There are times a client and/or companion is so empowered they instantly gain my admiration.
What is she so impressed by? She goes on to explain:
The companion [of the woman who was having an abortion] got out of the car first. E [the pro-lifer] was hovering right behind me ready to start shaming. I was able to explain the vests and offer to escort them before he began his spiel. E handed the companion some literature. When I explained he was a protester, they handed it right back to him.
The companion and I escorted the client down the sidewalk. We were in a line: E, companion, client and me. E started with “Women regret their abortions. Don’t lead her into this place.” The companion waved dismissively at him and said, “Oh, I know all about abortion. I have had 10 already.” There was a pause then E leaned over towards the client and said “You don’t have to go into that place.” The client turned to me and said, “I am not listening to him.” I replied that was best.
It was great to witness these two completely ignoring the words meant to hurt and shame them…I felt privileged to witness this calm confidence.
Elsewhere in her blog, the clinic escort talks about sidewalk counselors offering to help the women with adoption or other alternatives. Pro-lifers often offer free help to pregnant women outside abortion clinics. To the escort, this is “shaming.”
It’s takes a person who has embraced a truly hardcore pro-choice position to consider a woman who has had 10 abortions empowered. Is this the ideal world for clinic workers and escorts? A world where women use abortion as birth control, having multiple abortions and then getting pregnant again and again? How can repeatedly having an invasive surgical procedure that raises the risk of ectopic pregnancy, premature birth, and miscarriage be empowering?
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 47% of all abortions are repeat abortions. Among the women who have repeat abortions, 59% have had one previous abortion (and are getting their second), 25% have had two (and are getting their third), and 15% have had at least three (and are getting their fourth or more).
In an article about repeat abortions, pro-choice author Jennifer Baumgardner (who started the “I had an abortion” T-shirt campaign) says the following:
In the clinic world, repeat visitors are called, not unkindly, “frequent fliers.” The reason that casual term is not an insult is simply due to how common multiple abortions are. …
Virtually everyone I’ve spoken to was working the clinic has a story of one patient who had not two or three abortions, but 20 or more despite contraceptive counseling with each clinic visit. (1)
A clinic worker participated in a question-and-answer session on Reddit.
One reader asked the unnamed clinic worker the following question:
Q. Have you seen women get several abortions? Or use this as a method of birth control?
A. Unfortunately yes. Their contraceptive choices are always stressed at these appointments but some women simply do not wish to use birth control.
In an interview on Nightline on January 11, 2006, Martin Bashir spoke with abortionist William Harrison.
Harrison comments, “I’ve had lots of patients who come in for second, third, fourth, fifth, even one who had nine abortions.”
When asked, “Is that really appropriate?,” he replied: “If she needs nine abortions, yeah. … Basically, abortion is a method of birth control. You know, it’s not the best method of birth control. But all it does is stop the birth of a baby that a woman doesn’t want at a time she doesn’t want it.”
A clinic worker who responded to a post on The Abortioneers about repeat abortion said the following in response to the blog writer’s question about whether repeat abortions made clinic workers uncomfortable:
I dunno, the more I talk to people about it I come to find that some women simply don’t want to use hormonal/unnatural contraception. Period. And these are not always poor, disadvantage, unaware women. Just as responsible and knowledgeable women make the choice to have abortions, those same women sometimes choose not to use anything. And that’s still OK!
I tried to explain this once to a friend who just couldn’t believe it, and understandably so. But I think it’s unsafe to typecast the “repeat offenders[.]“
The blogger herself states:
The patients who have had more than three abortions are few and far between. But, the fact of the matter is there are women who will present in a clinic five, six, seven times for a procedure. This makes a lot of people, myself included, uncomfortable on some level.
A different clinic worker who writes for the same blog said the following in another post:
Sometimes, just to feel people out, I ask, “How do you feel about repeat abortions?” Some people will answer, “One is OK, but more than that is just irresponsible,” which I may use as a teaching opportunity, or I might just walk away. It depends on my mood. But one person answered, “It’s an expensive type of birth control, but if that’s a woman’s preference, that’s fine with me.” That counted as a good answer.
