A lot of anti-choice rhetoric focuses on the idea that they just want what is best for women. After all, abortions are dangerous, traumatising, and selfish. They give you breast cancer, make you infertile, and cause depression.
Almost every line spouted by “pro-lifers” is a lie, designed to make women afraid of abortion, and feel ashamed of themselves and their experience.
Below, I’ve collected some of the most common myths surrounding abortion, and I’m going to explain exactly why they’re so wrong.
Abortion causes breast cancer. This a really common one and the same argument has also been used against hormonal birth control. However, it’s simply not true. In 1997, the largest ever study was conducted into the link between abortion and breast cancer, with over 1.5 million participants. The conclusion? There is no independent link between having abortions and getting breast cancer. In 2003, the National Cancer Institute held a symposium with 100 of the world’s leading experts who study pregnancy and the risk of breast cancer. They also concluded that there was no link between having an abortion and your subsequent risk of breast cancer.
“This is what an abortion looks like.” Anti-choice protestors will often hold up graphic photographs of “aborted foetuses” which look almost fully developed, and claim this is what all abortions look like, in an attempt to make women feel guilty for having abortions. However, the images they use are more often than not actually late-term miscarriages, many of them far past the point at which an abortion would be legal. Finding real images of first and second trimester abortions is incredibly difficult, but if you would like to see what one woman’s abortion at 6 weeks looked like, you can do so here.
“We just want women to have all the facts.” I absolutely agree that women should not be making decisions about their bodies, their health, or their future without all the facts. However, as you can see from this list, anti-choice groups are notorious for twisting the truth to suit their purpose. Yes, I believe that women should know that, at 24 weeks there is a 50% chance that a foetus could survive outside of the womb, and some can survive even earlier, but that knowledge should come without guilt or pressure.
First trimester foetuses are conscious and can feel pain - False. Although it is true that foetuses begin to develop a minimal brain stem at 7 weeks, they are not capable of consciousness or pain until the third trimester, when they develop a neocortex.
Emergency contraception causes abortions - Nope. Anti-choice groups often claim that emergency contraception is an “abortion pill” but that’s simply not true. Instead, emergency contraception – i.e. “the morning after pill” – delays ovulation meaning there is no egg to be fertilised. It also affects the lining of the womb making it harder for a fertilised egg to implant, but this is only a back up in case delaying ovulation does not work. If the egg has already been fertilised and implanted, emergency contraception will not work, hence why it is only effective up to 72 hours after sex.
“Crisis pregnancy centres can help you make the right choice for you.” Beware of anything which calls itself a “crisis pregnancy centre”. These organisations often market themselves as an unbiased service for people who have found themselves pregnant and are unsure what to do next. However, they are often funded by anti-choice groups whose aim is to dissuade women from having abortions – probably using some of the myths from this list – and instead encourage them to keep their pregnancy and consider options like adoption. If you find out that you are pregnant and are unsure what to do, I’d suggest you take a look at the FPA’s page on unplanned pregnancy which sets out your options and then book an appointment with an non-directive service, either your GP or your local GUM Clinic. Obviously, these services cannot tell you what to do, but they can offer guidance on what each choice entails, allowing you to make an informed decision.
Making abortion illegal will stop it from happening. Unplanned pregnancies are always going to occur, and while some people may be happy to continue those pregnancies, others are going to want an abortion, whether it’s legal or not. In reality, countries where abortion is illegal or limited usually have a high number of terminations, linked to the fact that they usually also have limited access to contraception and poor quality sex education. If anti-choice protestors really wanted to stop abortions from happening they would invest in empowering people to make the right reproductive decisions from them, in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
Abortion makes it harder to get pregnant later in life. Absolutely not. Anti-choice activists with often claim that having an abortion, especially if you have multiple abortions, make you less likely and maybe even unable, to conceive and carry a child later in life. This is completely untrue. If done correctly, by someone who is well-trained, and in a sterile environment – all things which are less likely to happen if abortion is illegal – having an abortion should have no long term effects on your reproductive health.
Abortion is very dangerous. It is much safer to be pregnant and give birth. Lies. Abortion is at least 10 times safer than giving birth, especially if it takes place within the first trimester. There are some risks, which you can read about here, but pregnancy also carries many risks, and so long as your abortion is done by a trained professional, and you know the signs that something may be wrong, you should be fine. It’s important you make an educated choice and understand the potential dangers, but fear should not stop you from making the right choice for you.
Everyone who has an abortion gets depression afterwards and is traumatised by the experience. The most common feeling experienced by women after an abortion is relief. Nobody makes the decision to terminate a pregnancy lightly, so it can often be a release to no longer have an unplanned pregnancy looming over your life. Of course, some people do experience guilt and sadness after an abortion, and while a lot of that comes from the shame promoted by anti-choice groups, it’s completely legitimate and there are people who can help. Whoever provided your abortion should be able to direct you towards post-abortion counselling services in your area, but you can also contact BPAS or Brook if you want to talk through how you’re feeling with a counsellor.
