that are far more frequently regretted than abortion. For instance, a far higher percentage of people who marry will regret that decision—as any divorce statistic will confirm—and yet somehow the “we must ban every decision a person could possibly regret” logic doesn’t get invoked when it comes to marriage.

Iowa is now considering a bill that would allow abortion patients to sue a doctor for abortion regret, even if they received counseling and signed informed consent forms prior to the abortion. The bill gives women a ten-year window to come to the conclusion that they regret their abortion and to sue. Since none of us really knows where we’ll be in ten years, this opens abortion providers up to all sorts of unfair lawsuits, since there’s no way to know that the 21-year-old women’s studies major with a pro-choice button on her bag getting an abortion today is going to get married and join a fundamentalist church and decide she must produce “abortion regret” in penance before she’s 30.

More to the point, the bill shows how cynical and insincere anti-choicers are when they pretend to care about women experiencing abortion regret. If they actually cared about women who are suffering from abortion regret, they wouldn’t blame the doctor. They would blame the people who actually caused the regret. For instance, you would be able to sue a partner or parent who shamed you, or your church for telling you that your past behavior was sinful, or your local anti-choice organization for provoking these feelings of shame and regret. That makes a whole lot more sense that blaming the doctor.

If you read the abortion regret stories that proliferate in anti-choice circles, what comes across loud and clear is that the feelings of regret owe far more to the pressure from churches and right-wing organizations and other people in the community who shame women than to doctors—who in many cases were the only people who were generous and non-shaming to the women.

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Many of the stories on the Silent No More website drive home who is really causing all this abortion regret.

Here’s Susan:

My oldest sister became pregnant at 16 and married her boyfriend; the marriage was in shambles by the time I also became pregnant at 16. So, I was afraid I would suffer the same fate and wanted an abortion, which had not been an option for her 6 years prior.

And then:

Finally, in 1996, I had a successful pregnancy. I gave birth to a son and decided to raise him in the Catholic Church. The more the years went by, the more Catholic and Christian I became in an effort to help him find Christ.

He is very pro-life, and I have encouraged that. My husband has converted to Catholicism also.

Now that I have studied the Christian faith, I have a complete understanding of the horrible sins I committed in the past.

She seemed to experience little to no regret until years of being a Catholic and constantly hearing about the evils of abortion provoked such feelings. This case seems to be on the church.

And here’s Erin, who got an abortion in college and claims she “didn’t think about it” much, until:

I remarried a man who was a devout Christian and who invested his time and energy into bringing me to Christ. Before we got married we both knew we wanted to have children and wanted a family.  I told him that God might not allow me to have children because of what I had done and that I didn’t deserve children.  My husband was so supportive, and we talked a lot about my abortion and what I was feeling.  We still talk about it to this day. I was a stubborn, selfish, prideful woman. It took about two years for my heart to change and for me to realize that the only way for me to be forgiven for all the horrible things I had done was to accept Jesus’ grace and forgiveness.

Abortion regret, brought to you by your new husband and his distaste for “stubborn” and “prideful” women.

Then there’s Diana, who does not report feeling regret for her abortions as a teenager until after her third marriage fell apart:

I was in counseling, going through my 3rd divorce, trying to understand why my relationships ended badly.  One day the counselor and I were discussing the little white crosses that the local churches would move from church to church to remember aborted babies.  I told him how they made me angry.  He asked why, and I couldn’t tell him.  He gave me a crisis pregnancy center card that had a post-abortive ministry.  I thought he was crazy.  What did my abortions have to do with my 3rd divorce?

She doesn’t have much cause to sue the doctor, but she might have cause to sue her counselor for telling her that abortion causes mental illness, a claim that the American Psychological Association disputes.

Kathleen, who by her own measure was a “child of the sexual revolution,” didn’t seem overly concerned about abortion. But:

Finally the faithful prayers of my mother brought me to healing. Twenty five years later, I got to a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat.  The weekend gave voice to my grief and suffering and I understood God’s love.  It saved my life and it changed my life.  We know abortion from the inside out….we know abortion hurts women.

