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Why Are We Surprised That More Than Half of Women Ending Pregnancies Are Already Mothers?

10/06/2015 09:26 | Updated 09 June 2016

It doubtless speaks to a deep-rooted sense that abortion is a young woman's issue, or the preserve of the reckless and feckless. A sense that women who have abortions are those whom the maternal instinct has given a wide berth. Mothers - the very word encapsulating responsibility and unwavering devotion - appear the antithesis of abortion.

But that's because our ideas about abortion are often wide of the mark. Sure, there are unplanned pregnancies that results from the odd bout of recklessness - and we all make mistakes. It happens - and it happens to women with children too. But the majority of women, both those have children and those have none, were using a form of contraception at the time they conceived.

There will be women who have abortions who know there and then children are not part of their life plan, not now, not ever. But there will be many others who know that they do want children, but not with this partner, in these circumstances, at this stage in their life.

Around 80% of women over 30 having abortions already have children. Their reasons for ending a pregnancy will differ of course, but many will have considered the impact another child may have on their family, and their ability to care for their existing children.

Pregnancy and childbirth have physical and emotional implications quite separate to the child who is the treasured result. For some women it is the experience of a previous pregnancy - debilitating pregnancy sickness for example that left them unable to go about their daily lives - which mean they decide on abortion when faced with an unexpected pregnancy. Traumatic childbirth is far more common than we acknowledge, and many women will end a pregnancy because they know they cannot suffer that again.

The decision to have an abortion is often intrinsically tied to ideals, sometimes unattainable ones, of motherhood. About the kind of mother a woman wants to be, both to the children she perhaps already has and those she has yet to have.

But don't take my word for it. Here is how one mother of two who had an abortion with bpas expressed it:

There would be no doubt that any child would be loved;  but children also need time and space and encouragement to develop; and strong parents in order to thrive and not just exist in a family.  My worst fears were that a new baby would take us beyond breaking point and that the whole family plus the new arrival would genuinely suffer from an overtired, overstressed, gradually incapable mother on a conveyor belt of demands and without the ability to be a proper mother in its widest sense. As a family who strive to know and understand what children need this was the worst possible dilemma:  knowing that we had a solid family to offer, but by changing the circumstances of our family we would not be able to continue to be a solid family. 

Anti-abortion protesters who situate themselves outside clinics with their large banners of bloodied foetuses say they are there to "educate" women who do not understand what they are doing, or what it means to be pregnant.

But it is these protesters themselves who need some education.

Women understand what it means to be pregnant. They understand what it means to end a pregnancy. But whether they have already given birth or have yet to do so, women also understand what it means to have a child - and to be a mother.