Why Women Choose Abortion
This article is over 10 years old, but Lucy’s post last week reminded me about it.
Those at the de Veber conference spoke of the struggles of pregnant woman and the pressures stacked against them and the fear they experience. I sympathized with the women for what they had to endure but I still found myself wondering, “but why would you kill a child?” Mothers never hand over their babies to strangers to be executed… It was [Teresa Hartnett] who gave me a helpful analogy. She discussed how woman deal with grief after abortion and compared it to the way soldiers tend to try and bury their pain after they have killed during a war. But the war comparison can be extended beyond the treatment of grief and can help to explain why anyone would kill in the first place.
No one could argue that during the war just about any kind of person could be taught to pick up a gun and shoot their enemy. And it was not because they were bad and heartless people. If in their homes they are pressured to fight for their country, and in the line of fire all their friends are telling them to shoot to save your life, and it is what they have been trained to do, the odds are that they are going to do it. So also have women been trained by society that they do not have to accept responsibility and in a sense, have been taught to shoot to save their lives. I have thus come to understand that women bombarded with pressures and fears do indeed need to be defended and not judged. (Though continuing with the war analogy, I am still trying to understand how anyone could shoot their own son.)
Here’s what Paul Swope had to say in the 1998 article, Abortion: A Failure To Communicate:
For twenty-five years the pro-life movement has stood up to defend perhaps the most crucial principle in any civilized society, namely, the sanctity and value of every human life. However, neither the profundity and scale of the cause, nor the integrity of those who work to support it, necessarily translates into effective action. Recent research on the psychology of pro-choice women offers insight into why the pro-life movement has not been as effective as it might have been in persuading women to choose life; it also offers opportunities to improve dramatically the scope and influence of the pro-life message, particularly among women of childbearing age.
Unplanned motherhood, according to the study, represents a threat so great to modern women that it is perceived as equivalent to a “death of self.” While the woman may rationally understand this is not her own literal death, her emotional, subconscious reaction to carrying the child to term is that her life will be “over.” This is because many young women of today have developed a self-identity that simply does not include being a mother. It may include going through college, getting a degree, obtaining a good job, even getting married someday; but the sudden intrusion of motherhood is perceived as a complete loss of control over their present and future selves. It shatters their sense of who they are and will become, and thereby paralyzes their ability to think more rationally or realistically.
When these women evaluate the abortion decision, therefore, they do not, as a pro-lifer might, formulate the problem with the radically distinct options of either “I must endure an embarrassing pregnancy” or “I must destroy the life of an innocent child.” Instead, their perception of the choice is either “my life is over” or “the life of this new child is over.” Given this perspective, the choice of abortion becomes one of self-preservation, a much more defensible position, both to the woman deciding to abort and to those supporting her decision.
When a woman faces an unplanned pregnancy, her main question is not “Is this a baby?”—with the assumed consequence that if she knows it to be so she will choose life. Women know, though often at the subconscious level, that the fetus is human, and that it will be killed by abortion. But that is the price a woman in that situation is willing to pay in her desperate struggle for what she believes to be her very survival. Emphasis on babies, whether dismembered fetuses or happy newborns, will tend to deepen the woman’s sense of denial, isolation, and despair, the very emotions that will lead her to choose abortion.
Her central, perhaps subconscious, question is rather, “How can I preserve my own life?” The pro-life movement must address her side of the equation, and do so in a compassionate manner that affirms her own inner convictions.
The terrible miscalculation of young women is that abortion can make them “un-pregnant,” that it will restore them to who they were before their crisis. But a woman is never the same once she is pregnant, whether the child is kept, adopted, or killed. Abortion may be a kind of resolution, but it is not the one the woman most deeply longs for, nor will it even preserve her sense of self. If those of us in the pro-life movement can help women see this for themselves, we will have done much to disengage our culture from the abortion mentality.
If you haven’t read this already, you should read the whole article.