The circumstances of our choice
The timing of a pregnancy and what else is happening in our lives at the time often shapes, at least in part, how we feel about the decision to continue that pregnancy or have an abortion. Here are some things to consider about the circumstances that can impact our choices. Although not always, they may at times contribute to a more difficult pregnancy decision or emotional recovery after having an abortion – please ask the clinic if you need any support around any of these issues.
If we already have children
About half of us are already parents when we have an abortion. Sometimes this makes the choice clearer because we are focusing on the needs of our families. We may already feel stretched emotionally, physically or financially or feel like our families are complete. We may be thinking of our current children’s wellbeing when considering whether or not to add to our family. And of course, we must also think of our own wellbeing, because we need to care for ourselves in order to care for others.
Sometimes this can also make the choice harder. Having carried other pregnancies to term, some of us might feel more connected to the pregnancy and what “could have been”. It can feel strange to have been excited about one pregnancy and not by another and we may have ideas about what it means to be a “good mother: that do not fit easily with the idea of abortion. We need to be compassionate with ourselves; we are human too, and can only do so much. We also need to trust that we know what is best for our families.
If we want children in the future
Sometimes having an abortion can feel scary because we do want to have children or more children one day when the time is right. If having children is important to us, not knowing what the future holds can make us feel more vulnerable in ending a pregnancy. We can feel afraid that this will be our only chance.
When we are pregnant and have an abortion, we do not know what the outcome of that particular pregnancy would have been had we chosen to continue it. Many pregnancies end in miscarriage. However, being able to get pregnant, even when we choose to have an abortion, means we are fertile and will likely be able to get pregnant again. Having an abortion does not make it harder to get pregnant in the future unless there are extremely rare complications (that we would know about at the time of our abortion). And a future pregnancy after an abortion can potentially be more planned, giving us time to lay a strong foundation for starting or expanding our families.
If it happens as we get older
For some of us the main challenge around having an abortion when we’re older is the embarrassment of feeling like it should not happen to someone at our age. Unintended pregnancies in the late 30s and early 40s are actually quite common however, and they sometimes happen even in the late 40s and 50s. Even when we assume that we are unlikely to conceive due to age, we can find ourselves with an unexpected pregnancy.
As we get older and our remaining fertile years get fewer, the decision around a particular pregnancy can also be connected to a larger decision about whether we will have more children or have children at all. For some of us this experience will highlight that we may not, and this can be a difficult realization. If we do still want to have future pregnancies, we may be worried that if we wait it will be too late. We might actually want a pregnancy, but the increase in risks that can come with our age feels like too much. We may feel sad or frustrated that pregnancy did not happen earlier in life instead.
On the other hand, an increasing number of people are also starting families later. As our lives become increasingly busy and things like housing get more expensive, it can take longer than it once did to prepare for or complete a family. If we have an abortion, it may prompt us to ready ourselves for a future pregnancy in a more intentional way. Others of us may still feel undecided about whether to become parents at all and the pregnancy may provide a time to think through this in a focused, supported way.
If we have health concerns about ourselves or the pregnancy
Sometimes we have health challenges that make it a difficult time to be pregnant or to carry a pregnancy full term and have a baby. We may even have been told by a doctor not to risk getting pregnant at this time. We might also worry that because we got pregnant unexpectedly we were unable to care for ourselves in the ways we would have wanted to – such as taking prenatal vitamins and eating well, or not using medications, taking drugs, smoking or drinking alcohol – and we worry about the impact that might have on a growing pregnancy.
There are always risks, even when we are able to care for ourselves in the best way we can. It can be good to talk to someone about how serious the risks are in your particular situation. Ultimately, we each have to decide what level of risk we are comfortable with, knowing that we cannot every truly know the outcome of a pregnancy. We can only make the best decision we can with the information we have now.
If it has happened more than once
About half of us who have abortions will have more than one. There are many reasons for this. Birth control methods can fail. Some of us or our partners have very high fertility and we are more likely to get pregnant accidentally, even with protection. Some of us have barriers to using birth control, such as side effects, affordability, health conditions, or lack of access to and information about it. Some of us may have a lot going on in our lives or a history of difficult things that have happened to us, which can make it harder for us to care for ourselves. We also may not have complete control over when and how we have sex, or partners who are uncooperative in helping to prevent pregnancy.
