To Everyone Who Doesn’t “Understand” Why a Woman Would Have an Abortion

With the latest passing of  HB 2 in Texas, there has been a lot of abortion debate.

Throughout the debates I’ve been reading and watching on the news, I’ve heard some troubling things.

There are a lot of “pro-lifers” out there that keep saying things along the lines of “I don’t understand how anyone can get an abortion”

Ugh.

That makes me shudder!

Honestly, that’s the most ignorant and inconsiderate thing someone can say.

Let me explain….because I’m sure some of you pro-lifers are wondering where I’m going with this.

Don’t get me wrong, before my own unplanned pregnancy I’m pretty positive I was one of those “pro-lifers” that would say ignorant things like “I just don’t understand how anyone could ever kill their child” or “how can anyone get an abortion, it’s so unthinkable and cruel”

Ok.

Have any of you ever sinned? Done something wrong? Been embarassed? Lied? Cheated?

If you said yes…than all I have to say is WOW.

UNTHINKABLE! How could you ever do such a thing! I don’t get it.

I don’t UNDERSTAND what would ever drive you to do such a thing.

How do you live with yourself??

(hopefully you can see I’m being very sarcastic to get at a point here)

Any time someone says “I don’t UNDERSTAND why someone would get an abortion” (emphasis on UNDERSTAND) that person is literally discrediting and devaluing the very delicate emotions a woman in a crisis pregnancy is going through.  Especially by verbally stating that you don’t understand, it breaks any influence you could have had on this “woman who is considering abortion”.

Let me make something very clear.

Understanding someone DOES NOT mean that you agree with them.  It simply means that you can humble yourself enough to see through another person’s eyes, to feel their emotions, to acknowledge the fear, anxiety, anger, shame, etc.

Understanding is being empathetic.

Again…it is not agreeing with someone, it is hearing them.

In fact, one of the very first things I learned in my training as an advisor at the pregnancy resource center was how important empathy and understanding are.

Why?

If a client doesn’t think you UNDERSTAND them, there is no way in hell they are going to disclose anything personal to you or let you have any influence over them.  Understanding someone is the basic premise of respecting someone.

When you were a kid, do you ever remember yelling at your parents “you just don’t understand!”

Ya…. and do you remember that when your parents didn’t understand you, how much you hated them for that, and how LITTLE you listened to them?

Ok, the same goes for ummm EVERYONE.

In fact, the very first thing I learned in graduate school for being a professional counselor was…(you guessed it) HOW IMPORTANT EMPATHY AND UNDERSTANDING ARE!

In my program, during our practicum, students have been dismissed from the program if they can’t show empathy or understanding.

Imagine if a client went to a counselor for some problem they are having.  Let’s say it’s a girl who is overweight is acting out at school and her grades are dropping.  She is also being bullied at school and being made fun of for her weight.  What if that counselor said to her “Ya, I don’t really understand why you keep acting out.  Just doesn’t make any sense.  How can you let this bullying affect your school.  I just don’t understand”

Ha!! What a joke, do you think that counselor would be effective??? Heck no!

The same goes for the pro-life movement.

Every time a pro-lifer makes the mistake of saying “I don’t understand how anyone could get an abortion” they are directly disrespecting these women, and completely crushing any connection they could have had.  That girl considering an abortion is NEVER going to respond to that pro-lifer because they just said “they don’t understand”.  If they don’t understand, why would she ever listen to him/her.

Pro-lifers need to remember some basic respect and understanding if they EVER want to make a change.

In case you still don’t understand why a girl might consider abortion…here are some scenarios from REAL women I’ve met (minor details are change to protect privacy)

  • 15 yr. old girl gets pregnant after her first time having sex.  She already lives in a broken household with no father and 4 siblings.  They are barely getting by.  Her older sister has already had an unplanned pregnancy and is living at home with them and her baby boy.  She has seen how hard it is to get by and how much strain it has put on the family emotionally and financially.  Her mom keeps threatening to kick her older sister out, and swears that if anyone else ever gets pregnant she will kick them out.  This girl’s boyfriend is 15 also, he has no job, and he regularly gets drunk and smokes pot.  Oh, and he told her to get an abortion or he’ll leave.  (Can you possibly understand why abortion might cross her mind??)
  • A Somali girl, age 17 is raped and becomes pregnant.  She is a part of a refugee center and barely speaks english.  She can’t seem to find a job and her culture is very harsh in their treatment of women.  If they found out she is pregnant out of wedlock (regardless of how she became pregnant) she will be completely disowned. (Can you understand why she might want an abortion?)
  • A 35 yr. old woman becomes unexpectedly pregnant after a horrible divorce.  She already has kids in middle school and high school.  After recently becoming divorced she is having a hard time getting on her feet.  It was an ugly divorce and this pregnancy would just make things more complicated with her now ex-husband.  She doesn’t want any reason to be attache to him anymore. (Can you understand why she might consider abortion?)
  • How about almost every other single girl who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant.  She is scared, embarrassed, ashamed, and fearful of what others will think.  That’s enough to consider an abortion

