I chuckled when I read about the new British guidelines on what doctors, nurses and counselors there might have to say to women considering abortions.
Here’s the joke: a woman walks into a doctor’s office in England and hears—just some medically accurate information about abortion. Or at least, she will if the latest draft recommendations from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists become official policy.
Women pondering the procedure would be told that having an abortion is generally safer than continuing a pregnancy to term, according to the group’s recent recommendations. Next, they’d hear that women generally don’t suffer any psychological harm as a result of having an abortion.
Both statements are true, of course. Yet, the funny part (funny in sad way) is that such a script would never fly in this country. Instead, here, we have a mish-mash of state laws, several of which mandate that women receive inaccurate information. In two states, women are subjected to false statements about the damaging impact of abortion on their future fertility. Five states require that women get written materials saying that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
But what really gets me is the way we now spell out the psychological health consequences of a woman’s choices. Seven states require women to get information about the possible negative psychological responses to abortion, while omitting any discussion of other possible emotional responses. This, despite the fact that, after thirty-eight years of legal abortion, it’s pretty clear that getting one isn’t any more dangerous to a woman’s emotional health than either raising a child or giving one up for adoption.
This last part is the key, of course. It’s not that women don’t have feelings about having abortions—probably all do, and certainly some of those feelings are negative. But when talking about an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, or perhaps a medically complicated one, no option will be without emotional consequences. Whatever the specifics, carrying a pregnancy to term against one’s wishes will certainly take an emotional toll.
Putting a child up for adoption is also devastating for women—indeed, it’s almost always traumatic, according to the literature. According to a study by Judy Kelly, 95 percent of women who relinquished a child after giving birth expressed a strong degree of unresolved grief. In another study, a survey of the psychological fallout of adoption, nearly all of 300 birthmothers reported a mental health impact, which affected their relationships and parenting. Yet another, by Sue Wells, found that 207 out of 262 experienced depression and anxiety, as well as difficulties with relationships and trust, as prolonged and profound consequences of surrender. A fourth describes the long-term mental implications of relinquishing a child as “severe.” I could go on and on—there is unfortunately plenty of data documenting the phenomenon.
Yet, despite all the state mandates to provide various pieces of information to women considering abortion, this data is not part of the conversation. Twenty-eight states either provide women with a list of adoption agencies or advise them that adoption's an alternative. In none of their written materials or scripts for healthcare providers is there any mention of the trauma that routinely results from giving up a child for adoption.
This is not to say that abortion is necessarily the answer—or that adoption is never the answer. Or even that inserting more information into the various mandated texts would necessarily be helpful.
Instead, I return to another provision in the proposed British guidelines that says that if a woman is certain about her decision to abort, she shouldn’t get any counseling at all. It’s almost as if the Brits think some women can be trusted to know what they want to do without a government-mandated speech. Imagine that.