If we have had more than one abortion or unplanned pregnancy, it is good to be gentle with ourselves and remember that there is a long time in our lives in which we are fertile. Our bodies are designed to get pregnant. It makes sense that it sometimes happens accidentally or at the wrong time, especially to those of us with higher fertility.
If abortion is something we thought we would never do
Some of us have held the belief that abortion is wrong. Others of us, although we did not judge the choices of others, felt it was something we would personally never do or believed we would never need or want to. We may feel surprised, shocked, guilty, ashamed or sad to find ourselves considering or getting an abortion. Often these beliefs were formed or influenced by stigma, the social judgement on abortion. Or they may simply be rooted in the fact that we don’t usually get to hear others’ stories and therefore know how common and normal abortion is.
Going through a difficult pregnancy decision and/or abortion may allow us to see things differently. It can sometimes be helpful to see it as a learning experience. We may learn that abortion is more common than we thought and to begin to understand why that is. We might recognize that it can be an ethical choice not to bring a child into a situation in which we do not feel like we can care for them well. We may be reminded that there are things we cannot control and learn to treat ourselves with kindness around that. Perhaps it will help us to be more compassionate to others in a similar situation. Our values and beliefs often change as we gain experience and perspective, which can be a good thing as it allows our hearts and minds to become more open.
If we have religious concerns
Although it can seem like our religion is opposed to abortion, there are actually many beliefs within each faith. Many religious people and even religious leaders believe that abortion can be a moral choice when made in a conscientious and caring way. And people of all religious backgrounds have abortions as commonly as non-religious people.
As religions are interpreted over time there are many rules that develop out of the core teachings. These rules are often accompanied by judgements placed on people who are unable to follow them. However, the central teachings of every religion are based on values like compassion, forgiveness and love. Connecting to those foundational values of our faith may help us to be kind to ourselves despite having been told that what we are doing or thinking about doing is considered wrong by some. It may also give us the strength to do what we want and/or need to do and to find peace after it is done. Our faith is meant to comfort us in difficult or challenging times.
If we have spiritual concerns
We may also have our own spiritual concerns about abortion, beyond religious teachings. We may think that everything happens for a reason and therefore wonder if we should continue a pregnancy because it is meant to be. If everything happens for a reason, then abortion does too. It has existed throughout all of time, in all places and cultures. Perhaps we need to find our own meaning; going through an abortion experience can bring growth and change in our lives too. It may, for example, refocus us on the things that are important to us and our bigger goals or prompt us to reflect on our lives. We may also worry spiritually about the morality of ending a possible life. It is normal to grapple with these questions, but it is important to remember that it can be very ethical to make intentional, careful choices about when and whether we have children, and if we do, with whom and in what circumstances. We love and value children and want to bring them into the world when we can care for them well.
If it happened at the beginning of a relationship
If an unplanned pregnancy happened at the beginning of a relationship, this can be an important factor in why we are considering having or decided to have an abortion. It can sometimes make us reluctant to tell the person we got pregnant with. If we do, it can force things to get serious sooner than might have happened otherwise. It can also simply feel awkward to go through a stressful experience with someone we are still getting to know and trust. This may reveal things about how the other person deals with crisis and whether they are supportive in challenging situations.
Sometimes we learn good things and this experience strengthens and confirms the relationship. Other times we see things that are difficult or disappointing and learn that we do not want to move forward with the relationship. Something important to remember is that if someone is unable to support us well with a pregnancy decision and/or abortion they may also be unlikely to support us well through the stresses of a full term pregnancy, having a baby, and parenting. Although it is not always easy to learn this, it can be important information for us to have.
If there are problems in our relationship or it recently ended
Sometimes a pregnancy happens at a time when a relationship was already ending, ended recently, or had problems. The challenges in our relationship might be a factor in why we chose to have an abortion or are considering one. The circumstances and outcome of the pregnancy might also have made the problems in our relationship more obvious, brought them to the surface or even shown us the first signs that something was not working. This can make things harder emotionally, and we may need more time or support to heal afterwards as a result.