Her doctor would be protected under this law, since it took Kathleen 25 years and a whole bunch of pressure to come to the conclusion that she regrets her abortion. But a broader law under which you could sue the people who actually caused your feelings of regret would allow her to sue her mother and Rachel’s Vineyard for convincing her that all her problems were due to an abortion she had more than two decades prior.

Those are just a sampling of the stories at Silent No More. I have no doubt that these women really are suffering from shame and guilt. But that is because some of the people in their lives—husbands, parents, counselors, church leaders—have shamed and guilt-tripped them, not because of some doctor long ago who provided the help they asked for at the time.

If Iowa legislators are really concerned about the suffering that stems from shame over abortion, why not make it easier to sue the people doing the shaming?

Analysis Politics

Timeline: Donald Trump’s Shifting Position on Abortion Rights

Ally Boguhn

Trump’s murky position on abortion has caused an uproar this election season as conservatives grapple with a Republican nominee whose stance on the issue has varied over time. Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul's changing views on abortion.

For much of the 2016 election cycle, Donald Trump’s seemingly ever-changing position on reproductive health care and abortion rights has continued to draw scrutiny.

Trump was “totally pro-choice” in 1999, but “pro-life” by 2011. He wanted to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood in August 2015, but claimed “you can’t go around and say that” about such measures two months later. He thinks Planned Parenthood does “very good work” but wants to see it lose all of its funding as long as it offers abortion care. And, perhaps most notoriously, in late March of this year Trump took multiple stances over the course of just a few hours on whether those who have abortions should be punished if it became illegal.

With the hesitancy of anti-choice groups to fully embrace Trump—and with pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and EMILY’s List all backing his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—it is likely his stance on abortion will remain a key election issue moving into November.

Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul’s changing views on abortion.

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Culture & Conversation Family

‘Abortion and Parenting Needs Can Coexist’: A Q&A With Parker Dockray

Carole Joffe

"Why should someone have to go to one place for abortion care or funding, and to another place—one that is often anti-abortion—to get diapers and parenting resources? Why can’t they find that support all in one place?"

In May 2015, the longstanding and well-regarded pregnancy support talkline Backline launched a new venture. The Oakland-based organization opened All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center, a Bloomington, Indiana, drop-in center that offers adoption information, abortion referrals, and parenting support. Its mission: to break down silos and show that it is possible to support all options and all families under one roof—even in red-state Indiana, where Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence signed one of the country’s most restrictive anti-abortion laws.

To be sure, All-Options is hardly the first organization to point out the overlap between women terminating pregnancies and those continuing them. For years, the reproductive justice movement has insisted that the defense of abortion must be linked to a larger human rights framework that assures that all women have the right to have children and supportive conditions in which to parent them. More than 20 years ago, Rachel Atkins, then the director of the Vermont Women’s Center, famously described for a New York Times reporter the women in the center’s waiting room: “The country really suffers from thinking that there are two different kinds of women—women who have abortions and women who have babies. They’re the same women at different times.”

While this concept of linking the needs of all pregnant women—not just those seeking an abortion—is not new, there are actually remarkably few agencies that have put this insight into practice. So, more than a year after All-Options’ opening, Rewire checked in with Backline Executive Director Parker Dockray about the All-Options philosophy, the center’s local impact, and what others might consider if they are interested in creating similar programs.

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Rewire: What led you and Shelly Dodson (All-Options’ on-site director and an Indiana native) to create this organization?

PD: In both politics and practice, abortion is so often isolated and separated from other reproductive experiences. It’s incredibly hard to find organizations that provide parenting or pregnancy loss support, for example, and are also comfortable and competent in supporting people around abortion.

