The Stigma of Unwanted Pregnancy and a Woman’s Right to Choose – It Has Consequences

EDIT: I realize only after posting that I should have brought up the fact that even as recently as the 1950s single mothers who experienced unwanted pregnancies were frequently treated as mentally unfit and sterilized. This was especially the case if you were racially unfit (read: not white). Ah, a future article, perhaps?

According to a report issued by the UK’s National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, as it turns out, the conservative talking point that abortions cause mental illness in women is wrong. It turns out that any problems these women have is more likely attributed to the realities of having an unwanted pregnancy.

The study is likely to be met by skepticism by those opposed to the practice and believe that terminating a pregnancy can trigger depression or other mental illnesses.
[Dr. Tim] Kendall said mental health problems seemed to be linked specifically to unwanted pregnancies rather than abortion.

About 11 to 12 percent of women in general suffer from mental health issues like anxiety or depression, but among women with unwanted pregnancies that figure rises to about one third, he said. For women who later had an abortion, there did not appear to be any further increase in their rate of mental health problems.

“We should be looking at what it is about the unwanted pregnancy stage that is so problematic,” he said. “We need to try to get those women help sooner so they’re not put at greater risk.”

While I can only speculate as to what the causes for stress are for a woman with an unwanted pregnancy, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of it came down to the stigma we associate not only with sexual intercourse in general (a point recently highlighted with the Department of Health and Human Services’ rejecting access to the Plan B pill for teenagers) but with a women’s right to choose. It’s this last part that drives some activists to bomb clinics, kill doctors, outright lie about the science and ostracize and dehumanize women, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that these things have consequences.

In the same way that gay teens are more likely to contemplate suicide because of how they are treated by society, it makes perfect sense that women trapped in this position would be stressed. And if the purpose of a hate crime (and terrorism, technically) is to instill fear, doubt and self-loathing in a community because of their identity, then what we are looking at in the women’s movement are crimes that slip under the radar simply because the narrative lacks Person A directly beating Person B. And because of this we’re less likely to do anything about it. Hell, this treatment of women is something we see even within our own movements.

We’re quick to Occupy Wall Street, but what about Occupying Patriarchy? And when we do Occupy Wall Street why aren’t we standing up against the sexism within our own ranks? A friend of mine recently wrote about her “gendered” and “sexualized” experience at Occupy Minnesota, and it’s worth reading simply because it’s a perspective and reality the Occupy movement has overlooked.

I need to stop here otherwise I could go all day.

About Joshua Preston

In 2013, Preston graduated from the University of Minnesota Morris with a BA in Political Science and History. Currently, he is a Research Fellow at Baylor College of Medicine's Initiative on Neuroscience and Law in Houston, TX. His poetry has appeared in "The Humanist" and "MAYDAY Magazine."
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3 Responses to The Stigma of Unwanted Pregnancy and a Woman’s Right to Choose – It Has Consequences

  1. Pingback: They just don’t learn, do they? Abortion still doesn’t cause mental illness. | A Prairie Populist

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