Abortion: how do women feel now?: It is not the same experience for everybody. Here, four women talk about their abortions to Linda Grant and Hester Lacey. Introduced by Janet Suzman

Linda Grant,Hester Lacey,Janet Suzman
Saturday 28 August 1993 23:02

Janet Suzman

ONCE upon a time, with much heartsearching, I subjected myself to an abortion. My lover and I both knew the time was not right; we were both 24 and busy earning a living. I was playing my first leading role, and by no means ready for motherhood. With tears, with sorrow, but with clarity and mutual understanding, he took me and fetched me from the clinic. It was very early in the pregnancy and I felt then, as I feel now, that the cluster of cells removed from my body was not yet a human being.

I am now blessed with a loved, wanted child, who has indeed changed my life, but the restrictions are desired and voluntary. Every woman should have the possibility of a similar resolution.

Conception is either meant or accidental. It is birth and nurturing which makes a baby a rounded being. All women know that this responsibility is primarily theirs, and the testimonies on this page reflect that maturity. They are deeply felt, and their conclusions, each one, deserve respect. Each woman was once a baby herself and grew into a thinking adult - thanks to her mother, most likely. To interfere with this sense of responsibility in a woman is to diminish her humanity and womanhood, and to shackle her hard-won liberty.

Speak out

'Speaking Out For Choice', a National Abortion Campaign event, will be held next Saturday at South Bank University from 1pm, in response to a proposed UK visit this autumn by the militant American anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. Liza Goddard and Jill Tweedie will be among the speakers. On 23 October, anti-abortion marches are being organised around Britain by SPUC, 'to bear witness for the unborn children killed'.

'I never give it a thought now'

ELLEN is 25. She has had two abortions and regrets neither.

'WHEN I got pregnant the first time I was 19 and at university, just starting my second year. I'd been going out with one boyfriend for a year and had just started up with another, and I was on the Pill. Then I read some stupid magazine article saying the Pill was bad for you, so I went down to our university health centre and got a cap. I'm convinced that one evening I just didn't put it in properly.

'When I found out that I was pregnant I did feel quite emotional about it because I do like babies. But I thought, this is stupid, I haven't done anything yet, I haven't even got my degree. I'm living in a student house with no money and no prospects of getting a job if I do have the baby, because I would have to leave and go home. I couldn't see my boyfriend sitting at home with this baby and not wanting to head down the pub every evening. I thought it was a sad situation, but it wasn't a difficult choice at all. I was booked into a clinic and it was over in a day. I couldn't even tell you the date of it now. I did exactly the right thing.

'I swore to myself I would never get into that situation again, but I did. Since then I've got firmly back on the Pill and I'm never coming off it. What embarrasses me is not that I've had two abortions, but the fact that I could be foolish the first time and really, really stupid the second time. But I didn't feel in any way guilty or upset. I never give it a thought now. Once it was gone, it was gone.'

'I'm starting to wish I'd kept it'

ROSE, now 29, had an abortion when she was 21. Eight years later she is having difficulty in conceiving, and is beginning to regret it.

'DURING my final year at university, I'd been going out with my boyfriend for six months, and I got pregnant. I had no moral doubt, and I still don't in a way, about having an abortion. I just wanted to get rid of it. I had a nice doctor and I didn't have to wait long. My mum was very laid back about it. It seemed so obvious. So that was it. I was really relieved.

'But now eight years later I've been trying to get pregnant for a whole year and now I think, maybe I won't be able to. A lot of people are infertile, and I think that abortion might have been my one chance.

'I've always sneered at people who have children very young. I used to work for someone who had a child at 18, and thought it was mad. I thought: get a life, why let a child interfere with your education and youth and career and having fun. I just assumed it was my God-given right to get pregnant whenever I wanted. I even wanted a summer baby, I thought I could time it to the day. But life's not like that.

'I'm not anti-abortion for other people, but I'm starting to wish that I'd had that kid. I've been thinking it would have been seven this summer. Ridiculously, I'd never, ever thought about it before as a child. Now, every time my period starts I get depressed and now I'm starting to imagine those aborted cells as a baby. I was only about six weeks.'

