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RealChoice

Stress and the Abortion Decision
The stress of a crisis pregnancy leaves women vulnerable
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Currently, there are a lot of informed consent and waiting period laws working their way through legislatures, or tied up in court. Prolifers, of course, tend to like these laws for two reasons: first, they spare some women the anguish prolifers have seen many aborted women suffer; second, each woman who avoids the anguish of an abortion also spares the life of her unborn baby.

Most prochoice Americans, likewise, tend to support these laws. In the focused polls analyzed by James Davison Hunter in Before the Shooting Begins, we find that 86 percent of the public favor improved informed consent requirements and that even among those who describe themselves as "strongly prochoice," 78 percent favor such laws. After all, even among women who remain prochoice after their abortions, there are plenty of women wracked with grief and regret over their own abortions. The most prominent is Sue Nathanson, author of Soul Crisis, the story of her own anguish over her abortion. But we can also hear the pain of other women who suffered, but remain supportive of keeping legal abortion avialable:

And really, who would oppose these laws? What's the problem with a short waiting period between the time a woman is informed about the risks of abortion, and its actual execution?

In the midst of a traumatic and emotional crisis, we can all make hasty and poorly thought-out decisions:

Let's review some of the impact of stress on decision-making:

When pregnancy is such an intense stressor that the woman is contemplating abortion, she is making her decision under great stress. This means that she is likely to make a risky, premature, ill-thought-out decision based on what seems like the quickest way out of the immediate crisis.

A difficult pregnancy is, we can clearly see, a time of particular vulnerability for the woman. She is not likely to be in an emotional state that will lead her to gather all the information she needs. She is not likely to be thinking clearly. She is not likely to think past the first choice that looks as if it will solve her immediate problem and get her out of this crisis.

And abortion is a life and death matter in which too much care can't be exercised. One reasonable way we could help women be certain they are making the right decision for themselves is by requiring that they have time to reflect on the risks and alternatives before the abortion. Indeed, even Dr. Alec Bourne, who in 1938 successfully fought the British law against abortion for rape victims, said in his memoirs:

"Those who plead for an extensive relaxation of the law [against abortion] have no idea of the very many cases where a woman who, during the first three months, makes a most impassioned appeal for her pregnancy to be 'finished,' later, when the baby is born, is thankful indeed that it was not killed while still an embryo. During my long years in practice I have had many a letter of the deepest gratitude for refusing to accede to an early appeal."1

Bourne was not the only proponent of limited legalization who noted that women often changed their minds about abortion. In fact, one of the observations of the 1955 Planned Parenthood conference on induced abortion was that given the chance to work through their problems, most women who initially sought abortions would get past their anxieties and reject abortion.2

So, again, who could object to giving women information before their abortions, and giving them time to think over this information before making a life-altering decision? Only that rare beast, the squeaky wheel, the outright abortion proponent. They're few in number, but they roar loudly and make sure their voices are heard.

Abortion proponents claim that women already know the risks before they go to the abortion clinic. This is silly. How many pregnant teens know about disseminated intravascular coagulopathy, pulmonary thromboembolism, and clostridium perfringens sepsis? What single mom struggling with a job and child-rearing is going to hop over to the medical library and look up amniotic fluid embolism, cervico-vaginal fistula, and hypernatremia? How likely is it that a woman in a crisis situation is going to calmly research issues that require the ability to concentrate, focus, and weigh multiple pieces of information?

Of course, abortion advocates and their political stooges know that women don't know about these things before they get to the abortion clinic. They aren't even likely to find out once they get there. If they ever were to find out about these risks, they'd probably decide abortion isn't worth the risks. And that's one choice no abortion advocate can tolerate. Fewer abortions sold means fewer dollars going into the coffers of not only those who directly profit from abortion, but also into the coffers of those who indirectly profit -- organizations and politicians who depend upon abortion to generate the money their donors send to them in exchange for favors.

When you start hearing all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over how much informed consent and waiting periods will supposedly hurt women, apply a little logic. What other medical procedure is performed based on self-referral, without any medical consultation whatsoever? Is there any other medical procedure you can think of in which patients are expected to do all the research into risks and alternatives themselves, before they see a doctor? And when we look at the fact that the woman contemplating abortion is operating in crisis mode, with her normal decision-making abilities compromised by intense stress, how can anybody justify denying her the information and time she needs to think past the "fight or flight" response?

Opposition to informed consent and waiting periods isn't about protecting women's choices. It's about protecting the abortion lobby.


1. A. Bourne, A Doctor's Creed: The Memoirs of a Gynecologist, London, 1963.
2. 1955 Planned Parenthood Conference on Induced Abortion

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