Writer-Counselor-Wellbeing Coach

Category: Grief (Page 2 of 4)

Abortion Coercion

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Briefing Paper: Reproductive Coercion: Coercion to Terminate a Pregnancy  July 2018

Marie Stopes, one of Australia’s biggest abortion providers recently released a draft White Paper entitled Hidden Forces: Shining a Light on Reproductive Coercion.   As expected from an organisation heavily invested in marketing and delivering abortion services the paper has a very strong emphasis on coercion related to continuation of pregnancies with coercion to terminate barely warranting a mention.

In a culture where abortion advocacy is the dominant force the majority of published literature on reproductive coercion is biased toward coercion related to contraceptive sabotage and pregnancy continuation.   It is no surprise therefore that the literature drawn on in the references to the White Paper rarely addresses coercion to terminate.  For the most part coercion to terminate is no longer differentiated from coercion to continue a pregnancy, both being lumped together under the tidy label of ‘pregnancy outcome control’.   

The White Paper spends a lot of time within its 50+ pages lamenting a lack of clear definition of coercion.  I suspect this will remain a long-term problem as abortion advocacy organisations seek definitions that meet their ideological objectives of keeping abortion positively framed.  Acknowledging abortion coercion becomes hugely problematic for such groups, especially when coercion in these circumstances must also include many of the reasons that the majority of women seek abortion.  

Most abortions occur in the setting of women lacking necessary resources to continue a pregnancy, whether these are practical, economic, relational or supportive.  When this is combined with subtle or overt coercion by other people, and by a dominant discourse that offers abortion as a solution for these social inequities, it seems very obvious that coercion toward abortion must be significant.  

With leading abortion advocates and providers denying the existence of the dozens of women who change their minds every year after commencing medical abortions, we have a baseline for how such ideologues view the existence or prevalence of coercion to terminate.   ‘These women simply don’t exist’.  

While ignoring the prevalence of coercion toward termination, the White Paper makes a giant leap when it labels the Federal Government’s 2006 pregnancy support counselling scheme a form of reproductive coercion because it doesn’t allow abortion provider counsellors to access the Medicare rebate for counselling.  They suggest that abortion providers, who only receive payment if a woman proceeds to abortion, demonstrate no bias in decision making counselling and should therefore have access to the payment.  Such counsel should form part of any medical or surgical informed consent process without the requirement for added funding to do so. 

It is also interesting to see the way in which abortion advocates perceive threat from  the very few, mostly unfunded and volunteer driven pregnancy support services which offer support for women who would choose to continue a pregnancy.  In spite of the fact that not all of these services have a religious basis, and many of them are volunteer staffed by qualified professionals, they are deemed to be incapable of providing accurate information without bias.  In fact they further suggest, in the absence of any evidence, that such services can inflict psychological harm on women. 

There is a very interesting statement made in the midst of this section, in relation to pregnancy support counselling services:   ‘In no other sector can such unregulated practises occur without legal ramifications.”   I would argue that in no other sector of health care can women demand a medical or surgical procedure for no reason other than that they want one, and doctors be forced to provide access to it either directly or indirectly.   Of course the preference within this White Paper is that no doctor ever be allowed a conscientious objection to abortion because this is also a form of reproductive coercion.    Apparently women are autonomous, intelligent decision makers who don’t need help or support in deciding whether abortion is right for them, but if they happen to come across a doctor who doesn’t provide them with an immediate referral, they may be forced to ‘continue a pregnancy against her wishes or seek abortion at a higher gestation’.  

While Marie Stopes is being encouraged to take this process of investigation into reproductive coercion forward, it is prudent to note their own record of ignoring any pressures toward abortion from their 2008 survey entitled Real Choices.    In their questions on why women resolved their unintended pregnancies in particular ways, parenting, adoption, abortion, their response options reveal exactly what they are looking for. With multiple options to choose ‘feeling pressured into’ for questions on resolving an unintended pregnancy by parenting or adoption, not one option was provided for a woman to say she was pressured to abort.  This alone typifies abortion advocates’ interest in abortion coercion and the reasons why it is vital that we now highlight the very real and very prevalent experiences of women pressured to terminate.   For this reason, this paper deals only with reproductive coercion related to pressure to terminate.

