Childbirth

Why Do We Abort?

Jane* was a client at one of the places I worked. She was a working mum, barely making enough to break even with childcare costs but she preferred to work. She had been accessing our service for a while. We provided support to women still in abusive relationships, safety planning so as to reduce the frequency of abusive incidents.

She adored her small child; she was maternal and caring and would often begin a conversation with an update on how her baby was doing. Except on this occasion she was fighting to get her words out. She’d called me at the office, asked for an emergency appointment, she’d just found out she was pregnant. I asked her what she wanted to do. “I can’t keep it.” She repeated this sentence a few times. I asked her why. “Because the last time I was pregnant, I lived in fear for my baby’s life.”

30% of domestic violence starts in pregnancy.

Between 4 and 9 pregnant women in every 100 are abused during and after their pregnancies.

(Women’s Aid Statistics)

That’s right. When a woman is at her most vulnerable, most in need of support to protect and nurture the life she is creating within, she has an increased likelihood of experiencing violence at the hands of the father of her child. I’m reminded of a training course where a male middle manager responded to this fact by saying “women are a nightmare when they’re pregnant; I’m not surprised some men react”. An acquaintance shared how his father had beaten his mother when she was suffering postnatal depression. He’d grown up believing his father had been pushed to the limit. It is only when I challenged his belief by pointing out that pregnancy is a difficult time for women, many people appreciate this and make allowances, decent people at least, that he began to see it differently. Personally, I could not understand how he had ever felt his father had been justified. But then, this acquaintance had also been beaten.

Jane felt guilty she had already subjected one of her children to this man. She had been taking steps to leave him, setting a little money aside each week, moving her baby’s toys out one at a time. She did not want to have sex with him. She tried to say no at the start but knew better than to say it again. And so she became pregnant.

“I can’t keep it”. I had to respect her wishes so I arranged for her to attend a Marie Stopes clinic. I went with her. She held my hand whilst we waited, but barely spoke. I wanted to say it was OK if she changed her mind but didn’t want to sound like I was suggesting anything. I just reassured her that I was there to talk, without judgement, if she needed. She smiled gratefully whenever she looked at me and my heart broke a little for her. She was a good woman and an exceptional mother. She shouldn’t have to go through this. But I knew she had no choice. The alternative would mean reinforcing their relationship, enduring another nine months of physical and mental torture, the effects of which would leave a lasting impression on the foetus inside her womb. Attachment and dependency on a person who seeks to control and manipulate and abuse, even his own children should he see fit. She wanted a better life for her children.

I stand by her choice because I have seen the alternative. Abigail* had three children and was expecting a fourth from her new partner. He was a known sex offender. Because of her faith, Abigail did not have the choice to abort. She was however frightened for her life. She endured being dragged around by her hair in the 8th month of her pregnancy. Whilst she was in labour, she had to defend herself from an attack, struggling to prise his fingers from her neck as she experienced another contraction. Following multiple agency intervention, her children were eventually removed from her by social services for neglecting the needs of her children by remaining with her partner. It did not matter that Abigail had been warned she would die if she ever did. The perpetrator was not being brought to justice through a lack of physical evidence, yet they had enough evidence to call her a bad mother and take her children away. How many pregnancies start off unwanted and end up in the care system?

And then there was Sarah*, a very close friend of mine. Following a casual relationship, she discovered she was quite happy to be expecting. She hadn’t known her partner very long but he seemed nice enough and in agreement about the pregnancy. They sailed through the first few weeks, excited about their little secret. One day she called me. “I can’t do it”, she simply said. They’d been out together at the work’s Christmas do. She thought he’d had enough to drink and attempted to hold his arm. He responded by pushing her down. My brave and strong friend did not want a child with a man who did not care about harming her or the baby. She was upset before the termination. And through it. But she maintained she’d made the right choice.

One of the main reasons we abort is to protect the future. Pregnancy is vulnerability. No longer are you only responsible for yourself but innocent new life that does not deserved to be abused. “Pro-lifers” argue that the foetus has rights, more rights than that of the mother. Despite the mother’s mental and physical well-being, she is a vessel bringing forth Mr Man’s seed and effectively signs over her rights. Is it preferable that unwanted pregnancies are forced to continue thus resulting in unwanted children who will have possibly been abused, growing into abusers themselves when they are big enough?

When a 12 year old school friend had to abort, where were the “pro-lifers” and their campaigns to make fathers more accountable?

How many domestic violence refuges offer mother and baby units? Not very many.

This war on women and our wombs is not about the brazen baby killers. It’s about control.

And patriarchy.

Again.

*Names have been changed

** I am aware that this entry has received some attention from ‘no choicers’ who think I have chosen to justify ‘killing of the unborn’ by using domestic violence as some sort of get out clause. They have made the assumption that this is an easy option rather than tackling the abuse and helping mothers leave abusive relationships. *sigh*

I have been involved in women’s services almost 10 YEARS as a refuge worker, outreach floating support in the community and advocate for women at risk of domestic abuse, at crisis point and survivors. I am fully aware of the support available to women both through the state and various charitable organisations.

No choicer comments:

“The fact that these women DO have a choice, i.e. to leave their abusive relationships”

NO THEY DON’T. 76% OF WOMEN LEAVING ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS WILL FACE ANOTHER INCIDENT OF VIOLENCE FOR DARING TO LEAVE THEIR PARTNER. WOMAN IS PROPERTY, WOMAN HAS NO AUTONOMY.

