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Abortion and Regret: The Remorse Can Cut Both Ways

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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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Modern medicine treats symptoms, but fails to address the cause of disease and thus cures nothing. Likewise, abortion treats the symptom of pregnancy but fails to address the preventable cause of pregnancy and cures nothing. Pregnancy is the natural result of sex and irresponsible promiscuity. Who doesn't know that? We roll the dice, we pay the price. Delia, you stated that abortion is an “arduous decision” and it is, precisely because we know human life begins at conception and that abortion terminates it. Science proves this inconvenient truth and it overwhelms or belief and hope that the fetus is not yet a person. Who are we to cause and create human life and then “choose” to terminate it? Life is messy and sometimes painful. Pregnancy is not a disease it’s a gift. Nothing worth having comes for free. Children are perhaps the only good, pure and redeeming thing left in this twisted selfish world. Children cause us to become less selfish, more compassionate and loving. They make us grow up. Why would we want to abort a miracle like that?

February 03 2011 at 11:09 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The example of the friend who is having difficulty being emotionally stable may not be due to having the child ten years ago, but from events in her early life, broken marriage, and many other numerous factors. There are large numbers of women who have regrets about abortion and their voices have been only recently come to the forefront. Their stories are important, too. This writer may be heavily influenced by her friend's story and the sadness as she writes. Please consider that her story is not yet finished, nor her child's, and not give in to utter hopelessness here. I'm a counselor and I've seen many impossible looking lives changed for good.

June 18 2010 at 9:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Don Metnes

Speaking as one who knows via spouse/sister/cousins and countless close friends, the reason many "so-called-pro-life" groups push for these laws is simple. They all had abortions. They all regret them to varying degrees. Not one was allowed to see an ultrasound. Many were told by PP workers that it was "just a blob of cells" (aren't we all?). THEN comes the day you're pregnant again and happy this time. THEN you see an ultasound of your 10 week old "clump of cells". THEN comes the shock, the regret, the "how could I have done this!?". This is exactly why all these women and men want everyone to know exactly what it is they're doing. It a case of been there, done that, bought the t-shirt and I don't want you to ever live thru this feeling. And yes, anniversary triggered depression happens to 75% of the ones I know. And PP barely acknowledges you if you show up depressed after an abortion. It brings out the "I regret" signs in force.

June 18 2010 at 9:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I wonder what would happen to the abortion rate if it were easier, financially, for childless couples or singles to adopt. It's my impression that foreign adoption is popular because it's easier and cheaper. Rather than put roadblocks to adoption in front of those who want children, and discourage pregnant women from "giving up" their babies, why not make the process easier for everyone? Less regret on the mothers' part, more joy for the childless. Sounds win-win to me.

June 16 2010 at 6:56 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

I wrote kind of a long-winded epistle on this subject this morning, taking me back to that emotionally raw time in my life. I'd like to follow with something I found many years ago that affected me profoundly. It's old and has faded to yellow, but I'll treasure it always. It was a memorial letter printed on the obituary page of our newspaper here in FL. It wasn't signed so I cannot ask for permission to pass it along - nor can I thank the author....

Next to a big rose were the words: "In Loving Memory of the Pre-Born Denied the Gift of Life by Abortion". It then went on to say:

"If I knew then what I know now, You never would have died.
I'd have held you close and nurtured you and kept you by my side.
I'd have sung you songs and treasured you more than silver, more than gold;
But this song is all I'll give to the babe I'll never hold.
I've never written poetry that hasn't been a praise
To the Lord who wept with me and held me through those days.
Lord, now I'm asking, I know you hear my plea;
Won't you take that child in your hands, and hold my babe for me".

It was never signed, but ended with the following:
"See, I will not forget you...I have carved you on the palm of My Hand"
Isaiah 49: 15-16

Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to pass this along. Perhaps it will help someone as has for me.

June 16 2010 at 2:56 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Generally, regret comes to the woman who aborted a fetus, or gave a baby up for adoption, after they have lived a little longer, and have made a decent life for themselves and their families. This is when one will look back and question whether they could have managed giving birth to a child and provide the nuturing and security it deserved. The same with adoption, which can be even more heart wrenching, knowing you have a child out there, somewhere, that had you known your life would become as stable as it is, you could have managed.

