We are going to end this series on The Turnaway Study where we started: pointing out the lack of acknowledgement of the child who loses their life to abortion, and the impact of that loss on women. Yes, 95% of the women said abortion was the right decision for themselves, but reading through their stories I can’t help but wonder about the path not taken and about the life not lived.
This comes out in Amy’s story. Amy had an abortion when her born daughter was 10. Years later, when her born daughter was a teenager, Amy says “everything that I’ve ever done, ever worked for, has been for her.” Despite claiming to have never wanted more children, she talks about how she has taken in her daughter’s low-income boyfriend, saying, “It’s funny that I never wanted any more children, but here I am helping out another one. So it’s so funny, I tease him, ‘you’re the son that I never wanted.’” It leaves you wondering about how much love she would have had for the “never wanted” child she lost to abortion.
Kiara had an abortion when she was 26 years old. Later on, she tells of her subsequent child. “With the newest baby, my husband and I weren’t actively trying, but we weren’t not trying. It actually happened fairly quickly, so I was like, it was meant to be. I don’t think you’re ever ready fully. You always go, ‘It’s a good time; let’s have a baby.’ Then, you get pregnant and you’re like, ‘All right, wow. Here we are.’”
“I don’t think you’re ever ready fully,” Kiara explains. What would have happened if she had that perspective towards her first child?
And yet, the unexpected love
Melissa describes a subsequent pregnancy after her abortion, when pro-life relatives showed up offering support and asking her not to abort her child. Those relatives now watch her born daughter every day. She concludes with this reflection on parenting: “When I was growing up, I didn’t want any kids. I didn’t picture myself as a mother…I had that first child, and you find out that you love them no matter what…You think, there’s no way I can love anyone in the world more than I love this baby right here. Then you have another one. And you worry when you’re pregnant, am I going to love this one like I do that one? There’s no way; you don’t want it. Then you have that second one and you love them totally different. There’s no amount of love more for one than the other; it’s overwhelming.” Melissa was able to accept her subsequent children and found the love overwhelming. It’s tragic she missed out on that love with one of her children.
All of these women likely said that the abortion was the right decision for them. Many were quite sure they were unable to parent, that it wasn’t the right time, but there is little explanation of the difference between the situations where they had an abortion versus the situation they were in when they gave birth to other unintended children.
A risky endeavor – but worth it
Pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting are all difficult. Dr. Foster goes into detail about the health risks of giving birth, including the rare but tragic cases where a woman even loses her life. She concludes, “The fact that women regularly choose to endure this and are thrilled with the outcome shouldn’t blind us to the fact that pregnancy is a risky endeavor.” So why do women take on this risky endeavor? What is it out being a mother that we view as worth the risk? The answer is the life that comes into existence. The human being born into this world is what makes woman thrilled with the outcome.
It’s hard to read the stories in this book without mourning what could have been. What if these women had opened themselves up to the endless possibilities that bringing a child into this world can bring? No one is suggesting pregnancy and motherhood are easy. Relationships, love, others, bring with them complexity, heartbreak, and pain. But they also bring joy, love, and wonder to our lives. As Erika Bachiochi points out, “In the experience of most women, pregnancy is a serious challenge, but one well worth the sacrifices made because of the profundity of the enterprise.”
As my colleague Anna once put it: “Abortion is a choice. A choice that is easier, maybe, than the very hard choice of parenting. Simpler, maybe, than dealing with the relationship consequences of keeping a pregnancy. Faster, certainly, than carrying to term and giving a child up for adoption. But, morally and ethically, it has the power to make people feel shame because it is shameful to say that your choice is worth more than someone else’s life, that your future is worth wiping out someone else’s future.”
It is this that Dr. Foster misses in The Turnaway Study. It is the lives that are lost to abortion. Lives that, whether intended or not, are intertwined physically and relationally with their mothers. The idea that we can just dispose of these children without consequence to their mothers is absurd and not reflected in the lived experiences of women.