Why do women ask for abortions?

Every woman’s reasons are slighdy different -after all, an unwanted pregnancy can be the result of anything from a simple contraceptive failure to an incident of rape. Nor is there any one ‘type’ who is most likely to seek an abortion; it might be a careless, promiscuous girl who takes no precautions and is uncertain of the father, but it could just as easily be a careful married woman whose coil has failed.

However, the fact that a pregnancy is ‘un-planned’ is generally not sufficient reason for seeking an abortion – there have to be stronger motivations, which are usually financial or social. A woman may well want the child as such, but have very strong career or family pressures which mean the baby would cause a great deal of disruption and unhappiness.

Money problems are often a major consideration. A young couple who haven’t got their first home organized may feel, quite realistically, they simply can’t contemplate the idea of looking after a tiny baby. Nowadays the woman of the family is an important source of income, so her pregnancy not only adds another mouth to feed but cuts down quite considerably on the money coming in to the household. Even if a couple already have children, it may be living conditions are already cramped or that they are living on a very low income.

Young, single girls usually have other priorities when it comes to an unwanted pregnancy. The social stigma attached to being an unmarried mother is much less nowadays, but the practical and emotional problems of bringing up a child without the support of the father are very daunting indeed. And, even if they get help from their families, many single girls are not prepared to have a child ruin their training or career.

Sometimes, of course, a doctor will recommend an abortion on medical grounds, when he has reason to believe the child will be abnormal or carry an inherited disease. There are also occasions when an abortion is suggested because the mother’s psychological health is at risk. If someone has been mentally ill as a result of a previous birth, it may be better for her to have an abortion than suffer the same problem again, and there are some women who become so severely depressed during pregnancy as to be suicidal. As a rule doctors will always place the health of the mother and her existing family as their highest priority in such cases.

What happens if the man involved disagrees about the abortion? As a potential parent, the man can, and often does, have strong feelings about the situation. Legally the man’s attitude cannot affect the situation. If a woman wants to terminate the pregnancy then she does not have to ask the father’s permission. On the other hand the father can influence the decision by threatening to break off the relationship, or just by making her life hell, if she goes ahead with an abortion against his wishes.

A woman has to balance her desire to continue the relationship with her need to end the preg-nancy. A woman who gives in to the father may in fact enjoy and love the baby, once it is born. On the other hand, it can be disastrous if the mother goes on with the pregnancy for the sake of the father and dislikes the child intensely on arrival.

Unwanted children can cause untold stress in a marriage, and the relationship may well break up over a child who is loved and wanted by one party, but rejected by the other.

An abortion rarely causes a basically sound relationship to break up, although it may put it under severe strain. Perhaps the woman feels she has to conceal the pregnancy from her partner and have an abortion without telling him, or there may be recriminations about who was responsible for the pregnancy in the first place, resulting in quarrels or repressed resentment.

Why do some people object to abortion on moral grounds? Many people today believe that no woman should be forced into motherhood simply because she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. This is a view that has been reinforced by the ‘legalizing’ of abortion in many countries. There are some, however, who have serious reservations about a woman’s right to do what she likes with her own body in these circumstances, and consider abortion to be litde better than a form of murder. These views may be a deeply held religious belief or simply a serious moral objection to the idea of’taking a life’.

Theoretically, an abortion is the removal of a foetus from the mother before it can sustain an independent existence but, when abortions are performed later on in a pregnancy, this fact isn’t always easy to establish. This is because it is sometimes difficult to determine accurately the age of the foetus. Even using advanced techniques such as ultrasound, a theoretical 28 week pregnancy may in fact be 32 weeks, with an increasing danger of a live baby.

As a pregnancy goes on, termination becomes more and more like a normal birth. With some methods the mother has something like a mini-Caesarian, or is brought into labour and delivers a palpably live foetus that just doesn’t go on living. This can be very traumatic for the patient and medical staff alike. Certainly it seems ironic that in one hospital ward the staff may be fighting to save the life of a premature baby of 26 weeks, while in another doctors are operating on a woman to remove a foetus of the same age.

Is it usual for a woman to feel depressed after an abortion? When an abortion is over, the overriding feeling for the woman is usually one of immense relief. It is natural that this relief should be mixed with a certain amount of guilt or resentment and be unged with sadness for the baby that might have been, but this mild depression does not usually last for more than a couple of weeks.

The operation will temporarily affect a woman’s hormone balance, and this in itself can produce emotional changes. Even in the early stages, the mother’s body responds to pregnancy by producing increasing amounts or certain hormones. An abortion alters these levels and the sudden change may well bring on depression. Some abortion methods also involve the mother taking high doses of hormones, which further interfere with her body’s delicate chemistry.

It’s also important for everybody’s peace of mind that the abortion should take place as quickly as possible. This means the woman should go to her doctor or a pregnancy advisory centre early on, particularly as there may be administrative delays.

Although in many countries abortions can be carried out up to the 28 th week of pregnancy, most abortions take place at 12 to 14 weeks or earlier. In practice, doctors are reluctant to terminate a pregnane}’ beyond the 16th week; physically, the danger of haemorrhage is then greater, but the chances of emotional damage are also increased. Around this stage of pregnancy the baby starts to move and to have the abortion after this is likely to be a much more upsetting experience for the woman.

Unfortunately, some women postpone seeking advice because they really feel in two minds about having the operation. They may even refuse to accept their pregnancy is real in the vain hope that, if they ignore it, it will somehow cease to exist. As the weeks go by the situation can only worsen – the baby in fact becomes more real and the decision is much more difficult.

A woman’s age is another important factor in how easily she can accept an abortion. For an older woman, the pregnancy may have been her last chance of having a baby, so she is likely to grieve longer than a young woman.

Does abortion ever cause long-term emotional problems? It’s unusual for a woman to suffer from serious psychological effects after an abortion but there are some women who find it more difficult to accept the loss on a long term basis.

Sometimes a woman gets pregnant again soon after an abortion. This can be a conscious decision because she has rearranged her life and feels able to cope with a child. Or it can be in response to a dimly recognized need, and only lead to a further abortion. Perhaps she is a very lonely person who – without realizing it – is seeking a child of her own as someone to love and who will give her the love she needs.

Recent research has shown that women who have had an abortion are more likely to become depressed during a subsequent wanted preg-nant’. This seems to be a kind of delayed emotional impact – it’s more likely to affect a woman who failed to face up to her real regrets at the time of the abortion. Occasionally an abortion can cause miscarriages in later pregnancies or even sterility. When this happens a woman can feel terribly guilty about what she has done to her body and to her marriage.

If a woman is having real difficulty coming to terms with the idea of abortion, she should seek advice from her doctor, or from a pregnancy advisory service – this can be just as important before an abortion as after. A professional counsellor can do a great deal to help someone sort out the conflicting emotions she is experiencing and face up to taking responsibility for her own actions. The important thing is for the woman to arrive at the decision that is right for her.