When I talk to people about the work I’ve done around abortion‚ as an activist, clinic worker, and social scientist—they often ask me if I like children.
Underneath this flippant comment lies a common assumption that abortion and parenthood are somehow “opposites”—that a person who has an abortion couldn’t possibly be the same kind of person who might have a child.
This is far from the reality in America. More than half (59 percent) of women who have abortions in the United States every year are already mothers.
In fact, researchers find time and again that “the need to take care of other children” comes up as one of the most common reasons women seek abortions. So what gives with the big misperception that moms wouldn’t seek out this common procedure?
To find out, I talked to some moms who are open about their decision to terminate pregnancies.
“People think that if you have kids, you’re automatically pro-life,” explained Kayla, a 23-year-old entrepreneur in Ohio. Kayla had an abortion after giving birth to her son, and she’s currently pregnant again. “At the time [of my abortion], my son was still in diapers. I’m the only one that knows how much I can take. I wasn’t ready. Now, I’m carrying a child and I’m super excited about it. Me and my kids’ father are ready to be great parents again.”
Really understanding, on a visceral level, the rewarding and challenging elements of parenting came up time and again as I talked to moms about their abortions. “Once you’re a parent, you really understand the choice you’re making,” Rana, a 42-year-old researcher in California, told Kveller:
“There’s so much physical and emotional work associated with raising a child. People who are already parents are realistic about what that means in their own lives, and know what will get taken away from people who are already in their lives. Your time is finite, even if your love isn’t.”
Rana’s concerns are supported by numbers—being unable to access a wanted abortion may have negative consequences for both existing children and a potential new baby.
The perceived invisibility of the many moms who choose abortions goes hand in hand with the flawed notion that our reproductive lives move in one direction only—that once you have a baby, that’s the only possible reproductive outcome for the rest of your life.
Given that women need to use contraception both consistently and 100 percent correctly for at least 30 years to avoid pregnancy, it makes logical sense that our responses to pregnancy change over the course of our lives—and then change again, and again.
“At the end of the day, we have a right to decide how many people we want to have in our families, how many mouths we want to feed and be responsible for,“ Kenya, a 42-year-old abortion clinic worker, told Kveller.
Kenya had several abortions after having her daughter, and every day in her work, she talks to women who are worried about being judged for making the decision to have an abortion. “I see patients who say, I could never tell my mom [about my abortion,] and then when they do, their moms say they’ve had abortions too. It’s so helpful when women share with their daughters that they’ve been there—it takes the shame out of it.”
All the women I spoke with talked about the importance of making sure their own children understood how to talk about abortion with empathy instead of judgment. Kayla, the Ohio mom who’s parenting two boys, wanted to make sure they knew how to support the girls and women in their lives through an abortion should it be necessary: “I don’t ever want my kids to grow up and not know all their options, or feel like an abortion is something they can’t come to me and talk about. I want them to be aware.”
But how do you start a conversation with your child about abortion, especially if you want to share your personal experience? Rana remembers talking to her 14-year-old son about it, “Before I had the procedure, I told my son that I was pregnant and having an abortion…I didn’t make a big deal out of it,” she said. “His first instinct was to be worried. He asked me if it was going to hurt, if I was going to be OK. I asked him, ‘can you imagine having another baby in our life?’ And he said, ‘oh my God, no.’ As far as I could tell, he wasn’t upset about it, he was just worried about me.”
We know that abortion has no long-term negative mental health consequences, and is a safe, common procedure. There’s no reason to hide it from our children—in fact, they might surprise us with their understanding and empathy.
It turns out that making a decision to have an abortion when you’re already a parent is like many other parenting decisions: Something you have to approach with compassion, empathy, thoughtfulness and a certain degree of practicality. “Moms are making the best decision at the time, not just for ourselves but for our children,” Kenya told Kveller. “Moms have the power to choose, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed about wanting an abortion.”