In my experience as a volunteer crisis pregnancy counselor, I have become aware of this irony: Most women who are supposedly exercising their “right to choose” want an abortion because they feel they have no other option.
For instance, one woman I spoke with was afraid to tell her strict Muslim parents that she was pregnant out of wedlock. A young girl did not want to endure the social stigma of being pregnant at school. There was an Indian woman who came in with her husband; he made it clear they were not going to have kids yet. Another woman was depressed and had a history of drug use. Many women I have counseled were facing repeat abortions. Some had a cold and detached response to their pregnancy. Others confessed to be struggling with depression, and just trying to go through the motions of life, with or without employment.
All of these women not only felt ashamed or unworthy to be mothers, they also felt considerable pressure from other people to abort. Not one of them had a strong support network she could count on for unconditional encouragement. All of them—mainly black and minority—had access to “abortion, contraception and medically accurate sex education,” which, according to Dr. Willie Parker, an obstetrician turned abortionist, should have allowed them to “thrive.”
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Parker writes that a “crisis” of women needing abortions led him to abandon obstetrics and return to his native Birmingham, Alabama, where, interestingly, he set up shop in a black area of the city with already easy access to abortion. Blacks are 26% of Alabama’s population, compared to 73.4% for Birmingham—which is home to a Planned Parenthood clinic, and a few other abortion providers. Blacks are proportionally the largest customers of the abortion industry; they also have the highest unemployment rates in the country. Black women suffer from depression at or above the national average. Seventy-two percent of black mothers are single. Black women have the highest incarceration rates among women in the country, with 1 in 19 having a lifetime likelihood of imprisonment, compared to 1 in 56 for all women.
Part of my work as a counselor was to make follow-up calls to women we had not heard from after the counseling sessions. I always received one of three responses from those who had gone on to terminate their pregnancy. Some would hang up on me once I identified myself. Others would tell me coldly that they “got rid of it,” and then hang up. And then there were those who sounded genuinely sad and despondent about their decision to abort.
But, all, and I mean all of the women who had chosen to go forward with their pregnancies sounded light, and happy, when we spoke on the phone. Some were still pregnant but I could hear the relief in their voices. Others gloated over the recent birth of their son or daughter. All of the newborns were healthy!
Parker says that his decision to change his medical practice “represented a change of heart.” During his twelve years as an obstetrician he had “never provided abortions” because he “felt they were morally wrong.” But he had grown “increasingly uncomfortable turning away women who needed help.” It was a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King about the Good Samaritan that “challenged him to a deeper spiritual understanding” and “ultimately” changed his mind about what was the compassionate response to “women who lacked access to abortion.”
I take issue with Parker’s comparison of the Good Samaritan and an abortion provider. The Good Samaritan is a biblical story about a Jewish man who is beaten badly and left for dead. A priest walks by and does nothing. Then a temple worker also sees him and walks on. But a Samaritan—people who were despised in those days—dresses the injured man’s wounds and pays for his hotel stay for as long as he needs to recuperate.
An abortionist is like the two people who walked past the hurting man: After he rips the baby out of a mother’s womb, he sends her on her way to deal with the emotional and physical effects of the abortion—as well as her unchanged, unconducive-to-motherhood life situation—on her own. Crisis pregnancy centers are like the Good Samaritan. They are genuinely concerned about the woman’s circumstances, helping her with referrals, housing, health insurance, prenatal care, and counseling. I’m convinced that part of the reason why the women I talked to who had kept their babies were so joyful was because the circumstances that had made them afraid to become mothers had also improved.
I’m concerned by the growing trend to portray abortion providers as compassionate, caring, and even pious. When one takes an honest look at the reality of abortion, it is clear it is a Band-Aid at best; at worst, it exacerbates the culture of poverty and depression that many women are already struggling through.
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Ifeoma Anunkor is a recent graduate of Columbia Law School and lives in New York City.