Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you in my capacity as a researcher, counsellor and educator of more than 2 decades to give a voice to the many hundreds of post-abortive women and men I have spoken to during that time.
It is timely that we are having this discussion on abortion and the way its current availability impacts women. It is unfortunate that it is the wrong discussion, one that is not based on the best available evidence, but on ideological misinformation.
There is clear and unequivocal evidence that up to 20% of women suffer measurable, serious, and prolonged mental health adverse effects after abortion, including depression, anxiety and suicide. Research tells us that they often cope with these emotional issues with significant increases in alcohol and drug use.
While some dismiss this 20% as in irrelevant minority, when we are talking about 80,000 abortions annually, this equates to around 16,000 women each and every year being measurably harmed. The cumulative effect on families, communities, and the economy are enormous, but unlikely to ever be accurately determined because of the silence and stigma that surrounds abortion, particularly abortion harm.
This 20% does not include the even higher percentage of women who are forced to live with ongoing grief and regret that doesn’t meet a measurable mental health criteria but which can be debilitating.
We know there are specific risk factors to predict mental health harm to women. These include:
- Being young (teen or young adult)
- Being unsure about the abortion decision
- Making a decision in conflict with personal values
- Feeling coerced or pressured by people or circumstances
- Feeling a sense of connection to their unborn or believing that the unborn is a human being
- Having pre-existing mental health problems
- Immaturity, emotional instability, high anxiety, or difficulty coping
- Being in a conflicted, unsupportive or abusive relationship
With 95% of all abortions being undertaken for psycho-social reasons most of the women fit one of these categories. For the most part these women are physically and mentally healthy and undergoing a procedure for which there is no evidence of health benefit.
If other elective procedures in these numbers were being undertaken on healthy women who often experience pressure, with no risk factor screening and resulting in this level of adverse effect, we’d be banning it, not making it less restrictive.
Instead of promoting abortion as a solution to domestic violence, we should be discussing how better to support women to leave violent relationships and how to ensure violent men do not intrude on future relationships.
Instead of promoting abortion as a solution for young women who want to finish their educations, not tell their parents they are pregnant, or are just embarking on a career, we need to enact and enforce laws that ensure that pregnant and parenting women will not be discriminated against, and will be practically supported in educational and professional sectors.
Instead of telling women that abortion is a solution to their housing problems, their financial problems, their mental health problems; all of which are risk factors predisposing women to abortion harm, we should be creating communities where women can be supported and nurtured into parenthood.
Instead of being reactive and enacting legislation based on the misinformation that women are having trouble accessing abortion we should be worrying about why women are not being effectively screened for risk factors or coercion, nor offered genuine supportive alternatives to abortion.
What is being proposed in this Bill is not a progressive step on this issue. In the USA, the majority of states are legislating greater restrictions around abortion in light of the growing evidence of harm, yet we continue to move in the opposite direction, pressured by a vocal, misleading, ideological minority.
In 2008 Victoria enacted the most liberal abortion laws in the Western world. These laws have had no impact on what abortion advocates misleadingly state are the issues: that women need greater access to abortions to address their psychosocial concerns and that they and doctors are fearful of the law in doing so.
The evidence does not support these assertions at all. Even the most cursory perusal of social media confirms that the majority of women have no problems accessing abortion, and are unaware that there are even legal issues associated with it.
The laws have however ensured that women have less recourse to legal support if they are not appropriately screened or if they are harmed. The law has restricted doctors from talking to their own patients about the potential of harm if they do not wish to refer their patient for abortion. This means women are less informed, not more informed.
My current PhD research is discovering that for practitioners of many types, talking about abortion is severely hampered by ideological concerns, often based on misinformation. Women are less likely to be offered alternatives or support when the only place they source information is from an abortion provider who has a vested interest in the abortion taking place.
The wider availability of medical abortion is highlighting the coercive nature of abortion from both women’s circumstances and from within clinics themselves. I delivered a paper on case studies of coercion within Australian abortion clinics at a recent international medical conference.
The following quotes are from 2 of the cases presented; both sought medical abortion in clinics in 2015.
‘I said I wasn’t sure, and the doctor told me to take the pill or get out, so I took it’ and
‘I had the tablet in my mouth and I was crying and saying I wasn’t sure. He said you could hardly bring a baby into the world when you so obviously don’t love or want it can you. I was horrified and devastated. I swallowed the pill.’
I hear from an average of 2 women a month like these women… desperately seeking to reverse a medical abortion they began, lacking support and terribly misinformed.
These are the issues that should be discussed and addressed. Women are being coerced by other people, by circumstances, by discriminatory practises and by abortion providers to undertake abortions they don’t want and don’t need.
They are then sold these practises as the only means to achieve autonomy and freedom.
In Victoria for the last decade around half of all late term abortions have been undertaken for psychosocial reasons. Women undergoing late term abortions have a significantly higher risk of psychological and physical harm.
Women whose unborn babies are diagnosed with congenital abnormalities, or even suspected of having such abnormalities tell of being greatly pressured toward termination, using the very compassion and nurture they instinctively feel toward their unborn children against them… told that termination is the compassionate, loving and best thing to do.
We don’t tell them their grief will be more complex, their risk of psychological harm increased, and that they will be silenced because of their part in the decision making process. They are rarely offered an alternative as there are only a handful of perinatal hospice units in the country.
In 2010/2011 in Victoria 18 babies were aborted after 28 weeks with 1 of these at 37 weeks, all for psychosocial indicators. Healthy babies, of healthy mothers. This cannot be the best we can do.
The discussion we need begins with how it is we allowed an ideology to drive us to this point, where we have no regard for our own humanity, and certainly no regard for the real experiences of women. This is an ideology that betrays women.
Women deserve better.