Is this the true pro-choice litmus test, then – embracing the use of abortion as a form of birth control? The logical pro-choice answer would be yes. If there’s nothing wrong with abortion, if it is simply the removal of tissue or the emptying of the uterus, there is no reason why women shouldn’t have one or two or 10 abortions. But some clinic workers, who are not fully hardened to the reality of abortion, do feel uncomfortable when the same women come in again and again.
The blog “RealChoice” by Christina Dunigan quotes a letter a pro-choice columnist received from a nurse who works in an abortion clinic that does late-term abortions. First, the clinic worker writing the letter, identified only as Kay, talks about the typical abortion done at her clinic. In the words of the columnist:
Every so often, a letter arrives in a columnist’s mailbag that throws a hand grenade right into the middle of a long-held view…. The letter came from a Registered General Nurse named Kay who works on a gynecological ward that regularly deals with late abortions. She apologized for the “unpleasant and upsetting aspects of her letter” but felt her points needed to be said. I agree, and felt it also warranted a wider audience. Apparently, at 20 weeks, tablets can be given to kill the fetus prior to expulsion. But at 24 weeks it is sufficiently strong to survive the treatment and many are born with signs of life. “It is all too easy for people to picture a clump of cells or mush. People don’t want to picture perfectly-formed miniature babies and I don’t blame them. I was once the same. But having cut the umbilical cord on one who survived, then had to watch him gasp for breath for ten minutes on the side of a sink before he died, the sight will haunt me forever.
The reason given in this particular termination was that the mother’s current boyfriend had a toddler son who might get jealous of a new baby. It took them 21 weeks to come to that conclusion.
The pro-choice columnist then says the following:
Kay doesn’t believe in criticizing or hounding women who have to make this extremely tough decision due to severe disability. Her feelings are reserved solely for those who use termination as a form of contraception. Women who, up until last week, I hoped were few and far between. But, according to Kay, these terminations far outstrip those carried out because of fetal abnormality or genuine emotional distress. She says:
‘There are girls who come back five or six times demanding terminations and they get them. How can someone coming in for their fifth termination be allowed to keep saying it is due to emotional distress? I should imagine in ten year’s time the emotional distress of being allowed to have five terminations is going to take its toll. What is going on?
How should pro-lifers respond to women who use abortion as birth control? These women seem to confirm the worst stereotypes that anti-abortion activists have about women who abort – that they are uncaring and irresponsible. But if you look deeper, many of these women are suffering from emotional turmoil.
In father Frank Pavone’s book Ending Abortion, Not Just Fighting It, he quotes Dr. Theresa Burke, who gives some perspective in her book Forbidden Grief:
Repeat abortions and replacement pregnancies are two common ways in which women reenact elements of their abortion trauma.
Pavone also quotes mental health professional Dr. Philip Ney saying the following:
Tragedy is repeated not because we do not understand, but because we are trying to understand. Meaning that a woman is reliving her abortion experience trying to resolve the trauma by having a replacement child, but then realizes that the same reason she had an abortion before is still present.
These doctors explain how the emotional trauma of abortion can translate itself into repeating the same traumatic event again and again. Rather than being cold and uncaring, many of these women are in fact deeply hurting. The abortion clinic is not helping them by sending them on their way, again and again, to repeat the destructive pattern. From father Frank Pavone:
An underlying conflict, perhaps created by previous trauma, is unresolved. We find we cannot resolve it by simply replaying it in our minds. So we relive it. This happens in many arenas of life. The sexually abused child may become seductive; the child who lacked touch and affection may seek an emotionally cold partner, and so forth. We repeat what we don’t understand, in the hopes of mastering it.
He eloquently gives pro-lifers guidance in how to respond to these women:
Repeat abortions can be repulsive even to people who call themselves “pro-choice” and even to those who work in abortion mills. Sometimes the reaction is exasperated, indignant, “How could she do that??!!” But we should change the question and ask instead, “How can I help you to heal?” That question expresses the heart of the pro-life movement, a movement that knows that the destiny of mother and child are forever intertwined and that we can’t love one without loving the other.
Rather than judging mothers who repeatedly have abortions, the pro-life movement needs to reach out to them with compassion.
1. Jennifer Baumgardner “Twice is a Spanking” from the pro-choice book by Krista Jacob. Abortion under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choice (Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2006) 222.