This article in today's Age newspaper highlights the complexities that women can face during pregnancy, not only if they are abortion seeking, but simply in seeking appropriate supports. The focus of the article, and of the woman's expressed concerns are primarily around issues of abortion access. While abortion is legally available in the woman's circumstances, restrictions inevitably arise when there are few practitioners prepared to undertake them, and when those that do exist demonstrate their priorities with exorbitant fees.
Regardless of whether one agrees with abortion at 26 weeks of pregnancy, we have to ask why it took so long for her to get any kind of support and how it is that a hospital can have a waiting list of 4 weeks for a pregnant distressed woman to get some support. It is no wonder that so many women resort to abortion earlier in pregnancy when they face adverse circumstances, if it can be this difficult to have their needs met.
There are a few alarm bells around the health and safety of this woman that I hope will be considered without the filters of abortion ideology. At 26 weeks of pregnancy, she is at significantly higher risk of physical complications; the risk at this stage, given the added intervention she needs, is likely higher than if she continues the pregnancy for only a few weeks and delivers. Her risk of adverse psychological effects should also be considered given her mental health history.
While some consider suicidal ideation to be a reason for a woman to be offered or provided an abortion, from a mental health point of view, this should be a contraindication to abortion. It is well documented that a prior mental health history is a significant risk factor for post-abortion mental health problems, as is a later gestation termination. We should also question why a pregnant woman with mental illness, or threatening suicide is treated differently than a non-pregnant woman doing the same things.
Having worked in acute mental health care, I have nursed a number of patients who were admitted due to threats of self-harm or ideas that they simply MUST chop off a limb or kill themselves. When a woman is threatening to cut off her leg if it is not surgically amputated, we care for her mental health and social well-being, we don't refer her to an orthopaedic surgeon.
If a pregnant woman is threatening suicide if her almost term pregnancy is not terminated, and she has a history of mental health problems, and her life is in a state of turmoil, abortion is not the answer for her, in spite of her requests.
Pulling out well-worn slogans of 'woman's choice' in this case, fails to see this woman holistically; someone with a trauma filled life who is desperately trying to get some help, and currently sees her pregnancy as the one thing she can 'fix'.
If she wasn't pregnant, we'd be tending to her mental health, helping her deal with her daughter, encouraging, supporting and uplifting her. Is abortion really the best way to do any of these things?
Can I ask how your organisation would be “helping, supporting and encouraging” the patient when she has another life to look afar (esp if as in your example she’s made a pretty big mess of her own!) what services you provide (other then forcing her into adoption)
Writing “well worn” about all the rights and choices women now have is extremely disrespectful and shows the true colours of this website.
This website pertains to be about “real” choices and information but your main agenda is putting your nose in other people’s business isn’t it?
Hi Mary, Thanks for your post and the opportunity to address some of your questions. I’d like to begin with my use of the term ‘well-worn’ and the idea that women are presented with so many different ‘choices’ today. I say ‘well-worn’ because the use of the word ‘choice’ in reproductive rights is actually quite misleading. There are still many in society who believe that all women who seek abortion are acting from a position of empowerment, acting with strength and autonomy. We know this is not true. The vast majority of women who undertake abortion are suffering a lack of choice. They do not have enough money, enough relational support, decent housing, secure employment, they haven’t finished their education, they feel too unprepared to take on what they see as an isolated burden of motherhood.
These factors constitute serious pressure toward abortion, and can leave women feeling as though the other ‘choice’ available to them, motherhood, is untenable. Of course, we also know that many women are directly coerced toward abortion, whether by partners, employers, or by abortion providers themselves.
I think the inequities that women face are everybody’s business. Telling a woman to go off quietly to an abortion clinic to take care of ‘her’ problem is not caring for her. It is not meeting her real needs. It is forcing women to fit a societal mold built around the biology of men. We need to pay attention to the needs of women, including their biological capabilities and desires and start asking questions about why we insist women be more like men in order to ‘fit in’. Just this week on the news I heard that a government body is proposing changing the words ‘pregnant woman’ to ‘pregnant person’ on documentation. This is outrageous from a feminist perspective. Now we are trying to erase women altogether.
Quite apart from who ‘owns’ the business of social inequality, the provision of information that people are freely able to choose on their own is hardly interfering with others in any way.
Our organisation was not originally established to provide direct service provision to women. However, after many years of research and hearing the stories of women and the many challenges they face we made a decision to be more proactive in this area some years ago. We fund and govern a very successful regional Pregnancy and Parenting Resource centre which provides services to any pregnant or parenting woman and/or her partner. This is not a centre for women who may be considering abortion, although those women are very welcome to seek services. It is a centre for any woman who needs support, whether it be the emotional support of another mum, or a professional to help her through her journey, material goods, links to other services, or just needs a comforting environment to feed and change her baby.
This does not address the needs of every woman in our country, but it is helping to create cultural change in one small community so that every woman, no matter her circumstances, can feel supported and valued.
On the issue of adoption, I have been quite vocal in my opposition to promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion. I strongly believe every mother should be given every opportunity, not just in words, but in actions, material goods and emotional supports to parent. I believe children have the right to be raised by their biological parents. In some cases, I understand this may not be possible for a variety of reasons, but to promote adoption as another ‘choice’ is to misunderstand the circumstances that drive women to abortion, or to adoption and does them a great disservice.
Instead of getting caught up in polarising arguments about abortion, we are working to highlight the ways in which we can all fail to meet the real needs of women and the ways in which women still fight for equality and are forced to ‘choose’ from often equally undesirable options.