Sunday, January 24, 2010

Parents and Abortion

I talk to parents all the time. Usually moms. And I’ve been thinking about how they must feel, what they may experience as their child decides to have an abortion. Sometimes they just need to vent: they’re angry their daughter is pregnant; angry she didn’t tell them sooner; confused because they’re pregnant at the same time (maybe even same gestation) as their daughter who wants an abortion; devastated their daughter was raped. Sometimes, parents’ values and beliefs about abortion change in the face of their child’s pregnancy. I’ve heard dads and moms say they didn’t agree with abortion, but…their daughter was so young and had so much going for her and they wanted to protect her and they thought a pregnancy would ruin her life. So. Their minds changed. Their hearts changed.

Did any of you see Thursday’s episode of ABC‘s “Private Practice?” The 15 year old daughter, Maya, of two doctors, was pregnant. One of the parents was very anti-abortion, but was adamant her daughter have an abortion. At one point, she screamed, “Do I believe I’m going to hell for forcing my daughter to have an abortion? Yes! Do I regret it? NO!” Though some of how this parent handled the situation annoyed me to no end (I thought it was narcissistic and over-the-top), I had to ask myself how I would feel. How would I feel if my daughter was pregnant? How would I react if she didn’t want an abortion?

I’m a parent. I have a daughter. I’m fiercely pro-choice and am grateful that my daughter will have the right to choose whether she continues a pregnancy or not in the future; but, if my daughter came home at age 14, 15, 18 even and said she was pregnant, how would I respond? How would I want my daughter to be treated when she called a clinic to make an abortion appointment? How would I want the person to talk to her? What would I want from the person who took my call? I would want them to take time with me, with her. To listen to us cry. To let me rant. To tell me they’re sorry and it must be hard. If my daughter had no clue how far along she was, I would want them to bend over backwards to help her find out, even if it meant going out of their way to stay at work a little longer, just to give her an ultrasound, so she could sleep that night, instead of waiting one more god forsaken day. I would want staff who were not burned out.

On the day of her abortion, I would want her to be treated gently and kindly. Like she was the only patient. I’d want to be with her - if she wanted - during the abortion. I would want desperately to hold her hand, kiss her forehead, help her breathe, and tell her it would be okay. I would be a hot mess if I had to wait in a room, far from her, not allowed to be with her during her procedure. I would want the staff to smile. To be warm and reassuring. I’d want them to acknowledge me, too, as part of the story. I would want them to acknowledge that I, too, might need support. And maybe all that I’d need would be a pair of knowing eyes, looking at me, nodding as though they understood.

I just think we can do more sometimes. More for the moms. More for the dads. More for the boyfriends and friends and aunts and uncles and cousins. Sisters and brothers. Look at them, knowingly. Listen to them. Yes, it’s all about the patient, the woman.

It’s about all the people in her life, too.


  1. Unfortunately, for the anti choice birth at at all costs natalists the only "person" that matter is the one who is not yet a person. Your daughters welfare, the family's are inconsequential to them. The fetus supercedes all interests, and if your daughter's life is screwed for good or dies in the process, then that is the cost of doing business.

  2. It was only my mother not being there that got me through my abortion.

    I am not a very emotional person, nor was my abortion a particularly emotional point in my life. My mother on the other hand is. I don't think I could have handled sitting for eight hours trying not to throw up on anyone in the waiting room and dealt with her as well. It was all I could do to know that my fiance was sitting waiting for me for so long. I would have been embarassed for anyone to be in the procedure room with me. I would have been embarassed to have anyone in the recovery room with me.

    I am not telling you these things to de-value your desire to help loved ones of abortion patients. It is a noble goal and undoubtedly some people need it. I am telling you because for some people (I know if it is true for me it is true for SOMEONE else) that involvement would be more harm than good. Patient first, always.

  3. I don't watch that show, but I'm curious, how did it end? (I can probably guess though, right?)

  4. Steph - I'm sure you can guess. Of course, the 15 year old opted to NOT have an abortion. That was really disappointing to me; on the plus side, two actresses on the show do mention their own previous abortions (in character) and how neither of them regretted it. I was glad for that at least.

    Socloset - I agree that the patient always comes first. And I can also relate to how having your mother not present got you through your abortion (having my mother not present during my labor and birth got me through that experience). I just do know that there are those people who do want to have their support person (whomever that might be) around with them during their procedure. There are certainly many women who don't. I get frustrated when the women who want to have their support person with them aren't always able to (though I also understand why clinics can find it a liability and not the best patient-focused care to allow others there).

    IronDog - you're right, sadly. I do think, however, that mainstream Americans don't have black and white views on abortion though (but may label themselves as pro-choice or pro-life) and that there are few who actually agree that abortion is wrong in all circumstances. I believe most mainstream Americans feel that's quite an extreme view. Thankfully!

  5. Ah, go figure. There's an inevitable pregnancy plotline in every show it seems, with a uniform result, either no mention of abortion as an option or a last minute change of heart at the clinic. If not, the ep likely gets banned (like the Degrassi episode where a girl gets an abortion or the Family Guy abortion episode that I'll have to wait for on DVD or at least maybe Adult Swim). Of course I haven't seen every ep of every show so I might overlook a case or two.

    I forgot to say this in my last post, but the description of the parents reminded me of the article "The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion." If anyone hasn't read it:
    Never gets old!

  6. Good points, everyone! Yeah, it's so frustrating how characters with unintended pregnancy literally never end up having an abortion on American TV, when we know that 1 in 3 do... It's not that it's "really disappointing" for any individual character to not choose abortion, like, carrying to term is as legitimate a choice as any, of course! It's more that in the aggregate, it's highly unrealistic and avoidant of the issue. In fact, way more often than actually carrying to term (which would disrupt the whole story, which is not what a twist like an unintended pregnancy is supposed to do! /sarcasm), the unexpectedly/unhappily pregnant woman often ends up having a miscarriage. Oh surprise!, I don't have to deal with this arc anymore! Rar :(

  7. Actually, there are lots of blog posts and such about that topic -- see and and a few on Pandagon, etc.

  8. Oh and here is a NYT article that mentions the Degrassi episode Steph brought up, too:
    OK that's all!!

  9. Chiming in way too late to ask, did anyone see/read about the "Friday Night Lights" episode that also aired last week and also featured a teenager who had an unplanned pregnancy? She did choose abortion, and though I haven't seen the ep yet, from what I've read it was sensitively and realistically (well, at least for TV!) handled.

  10. Wow, really? I'll have to look it up. Haven't seen that show either though I heard some seasons ago one of the main characters talked this girl out of an abortion with the "gift from god" and "the next bill gates!" arguments.

  11. Wow, thanks generation roe, I've never watched that show. Will look for that episode...

  12. Sorry I'm late chiming in again. Generation Roe - thanks for that tidbit!!

    The only other show I've ever seen do abortion well is "The L Word." They've had two episodes on abortion and I believe they tried to air it sensitively. It's just sad that it was on CABLE. :)


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