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Abortion and Regret: The Remorse Can Cut Both Ways

5 years ago
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There's a scene in the movie "Fish Tank," often hailed as the U.K.'s answer to "Precious," in which the mother of the 15-year-old heroine tells her daughter that she'd intended to abort her. It's a difficult thing to listen to -- and to watch the mixture of pain, anger and confusion that passes across the teenage daughter's face. But one of the many things this brutally realistic film forces you to do is confront the question of what each of these female's lives might have been like without the other.

In the Woman Up thread that's coalescing around the issue of feminism and abortion and summarized by my colleague Bonnie Goldstein, some of my sister bloggers have described regret as a component of many abortion decisions. Joanne Weiner quotes President Obama saying something along the lines of "I know that many women today are still regretting that abortion they had 20 years ago." My colleague Mary Curtis similarly notes that she's heard plenty of regrets and one woman even say, "When I was on that table, I knew I would never let this happen again."

I agree that there's probably plenty of regret out there on the table (so to speak). But there are other ways in which regret enters into this equation that we talk about much less.

A close friend of mine got pregnant with her daughter (now 10) when she wasn't married. She wasn't sure what to do. For though she thought it was "cool" (her words) that she was pregnant at the time (she was in her early 30s), she was not in love with the father of the baby/fetus/embryo -- call it what you will. She was actually on the verge of breaking up with him when she got pregnant. So she talked about her options with her then-therapist (a man), who told her that if she had an abortion, she would regret it every day of her life, especially on the "anniversary" of said event.

To this day, I'm still angry when I think about the advice this therapist gave her. Though my friend made the decision on her own to keep the baby (and marry the husband, whom she subsequently -- and bitterly -- divorced), her therapist had no right to try and influence her views on this potentially life-altering decision. It would have been fine to tell her that she needed to think through the consequences of keeping/giving up the baby/having an abortion. Just like she needed to carefully think through getting married/being a single parent/etc. But it was not, in my opinion, OK for him to tell her how she'd feel if she had an abortion. (How the hell would he know, anyway?)

That guy should be disbarred from his practice (or whatever it is we as a society do to excommunicate psychotherapists.) His rhetoric is in keeping with the ongoing efforts by the pro-life movement to brainwash women even as they try to make this arduous decision -- e.g., the Oklahoma law (struck down but under appeal) forcing women to watch an ultrasound before they go through with the procedure, or the personhood movement that my colleague Sandra Fish describes in Colorado. (Over here in the U.K., a group of Protestant churches have launched an Ultrasound Jesus poster campaign, which shows Jesus, in utero, with a halo over his head. Although the posters are ostensibly meant to promote Christmas, it's a bit hard to avoid the symbolic parallels with the pro-life movement.)

But that's not why I'm writing this post. I'm writing because, as my colleague Lizzie Skurnick pointed out, we've gotten to a point where it's no longer OK to talk about abortion as a relief when the circumstances just aren't right for raising a child. For just as Mary Curtis rightly points out that poor kids and kids with single parents -- the ones society often labels "unwanted" because they weren't aborted -- are, in fact, often loved, it is equally the case that middle-class professionals do not always make the best parents.

My friend is now a divorced, barely functioning single mother who suffers from severe depression. She's not poor and she's not a minority. But she is arguably someone who should never have been a parent because she simply isn't up to the task.

Should she have been using birth control? Absolutely.

Should she have considered adoption? Probably.

Would she be better off without her kid? I'm not willing to go that far. But I will say that the question doesn't have an obvious answer when considered strictly from the point of view of her own mental health.

In short, I'm sure there are many women who've had abortions that they regret.

But -- and to return to the movie "Fish Tank" -- I'm also sure that there are many women who regret having had children they're incapable of raising.

That's an uncomfortable truth. But that doesn't make it any less true.

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Filed Under: Abortion, Woman Up

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