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Abortion & Trauma: The Bigger Picture

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Submitted by Heather Corinna on Sun, 2005-12-11 17:00

Studies, and reports on them, like this amaze me. Of course, the pro-life blogs and sources are all over this already like white on rice.

Of COURSE a lot of women suffer long-term trauma with abortion, and of course it's longer-term than miscarrying (pity they didn't also include women's psychological states after childbirth, the first year of parenting and adoption).

You miscarry, everyone says, "Oh, I am so sorry." This is said whether you wanted to be pregnant, whether you planned to bring a pregnancy to term or not. This is not usually the case with abortion: in part because a lot of women don't -- can't -- tell anyone they have even had an abortion.

You are told again and again that a miscarriage is not your fault. Rarely are women told an abortion is not our fault. We are told miscarriage is okay, because it is out of our control. Because we chose to have an abortion somehow that negates the fact that the systems we live in -- which set us up to have sex we don't want, to be ignorant of how our own bodies work, to have less autonomy with our bodies than our male counterparts do, to be without developments in contraception we have every means of funding and having provided for us, to make childbearing and childrearing -- when that is what we'd prefer -- so difficult, which often give so many women no choice BUT to make a reproductive choice after-the-fact -- are out of our control. That in the systems we live in, to even have real autonomy over our bodies and our sexuality is not a given right, but something we must vigilantly and constantly do battle for.

If we live in a culture which stigmatizes something, which punishes us for something, which tells us that we have the right to choose something, but it isn't as good, as noble, as defensible, as acceptable as a different choice, we are likely to feel anguish when we do that thing. This is not complex logic.

If we live in a culture in which we must be silent about any major event in our lives -- be it rape or abortion (made all the more major by cultural mores) or domestic abuse or winning an award or getting a promotion -- in which telling anyone about it without apologizing for it has a likely and negative cost, of course we are going to experience trauma. If we engage in something which we must keep a dirty secret, of course it will upset us, for as long as we have to keep that secret.

If we go to have a service performed in which we know there are people in the world who would like to bomb the room we are having it done in while we are doing it and murder us intentionally; where security measures are in place to keep our clinician from being shot to death for performing that service, of course we are going to feel distress.

If we are told, again and again, that what we are having done MUST upset us greatly, MUST be tragic, MUST be an unfortunate choice, of course, many of us are going to absorb that. (We see this with women who have first intercourse all of the time: they are told it is going to be painful, and so often, it is. They are told they should regret it if it was not fairytale perfect our was outside of marriage, and so, they do.)

The sad thing with studies like this is that, in a world which truly cared about women, the people, communities and forces which perpetuate those attitudes, those approaches, that violence, would read something like this and realize that, at a minimum, they are absolutely hurting women by adding to their pain. And they'd cool it; they'd stop hurting women. They'd acknowledge that at least some of the distress caused, some of the harm done, was of their doing.

If they really felt abortion was the horrendous thing they say it is, they'd act in the real interest of helping women to limit it: after all, no matter how we feel about abortion and our right to it, it's safe to say that no woman WANTS an abortion. No woman is going to try to become pregnant for the sole reason of being able to go run out and get an abortion.

They'd lobby for freely accessible emergency contraception. They'd lobby for more developments in and access to contraception for all women overall, rather than for male impotency drugs. They'd encourage women to start annual sexual healthcare early. They'd work to build a world where women could truly say no to sex and have it instantly, inarguably respected; for a world where women didn't feel obligated to say yes to sex to placate, mollify or calm boyfriends and husbands.

When other studies come up, like recent ones showing that EC isn't massively reducing the teen pregnancy rate in places where it is available, they'd ask WHY: they'd look at why that is, at why, for instance, some very young women often choose to become mothers because they don't feel they can accomplish much else in their lives, or be unconditionally loved any other way, at WHY, even when EC is available easily, young women aren't getting it and if just maybe that has something to do with the world telling them its abortion when it isn't.

They'd support comprehensive sex education for unmarried and married women alike. They'd stop trying to get lesbian women to play straight and marry men. They'd stop personally using (while publicly decrying) pornography which presents women as nothing more than sex objects, as dolls to taint and sully, use and dispose of when another novelty comes by; they'd stop presenting marriage and wifedom as the solution to this, presenting being owned by one man as the alternative to being owned by many. They'd work to get rapists off the streets; they'd nurture sons who don't grow up to be rapists. They'd wiggle a bigger shame-on-you finger at men who guilt-trip, manipulate, force or coerce women into sex with them than the one they wave at women with who abort. They'd stop supporting war, father of rape, where rape was first honed into common practice as a weapon against civilian women and children from the onset and where it still thrives, responsible for unfathomable numbers of unwanted pregnancies and traumatized women. They'd stop perpetuating attitudes which state, imply or elevate women as baby factories or sexual receptacles; which praise subservience, obedience, docility, defining female sexuality only by male sexuality.

But we don't live in that world.

In the world we live in, a study like this will be used to tell women they are harming themselves. It will be used as a weapon to try and limit their rights to their own bodies and wombs even further.

And in this world as it is? It is no less tragic for a woman to bear a child than it is for her to have an abortion. It just feels better because we're told that that choice -- that "choice," even when we're grossly limited in how much of our pregnancy or our choice as to what to do with that pregnancy actually is choice for us, even when we make it out of fear, ignorance, desperation or guilt -- is the best one to be making.

(Original comments for this entry can be found here.)


Oh, not at all.

Sat, 2008-01-19 14:04
Heather Corinna

I assure you, I'm not neglecting that idea or that world. There would be little sense in my busting my rump for a decade to do the work that I do here if I wasn't very much aiming for all women being able to live in a world where female sexuality is accepted, celebrated and a thing of delight for women.

I also wouldn't have said things like this, "That in the systems we live in, to even have real autonomy over our bodies and our sexuality is not a given right, but something we must vigilantly and constantly do battle for," or "They'd stop perpetuating attitudes which state, imply or elevate women as baby factories or sexual receptacles; which praise subservience, obedience, docility, defining female sexuality only by male sexuality," if I felt that way.

But in the world we live in overall, one out of every three or four women have been or will be raped in our lifetimes, including those of us who already do express our sexual desires shamelessly and including those of us who say yes very enthusiastically to sex when it is wanted. In the world many women live in, their sexuality and their pleasure takes a backseat -- if any seat at all - to the desires and wants of male partners. because these things and more happen to many women does not mean I am implying all women, nor that they hapen to all women, but they are substantial and widespread problems, and problems that very much stand in the way of a world where women get to own, inhabit and enjoy our sexuality to the fullest.

Editor & Founder, Scarleteen: Sex Ed for the Real World
Author, S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and Col

Insightful, though you seem

Thu, 2008-01-17 09:13

Insightful, though you seem to be neglecting the idea of a world where a woman can have sexual desires, own them and express them without shame. A world where a woman can have sex for its own sake... you seem to be implying that only men aggressively want sex and all women are secretly saying "no" with the many references of women being pressured or forced into it.

"Abortion and Trauma: The Bigger Picture"

Thu, 2008-01-10 07:58

Thanks for articulating so many points about what is wrong with our culture with respect to people who are against abortion but unwilling to be any part of a solution. I've often said to my husband that I wish we could get to a place where both men and women respect their bodies and abortions are no longer necessary.
Keep up the good writing!

"Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss." Emily, age 8

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