Abortion and its impact on a relationship
When a woman experiences the trauma of abortion, it is
undeniably an unnatural death experience, and there will be reverberations for
We all have an opinion about abortion, but regardless of
the many different political and moral stands people take, negative responses
from others will usually ensure that couples are silenced, usually as a
protection from further shame and they will keep it a secret.
There are many reasons underpinning the decision to have
an abortion. To begin with, an unplanned
pregnancy can complicate the beginning of a relationship – or it can impact on
the resolve of one partner to leave it. It is especially awkward if it results
from an extramarital affair (especially when the
husband has had a vasectomy), when there are already grown children, when
genetic tests are uncertain, or when career plans are affected. There also can be pressure from a partner for
a range of reasons such as financial concerns.
One study in the USA found that 44% of terminations were instigated by
Whatever the reason, abortion definitely
has an adverse affect on a significant number of couples and the crisis it
presents can bring considerable instability within a committed relationship.
The complexity of an unplanned pregnancy is often not
understood. Initially, there is usually the pressure of time,
as a rapid decision has to be made. “It was the heaviest
decision I have ever, ever made. The delay in procedures at the hospital meant
that I had to try to dissociate from my body in which there was a growing baby
– my body was changing and I had to fight its normal responses to nurture this
growing infant, which we had both decided not to keep. It was torture.”
consequence, couples don’t have the opportunity to weigh up the situation fully
and this usually leads to reduced communication between them. This young woman said “Time passed and I thought he didn’t have any
more to say, so I decided that what was going through my head was not
Another potential block to communication is the
requirement for a woman to prioritise her own individual needs, at the time she
is making the decision. How will this decision
affect me and my future? And what about those
close to me – my partner, my family, my friends? These will be among her concerns as she interprets
the powerful pressures of the political and moral positions of her wider social
The consequence of a couple not processing the abortion experience
fully will have a dramatic impact on their relationship. Many do not talk much about it, and because
the final decision rests with the woman, it is often felt as an unequal
experience within that relationship.
Terri Reiser, the author of ‘Help for
the Post-abortion Woman’ believes that a major issue impacting on a committed
relationship after an abortion is disillusionment experience by the woman, leading
to a cooling in her feelings. She believes that in spite of the energy from
feminist movements to empower women, they still seek a partner who is entirely
committed to the family. When he fails
in this role and doesn’t support the pregnancy, she can feel deserted and it is
likely that she will disengage emotionally.
In this lonely place, she will find it very difficult to talk about her
feelings and the distance will widen.
Her sexual response
is also likely to be affected in a number of ways following an abortion. While physical problems can occur, the fear
of another pregnancy is common. In a study
of 100 post-abortion women, of whom 75% were married or had
long-term ongoing relationships, 33% reported that their sexual relations were
negatively affected to some degree after the procedure.
“I will never forget
the way his face lit up when I told him I was pregnant. He supported the
termination and we ritualized the loss and did our very best, but I do believe
it contributed to the end of our relationship.
We just weren’t strong enough to carry the burden of it.”
of this subject will follow in the next column.