Thousands of Women are Having Abortion, But No One is Talking

By Hilary White

LONDON, September 19, 2008 ( - Despite having one of the highest abortion rates in the world, women in Britain do not talk about their personal experiences with abortion. The subject, says Bethan Cole in a lengthy article in the Daily Mail, is still taboo.

Cole wrote that while thousands of women are having abortions, and it remains a hot issue in the media and in Parliament, the topic remains taboo for women who have had abortions.

"Yet we should be talking more and exorcising this secret ordeal that so many of us bear alone." 

"Necessity and panic, sorrow and regret, degradation and stigma" are the words Cole uses to describe her own experience with abortion. Cole described herself as having had a "carefree" attitude towards sex, but said she had never seriously connected it with pregnancy. She writes that she "fell pregnant" after she had started a new job in London and was struck with a combination of sadness and panic.

"I was in a new relationship and a new job. It was the worst thing that could have happened. I spent a day or so in a state of shock, fear and panic. Then I knew I must act quickly." The child’s father made no objection and she aborted their child at a Marie Stopes abortion facility. "There was absolutely no possibility I could have a baby right then. It was almost a foregone conclusion that I would have a termination."

After her abortion, Cole noticed something: "It seems that women, even if they are close friends, do not talk about their experiences of abortion." Without counselling, she said, women are unlikely to be able to cope with the "tangle" of emotions surrounding abortion.

In large part, she says, abortion is simply not talked about, even among friends. "You might mention to a friend that you’ve had an abortion, but the rest is unspoken. They assume it has caused you some level of pain, but do not ask, in case the feelings are too raw or too difficult to articulate."

According to official statistics, in 2006, 193,700 abortions were committed in Britain. A recent poll found that 47 percent of British women believe the legal gestational age limit for abortion, currently at 24 weeks, should be lowered. Only 10 percent of British women believe that abortion should be "outlawed altogether."

Cole describes the aftermath of her abortion, saying that despite having felt initially relieved and as though that "chapter of my life" had come to a close, she started suffering from clinical depression some months later.

"This was, in my opinion, a direct consequence of the abortion, almost like some kind of bizarre post-natal depression for a baby that hadn’t been born." She got a prescription for Prozac from her GP and a cat. "One small adorable furry thing to replace the something precious I’d lost."

When she thinks about the abortion now, two conflicting thoughts are foremost: "The first, which has grown with time, is a deep longing to have had the baby  -  and to have one still, should I meet the right man."

"The second is a pragmatic assessment: the understanding that the pregnancy was an accident and that, at the time, I had no choice."

Bethan Cole’s story is not an isolated one and more British women are starting to speak out about the harm abortion has done them and their families. In their stories, the absence of a sense of freedom is the most prominent theme.

The organisation British Victims of Abortion (BVA) is promoting a film they hope will be shown around the country, in which women give their abortion stories. BVA was founded in 1987 to help women who are struggling with the various symptoms of post-abortion syndrome. The film, made with the help of the US-based Silent No More campaign, shows mostly British women speaking of their abortion experiences at public gatherings.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, which is also helping to promote the film, said that the "voice of experience must be heard" in the abortion debate. John Smeaton, SPUC director, said, "Experience overrides theory and we intend to do all we can to allow those voices to be heard."

  To purchase copies of the Silent No More video:

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