Those women whose lives have not turned out so well will probably not regret abortion, or adoption, knowing that the life they are living would never have been a good place for a baby. Those who always talk about all the childless women who would love to take the baby need to visit our orphanages and DCFS facilities. No hugs, no kisses, no nurturing, little guidance. Only rules, food, shelter, and clothes. Those things are necessary, but are not the things that provide a baby, a growing child, with the things that make their lives joyful and worth living.

June 16 2010 at 1:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My name is Paula, please read this very carefully. It's a true story that has no agenda yet shows all sides of this emotional, painful, beautiful & most personal of issues....

Springtime, May 1970: I was a sheltered 24 year old young girl who fell in love with the love of her life while in the process of separating from and divorcing a man my family had "forbid" me to marry. Married 7 years, I was no virgin in the clinical sense; but what happened to me taught me there was more to life - that I was worth something. Having said that, the 1st time with my love was, & always will be, that moment most women only dream or read about: and I became a woman, cherished in mind, heart, body and soul - throwing caution to the wind - never considering consequences, just enjoying that once-in-a-lifetime momemt in time given to 2 lonely, hurting people from different states; (He Ohio/Me NY). I can honestly say the same about him too, when, during our 2nd time together, he read to me the most heartwrenchingly beautiful poem about our meeting, about what his heart saw in me, and about our future. The most amazing part: he wrote it as he flew back to Ohio after our 1st meeting, so yes, it was THAT serious.

I never used protection with my husband during our marriage & never got pregnant, although we tried. I believed I couldn't have children but, 10 weeks to the day after my first time with my love, I found out I was pregnant. (Quickly: my first husband wasn't nice, a bit of a law-breaker. I was a young too trusting 24, often the recipient of many underhanded tricks that in one instance, while we were separated, caused me to unknowingly sign my car over to him, then pay him $600 ransom to get it back in my name & have transportation to work. $600 was a lot of money in 1970. Finding out I was pregnant caused me to lose what little wits I had left & immediately after being told I was pregnant, I told the nurse I could not have nor support a baby. When I told my love they said I was having a boy, he cried for days because he had 3 children - all girls - and had always wanted a son, and he could not get back to NY in time to be with me for the procedure. I was a zombie as my best friend JoAnn helped me through the abortion and when I saw my love 4 weeks later, it was a bittersweet time for us; but we gradually got through it and remained unselfishly in love, strongly committed, and together for another 2 years until, through my own incomprehensible behavior, I decided I was not going to wait any more for him to settle his affairs (supporting a separated wife with cancer and children with psychycological disorders from their parents' breakup - not caused by me). I started partying and drinking hard and sadly he faded from my life. but in my stupor, I let it happen. My point is: not a year goes by that I don't think of my SON and how old he would be every January. He would have been born very near my birthday and would be 39 years old now.

If I had been given some counseling on what my options were (besides abortion), I believe I would NEVER have chosen to abort. Many years later, happend to see a PBS program about the stages of growth for a fetus. When I saw a 12 week old fetus in the womb(the age of mine at the time of my abortion), I prayed for god and for the child to forgive me. I firmly believe that it is still and forever should remain, a woman's right to chose. But for God's sake, give her the tools and information and support she needs to make a decision she won't regret for the rest of her life! Please!

June 16 2010 at 9:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rosa Mama

This article appears to be quite full of bizarre leaps of off-kilter logic, personal animosity,and self-rightous assumption.

1. The targeted therapist who suggested there would be post-abortion regret spoke to spare his client future grief, more than likely based on his experience with other woman who still suffered for their decision to end the life of their baby. I think it would be well advised for the writer to finally let go of her long standing anger toward him.

2. As we all should know by now, there is a outstanding treatment for depression, such as psychotherapy combined with medication. Depression such as described indicates the very real possibility that this is Major Depressive Disorder, which suggests a strong possibility of neuro-biological origin. While an external reality may trigger an initial episode, the reality is that as it persists, it *will* require treatment for relief. Rather than rage, it would seem that encouraging the friend to seek help that would free her from pain and disability thereby giving her the ability to be a loving and functioning mother would be a more positive and constructive approach.

3. Juxtoposing women who feel so overly challenged in parenting children that the mothers might wish they'd never had with those who did want children seems to be a huge leap of imagination. There are functioning mothers in all socio-economic brackets who really wanted their children but who end up wondering why in the world they ever had them, especially when they become adolescents, as well as others who may often feel overwhelmed by a special needs child.