Do you understand now? (Remember: understanding is not agreeing)

I completely understand why any and all of these women are considering an abortion.  But that doesn’t mean I agree with them, but I can still empathize with them.

When someone can empathize with our suffering, they gain access to our heart, and that is where change occurs.

If you remember any role model or leader that had a huge influence on you, it is probably because they empathized with you and UNDERSTOOD you.  They listened and acknowledged your feelings.

For example: Jesus came and DIED and SUFFERED so that we might be saved.

And guess what…he UNDERSTANDS temptation, and suffering, and death.  And that’s why Jesus has such an influence over my life…because he understands me.

So, take a lesson from Jesus and be understanding of these women who are considering abortion.  Understanding someone is also respecting someone and loving someone, and when someone feels loved, understood, and respected, then they are open to hearing truth.

Understanding is the first step to making a difference in the pro-life movement.

Speaking truth in a loving way means we are understanding.

So, never make the mistake of saying “I don’t understand why someone would get an abortion” because if you really cared and loved these women, the least you would do is understand where they’re coming from.

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32 thoughts on “To Everyone Who Doesn’t “Understand” Why a Woman Would Have an Abortion

  1. Just awesome. Thank you. Like st Francis says…. Help me to understand more than being understood. Great post. As an adoptive mom I loved What you said and experienced it in the adoption world. Empathy and compassion are what life is about.

  2. In my opinion (and that’s really all I have to go on), you make some valid points, and your article is certainly well worth reading. However, the ‘Understanding’ for which you so passionately plead is not exactly demonstrated by your own stated position. Consider what you say in the following four sentences.

    There are a lot of “pro-lifers” out there that keep saying things along the lines of “I don’t understand how anyone can get an abortion”

    Ugh.

    That makes me shudder!

    Honestly, that’s the most ignorant and inconsiderate thing someone can say.

    I think it is equally important for all concerned to ‘UNDERSTAND’ the deep, moral, ethical, and religious conviction that compels the ‘Pro-lifer’ to his or her ‘NON-UNDERSTANDING.’ For them, this conviction is paramount and should override all other troubling and confusing emotions, determiners, etc. with which any pregnant woman must deal.

    In any event, as you have noted, ‘UNDERSTANDING’ is not the same as agreeing, but I think it is most definitely a required step toward any productive outcome.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article.

    1. I totally agree…and if abortion weren’t such an emotional battle, moral, ethical, logical, and even scientific convictions would trump everything. But unfortunately it is soooo unbelievably emotionally driven, that simple empathy is what turns the corner for a lot of these women. For a women in a crisis, (and most crisis situations are emotionally driven rather than rationally driven) she first needs to be heard, and then spoke truth to about moral and ethical complications.

      But, well said…and I do understand the pro-lifers that are so confused as to why a women would ever think of getting an abortion, because I definitely used to be one. And I will keep that perspective in mind!

      1. You are wise beyond your years, young lady; and as I have already tweeted, you’re an inspiration for all of us. There are a couple of axioms I’ve filed away over the years that have served me well. One is this: “When you’re through changing, you’re through!” The second is this (generally attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr), “Always remember, there is some truth in your opponent’s folly, and some folly in your own truth!”
        I try to keep these in mind at all times, because they help me ‘listen’ critically to those with whom I disagree, and they obligate me to try to understand their position. It took me decades to properly understand and employ these guidelines, but it seems you have it pretty well sorted out at a very young age. Kudos! (hmmm . . . maybe it’s that ‘clean’ Greeley living!)

        Keep up your very important work and writing, and please remember, in spite of any wisdom potentially discerned from this note (doubtful, but who knows?), there are a couple (at least) immutable truths. Here’s one: When troubled, PRAY! It works.

