Elliot Institute director Dr. David Reardon says most women who become pregnant through rape or incest do not want abortions. Instead, most report feeling coerced into abortion and that abortion only increased their grief and trauma.
Reardon, co-editor of the book Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions, and Children Resulting from Sexual Assault, says that such exceptions are often seen as compassionate responses to women who would otherwise have no choice but to continue with the pregnancy.
"Typically, both sides of the abortion debate have accepted the premise that women who become pregnant as a result of sexual assault want abortions," Reardon said. "It is thought that this will help them put the assault behind them, recover more quickly, and avoid the additional trauma of giving birth to a child conceived in a violent attack. Those who oppose such exceptions are often seen as insensitive and unconcerned about the welfare of women."
However, Reardon says, research carried out for Victims and Victors suggests otherwise.
In a survey of 192 women who became pregnant through rape or incest, nearly 80 percent said that they regretted their abortions, while none of the women who carried to term said that they wished they had not done so or that they had chosen abortion instead…
"Many of the women in the survey also reported that they felt pressured by family members or health care workers to undergo abortions, and that they did not freely choose abortion for themselves," Reardon explained. "This was especially the case for those who became pregnant through incest; in almost every case, the abortion was chosen by the girl's parents or tragically, by the perpetrator himself. In some cases the abortion was used to cover up the incest and the girl was returned to the same abusive situation to be victimized again."
Many of the women who shared their stories in Victims and Victors said that abortion felt like a further violation. One woman who was impregnated by her father at the age of 15 described being taken to the hospital where her father demanded that an abortion be performed. When she refused, she was held down by the nurses and drugged before being subjected to the abortion.
"I grieve every day for my daughter," wrote the woman, who asked that her name be concealed to protect her privacy. "I have struggled every day to forget the abuse and the abortion. I can do neither. . . . The trauma of the rape and abuse was only intensified by the abortion." In fact, Reardon said, rape and incest exceptions may make it easier for others to pressure a woman who is pregnant from sexual assault into an unwanted abortion, since it implies that even those who are pro-life feel that abortion is an acceptable solution in such cases.
"Many women have reported that the hardest part of carrying a pregnancy resulting from sexual assault to term was the attitudes of the people around them," he said. "The public attitude that abortion will somehow 'fix' the woman clearly adds to the pressure on her to abort rather than supporting her when she wants to carry to term."
Reardon also points to studies documenting increased psychological problems among women who have had abortions, including higher rates of depression, substance abuse, psychiatric problems, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, sleep disorders, and other difficulties.
"Numerous studies have also shown that women with a history of trauma are more likely to experience difficulties coping after an abortion," he said. "The women in our survey said repeatedly that what they needed was time and support to come to terms with the assault and the resulting pregnancy. In fact, many felt that abortion actually prevented them from healing because it reinforced the negative perceptions with which they were already struggling."
Kathleen DeZeeuw, who raised her son after becoming pregnant through rape at the age of 16, wrote that she felt abortion advocates used the issue of sexual assault pregnancy to push for abortion without considering the real needs of the women involved.
"Women who have gone through the trauma of rape or incest need to be counseled, cared for, and listened to," she wrote. "If they conceived, they need to be encouraged to work through their anger and bitterness. . . . A woman is most vulnerable at a time such as this and doesn't need to be pounced on by yet another act of violence. She needs someone to truly listen to her, care for her, and give her time to heal."
DeZeeuw and more than 30 other women have signed a petition to Congress and state legislatures asking for public hearings at which women who have become pregnant through sexual assault can share their stories and address the real concerns that they've struggled with.
"I, having lived through rape, and having raised a child conceived in rape, feel personally assaulted and insulted every time I hear that abortion should be legal because of rape and incest," DeZeeuw wrote. "I feel that we're being used to further the abortion issue, even though we've not been asked to tell our side of the story." (Source: Elliot Institute)
A free, downloadable four-page booklet on sexual assault pregnancy and abortion is available at www.unfairchoice.info/resources.htm.