4. Limited financial resources is a specious argument to bolster thinking that a challenging life style is a reasonable basis for abortion. There are many loved children in a loving single parent family where it's all for one and one for all regardless of class. So why parallel middle-class women who do not make good parents with poor women who are, or are not not good mothers?

5. The medical profession is required to obtain informed consent before any treatment is begun. How can there be a knowledge-based decision when the reality of exactly what the disposable baby/fetus/embryo looks like? The latter being an interesting declension of developmental inutero life. Baby is a general term; fetus as a description covering a 9-25 week gestational progression; the embryonic phase is the first phase of growth from week 1 to 8. Why shouldn't the mother know exactly what stage of life is being aborted via ultra-sound? That said, forcing a woman beyond that point to watch the abortion itself is hideous.

6. The reality is that abortion at any stage is a tragedy regardless of what led to that decision. It is difficult to imagine that there won't be post-abortion moments of wonderment about who he/she might have been, and what life together might have been. Then, finally, is the fact that there *are* many who do regret that painful choice.

June 16 2010 at 7:52 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Rosa Mama's comment

This writer should continue to rage for all of her days at any medical professional who offers a one-sided view of life. She is not stating that he should not have offered the theory of possibly regretting her decision, she is saying it is not the only theory he should have offered. Medical professionals need to remove their personal views and focus on their patient. This woman's therapist should have offered her a sounding board for going over her options. Just because one woman who knew may have had a bad experience does not give him the right to try to strip every woman he comes into contact with, especially professionally, of they right to make a choice based on her situation and not his pre-conceived, and wrong, notions. For someone who wrote a very long response about the writer making assumptions, you have a made quite a few of your own. The first, and most galling, being that people who choose to have an abortion have no idea in their little brains what is developmentally going on with their fetus. To advocate that it is OK to force a woman against her consent to watch what is developing in her uterus is ludicrous. There is no medically, physically or mentally, sound reason to require a ultrasound prior to 16 weeks. Most women are fully aware of the decision they are making. The very fact that you refer to a pregnant woman as "mother" shows the very small scope in which you are operating. If a WOMAN is offered an ultrasound and accepts, by all means, she has the right to view the inside of her uterus. However, this should be her choice and anyone who wishes to take this away under the guise of "information" does so with ulterior motives, none of which have to do with the well being of the woman. All abortions are not tragedies, just as not all children are tragedies. Though, in both cases, some tragedies exist. You also assume all women have the post-abortion wonderment of "what would my child be like today". That simply is not the case. For many women the relief of not having had the child is what they think about. Imagining having had to raise a person that they couldn't afford and didn't want are the post-abortion thoughts they have. Not a romanticized vision of their precious baby. Of course, there are women who regret their decision to end their pregnancy, just as their are women who regret not ending it and women who regret getting married and women who regret quitting their jobs to stay home with their children and women who regret not quitting their jobs. The point of this article is that so many people lump all women who have abortions into the regret column and that simply isn't the case. We don't need to be reminded that their are women who have regrets, that is not being hidden from the public, what is being hidden are the women who proceed with their lives with no regrets, most with a sincere appreciation that they had the choice to proceed with their lives on their terms and not those of anti-choice advocates.

June 16 2010 at 9:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I wonder why people cannot make a choice before they get pregnant? I know lots of people who think they are wonderful parents and yet those around them do not. After all the pro choice crowd tells us not to judge. One writer talks about depression and one can have depression with or without children. One can have depression with or without an abortion. All I ask is that one should think.

June 16 2010 at 1:47 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The choice is made way before a pregnancy is even suspected. When you chose to have sex you chose to take the chance of becoming a parent, to have a relationship with your sexual partner for a very long time. While I agree that some people do not make good parents that can be "fixed" with birth control that is extremely effective. Maybe we should try living for more then just the present tense. What happened to personal responsibility?

June 15 2010 at 9:59 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to whgdtg's comment

It seems the point you are making is that sex is only for pro-creation. So, I'm to assume that every time you have sex, you have the expectancy that you will become a parent. And that once you are too old to pro-create, you will stop having sex. Because if this is the point you are trying to make and you have sex without the hope of having a child, then you are a hypocrite. If this is not the point you are trying to make, then you have no right to tell someone that they must become a parent just because they had sex.

June 16 2010 at 9:49 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to forthephishers's comment

You are ignorant. This was not his/her point. The point is WHEN you have sex, you must ASSUME a pregnancy can happen.

March 05 2011 at 2:56 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down

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