If it happens when we are far away from our supports or starting over in a new place
Being far away from our family and friends can influence a pregnancy decision and add to the stress of an already intense time in our lives. Working to establish ourselves somewhere new or being away from our support people may make it harder to start or add to our family. This can especially be difficult when there is a difference in language and/or culture between our home and the place we live now. If we want to continue a pregnancy despite these circumstances there may be support available to us through government or community programs. However, this cannot always replace the stability of being in a familiar place or where we have a strong supports to rely on.
Even if we are far away from the people we would usually turn to in a difficult time of decision or when having an abortion, it is best not to go through intense experiences alone. We may need to reach out to people we have more recently met or connect with people from home as best we can, even if we are concerned about them worrying for us or if the distance makes it less comforting than being with them in person.
If our partners or families were not supportive, pressured us, or wanted something different than us
Legally the choice about whether or not to have an abortion is our own, because a pregnancy is happening in our bodies. It is not OK for someone to force or pressure you to end or continue a pregnancy, but this does sometimes happen. If this is true for you, it is important to talk to someone about it if you can.
Even if the choice was ultimately ours, the feelings of our partner or family may have influenced us or even left us feeling like we did not have much of a choice at all. Our partners may have wanted us to end a pregnancy, and although we wanted to continue we did not want to become a single parent. Maybe our family told us that they would not support us if we made a certain choice instead of another. These situations or others like them can make it harder for us to be at peace with a pregnancy decision. We may need space away from the influence of our partners or family and seek other sources of support to help us decide and/or cope.
If the pregnancy was the result of sexual assault
Being pregnant as the result of a sexual assault can be an extremely difficult thing to go through. Although the decision itself might be clearer because of the circumstances, the pregnancy can feel like it prolongs or intensifies the trauma we have been through, making it harder for us to heal.
Sometimes a sexual assault brings up feelings of shame or self-blame. It is crucial to remember that what happened is not our fault. The person who assaulted us is the one who is responsible for what happened. It can also be important to tell our story to someone safe.
Although it may be challenging to pursue legally, if we believe that a partner deliberately increased the chances of us getting pregnant that would also be an assault. If we agreed to sex based on it being protected but something was intentionally done to make us more likely to get pregnant, that would have made it no longer consensual. Usually someone trying to get us pregnant when we do not want to be is about control, which is a sign of abusive behaviour. It is important to talk to someone who can help if we believe we are, or might be, in an abusive relationship.
There are people who want to be there for you. Please contact your local sexual assault centre or ask the abortion clinic for resources.
If we are in an abusive relationship
Physical or emotional abuse can be another factor in why we may choose not to continue a pregnancy. It may not feel safe to bring a child into our relationship. Abuse does not always mean physical violence – other warning signs of someone being abusive include them being controlling, having a bad temper, throwing or breaking things, saying things that make us feel badly about ourselves and isolating us from our friends or family. Research shows that abusive behavior usually tends to get worse over time rather than better, and so it is best to get support as soon as possible.
The staff at the abortion clinic will often speak to you without your partner present at some point during the appointment. This can be a good chance to talk to someone privately and confidentially who may be able to help you find ways to be as safe as possible, to explore options around the pregnancy or future birth control without your partner knowing, or to leave the relationship if/when you are ready. The clinic can also help you find local organizations that can support you.
If the abortion is triggering other difficult feelings or bringing up old experiences
An abortion experience can be a doorway for old pain – past traumas, chronic difficulties, or ongoing issues in our lives – to walk through. Our feelings about an abortion are tied to our feelings about our relationships, families, jobs and careers, childhoods, lifestyles, self-esteem, health, housing, and financial situations. We may need support to work through these things even more than the abortion itself. If we do, it can be an opportunity to heal from things that might have been affecting us even if we were not consciously aware that they were.
It is important to reach out and ask for help, especially if the emotions feel overwhelming or very intense. You are not alone. Help and support is available if you need it.