The most publicized finding of The Turnaway Study was that 95% of women said the decision to have an abortion was right for them. This makes sense if the pregnancy is the problem and abortion is the eraser that allows life to go back to what it was. The problem is that life can’t go back to what it was. The abortion happened, and women are impacted. Reading the actual stories of the women reveals a little more nuance than that 95% statistic. Yes, these women believe it was the right decision for themselves, but that does not mean there are no unresolved issues with that choice. Women like Amber, for example, say it was the right decision but she also “tries not to think about” the abortion.
This mixture of emotions come out in the data as well. Following a woman’s abortion, the researchers asked women how they felt about their abortion. The most common emotion expressed was relief, but it was hardly the only emotion. Guilt and sadness were the next two highest reported emotions, followed by happiness, then regret, then anger.
Women’s stories of mixed emotions
Jada explained that her abortion made her more emotional: “I just became really sensitive to different life events. And when it came to children, it would just be different whenever I was around babies or when I saw babies on TV.”
Jessica, on the other hand, doesn’t admit to feeling a mixture of emotions but their presence comes out in her story. She is sure that the decision to abort was the right one for her because of her health issues. But there is underlying tension and hurt that comes out when she explains, “I don’t talk to anybody about it. It still is referred to as the A-word if it’s spoken about at all. You’ve got to make sacrifices sometimes no matter how bad it hurts.” She goes on to describe a day when her born kids went to a festival and came back with pro-life balloons that she quickly destroyed. “My kids cried, and my oldest one told me he hated me. I couldn’t tell him why, and he didn’t understand. Mama just popped my balloons, that’s all he knew.”
Why the mixed emotions?
The pro-life claim is not that every woman who has an abortion is going to face devastating mental health consequences. Rather, the pro-life claim is that abortion cannot be categorized as just another healthcare procedure. Abortion is the taking of a human life. A pregnant woman becomes a mother whether she chooses to embrace that role or not. The fact that women have unresolved complex emotions comes from what may be unacknowledged, but is the unmistakable reality of what happened. Jada gets emotional when she sees babies because she has lost her own. Jessica can’t handle pro-life balloons because of her own knowledge of what she chose, a choice that she can’t bear even naming.
This is the challenge to the pro-abortion position. How do you reconcile viewing abortion as just another medical procedure with these women’s mixed emotions? If the pre-born child is not a human being, why is there any struggle for women to accept and talk about their abortion? Dr. Foster at various points suggests that it is “stigma” or the opinions of others making women struggle (more on that in the next post). But if the pro-life movement is just wrong, why did Jessica feel the need to pop those balloons? If it’s just another medical procedure, why does Amber try not to think about it? If her abortion didn’t end the life of her child, why does Jada get emotional when she sees babies?
Mixed emotions surrounding abortion make sense from a pro-life position. But from a true pro-choice position, they are illogical. This study shows again that abortion has mental implications, and no touting of a 95% satisfaction rate will change that for women who choose abortion.