I work for BPAS, the UK's largest abortion provider, talking to women about and performing abortions up to the legal limit every day. I ended up being an abortion provider after caring for several women during my training who were intentionally pregnant but had complicated medical or social circumstances. These cases demonstrated that, while pregnancy can be a wonderful and exciting thing, for many women it can be a severe burden, physically, psychologically and socially. These burdens should only be borne by those who wish to do so.
Someone has written that a woman wants an abortion like an animal stuck in a trap wants to chew its leg off. While the imagery is melodramatic, it conveys the panic and stress an unplanned pregnancy can impose. Perhaps it also communicates something of the relief experienced by women after their abortion; this is one of the things that make being an abortion provider so very rewarding.
While unplanned pregnancy is disproportionately common in socially disadvantaged groups, women of all classes, cultures, religions and ages need abortions, and the circumstances are always persuasive. When women request abortion later in pregnancy there may be particularly compelling social reasons or fetal abnormalities. It is painfully ironic that these women, who one might argue are in greatest need, might be unable to have an abortion if gestational limits were lowered.
Politicians are very concerned by women who have more than one abortion. But just as every woman having an abortion is different, so are the circumstances of a particular abortion for an individual woman. Women having more than one abortion are described by the press as irresponsible or immoral; the facile pejorative characterisation of the repeat offender. Newspapers often fail to consider the notion that fluctuating, complex social circumstances which we all experience can lead anyone, including responsible, conscientious people, to need more than one abortion.
But the real people having abortions and their circumstances don't make good headlines, although if they were written about they would each make their own convincing argument for the morality and legality of abortion. The statistics, abstract philosophical arguments and outdated legal framework which are more standard media fare are of little interest to a woman who needs an abortion or the doctor who feels compelled, ethically and emotionally, to provide it for her. Sadly, this kind of discussion not only stigmatises patients and their clinicians, it distances us all from the challenging human reality of unplanned, unwanted, or abnormal pregnancies.
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