Do women feel guilt after having an abortion? No, mainly relief
Most women don’t regret their decision to have a termination – and that outlook could help us protect reproductive rights
Women know themselves! Shock! Women can make the right decisions about their own bodies. Isn’t that amazing? Though I and most of my friends who have had abortions know this, I guess that’s just anecdata. You can’t trust women when they tell you that the main feeling was relief and that they didn’t really want a load of counselling about adoption or to wait another few weeks.
Still, a study conducted over five years across 21 states in the US has found that this is true. Of all the emotions that women were asked about – including sadness, guilt, regret, anger and happiness – it was relief that was the main one expressed.
Over the decades that I have been campaigning about abortion, the entire discourse has changed. We used to gather in small groups almost to confess. Now, women refuse to be made to feel terrible about a common experience.At the last public speakout I went to at the House of Commons, one woman got up and said she felt guilty only “about having no guilt at all”.
This matters now, as anti-choice and conservative politicians gather in the US to try to overturn Roe v Wade. Meanwhile, in the UK, anti-choice types focus on time limits. We can never be complacent about our rights. The myths the anti-choice brigade promulgate about cancer, infertility and deep psychological trauma must be called out. They emphasise negative feelings, but on what basis? Illegal abortion kills.
The TV and film producer Tony Garnett told us how it was: “During the Blitz in 1941, in the middle of the bombing, my mother had a back-street abortion. There was me and my little brother, and they thought another baby in those circumstances too much. A day or two later she died of galloping septicaemia, and 19 days after that my father, who couldn’t bear it, committed suicide.”
My negative feelings came to the fore recently, when I saw someone with a trolley bag and a picture of the Virgin praying with rosaries outside a Marie Stopes clinic. I felt ashamed of her. But I have no shame for myself, and I do indeed have faith. In women.