The news that an 11-year-old girl in Mexico who became pregnant through rape, allegedly by her stepfather, has decided to continue her pregnancy has caused a lot of controversy in recent days.
Some abortion advocates have argued that the girl in Mexico is too young to continue the pregnancy and should have an abortion, with some even suggesting that it be done despite her expressed wish to have the baby.
Such issues are also a focus during April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness month.
But a book about women who became pregnant through rape or incest – including young girls in situations similar to this – suggests that, rather than helping the girl recover, abortion is more likely to cause her further psychological harm.
“Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions and Children Resulting from Sexual Assault,” is based on a survey of 192 women who became pregnant through rape or incest and either had an abortion or continued the pregnancy.
Victims and Victors includes personal stories from 20 women who recalled their experiences and explained how the outcome of their pregnancy affected them.
One woman who became pregnant by her father at the age of 15 said that she refused an abortion after becoming pregnant but, at her father’s request, was held down on a table and given the abortion anyway.
“I was told that an abortion would solve my problem, when it was never really the problem in the first place,” she wrote years later. “I was told, ‘Your parents know what’s best,’ when they obviously were only concerned about their own reputations. I was told, ‘You made the right decision,’ when I was never given a choice. More important, where was my baby’s choice?”
Indeed, the survey on which the book was based found that many of those who had abortions did so due to pressure, demands or even force. And in almost every case in which the pregnancy resulted from incest, it was the girl’s parents or the perpetrator who made the decision and arrangements for the abortion, not the girl herself. None of the incest victims reported having any say in the decision.
Elliot Institute Director David Reardon, one of the editors of Victims and Victors, said that nearly 80 percent of the women in the survey who had abortions said abortion didn’t help them. Instead, many reported problems such as depression, substance abuse, broken and abusive relationships, and suicide attempts after abortion.
“Most of the respondents who had abortions told us that abortion actually compounded the trauma and emotional pain they experienced from the sexual abuse, and that it was not a good solution,” Reardon said. “On the other hand, none of the women who carried to term said they wished they had not given birth or that they had aborted instead.”
A common theme among the stories told by women in the book was that abortion allowed others to dismiss their pain rather than offering authentic support.
“Abortion frequently increases the woman’s sense of isolation and stigma by allowing others to pretend the problem didn’t exist,” Reardon said. “By getting rid of the pregnancy, which is a reminder of the sexual assault, it allows other people to ignore the woman’s need for understanding and honest exploration and resolution of what she has been through.”
Further, having a history of sexual assault or abuse, having an abortion as a teen and having an unwanted abortion are known risk factors for psychological injury after abortion, Reardon said.
One woman who was impregnated by her stepfather at the age of 12 and forced to have an abortion later wrote:
“Throughout the years I have been depressed, suicidal, furious, outraged, lonely, and have felt a sense of loss. …
“The abortion which was to ‘be in my best interest’ just has not been. As far as I can tell, it only ‘saved their reputations,’ ‘solved their problems,’ and ‘allowed their lives to go merrily on.’”
During Sexual Assault Awareness Month the Elliot Institute also worked to raise awareness that abortion harms, rather than helps, women who become pregnant through sexual assault, through the publication of a special report entitled “Abortion and Sexual Assault Pregnancy: Information for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.” In addition, the group provides information and free educational resources on this issue for individuals and organizations.