Abortion: A tragic response to lack of choice

Last updated 12:00 31/03/2017

Society’s offer of help to the desperate woman? Kill her unborn child. How utterly offensive.

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Full disclosure: I’m Catholic and I’m from a family with a history of pro-life advocacy. My pro-life opinions have developed from a purely religious stance to an embrace of science.

Life, for the human individual, begins at conception. Even in my occasional dabbling with atheism, I knew I could never forego my anti-abortion leanings. The evidence for the humanity of that “blob” was too strong.

Yet, I’ve always disliked conflict and held to a very private, considerably lazy, pro-life ethic. Essentially, abortion is sad - an act of murder - but I don’t really care what a woman does in her private life. It’s not my place to call into question her response to her life circumstances.

Then I became a nurse.

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Early on I directed my career away from women’s health. I didn’t want to have to deal with my niggling conscience when assisting with abortion or sexual health. I didn’t want to appear to be “judging” a patient, I didn’t want to be unprofessional.

So, imagine my surprise when time and time again I met women who began pouring out their stories of grief to me. Stories regarding their abortions. Common questions in nursing assessments - previous surgical histories, any reactions to drugs etc - led to very personal abortion stories.

These stories were truly heart-wrenching, and I felt as if I was intruding into an aspect of their life that, even as a healthcare professional, was not my place to be. It was too intimate.

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It was, ironically, a pro-abortion senior nurse who told me I may be the only person these women would ever confide in. It’s a burden I never willingly sought, but will carry none the less.

Stories of secret abortions to avoid further exacerbation of domestic violence. Stories of rape and incest. Employers who subtly threatened termination of job or denial of promotion if pregnancy resulted – or continued. Financial concerns. Educational restraints. Other children at home, some with special needs. Breakdowns of long term relationships.

Not once did I come across women celebrating their abortion as an act of female empowerment, taking dominion and control over their reproductive destinies.

Suddenly the pro-choice bumper sticker rhetoric looked shallow, meaningless and simply blatant lies.

Even the women who were “pro-choice” and would likely make the same choice if they were in the same circumstances again, admitted their sorrow - acknowledgement of a child who was just not meant to be. Their stories were dotted with “if onlys”.

If only.

Society’s offer of help to the desperate woman? Kill her unborn child. How utterly offensive.

It became obvious - abortion was not a choice, rather a tragic response to a lack of choices.

Abortion isn’t illegal in this country. The system is set up with the intention of acknowledging the interests of the unborn and trying to balance that against the woman and her interests.

If we were to fully liberalise our abortion laws, what will we see? There’s no reason to not anticipate very liberal American constructs. A clinic where a woman can walk in, part with a few hundred dollars, and be out the door by mid-afternoon.

Right now, most abortions are done under the banner of a District Health Board. The system follows the law as much as those involved interpret it.

Infection control and surgical care pathways are followed religiously, women with complicated histories are assessed and cared for properly to ensure no harm comes to them, and when the very rare complication does arise, they are dealt with quickly and competently. We’ve had no abortion deaths in this country since the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act passed in the late 70s.

The system can pick up, and care for, girls and women who may be facing violent situations at home, domestic violence, rape, coercion. There is counselling, discussion of options, and health care professionals each step of the way.

I don’t like abortion, but at least in this country we have a system that protects women from the worst the abortion industry can offer.

For all the talk from the Greens, Labour and whoever else decides to throw their hat in, what will full liberalisation look like?

Will our laws demand that abortions remain in hospitals? Demand a process through counselling and meeting with different health care professionals? Will it ensure we won’t have random clinics popping up in our poorest neighbourhoods with the cheapest of facilities, relaxed infection control, no resuscitation equipment, and staff who frequently operate outside their scope practice?

Do we want a system like some of the more liberal states in America? Where women are herded through questionable clinics like cattle? Where the abortion lobby staunchly and frequently opposes standard clinic regulations and health checks?

I don’t pretend that my experiences are the majority - I’m sure there are plenty of women who got through their abortion process without any crisis of conscience or long term emotional anguish.

My concern is that all the women who’ve shared their sombre stories with me got through a pretty rigorous system which was supposed to protect them, but how many women will be hurried through a more liberalised version? What will their emotional futures look like?

Liberalising abortion just comes across as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Like so many of our problems in this country, we’re too busy making bigger band aids instead of addressing why there's so many sharp objects laying about.

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