Since Roe v. Wade, there have been over 60 million abortions committed in the United States. Even if 40% of those were repeat abortions (statistics vary by year), about 36 million women have had at least one legal abortion in the past 40 years.
Some current and former abortion workers have wondered where all these women are. Why aren’t more of them active in the pro-choice movement? Certainly, there are many who are. But there has been no massive uprising of post-abortive women fighting for abortion rights. Despite high profile campaigns like Shout your Abortion, most post-abortive women keep their abortions to themselves. The fact that the pro-life movement is so powerful, even when such a large number of women have had abortions and would seem to have every reason to support that right, is telling.
Jeannie Jones counseled women and helped them get abortions both before and after Roe. She says:
I became convinced within a year or two of doing abortion counseling to great numbers at Amherst Medical that the whole thing – society's condemnatory attitude toward abortion – was going to change so dramatically because there were all these women of all ages who had abortions and members of their families who knew about it. They had this experience of making this tough decision. I thought that was going to change the political landscape and I can't believe [that opposition to legal abortion] is still going on. There's this enormous number of women having abortions still, but it's like you had one and you don't have any sympathy or concern for anyone else. Where is this enormous population of people who personally had this experience? Where are their families?[Source: David P Cline Creating Choice: A Community Responds to the Need for Abortion and Birth Control, 1961 – 1973 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006) 206]
Abortion is highly stigmatized despite many women having abortions. Former abortion worker Robin Dizard is so frustrated that more post-abortive women haven’t been fighting for abortion rights that she contemplated “outing” her former patients. The fact that many post-abortive women just want to go on with their lives, and others join the pro-life movement, angers her. She writes about exposing women’s secret abortions in order to shame them into being pro-choice, or to discredit their pro-life activism:
[I]t’s something that has been used very effectively in outing [of gay people], for example. I'm not in favor of it but look what it does. And look what happens when the hypocrites who are holding elected office get found out: "Oh, Senator whoever you are, your office is full of pornography, that's very interesting," and then the guy pipes down a little bit.[Source: Ibid. 207]
Ironically and perhaps unintentionally, Dizard compares having an abortion to looking at pornography. This comparison acknowledges the stigma surrounding abortion.
Many pro-life post-abortive women are in fact open about their abortions; they see them as tragic events in their lives. Often, it is the abortion experience that motivates post-abortive pro-life women, whether they feel comfortable talking about their abortions or not.
Abortion worker Steph Herold also expresses her frustration:
We need our patients, who we do everything for, to stand up for us. We don’t need them to tell their abortion stories to everyone they know, although of course that would be great. We need them to fight for abortion access in whatever way makes sense to them. If one in three US women has an abortion by age 45, where are these women? Why don’t they stand up for us?[Source: Sarah Erdreich Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2013) 175]
Herold's fake "one in three" statistic has been debunked.
Herold isn’t seeing the women who had abortions at her facility on the pro-choice picket line.
Abortion facility owner Maggie Cage ran a full-page newspaper ad during Operation Rescue’s campaign. While pro-lifers staged sit ins in front of the facility door, Cage called for her former patients to come and “defend” the facility:
Where are you? Where are all the people we’ve helped over the years? We need you now. When you needed us, we were there. We held your hand and supported you. We see you in restaurants and at the grocery store, at PTA meetings and softball games. You are the businesspeople, the school officials, the politicians, the voters. We kept you safe. We held your secrets. But now we need help. Where are you?[Source: Susan Wicklund This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor (New York: Public Affairs Perseus Books Group, 2007) 160]
All the current and former abortion workers quoted here avoid coming to an obvious conclusion: many women don’t consider their abortion experience empowering. At "best," they want to forget about it. At "worst," they actively work against abortion.
What about the numbers? How many women who have had abortions are active in the pro-life movement vs. the pro-choice movement?
Unfortunately, current statistics aren’t available. But there is an older study, done in 1981, which found that more post-abortive women were involved in National Right to Life than in NARAL (one of the most prominent pro-abortion groups, then and now).
[Source: Donald Granberg, “The Abortion Activists” Family Planning Perspectives July – August 1981]
The study was done by pro-choice researcher Donald Granberg and published in the journal of the Alan Guttmacher Institute. It found that 3% of women in National Right to Life and 36% of women in NARAL had had abortions. At first glance, it seems like women who have abortions are far more likely to join NARAL and be pro-choice. But when you actually count the numbers up, you find that more post-abortive women were members of National Right to Life.
At the time of the study, there were 12 million women in National Right to Life and 156,000 in NARAL. This means that 39,000 women in NARAL had abortions. In National Right to Life, the number was 245,000.
What this translates to, if you do the math, is that there were six times more post-abortive women in National Right to Life than in NARAL.
Of course, there is only so much we can determine from the study. It only includes two organizations (though at the time, they were the largest), and it is from decades ago. So, we don’t know how much it can be applied to today. But it is seems clear that the majority of the 36 million American women who have had abortions are not pro-abortion activists.
[Today's guest post by Sarah Terzo is part of our paid blogging program.]