By Deana Schroeder
I’ve been there. Not Todd Akin. Not Richard Mourdock. And certainly not their critics who sanctimoniously imagine that they know what pregnant sexual assault victims really want and need.
As my story shows, all too often, our self-appointed champions do more harm than good.
I was 17, drugged and raped. When I learned I was pregnant, my family, counselors, and doctors took control.
They intended the best. They wanted to help me. And even though there are literally no studies showing any benefit from abortion, they had total confidence in the social myth that abortion is the best option, even the only option, in cases of sexual assault.
Even many pro-lifers approve of abortions in cases of rape. So surely it must be the best choice, right?
Not in my case. It just added more layers of trauma, self-doubt, grief and guilt. The negative impact lasted for years.
I’m not alone.
A national study published in 1996 found that half of the estimated 32,000 rape pregnancies which occur each year end in abortion. Note: half. Not even 60 percent.
That so many women choose to give birth after rape, despite the social expectations and pressure to abort, should give you pause. Why aren’t all rape victims embracing the conventional wisdom that abortion is the best treatment for rape pregnancies?
A hint is found in another study of 164 women who had rape pregnancies (conducted for the book Victims and Victors). In that study, the majority of those who had abortions said it only caused additional problems and the vast majority regretted having abortions. By contrast, among those who delivered the child, satisfaction was higher and none stated any regret for giving birth.
Why are these facts so little known? It is because many people on both sides of the abortion debate are more concerned with their ideologies than they are the complex nitty-gritty details which confound sound bites.
Because the actual experiences of pregnant sexual assault victims have not been widely heard, the social myth that abortion is the best, or even the only, option in cases of rape pregnancies is almost universally accepted. This universal myth creates its own set of problems for women.
When a pregnant sexual assault victim balks at having an abortion, she will almost immediately faces queries of suspicion from family and friends. How can any woman have a rapist’s child, they wonder? And then the suspicion mounts . . . maybe she lied. Maybe she was not really the victim of a “legitimate” rape?
And so the assumption that surely a real rape victim would want an abortion creates a new pressure on hurting women, in a time of intense crisis, to accept the recommendation of abortion, despite moral qualms and heightened sensitivity to victimization, to swallow their reservations and have the abortion if only to silence the rising doubts about their rape story.
I hope I’ve convinced you that the rape and abortion issue is not as simple as you’ve always assumed.
This is why I have joined the Ad Hoc Committee of Women Pregnant by Sexual Assault (WPSA). For eight years, we have been petitioning Congress to hold hearings to allow us to describe our own experiences, insights, and needs.
It is our hope that if policy makers, the media, and well intentioned people on all sides of the abortion debate finally hear the truth from those who have been there. Only when our voices and experiences are included in future discussions and arguments over rape, incest, and abortion will those discussions and arguments be less blatantly ignorant and hurtful.
Whatever side of the abortion debate you are on, I hope you’ll agree that our voices should be heard. Please call your representative and senators and ask them to endorse our petition.
It’s time to replace posturing with knowledge. And in this case, knowledge can come only from those who have actually been there.