        God bless you and your wonderful baby!

  3. This is so well written, and such a good point! I completely agree. I never ‘understood’ either…until I was a young mom getting judged and glared at everywhere I went. I was married and my child was planned, but I was still made to feel shame, and in that moment I understood. It changed everything for me.
    I will definitely be sharing this tomorrow! ❤

    1. Yay, same here…when I went through my unplanned pregnancy I really discovered what “understanding” is. And also that understanding is not the same as agreement. Hope you’re doing well!

  4. I am a christ follower and this sums up the frustration that i feel toward people in the christian faith. it is so great that some believers out there do have a realistic view of what following christ should look like!. keep up the great writting!

  5. Amen. I’ve got another scenario for you. How about the 18 year old high school student who was raised in a godly Christian home & suddenly finds herself pregnant. They’re good kids who make good grades and have big plans after high school…none of which involve raising a baby. And all their lives, they’ve heard sweet Christians say “I just don’t understand how anyone could get pregnant outside of marriage! Don’t they know better?” This is why it’s so important that we respond with love when these things happen. But for the grace of God, we could be in her shoes.

  6. There is nothing on here about medically needed abortions, pregnancy is a health care event for a woman and there are many times that abortion is medically indicated for one reason or another.

    Also, it’s meaningless to tell a woman who desires an abortion “I understand” if you support or are working for abortion being illegal. One of the few constants throughout history is women will need and seek out abortions despite the legality and it being illegal means more maternal deaths, nothing else. It doesn’t reduce abortion it just results in more death for women.

    I understand feeling morally against abortion. I can understand working to reduce abortions in ways that have been proven to reduce abortions. But I don’t understand taking away the bodily autonomy of a woman because someone elses morals objects to a choice she might make for her own personal reasons or need to make to save her health or her life or sadly choose to make as a parenting choice because the fetus has a condition incompatible with life and they want them to suffer as little as possible.

    1. You’re right, this post is not about medical abortions, it is about the emotional side and simply encouraging others to be more understanding. What you bring up is a different issue than I addressed so I’m sorry if you feel I left that out, but my intent was to encourage a general sense of understanding for women considering abortion.

      1. I do appreciate that this post is aimed towards a one on one exchange with a woman in crisis. I do think that being understanding is a good thing. I just have a problem with a scenario where there’s a woman dealing with a crisis pregnancy and the person advising her is acting “understanding” but then no matter what would still work to keep the option of abortion away from that person in crisis.

        I respect being empathetic and trying to dissuade the woman (without lying or being unkind) from having an abortion. I find it hypocritical though for a person to be “understanding” to the women face to face yet not truly understand that there will always be SOME women who have elective abortions and having abortions illegal puts those women in danger. It’s a “I’m going to be understanding as long as you do what I think you should do but if you choose differently then screw you” thing to me. You don’t have to agree abortion is ever a morally right thing to do to want it to remain legal.

        There are lots of ways to lower abortion rates that don’t have anything to do with the legality of abortion. I think people who are pro-life should focus on those instead of working to put womens lives in danger, which is what the recent laws in Texas and other places are doing.

      2. I think it is a little unfair of you to assume that if a woman in a crisis chooses abortion that I have a “screw-you” mentality. As a worker at a crisis pregnancy center, I, nor any of our workers have ever done that. In fact, if they do choose to abort, we welcome them back with open arms and provide any counseling if they seem to need it.
        Anyways, many of the points you are arguing don’t quite have anything to do with what my post was about. Yes, the laws in Texas sparked it, but this post is not about the Texas laws in themselves. It is only about understanding and empathy. But I am sorry if you think that I am suggesting people “fake” empathy. I am promoting genuine empathy.
        This empathetic approach is a way to lower abortion rates without having anything to do with legality which is exactly what I’m promoting, so I am confused when you say “pro-life should focus on those instead of working to put womens lives in danger] because I think that is what I’m trying to do.
        And after all is said and done…I genuinely think women can do better than abortion in all circumstances, so I, in good conscience can not recommend someone get an abortion.
        I do appreciate your opinion and this has been a good discussion!

      3. Well, I didn’t say that about you personally. You didn’t state what your personal feelings about the laws are, I was making it as a general comment. And it doesn’t matter if they are welcomed back after the abortion. If you (general you) want them to have to seek out a back alley abortionist for the abortion they are determined to have then IMO you do have a “screw you” mentality towards them.

