First, despite efforts to sugar-coat abortion as an inconsequential decision, the study showed respondents “revealed a great deal of [emotional] conflict. Most of the respondents experienced a deep moral dilemma as they struggled with making a decision.”
The three options (abort, adopt, keep) aren’t considered simultaneously:
The first step is the decision of whether to carry the child to term or to abort. If the decision is made to carry to term or if a woman procrastinates past the point where abortion is an option, then the second step is the decision to keep the child or place the child for adoption. This … has major implications for Pregnancy Help Centers and anyone who counsels women in this situation. For example, it is not necessary to talk about adoption at step one.”
Those who decide to abort
feel strongly that having a baby does not fit their self-identity at the time of their pregnancies. They fear that who they are and who they are destined to be in the future will be destroyed if they carry their pregnancies to term. They feel that to bring a child into the world would be a disservice to both themselves and the child. In their minds, a child is better off not being born than being born into a negative environment and therefore abortion is perceived to be a kinder option… These women correspond roughly to the “abortion-minded” segment that many pro-lifers have discussed. Their conflicts focus more on self-identity issues than on right and wrong.
Among those who do not abort:
Respondents tell us that they feel they must carry a child to term when their self-identity is tied to motherhood and they perceive abortion as leading to the end of the dream of being a mother.
The report describes the conflict pregnant women can feel between maintaining their character and avoiding judgment from others. One respondent
acknowledges that abortion is a sinful act. However, she is drawn to it, because it protects her from being publicly judged for her mistakes. To avoid public shame, women like her will choose the life-long burden of private guilt, whereas others will choose to carry to term to avoid the pain and guilt associated with doing something they perceive to be very wrong…Fear associated with negative judgments from others (in particular, parents) and fear of destitution if the pregnancy is revealed lead these women to choose abortion despite their belief that it is murder.
This segment of women suffers extreme emotional trauma later, feeling crippling guilt and making highly judgmental statements about themselves…
Women who believe that abortion is murder and yet choose to abort will suffer guilt and regret for the rest of their lives. We hear repeatedly from these women that they live in pain. They feel that they are being punished when unhappy events, unrelated to the abortion, occur in their lives and they pray for forgiveness, yet cannot forgive themselves. This finding carries major implications for pro-life communications, because it tells us that there is a deep-seated unmet need among a substantial segment of women.
The study suggests a one-sentence summary of their findings:
Women carry an unwanted pregnancy to term when guilt wins out over shame, when they feel that the pregnancy will not end their own current and future selves, and that the unborn will be better off alive than dead.
As far as pro-life efforts go, the study suggests
Women who are troubled by the idea of abortion are the women who are reachable. While it would seem that these women would not make the decision to abort, in this project we found that many women have abortions even though they are deeply troubled by doing so. For example, several of our respondents who felt that they were murdering another human being had abortions because they were driven to preserve their identities as unencumbered women with plans for the future. They live with regret that can be very painful.
These women believe that abortion equals murder from the beginning of the decision making process. It is possible to reach them before they abort, but they do not want to be “preached” to…
Women who experience regret after an abortion say they wish that they had sought kind, loving guidance when struggling with their decision. Many report that they would never have aborted if they had found such guidance.
In describing the “admired woman,” an image of a confidante that could be portrayed in pro-life messages, the study has eerily similar advice to the apparent new route Planned Parenthood is taking:
The confidante should be compassionate, non-judgmental and non-manipulative, a woman who can show them there is hope for both them and their babies. This approach removes any feelings of “preaching,” gives the message that the pro-life sponsor of the message understands that it is a very difficult decision that is not taken lightly and points women in the direction of choosing life.
The entire study is worth a read (at only 18 pages, it can be digested somewhat quickly), especially for those involved in sidewalk counseling or who engage in the pro-life effort in a more pastoral than political way.
I would be curious if any experienced readers have comments about this. I think the pro-life movement constantly needs to assess the methods that most successfully reduce the number of abortions. It is wonderful and necessary to be practiced in argumentation and logic, but first and foremost abortion has to end. We have to find the best ways to bring that about.