Women's Heightened Vulnerability During a Crisis Pregnancy
by Amy R. Sobie and David C. Reardon
Abortion advocates speak proudly of "freedom to choose,"
conjuring up images of women freely and autonomously making
decisions that are "right" for them.
But research into abortion decision making presents a far different picture. Polls show that of most women choosing abortion, at least 70 percent say they believe abortion is immoral.(1)
In most cases, women who abort are violating their consciences because of pressure from other people or their own circumstances.
More than 80 percent of women who report post-abortion problems say they would have completed their pregnancies under better circumstances or with more support from the people they love.(2)
The sad truth is that hundreds of thousands of women undergo
unwanted abortions every year to please someone else or because of pressure or coercion by their sexual partners, parents, social workers, counselors, employers or school administrators.
In a WEBA survey of 252 post-abortive women, more than half said
they felt "forced" into the abortion by others.(3) How is such
widespread coercion possible?
CRISIS INDUCED VULNERABILITY
Experts on crisis counseling have found that people are more
vulnerable to outside influences whenever they are faced with a
crisis situation. The more overwhelming the crisis appears to
be, the less they trust their own opinions and abilities to make
the right decision. As a result, a person in crisis is more
likely to feel dependent on the opinions and direction of others.
People in crisis "are often less in touch with reality and more
vulnerable to change than they are in non-crisis situations."(4)
They often experience feelings of tiredness, lethargy,
hopelessness, inadequacy, confusion, anxiety and disorganization.
Thus, they are more likely to stand back and let other people
make their decisions for them, instead of protecting themselves
from decisions that may not be in their best interests.
Fundamentally, a person who is upset and trapped in a crisis
wants to reestablish stability in his or her life. This desire
to be free of the crisis leaves the individual more susceptible
than normal to any influence from others who claim to be able to
solve the crisis, especially to the influence of those who
appear to have status or authority.(5)
In such periods of heightened psychological accessibility, "a
relatively minor force, acting for a relatively short time, can
switch the whole balance from one side or to the other to the
side of mental health or to the side of ill health."(6)
An understanding of this basic crisis theory helps to explain
why pregnant women, especially if they are unwed, adolescent, or
poor, are so vulnerable to undergoing abortions in violation of
their own consciences. Women who would normally be very much in
control of their own lives may suddenly feel dependant on the
guidance of others when faced with a crisis pregnancy. In such
cases, even minimal efforts by family members, their male
partners, or medical authorities to encourage abortion may be
experienced as the decisive factor.
What women experience as "pressure" to abort may be very subtle,
such as withholding love or approval from the woman unless she
agrees to an abortion. Or it may be overt, as in an outright
threat to abandon or expel the woman from her home if she does
not abort her child.
In many cases, the pressure is applied intentionally by others.
In other cases, the "pressure" is not intended, but simply
perceived by the woman. For instance, if her boyfriend exhibits
an unenthusiastic response to the news that she is pregnant, she
may see this as his way of telling her that he will not help to
support her or their child.
No matter what form the pressure or manipulation of her
situation takes, any attempt to influence a woman toward abortion
during this time of crisis when she is most vulnerable can be
almost impossible to resist. For example, one WEBA member
"My family would not support my decision to keep my baby.
My boyfriend said he would give me no emotional or financial
help whatsoever. All the people that mattered told me to abort.
When I said I didn't want to, they started listing reasons why I
should . . . I started feeling like maybe I was crazy to want to
keep it . . .
"I finally told everyone I would have the abortion just to get
them off my back. But inside I still didn't want to have the
abortion. Unfortunately, when the abortion day came I shut off
my feelings. I was scared to not do it because of how my family
and boyfriend felt. I'm so angry at myself for giving in to the
pressure of others. I just felt so alone in my feelings to have
In cases like this, an abortion is likely to be especially
traumatic. (In the above example, the young woman attempted
suicide shortly after her abortion.) In such cases, women are
violating their consciences, and often their strong maternal
desires, only because they are in crisis and are therefore more
vulnerable to the influence of those who insist that abortion is
the "best" solution. This is especially true when pregnant
women cannot immediately see where they can find the financial
resources and social support they will need to care for their
This conflict between the heart saying, "don't do it," and the
mind saying, "it's the only thing I can do," is at the heart of
the deep ambivalence that is felt by most women having an
abortion. Indeed, many women describe going into the clinic and
waiting for someone their boyfriend or husband, a parent, even
the counselor to burst into the room and stop the abortion from
happening. When no one attempts to prevent the abortion, this
reaffirms in women's minds that abortion is the only choice that
their loved ones will support. One woman described her feelings
of powerlessness this way:
"I didn't want to kill my child; I just made the decision to be
weak and not care about any of it. I made a decision not to
make a conscious choice at all. In fact, Planned Parenthood and
all the abortion mills tell you that you have NO CHOICE but to
get an abortion. This is the irony of the 'pro-choice' rhetoric.
There is no disputing the fact that many, perhaps most, women
who have abortions feel pressured into choosing abortion against
their conscience. In many cases it is clear that coercion by
others is deliberate and blatant. In other cases, the pressure
to abort is more subtle, or even unintended.
This is why it is vitally important to develop safeguards that
will, at the very least, protect women from unwanted abortions.
Unfortunately, abortion [centers] generally make no attempt to help
women resist the pressures they face to undergo an unwanted
Indeed, more than 80 percent of women with post-abortion
problems report that their abortion [center] counselors showed no interest in helping them explore other options, and two-thirds
of the women said the counselors were strongly biased toward
Simply put, abortion counseling is usually designed to "sell" a
woman an abortion, not to help her escape the pressure of others
who may be pushing her into an unwanted abortion. In essence,
rather than taking the side of the woman, abortion counselors
often take the side of those pushing for the abortion.
The only solution to this problem is to hold abortion [centers]
more fully liable for protecting women from coerced abortions.
Proper screening for the known risk factors that predict post-
abortion psychological problems would necessarily include
screening for any evidence that the woman feels pressured or
manipulated by others to consent to the abortion. In this case,
the [center] should be held liable for failing to refer the woman
to resources that can help her resolve her situation without
undergoing an unwanted abortion.
In cases where the abortion [center] knew or should have known
through proper screening that a woman was being pressured into
an unwanted abortion, the abortionist should be held liable not
only for her psychological pain and suffering, but also for the
wrongful death of her child. Such liability is the only way to
ensure that abortion [centers] are properly motivated to screen
for coercion and to act in the best interests of these women.
1. Los Angeles Times Poll, March 19, 1989. See also Zimmerman
Mary K., Passage Through Abortion (New York: Praeger
Publishers, 1977) and Reardon, David C., Aborted Women:
Silent No More (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1987).
2. Reardon, Aborted Women, 12.
3. Reardon, 10-11.
4. Stone, Howard W., Crisis Counseling (Fortress Press, 1976).
5. Morely, Wilbur E., "Theory of Crisis Intervention," Pastoral
Psychology, Vol. 21, No. 203, April 1970, p. 16.
6. Caplan, Gerald, Principals of Preventive Psychiatry (New
York: Basic Books, 1964).
7. Reardon, 31.
8. Reardon, 143.
9. Reardon, 16.
[Originally printed in The Post-Abortion Review, Vol. 8(1), Jan.-
March 2000; Elliot Institute News, vol.1,no.9, Aug02]