        You are promoting the “empathetic” approach as a way to get women to change their minds. I think the empathetic approach should be embraced because they are human and in crisis and deserve empathy and compassion, not because doing so might get them to change their mind from making a choice others disagree with them making.

        I have no problem with you, as you counsel, never suggesting abortion. I have a big problem with people counseling and being empathetic as a means to an end while supporting laws that will put those people they are counseling in danger if they choose abortion. Again, one doesn’t have to agree with the abortion to feel the best thing for society if for it to be legal.

        You speak of making a difference in the pro-life movement, because many of them come off as not caring about the women. They care about a function the woman provides and the result of that as more important than the woman whose body and life are being impacted by that. Being empathetic to the women is great, but to truly care about the woman you have to want her to be safe even if she chooses the option you don’t morally approve of.

      4. I guess my view is that I’m not being empathetic just to change her mind…I’m being empathetic because she is valuable and worthy and deserves love. But I also think her unborn child deserves that same respect…and because I view them together I cannot support legal abortion.

      5. See, that’s fine to consider them both valuable, but the stark reality is that two beings sharing the same space and resources cannot have equal rights. It’s just not possible. They can both be considered valuable, but when push comes to shove the legal rights of one must trump the other. If it’s the fetus that’s considered the most valuable then the mother is stripped of her rights to bodily autonomy and thus is considered legally nothing more than an incubator for the fetus. That isn’t compassionate, empathetic or caring. The mothers bodily systems providing everything for the fetus, always with some physical cost and for some at a great physical cost even to the point that it can cost her her life if things go terribly wrong. Thus in my view the ONLY reasonable way to deal with this issue is to give the woman the ultimate control over her health and body.

        If a person truly understand that without legal abortion women WILL try to abort in back alleys and other dangerous situations, how then can a person with true empathy say “oh well, that woman who would rather kill herself than be pregnant but there’s no way abortion should be legal”. Again, that isn’t compassionate or caring. There are ways to show you feel fetuses are important and valuable other than giving them greater rights than the women with already established lives and often children who are depending on them who are carrying them inside their bodies.

        Again, abortion being illegal hurts women. This is a fact. It leaves children motherless. It leaves women infertile. You know what DOES drastically reduce abortion rates, even much more so than crisis pregnancy counseling? Free birth control. A study recently done has shown that clearly. http://www.livescience.com/23726-birth-control-abortion-rate.html

        Also, abortion being illegal doesn’t save the lives of potential children, abortion rates are pretty steady no matter the legality. It also doesn’t really hurt the wealthy in society because they can still access, at a cost, safe abortions. The people that are hurt are the poor.

        So while it’s nice that you feel like having abortion illegal is the right thing to do because the fetus has value, the bottom line is you value the embryo/fetus more than the woman whose body is nourishing the embryo/fetus. And you want her only have one legal choice in regards to her pregnancy and if she makes a different choice than you think she should you want her to have to break the law to do so. And doing that is dangerous. And that to me means that whether you feel you are or not, whether you intend to or not, your empathy and caring towards the woman in crisis is actually limited to her doing what YOU want her to do instead of being true and wholly understanding and genuinely caring and wanting her safe even if she makes a choice you feel is wrong and immoral.

        I do appreciate you promoting empathy towards women in crisis, it’s a heck of a lot more than most pro-lifers do. But wanting a situation where women are dying and suffering from wholly preventable reasons due to abortion being illegal, that empathy doesn’t mean much in the end.

      6. Would you be ok with he responding to this in a blog post? I would love to get more discussion on your points, but of course only if it’s ok, I can leave you anonymous, but definitely want to respond to your thoughts

      7. I would have no issue with that and look forward to reading what you have to write on the subject.

    2. Nellie, medically needed abortions were ALREADY allowed before Roe vs. Wade. They were also allowed if the woman had been raped. Also, if you look at this website, you will see that since Roe vs. Wade the number of abortions per year has risen with an all time high in 1997.
      http://www.nrlc.org/Factsheets/FS03_AbortionInTheUS.pdf

      Also, I have known several people who were told flat out to terminate their pregnancy because their child would not make it or if the child did, the quality of life would be seriously impaired. One such child is a beautiful 6 year old girl who does tae kwon do and cheerleading and will be starting 1st grade next month. Doctors don’t always get it right.