Coercion is more than just overt pressure

The majority (>95%) of terminations in Australia occur for psychosocial reasons including not having enough resources, whether financial or material, not feeling able to cope with a baby due to age or lack of support, fears about the impact of pregnancy and parenting on other life choices, as well as consideration for the needs of other people a woman cares for.

Abortion advocates cite such reasons, among others, as supporting the need for abortion, yet in reality abortion offers surgical or medical solutions to social and relational problems, meaning women are forced to decide between their social/economic wellbeing and the continuation of a pregnancy.   The power of this subtle form of coercion becomes even more insidious for post-abortive women who experience regret, suffering or mental health problems following abortion as the discourse convinces them they made a real choice to terminate and therefore carry full responsibility.   Post-termination counselling offered by abortion advocacy organisations are generally geared toward ensuring the right to abortion is upheld and therefore reframing the woman’s experience toward understanding that she made an autonomous and free choice, regardless of her internal experience.

 The dominant discourse is strongly abortion advocating, upholding abstracted rights as an ideal.  Aspects of the discourse that contribute to its manipulative and coercive nature include alarmist statements, disinformation and the censorship of dissenting voices, regardless of the veracity of facts the latter present.  The pervasive effects of the dominant discourse contribute to an environment where continuing a pregnancy is framed as a burden and parenting is experienced as an unsupported journey.

Alarmist, incorrect statements that abortion is anywhere from 14 – 100 times safer than childbirth feed into fears many women may have about birth, and are more like soundbites for abortion marketing.   The same is true of alarmism inherent in statements that women will die without abortion access and that abortion access is the only way in which women can achieve ‘true’ equality. 

Coercion exists in the absence of information

Pregnancy termination is a surgical or medical procedure, and therefore governed by guidelines for all other surgical or medical procedures.  If abortion provision was practised according to guidelines for other health care it would not be necessary to address whether women are screened for coercive factors, as this should be considered a standard aspect of informed consent practise.  Such practise includes that women have a full understanding of the risks and benefits of each option, that they understand and can access the full range of options, and that they are freely consenting. The fact that women are citing coercion as a factor in terminations they have undertaken is a sign that effective and expected screening and informed consent for pregnancy termination is falling short of that expected.    Given the highly contentious nature of abortion, it would not seem unreasonable to hold such processes to a higher standard than those for other procedures, yet the opposite appears to be true in practise.  

Post-abortive women who have sought counsel or advice through our service often describe very limited and inadequate processes of consent including:

  • Group sessions, whereby they were given information and the opportunity to ask any questions only in a group context,
  • Only seeing the doctor when they had already been prepped and ready for surgical termination,
  • Being asked ‘is this what you want?’ as the only checking in with their wishes,
  • Being ‘counselled’ in the presence of a pressuring partner, and
  • Being given misinformation about the effects of mifepristone and their ability to withdraw consent and discontinue a medical abortion procedure.

 Coercion exists in the walk-in – walk-out nature of abortion provision.

Most private abortion clinics operate on a walk in walk out model, whereby a woman phones to make an appointment and is scheduled for termination during the same appointment where she may also receive information and/or counselling.   Abortion advocates argue vehemently against alternatives such as ensuring at least two appointments with an opportunity between them to fully consider options, citing the added burden on women of two visits.   This is in spite of the fact that there are no other invasive surgical procedures such as termination that can be accessed on the day of request using such a model. 

