Sunday, January 18, 2009

Many women say they have been pressured into abortions they did not want, according to research conducted by the Elliot Institute, a nonprofit specializing in the effects of abortion on women and families.

For years, the pro-choice movement has circulated horrid tales of back-alley abortions performed before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion on demand in 1973. Yet the opposite phenomenon, which has occurred across the nation, is even more disturbing. In a society in which abortion is legal, many women and teens are pressured to abort their child. So how much choice do American women really have over their reproductive capacities?

Women are coerced to abort a fetus by either husbands or boyfriends who do not want the additional responsibility or expense of a child; by parents who are ashamed of a teen pregnancy or who seek to conceal incest or rape; or by counselors, pastors and health professionals who insist this is in a woman’s best interest even when she doesn’t think so. Consider the pressures women face to abort a child: 45 percent of men interviewed at abortion clinics said they urged abortion, including 37 percent of married men, according to the report “Forced Abortion in America” that compiled much of the research on this topic. Women are often threatened by male companions who take them to their abortion appointment, according to eyewitness accounts at abortion clinics. And women are also encouraged to abort their fetus by the staff at these clinics who have a vested interest in selling the procedure.

Pressure to abort can consist of badgering a pregnant woman until she concedes, intimidation, blackmail and even violence. An astounding 64 percent of women say they were intensely pressured to abort their fetus, according to a 2004 study published in the Medical Science Monitor. Hundreds of women have come forward to tell their tale - and some of these stories have led to convictions of coercers.

In Florida, Glenda Dowis brought her pregnant daughter at gunpoint to an abortion clinic, where the staff called police. To cover up her son’s rape of a 12-year-old, Pennsylvania mother Joyce Farley took the pregnant girl out of state for an abortion - her parents were not notified. Nine women held in a juvenile detention center in Chalkville, Alabama accused the male guards of repeatedly raping them and then forcing the girls to have abortions when they became pregnant. Augencia Jasso of New Mexico was charged after hitting his pregnant, young, sexually abused victim in the stomach, deliberately inducing a miscarriage.

In other instances, coercion was less intense, but nonetheless played a vital role. A homeless woman, Shontrese Otry, was coerced to get an abortion by Emergency Shelters Inc., whose staff would not give her shelter unless she aborted the baby; she later won a $25,000 settlement. Actress Hunter Tylo was told by producers of “Melrose Place” to “just go out and get an abortion” when she became pregnant; she was fired - and later won a pregnancy discrimination suit. Assistant women’s basketball coach Sharrona Alexander was told by a head coach at the University of California- Berkeley to quit or have an abortion; she gave birth and then won a $115,000 settlement.

Elliott Institute founder David Reardon says that Americans need to think about the many ways women feel pressured to abort, and then suffer severe emotional and psychological consequences. In one instance, a pregnant teen he interviewed said she was asked by her mother: “Where will you live?”According to Mr. Reardon, “The withdrawal of social and economic support by parents is among one of the most common forms of coercion.”

Yet, despite the growing body of evidence on the issue of forced abortions, little headway has been made in protecting women. “I have been disappointed in the pro-life camp for not raising the level of urgency on this,”said Dr. Reardon. A simple solution is for states to pass a bill such as “The Prevention of Coerced and Unsafe Abortions Act” featured in the report.

This would require health professionals to screen for coercion and to counsel against an abortion in instances where there is a high risk that the woman is not freely consenting or that she will suffer severe depression - and possibly even attempt suicide - as a result of the procedure. Introducing a legal liability for psychological damage is one possible way to combat these practices. There is an ugly - and underreported - underside to the abortion industry: “Choice” is sometimes turned into coercion. The back alleys are gone, but the dangers for both mother and child are ever-present.

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