There’s a debate over late-term abortion taking place in the UK right now, with some politicians trying to get the legal limit reduced from 24 weeks of pregnancy to 20 weeks. The anti-choice movement doesn’t have nearly as much clout there as it does in the U.S., but the UK antis are working on fixing that.
But The Guardian did a great thing the other day that mainstream publications rarely do; they decided to look away from the politicians for a moment and focus on the women that the country is arguing about — the women who actually have late-term abortions.
Writer Karen Dugdale bravely talks about her own late-term abortion 8 years ago, and talks with six other women who have also undergone abortions after the 20 week mark. Even better, it covers a wide range of stories sympathetically, instead of creating a hierarchy of “good” and “bad” abortions, and talks about the problematic nature of doing so. And though the article does not shy away from discussing the pain, judgment and guilt they went through, none of the women quoted seem to express regret about their decision.
Here’s a small taste:
Our experiences can be extremely upsetting, so perhaps it is not surprising that people don’t want to hear them. Julie (not her real name) had a termination at 36 weeks. A 20-week scan indicated there might be some complications but these were attributed to a newly installed ultrasound machine. It was only a further scan, at 32 weeks, that detected a serious medical condition in her unborn child.
“It was like entering a black hole,” she recalls. “The radiographer wasn’t prepared to discuss it, and I then had to wait for three hours in a room full of other happily fat pregnant women for a consultant. The consultant also refused to say anything and I was told I would have to wait until after the weekend to see a specialist.”
Julie overheard medical staff openly discussing her situation before being subjected to a further scan with around half a dozen people in the room, including several students. “It was as if I wasn’t there,” she says. “The consultant was brutal, likening babies in special care units to ‘little rats tied to machines’.” Three weeks later, when the severity of her baby’s condition was eventually confirmed, Julie had a termination.
Stories like Julie’s and mine are not often told. The silence is partly because late abortion remains taboo; even those who are “pro-choice” often feel uncomfortable being seen to support a woman’s right to choose this. About three months after my own abortion, I remember publicly – and loudly – berating a group of close female friends who had avoided the subject. Their defence was that they were taking their lead from me – that they thought I would have broached it, had I wanted to discuss it – but I felt they were deliberately ignoring what had happened. Meanwhile, I found myself being selective with the truth with everyone other than immediate family and my closest friends, not wanting (or able to cope with) being judged. Allowing people to believe that I had “lost” the baby through a late miscarriage was easier than having to justify my actions. The guilt I felt over those first few months, despite my conviction that what I did was right, was immense.
Go read the whole thing and pass it on to all of your pro-choice — and more importantly, “moderate” — friends.