 Coercion exists in discrediting doctors who object to abortion as untrustworthy

When laws exist that state that a doctor who does not agree with abortion, whether for religious, ethical or medical reasons, cannot be trusted to provide accurate information about abortion, abortion discourse becomes the sole domain of those more concerned with ‘rights’ than with women themselves.  When AMA guidelines advise doctors with a conscientious objection to end consultations with women considering pregnancy options, but then suggest that abortion providers may still decline abortion based on a woman’s individual circumstances, the only conclusion is that one group of doctors is untrustworthy.[1] 

Censorship within abortion discourse not only affects those who disagree with abortion, but also those who support abortion access, but still feel pressured to withhold information, use certain words, or in some way encourage abortion due to fears of impeding rights.[2]  Such internalised censorship means that women have few sources of information about the potential of adverse impacts on their physical or mental health or their relationships.  It also means they may view with suspicion any information, no matter how accurate, regarding adverse impacts of abortion.

 Coercion exists in the absence of alternatives information

Abortion advocates frequently disparage supportive services established to provide women with material aid, emotional support and decision-making counsel, purely on the grounds of ideology.  Where centres exist that offer to meet the identified needs of women, such as material aid, financial resourcing, emotional support, such information should be provided to women in order to provide them with alternative options.   Yet, not only do these referrals not happen, but abortion advocates work to discredit and undermine the essential work undertaken by them to support women. 

Key Recommendations

  1. It is essential that coercion to terminate be seen as a phenomena in its own right, not packaged and hidden in euphemisms such as ‘pregnancy outcome control’. The consequences of coercion to terminate are hugely significant on the lives of women and add considerably to the burden of mental health and other emotional issues that they experience.  
  2. Research on, and education about, coercion to terminate should be a priority at a time when the discourse is rapidly working to further reduce access to necessary supports for women, through legislation and ongoing censorship.

Access to independent (not provided by abortion providers) information about, and access to supportive services for women to continue a pregnancy needs to be strengthened and such services need to be more effectively resourced.

[1] Australian Medical Association: Conscientious Objection Policy document: June/July 2013

[2] Martin, LA., Hassinger JA., Debbink M. and Harris, LH. (2017). Dangertalk: Voices of abortion providers. Social Science Medicine, July (184). Pp. 75-83


Sacred ties

Sacred is a word tied to religion or God and I don't like my writings to contain words or phrases that may present a barrier to people who have different beliefs or no beliefs in this regard.   So I searched for another word.

I couldn't find one that had the same depth of reverence that I wanted to discuss.    But not reverence in a religious respect.  Reverence in the valuing and respect worthy of it.  Maybe even in the bond of mother and baby itself exists a kind of spirituality and that's why the word seems to fit the best.

The only other word I found that said something in a little more  secular way was 'indissoluble', but it really doesn't sound as special.    It is however a perfect descriptor for the perpetual nature of the bond between mother and child.  It cannot be dissolved by death or by separation.  I am sticking with sacred, and hope those who aren't religious will hear the word as describing an otherwise indescribable depth and value.

We now know amazing things that may contribute to this longing for biology with scientific discoveries that fetal cells are found in the bodies of mothers decades after pregnancy.  Perhaps this contributes to the physical and emotional yearning we have toward our children when we hold within our bodies the very cells of the children we carried in pregnancy

When I listen to stories of mothers who have lost children to adoption, I try to imagine what my life would have been like if the same had happened to me.  As a 17yr old mother the road wasn't easy, however I cannot even begin to imagine how much harder it would have been knowing my daughter was out there somewhere needing me.  It feels as though every cell of my being would have been yearning for her in every moment of my life.

When I hear stories of adult adoptees, some of whom yearned for their family of origin even as children and even if they were loved by, and loved their adoptive family, I imagine that as well.    My own mother had just turned 17 when I was born, at a time when unmarried mothers often endured huge coercion, and sometimes force to give up their babies.   My mother was fortunate that my then 19yr old father married her.   At that time it was the only saving grace for a pregnant teenager.