On the flip side, many abortion or family planning organizations don’t provide much support for women who want to continue a pregnancy or parents who are struggling to make ends meet. And yet we know that 60 percent of women having an abortion already have at least one child; in our daily lives, these issues are fundamentally connected. So why should someone have to go to one place for abortion care or funding, and to another place—one that is often anti-abortion—to get diapers and parenting resources? Why can’t they find that support all in one place? That’s what All-Options is about.

We see the All-Options model as a game-changer not only for clients, but also for volunteers and community supporters. All-Options allows us to transcend the stale pro-choice/pro-life debate and invites people to be curious and compassionate about how abortion and parenting needs can coexist .… Our hope is that All-Options can be a catalyst for reproductive justice and help to build a movement that truly supports people in all their options and experiences.

Rewire: What has been the experience of your first year of operations?

PD: We’ve been blown away with the response from clients, volunteers, donors, and partner organizations …. In the past year, we’ve seen close to 600 people for 2,400 total visits. Most people initially come to All-Options—and keep coming back—for diapers and other parenting support. But we’ve also provided hundreds of free pregnancy tests, thousands of condoms, and more than $20,000 in abortion funding.

Our Hoosier Abortion Fund is the only community-based, statewide fund in Indiana and the first to join the National Network of Abortion Funds. So far, we’ve been able to support 60 people in accessing abortion care in Indiana or neighboring states by contributing to their medical care or transportation expenses.

Rewire: Explain some more about the centrality of diaper giveaways in your program.

PD: Diaper need is one of the most prevalent yet invisible forms of poverty. Even though we knew that in theory, seeing so many families who are struggling to provide adequate diapers for their children has been heartbreaking. Many people are surprised to learn that federal programs like [the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC] and food stamps can’t be used to pay for diapers. And most places that distribute diapers, including crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), only give out five to ten diapers per week.

All-Options follows the recommendation of the National Diaper Bank Network in giving families a full pack of diapers each week. We’ve given out more than 4,000 packs (150,000 diapers) this year—and we still have 80 families on our waiting list! Trying to address this overwhelming need in a sustainable way is one of our biggest challenges.

Rewire: What kind of reception has All-Options had in the community? Have there been negative encounters with anti-choice groups?

PD: Diapers and abortion funding are the two pillars of our work. But diapers have been a critical entry point for us. We’ve gotten support and donations from local restaurants, elected officials, and sororities at Indiana University. We’ve been covered in the local press. Even the local CPC refers people to us for diapers! So it’s been an important way to build trust and visibility in the community because we are meeting a concrete need for local families.

While All-Options hasn’t necessarily become allies with places that are actively anti-abortion, we do get lots of referrals from places I might describe as “abortion-agnostic”—food banks, domestic violence agencies, or homeless shelters that do not have a position on abortion per se, but they want their clients to get nonjudgmental support for all their options and needs.

As we gain visibility and expand to new places, we know we may see more opposition. A few of our clients have expressed disapproval about our support of abortion, but more often they are surprised and curious. It’s just so unusual to find a place that offers you free diapers, baby clothes, condoms, and abortion referrals.

Rewire: What advice would you give to others who are interested in opening such an “all-options” venture in a conservative state?

PD: We are in a planning process right now to figure out how to best replicate and expand the centers starting in 2017. We know we want to open another center or two (or three), but a big part of our plan will be providing a toolkit and other resources to help people use the all-options approach.

The best advice we have is to start where you are. Who else is already doing this work locally, and how can you work together? If you are an abortion fund or clinic, how can you also support the parenting needs of the women you serve? Is there a diaper bank in your area that you could refer to or partner with? Could you give out new baby packages for people who are continuing a pregnancy or have a WIC eligibility worker on-site once a month? If you are involved with a childbirth or parenting organization, can you build a relationship with your local abortion fund?

How can you make it known that you are a safe space to discuss all options and experiences? How can you and your organization show up in your community for diaper need and abortion coverage and a living wage?

Help people connect the dots. That’s how we start to change the conversation and create support.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify the spelling of Shelly Dodson’s name.

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