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?

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