Would I have yearned for my mother?   Would I have known something was missing?  I have no doubt about it.   As I've grown older I see the significance of my maternal line as the roots of my entire ancestry.  I see the strength of my maternal grandmother who endured great hardships during the war and who emigrated to Australia from Germany with my then 6yr old mother in tow.   I see my own strength and resilience in my mother who spent her life working full time in an environment not always supportive of women who chose this path.   I see her commitment.   I also see myself when I look at them, something people who grow up in adoptive families can never do; search the eyes of those who love them and see something of themselves to connect them.

The grief I hear from both mothers and adoptees  is palpable.  The not knowing where your child is, how they are, is they are even alive, an added layer of complexity and trauma to accommodate.   Even in reunion the loss continues.   Meeting an adult who grew up in a different family, with different values, a whole different view of the world, is not the same as healing the arms that longed for a baby, a toddler, a child and all the milestones of your child's life.   For adults meeting a mother who may reveal that she never wanted to lose them, or looking for a mother who to this day has kept them a secret and now can't meet them, the road is paved with more pain and confusion.

What prompted me to once again address this issue is the concept of the sacred ties.  When do they begin?   When do cells from a fetus make their way in to the mother's body where they can remain for her life?   Is it in the first weeks of pregnancy?   The final weeks of pregnancy?  We know that pregnant women, even very early in pregnancy and even when they are contemplating, or have decided on termination will cradle their wombs with a hand, often unconsciously.   I've heard the confusion in the words and tones of women talking about whether to have an abortion or not.  The move from words of 'this pregnancy is just too hard' to 'I don't know how I will support this baby'.   From 'I've always been pro-choice so this should be easier' to 'I can't think of it like a baby, even though I guess it is'.

I've heard women describe sitting in an abortion clinic waiting room saying they had to force themselves not to think, not to look at anyone else, to stay focused on just getting 'it' done and getting out of there.   I've heard dozens of descriptions of other women and girls in waiting rooms, crying, staring blankly, also looking determined not to make eye contact or be swayed from what they are there to do.    I've yet to hear any story of women smiling, encouraging, expressing a sense of autonomy or freedom as they sit and wait.

What of their sacred ties to their child?  Do they already have fetal cells from this baby circulating within their bodies?   I know that many of these women also yearn for and mourn their lost babies.    Their grief is as palpable as the grief of mothers who lost to adoption.   I have been in a room with women who sob as they tell of nightmares of crying babies they can't find, women who relive that moment of 'what am I doing here' just as they succumb to anaesthetic for a termination, women who wake after a termination and wail about what they have just done, already wishing they could undo it.  I hear from women regularly who have begun a medical abortion and now wish desperately to stop it.

What binds all these women except the sacred ties; to their children, to each other, to our maternal history; one that so many of us have forgotten, or been forced to forget as we devalue all that is womanhood.  We moved from the forced removal of women's babies to shame them and provide children for more 'suitable' parents, to the forced removal of women's babies through abortion.   We sold adoption to earlier women as the solution to their shame and a way for them to get on with their lives with a 'fresh start'.    We sell abortion to women as a sign of their independence and autonomy and as the only way in which they can fully participate in the social world. 

In both of these situations we use the time of a woman's greatest vulnerability, to undermine her greatest strength.  When she is feeling alone, anxious, scared about her future, we reinforce these by telling her the best and easiest solution is to not have her child.   We sell adoption through words like 'selfless' 'brave' 'loving' and that her baby will have a better future, with loving parents, as though the future she could give her own child is too terrible to contemplate.    We sell abortion in the setting of fetal medical conditions as 'compassionate' and 'loving' and 'saving your baby from suffering'.     We literally turn the woman's love, compassion, courage, and strength to do all she can to protect her child and give him/her the best, against her by convincing her that she isn't 'best', that her love is deficient, that she could never cope.    We sell abortion in other circumstances by undermining her sense of what she can accomplish, that she will never get her promotion, her degree, the right man, if she has a baby in tow, that children are an interruption to life.  

How did it happen that women led the charge to freedom by telling each other that there are no sacred ties; that the only way to have all that men had was to give up all that women had?    How is it that women attributed so much greater value to men's worlds that they not only willingly gave up the value of their own, but now they encourage other women to do the same no matter what the cost?   How is it that we lost touch with the strength and value of ourselves as women and allowed these to be labelled and demeaned as weakness?