If you’re under 16, the doctor will tell your parents you’ve had an abortion. Incorrect. As with all medical procedures, so long as the doctor believes you fully understand the choice you are making, then they will provide your abortion without contacting your parents. You may be encouraged to talk to an adult you trust, whether that’s someone in your family or someone within the organisation, to ensure you have all the support you need, but this isn’t compulsory. (Ed. note–Laws regarding parental consent and parental notification vary from country to country and even state to state (within the U.S.) If you’re in the U.S., check out what your state’s law is at Positive.org. If not, be sure to be aware of what your country’s law is.)
If you have an abortion it means you are irresponsible and selfish, and you should feel guilty– Every day, thousands of women around the world make the decision to terminate their pregnancies, and while each one does it for a different reason, every single one of those women has made a legitimate choice. It doesn’t matter if you choose to have an abortion because you already have two children and can’t afford another, or whether you want the opportunity to finish education. The choice to have an abortion is yours alone and you have every right to make decisions about your future, your body, and your wellbeing, without guilt or shame.
If you don’t want to get pregnant you should just use contraception or remain abstinent. [TW: Sexual Assault and Rape] You have the right to enjoy a healthy sex life, regardless of whether or not you are ready to have a child. If you are having sex where there is a risk of pregnancy, I would definitely suggest you look at your contraceptive options, but no method of contraceptive is 100% effective, and sometimes accidents happen. The abstinence argument is also incredibly insensitive since even people who choose to be abstinent may be the victim of sexual assault or rape, which could result in pregnancy. No one should be forced to carry a child they do not want to have.
Some women use abortions as birth control. Anti-choice campaigners seem to think that abortion is a walk in the park, pop a pill and then you can get right back to your slut-life, but that’s just not true. Even a first trimester abortion will often result in heavy bleeding for several days, while a surgical abortion requires several days of complete rest. No woman makes the decision to have an abortion without serious consideration, and the majority of women would certainly rather use contraception than have an abortion.
If you have an abortion you have to tell your partner. You have absolutely no obligation to discuss your choice with your partner. While I would definitely suggest you talk about your decision with someone, in order to ensure you have the emotional support you need, it is ultimately your body and your choice, and no one has the right to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. As a side note, if you feel like your partner wouldn’t be supportive of your right to choose, I’d definitely have a think about your relationship and whether or not they’re really a good person if they don’t respect you enough to make your own choices in life.
Late term abortions are very common - In the UK, 89% of all abortions are carries out before 12 weeks, and only 1.5% take place after 20 weeks, usually for medical reasons. Late term abortions are often more physically and emotionally difficult that first trimester abortions, and no one would choose to wait another 10 weeks to have an abortion without good reason.
It’s important to give women time between their first appointment and their abortion so they can be sure about their decision. While I agree that it is important that women have time to consider their choice, imposing compulsory waiting times between first consultations and terminations can restrict access, particularly for poorer women, as it forces them to take additional time off work. It’s extremely rare that women come to their first consultation unsure about their decisions, and if they do they will most likely be offered counselling to help them with their decision, and told to return in a few days. But why should a woman who is certain in her choice be forced to wait several days?
“There are other options.” Anti-abortion campaigners often suggest adoption or fostering as alternatives to abortion, but that simply isn’t realistic. Not only does this force women to go through the difficulty and danger of pregnancy, but it also puts them under the additional emotional pressure of having to give birth and then give their child away. Adoption and fostering are also not perfect options. While many children will be easily adopted into loving families, other will be left to deal with the struggle of growing up in the care of the state, with issues of identity, cultural loss, and feelings of rejection.
I hope this dispels some of the myths surrounding abortion, and that it makes people more confident in making the choice that is right for them. If you have any other questions regarding abortion, or any other topic surrounding sex, sexuality or gender, then feel free to message Edinburgh Sexpression here.
Written by Sarah Moffat
Sarah is one of a group of people at the University of Edinburgh who founded Sexpression:Edinburgh in 2012. The organisation is passionate about providing high quality sex and relationships education to students and young people around Edinburgh. We are committed to sex-positive, body-positive, fact-based and inclusive sex education. We are also a branch of the UK organisation Sexpression:UK.
We organise awareness campaigns on campus, answer questions and offer advice through our blog, and also run free educational sessions on topics from contraception, to STDs, gender and sexuality, and consent, for community organisations around Edinburgh. If you’d like us to run a session for your organisation or just want to learn more about what we do then email us at [email protected].
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