    3. Nellie, if the life of the mother is in danger, they just simply deliver the baby and sometimes that can be labor and sometimes, it’s a c-section; but it is never done as an abortion. I was in that situation with my son. If it’s before a certain number of weeks, they’ll give the parents a chance to hold their child even if it lives for a matter of hours.

      This also about the emotional aspects of what might lead a woman to seek out an abortion, not a complete argument against it.

    4. A friend of mine reminds me frequently that we don’t always have a complete set of options and I think this applies in this case. Yes, there are alternatives to abortion but frequently, women don’t receive information on those.

      Perhaps a year or so ago, one of my college friends shared that she had aborted her baby and shared the circumstances surrounding it. She’s one of the last people I would have expected to have one and it took me a little bit to figure out how to respond. What I finally ended up saying was something along the lines of “I’m sorry that you ended up in that situation. That must have been horrible.” Sitting with her in the midst of her pain without telling her that she was wrong to do it led to us having a really fruitful discussion about it. She knows that I’m not going to judge her for it because I could have made the same decisions if I had been in her shoes. It was also healing to talk about it.

      1. Jen, the problem is there are a lot of possible complications from pregnancy that could endanger the health or life of the mother and if we make laws saying that termination cannot be done until it’s a life or death situation means that there will be an immense amount of suffering because Dr.s and pregnant women can’t use their best judgement in regards to their individual situation. Also it leaves Dr.s waiting until they are SURE the woman is dying because there will be legal repercussions if they act too soon. That is going to cost many many lives of pregnant women that could have been saved. Pregnancy is a health care event in a woman’s life and every woman deserves to be able to make the choices she feels are best for her life and body that fit within her own personal moral code.

        This piece was about understanding the emotional aspects of women seeking out abortion so one can change their mind. But the reality is that to do that, to truly understand and care, one has to understand that no matter what there WILL be women who WILL seek out abortion no matter the legal standing of abortion. Those women deserve protection and access to safe medical procedures even if they are making a choice you (general you) feel is immoral. I think the medical choice of abortion should be up to the woman who is pregnant and the doctors who are helping her.

        I understand feeling it’s morally wrong. I do not understand taking the right to make legal health care choices away from other people.

  7. I think this post is amazing! And, looking around your blog, I think YOU are amazing.

    I was given up for adoption at birth due to an unplanned teenage pregnancy (although I understand that adoption and abortion are two separate topics entirely); however, from what my adoption records have told me, my birth mother’s Catholic family fought tooth and nails for an abortion.

    I’ve always tried to put myself in my birth mother’s shoes, and imagine what life must have been like for her while carrying me. It must have been so painful and scary – especially when she chose to go against her family’s wishes. Truthfully, I can understand why my mother – a child herself – could have considered aborting my life before it began. It may sound crazy for me to say that, but it’s true.

    I’m kind of going off on my own little tangent here – this comment isn’t about a pro-life or pro-choice stance – it’s just me trying to say how much I appreciate your compassionate view of and empathy for these women and their circumstances.

    I’m always looking to hear from the different perspectives of unplanned pregnancy so I can see things in a new light.

    I’m a new follower! Can’t wait to see you get your book published 🙂

    I just started my own blog where I plan to share my story as an adoptee (among other things). I’m a little scared, but women like you inspire me to do so! You’re welcome to stop by, if you want to – http://www.thelittlestseed.com, although there’s not much there yet!

    Take care,

    ~ Courtney

  8. wow very powerful Raquel and well said. I have not had much time to follow your blog lately, but these posts are some of the main reasons why I do follow. My perspective on abortion has completely changed as well. I myself have had an unplanned pregnancy and was considering an abortion even though I thought it was wrong. Now I will have a beautiful baby girl named Lia in my belly who kicks like nobody’s business who I will get to meet this late September. And I don’t regret for one second giving my little girl life. But I remember the dark place that I was in when I first found out I was pregnant. It makes reevaluate your whole life. You can become scared, overwhelmed, ashamed, angry and depressed. I know because I felt these feelings at one point and some might think that abortion will just end it and you never have to feel this way again. But there can be beauty and love in an unplanned pregnancy. I know because my daughter and I was living and breathing prove of that. Thanks again Raquel for such an eye-opening post.

    1. Wow what an amazing story! So excited for you, September is coming quick! Would toy want to consider writing for my love letter series? I would LOVE it if you did! Your story is so powerful

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