Why didn't women demand that society move to accommodate them?   Why didn't they demand educational opportunities that accommodated their pregnancy and parenting needs, workplaces that allowed flexible practises for both parents and support for one another to achieve all that they are capable of?    We live in a world where we perceive greater gender equality now, yet women are still forced to choose between motherhood and education or motherhood and career.    Motherhood has become an isolated, unsupported journey that so many undertake, bewildered, overwhelmed, and alone in their own homes. 

Women got us here.  Women must get us back.   We have to take back everything we lost, including our dignity and value as women.   Women are slowly being erased, both in language, our reproductive capability, and our equality.   The major contributor to infertility is age, with so many women still uneducated about their own bodies and the fact that child bearing is a time limited option.  

We are already living The Handmaid's Tale where fertility was lost and only a few left to reproduce.  At the moment, the rich predominantly buy their babies from the bodies of poor women in developing countries.   There have already been media stories of gay couples asserting their 'right' to children meaning their 'right' to use the bodies of women to produce them and stories of celebrity couples expecting 'their' child, produced from the body of an unidentified, irrelevant woman.  

How far down this path to we have to travel before it will be too late and all women will be subject to reproductive laws totally outside their control?  All  because they bought the lie that in order to have any kind of life you need to deny, suppress or destroy sacred ties or at the very least that you should see your reproductive capacity as the enemy.

I want a different world for the generations of women to follow me.  I want them to be able to see generations of women following them and I want them to know their value, in every sphere of life.   It is going to take an uproar.   I hear the rumblings in the voices of those women and men who recognise the deception they succumbed to or that was perpetrated on them.   I hear it from mothers who lost children to adoption or abortion.  I hear it from adult adoptees, who lost their family ties and even as adults have few rights to regain them.  I hear it from professionals who bear witness to the suffering and silencing of these women and men in their consulting rooms every day.   Until we break the silence and demand the voices be heard, each of them will continue to feel they are alone, again buying the lie that their greatest strength doesn't exist: in this case their strength in numbers.

We must reclaim our womanhood for the future of both women and of men.






Four years on

I’ve shared before about the loss of one of my grandchildren to abortion.  Tomorrow marks the 4th anniversary of this tragedy.    I continue my work in educating about the needs of women experiencing unintended pregnancy and how we can better support them, and all the while continue to be confronted about how we could not seem to do this in our own family.     Not all things are in our control, and sometimes despite our best efforts, fear and a more powerful influence create such an imbalance that there can seem no other way out.

My son has gone on to marry and has a beautiful daughter who turns one this month.  She is adorable and very very loved.  I cannot imagine our lives without her.    I still grieve the baby we didn’t get to meet.

We have had no contact with the young woman who decided to end her pregnancy suddenly, and against every word she had spoken to that point.   I do wonder how she has managed in her life.  Does she think about the baby?   Does she remember how much we wanted to help her?    We did hear that she had rewritten the story to paint us negatively and that my work in this field was used to convince her that my support was manipulative and insincere.

This saddens me the most about the work that I do:  that it can be used to so effectively reinforce the fear that many women feel when faced with difficult circumstances.   Preying on women’s vulnerabilities in this way then dressing abortion up as empowered autonomous decision making is one of the most reprehensible acts I see occur in this arena.

I even considered leaving my work behind after the loss of this baby.  After all, I hadn’t been very effective in my own family, AND it became a tool to encourage a decision that ended in tragedy.    I’m glad I didn’t as I have some beautiful photos of gorgeous babes  that have been born in these four years, at least partly through the influence of my work.  Their mothers were thankful for either information or resources I provided that helped them make their own decision.   That does mean something.

However, for tomorrow, I will honour the memory of the baby we didn’t get to meet and hope that one day, in some way, I will know that she knows how passionately I love her and miss her.      She was wanted, by all of us.

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