“If she is helped to extricate herself from the abuse and domestic violence, then so will her children be too!”

EASY SPEAKING AS A MAN ISN’T IT? THE ONUS IS ON A VULNERABLE WOMAN TO GET HERSELF AND HER CHILDREN OUT. WHERE IS THE PRESSURE ON VIOLENT MEN TO STOP BEING VIOLENT?

“If there is a lack of mother and baby united in women’s refuges, campaign and fundraise for more!”

MAKING ASSUMPTIONS AGAIN.. NO CHOICER, DO YOU KNOW THE DEVASTATING EFFECT TORY GOVERNMENT CUTS HAVE ALREADY HAD ON WOMEN? DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW RECESSION OFTEN HURTS THE MOST VULNERABLE, IE WOMEN AND CHILDREN LEAVING VIOLENT RELATIONSHIPS? SUPPORT FOR VULNERABLE WOMEN AND CHILDREN IS NOT CONSIDERED IMPORTANT UNDER RICH WHITE MEN.

“If society is lacking in holding fathers to account, campaign and politically lobby for a change in the law so they can be – but don’t think that you can say “father’s have no rights” if then you wish to make them accountable, it doesn’t work!”

NO CHOICER, THESE THINGS WILL NOT HAPPEN IN MY LIFETIME. IT PAINS ME THAT PROTECTING VULNERABLE WOMEN AND CHILDREN IS MY LIFE’S WORK AND YET I KNOW, DESPITE MY BEST EFFORTS AND OF THE THOUSANDS OF WOMEN WORKING TIRELESSLY EVERYDAY, WOMEN EXPERIENCING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE WILL CONTINUE TO ABORT THEIR PREGNANCIES BECAUSE.. PATRIARCHY.

THAT’S YOU SIR. WITH YOUR JUDGMENT AND CONTROL. YOUR RELIGIONS AND YOUR PATHETIC OPINIONS.

Solidarity with my sisters. It is your body, it is your choice. #Feminism

11 comments

      1. Hi Sam. Thanks for writing this very moving piece. But I find it very sad. Can’t something more be done to help these women? Why should they have to abort their children because their selfish partners want the sex but don’t want the nine months of pregnancy and the child? The child isn’t just the ‘abuser’s seed’ – he/she has half the mother’s DNA – the child is HER child. I’m not for one second blaming or judging the women, but I can’t at all see how this is a situation in which abortion is empowering for women. It seems to me that the message the abusive partner gets is ‘I can rape this woman, I can beat this woman and someone will just get rid of the baby for me – no consequences’ – except for the woman of course, who has all the natural feelings of motherhood towards the unborn baby and has to make the really difficult and painful decision to end that life in her body. What kind of message is that to send to men in our society?

        In fact, some might argue that one of the reasons for the growth of violence towards pregnant women in our society is because sex and pregnancy have become so disconnected that men are furious when a baby comes along (that wasn’t part of the deal!). They blame the woman for getting pregnant and some men beat up their partners or threaten to kill them if they don’t have an abortion. This just makes a mockery of ‘a woman’s right to choose’. I also can’t help thinking that the reason why we just accept abortion in these situations is because it’s a whole lot cheaper and less hassle than helping mother and child find safe housing. A Christian charity I volunteer for just helped a very brave woman and her child who had run away from abuse/incest. Her family had tried to force her to have an abortion to save the family ‘honour’ (because, of course, families that treat their daughters like that are very honourable). She was one of the lucky ones that has received help, but am I completely living in cloud cuckoo land to think that she did the right thing in standing up to her family rather than getting rid of the baby to please them?

        Sorry for massively long reply.

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  1. Thanks for writing this, it’s a really powerful piece. I’d be interested to see how the pro-life lobby responds to these arguments! Horrible that 30% of domestic violence begins in pregnancy, I won’t forget that statistic for a while. Thanks again for drawing attention to this chapter in the huge book of why women should have the right to control their own bodies.

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    1. I left the link on a few prolife blogs. Have had some traffic from them.

      Was involved in a 2 day long discussion where I tried to point out other reasons for aborting including late term.

      Despite the psychological trauma a woman would have to endure carrying a foetus with severe malformation ie Patau Syndrome or OEIS complex, this particular no-choicer remained resolute in his views.

      He would not answer me when questioned if he was a woman and knew what it felt like to carry.

      But then, I expected that.

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      1. When I was pregnant for the second time I used to travel to work on a bus that carried Life advertisements saying “Pregnant? Worried?”. I’d always think, yes, I bloody well am, but about what you’re saying about the status of women like me! I almost felt like contacting them, for them to witness the reality of someone who is pregnant and actually wants to be a mother but still wants to say this body – all of this standing before you – is me and mine. When I passed the 24-week mark, I remember someone saying “that’s good, that’s when it becomes viable”. But it isn’t, not for most of us. It’s when we stop being allowed to choose what happens to our own bodies, and I found it terrifying.
        Sorry, I’m managing to have a personal rant here and I haven’t even had an abortion, “just” three pregnancies. So the pro-lifer you’ve been in discussion with probably has a MUCH better idea what he’s talking about…

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