'I just cried; I was numb inside'

MARGARET CUTHIL (above, with her daughter Pamela) had an abortion at 27 and a second failed abortion 10 years later. She is now 47, a single parent and pro-life campaigner.

'IT was nearly my 27th birthday, and I was having a relationship with a married man at work. I thought he was the love of my life and I believed we had a future.

'He told his wife about me and that I was pregnant, and then he told me that I couldn't have this baby because he wasn't going to leave her. The panic and fear I felt just wouldn't go away. What had started as a baby, became a 'pregnancy' and then 'It', an enemy to me and my future. I didn't see any future.

'By this time I saw abortion as the only answer. In the counselling I asked: 'Is it a baby?' They said no, it's just a blob, a cluster of cells. The next day I had the operation. Afterwards I felt relieved, that was my problem over.

'On the Monday I felt I was doing the same Monday things and meeting the same Monday people, but they didn't know where I'd been and what I'd done. There was a conscious level of denial. I now understand that I went into post-abortion syndrome. I would cry for no reason and stopped eating: I lost two stone in two years. There was an emotional numbing. I wanted a barrier that no one could get through.

'About nine years later I met a salesman. One night things went too far, and I found myself pregnant again. I felt that I didn't deserve any better. I went back to the clinic, had the abortion, and everything was exactly the same. Then it turned out I was still pregnant at 20 weeks. I was sent for a scan, and on the screen I saw a heart beating and I thought: it's a baby. That's when the denial was broken. All the time I'd been kidding myself that it was just a blob, but here was that child. They offered me a further abortion but I said there was no way I could do that now. I got down on my knees and asked God's forgiveness. Knowing that I'd lost one child to abortion, I gave birth to a healthy daughter.

'I feel that abortion is wrong for all women. Why should the death of your child be the solution to the rest of your problems? It's the other problems in our society that should be looked at. My life didn't stop, it changed direction. And what my daughter has brought into it, I can't put into words.'

'When it was over, I felt euphoric'

HELEN is 28. She had an abortion 15 months ago. It was a difficult decision, but she feels she made the right choice.

'IF anyone asks me which contraceptive failed, I say 'my brain'. Like most people, I've taken risks at times, and nothing had ever gone wrong before. I just didn't think that I was at a fertile point in my cycle.

'I'd just ended a seven-year relationship when I found out I was pregnant. We'd made the decision that we didn't want to stay together - I felt that it was unfair both to the baby's father and to the baby to say: 'We were together for seven years; now we're not, but I'm going to go ahead with this anyway.' It was very difficult for him as well, people underestimate how hard it is for men. But he understood that it was my decision ultimately, because it was my body. I don't think that either of us wanted to be single or part-time parents.

'I knew I was pregnant within a couple of days of missing my period and I had a very early abortion. I don't think it's an easy choice for anybody to make, but once I had decided what I was going to do I felt much better about the whole thing.

'When I came round afterwards I felt almost euphoric that it was over now and I could get on with the rest of my life. I wouldn't say there were no regrets at all, but you weigh the regrets against how much worse it would have been if you'd gone ahead with a pregnancy you didn't want.

'I lost an ovary in 1991, about 10 months before I became pregnant, and the operation was quite traumatic for me. Finding out that I was pregnant was incredibly bad luck - but it proved that I was still fertile (though that's not the way anyone would wish to find that out). I do sometimes worry that I might not be able to have children, but I made the decision thinking: 'If this was the only child I was ever able to have, would I want to go ahead and have it?' If you decide not to have a child, and it's the right decision at the time, it stays the right decision.

'I feel really angry about anti- abortion campaigners. They prey on people's fear and sense of embarrassment. I was frightened that people would disapprove and judge me for what I'd done, but I was surprised by how wrong I was. If people can stand up and say: 'I'm not afraid of your opinion. I think I did the right thing,' then it makes it easier for other women to make that choice.'

(Photograph omitted)

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