But we don't need to look far for evidence that this isn't the case -- that women are undergoing abortions when their decisions weren't all that firm. And they could hardly be expected to be, considering the normal psychology of pregnancy plus the normal psychology of stress. It's normal to panic, to reject the pregnancy early on, only to change your mind later. And it's normal, during a time of stress, to go into full-scale "fight or flight" mode and make a rushed decision to escape the feelings of stress and fear.
Here is one example of a young mother who suffered terribly and needlessly because of the assumption that just because she'd signed on the dotted line, she'd made a firm decision:
Her name was April S.. She was underage when she went to Margaret Sanger Center for a vaccum aspiration abortion abortion on February 3, 1987. The abortion was performed by Dr. Norman E. Matthews.
There were no fetal parts found in the examination of the tissue removed during the abortion, but nobody at Margaret Sanger Center told April that. She was sent home.
Three months later, on May 7, another doctor examined April and noted that she was still pregnant, 22.5 weeks along. April "decided to keep the child due to the emotional trauma experienced by the first abortion procedure and the numerous additional risks to a late stage abortion."
In other words, April learned that when push came to shove, she really didn't want her baby to die after all.
Thus began a time of great anxiety for April. Ultrasounds performed between May 7 and June 29 showed decreasing amniotic fluid. It was on June 29 that April went into premature labor and underwent a c-section. Due to the low levels of amniotic fluid, the baby was born with chorioamnionitis, hypoplastic lungs, and Hyaline Membrane Disease. The baby died the following day.
The child who had seemed unwanted enough to be slated for an abortion in early February became wanted by June. And this young mother, not even out of her teens, got to watch that child die. Though nobody can prove the abortion caused the string of complications that led to the baby's death, anybody who has ever lived through the death of a loved one knows the crushing guilt of wondering what you might have done to cause it, and how you might have prevented it. Imagine how April felt, reflecting back on that early attempt on her baby's life, as she watched the child dying.
April is far from the only young mother to change her mind after an abortion fails. Other mothers have been known to change their minds after the abortion begins -- to the point where abortionist Douglas Karpan complained to his fellow National Abortion Federation members that the prolifers standing around outside his clinic, offering to help women who'd already started their abortions get the laminaria removed and go to term. Instead of asking how to improve his facility's counseling techniques so that they'd not be starting abortions on women who were so unsure of their choice that a chance word from a stranger outside the building could change their minds, he asked for advice on how to word his consent forms and how to browbeat his patients into following through with the abortions even after they'd decided they wanted their babies to live.
How respectful of choice is that? To me, that sounds like a man focused either on his profit margin or scoring political points one patient at a time, not a doctor who cares about the women who are trusting him.
It's not disrespectful of women to take into account normal psychology when they think abortion is their only option. These women are seeking, first of all, an irreversible medical or surgical procedure. What doctor allows patients to do this based on self-referral, without at least ensuring that they've had a thorough consult and really know what the risks and alternatives are? Consider the intensive informed consent process I went through in Germany, for oral surgery I had known for ten years that I desperately wanted. It turns out I didn't really want it that much after all, when I was made fully aware of the risks by a doctor who refused to do surgery on patients until he was satisfied that they really, truly understood the ramifications and had no doubts.
Based on decades of research I've read, the stories of women who regretted their abortions or who changed their minds before, during, or afterward, I've postulated that this is what adequate informed consent would look like, if we were really treating abortion like a medical procedure, to be chosen by a woman in consultation with her doctor. Compare it to what they actually get.
Read these stories. What kind of informed consent did these women have? How firm, really, were their decisions? How informed?
Dr. Alec Bourne, who had successfully challenged abortion law in the UK by openly performing an abortion on a teenage rape victim, later wrote:
"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."
When I was in labor with my daughter, I was in terrible pain, and I was begging for drugs. But my midwife respected me enough to find out if that was the pain talking, or if I had really changed my mind about the natural, drug-free childbirth I had wanted. Was she being disrespectful?
Too often "choice" is about the pain or fear making a decision, and not about anybody really bothering to find out what the woman really wants.
Now, many of you will ask, "So, are you saying that you're okay with abortion as long as the woman has chosen it freely and in an informed manner, consistent with her deeply held beliefs?" Well, no. Not any more than I'd be okay with anybody else killing an innocent person as long as they make the decision to kill freely and in an informed manner, consistent with their deeply held beliefs. But:
1. If we limited abortions to only those cases, I doubt that we'd see even ten percent of the abortions we're seeing take place now. Sparing that many women and children is indeed a worthwhile goal.
2. If prochoicers are really about choice, then they need to really think about what the choice in question is, and how it's made. Just getting the prochoice behind the idea of limiting abortions to those who really, truly, unequivocally and without question understand what an abortion destroys, and still want to go through with it, would go a long way to ending the practice.
My goal is to get people to think -- both before going through with an abortion themselves, and before getting behind the status quo of self-referred abortions performed on women whose only "counseling" is by a salesperson helping them choose chemical or surgical.