When one thinks of the practice of coerced abortion, China’s bullying one-child-per-couple policy likely comes to mind. Government-coerced or “forced” abortion is used to impose this policy on those who violate it: pregnant women who have already borne a child. China’s now expanded but equally coercive two-child-per-couple limit is no less cruel. Consider the story of Sun Mingmei, who shared her story with CNN. Although wanting to keep her second child and grow her family, she aborted rather than pay the strict fines and suffer other penalizing consequences of the second birth. Less than two months after she aborted, China expanded its birth regulation policy to two.
“More stunning perhaps is that coerced abortions are happening here in the USA. Instead of a government mandate, it is more cultural—and secretive,” says FFL President Serrin Foster.
While not state-imposed in this country, the manner of forcing abortion upon pregnant women—particularly those young and vulnerable—occurs with such frequency that some states are debating, and now adopting, laws to criminalize this coercive action. Who are those who coerce? Husbands, unmarried partners, and parents, namely, though peers, school authorities, and employers may also pressure women to abort. And with nearly 3,000
abortions performed each day in the U.S., it is reasonable to conclude that large numbers of these occur because of coercion.
“There is no question that women are being coerced (into having abortions),” stated prominent pro-life attorney Harold Cassidy in a 2012 article cross-posted at Rewire and the American Independent Institute. Cassidy has successfully represented pregnancy centers and pro-life organizations, and he confirms their reports that “vast instances of women (claim) to have been coerced into having abortions.”
An internet search of “coerced abortion” yields dozens of sites that post wrenching testimonials from women who have been forced into having an abortion, sometimes more than once. These are sorrowful reflections, often written long after the abortion has occurred, and they express the lasting pain and depression that plague and isolate the women for years.
On the Rachel’s Vineyard website (rachelsvineyard.org), Melissa shares about the forced abortion that changed her life and led to her many years of depression and, in her words, “heart-wrenching grief.” It was shortly after
informing her boyfriend of the positive pregnancy test result, she writes, that “he coerced me into aborting our child because he didn’t want to get in trouble…. That left me knowing my relationship with him was through.”
Recognizing that she was “the only one who wanted to protect this baby,” she canceled the initial appointment at the abortion clinic, though she followed through with a second one. Melissa recalls that appointment and describes how, when asked if she would proceed with the abortion, her “heart kept screaming NO,” though she replied with an audible “yes,” feeling pressured in the company of her looming boyfriend.
In an anonymous posting on the same site, one post-abortive woman shares her anguish at learning her beloved not only lied about their future, but then forced her to abort the child he persuaded her to conceive.
“He didn’t want a baby, no way, shape or form. I had to get an abortion. That was final! He wouldn’t discuss anything any further…. The next day we called Planned Parenthood for the appointment… my name was called and I was led
to the back. I remember this time though, hearing sobbing, and crying. I was wondering what was that all about, what’s going on. I was scared, I felt paralyzed. I felt like I wasn’t even there while this was happening…. I really am a monster.”
Coercion from a parent can be even more devastating. One woman, posting on the same site and wishing anonymity, describes the coercion she faced from her mother—first to abort the child, then to keep silent about it. Initially relieved when her boyfriend agreed against aborting the baby, she shares the later dread at hearing her mother’s reaction to the pregnancy.
“My mother was furious…. She hated me for what I had done. She took me immediately to have an abortion. ‘Wait a minute…. I don’t want an abortion.’ I thought to myself. She said I had to do it. She took me and promised not to tell
my father. I could not stand for him to know…. I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I could not stand to look at myself in the mirror…. from that day on, I hated my mother. I turned to drugs, boys, sex, lies, and alcohol. I dropped out
of school…. became a stripper and a prostitute on drugs. Had a total of 4 more abortions… 2 of which I was forced to do and the last two of which I chose to do on my own because I had no feeling in me left… I was so far gone. My life was hell.”
“This happens more often than you might think,” according to JoAnne Crough, a licensed professional counselor at the Meier Clinics office in Pittsburgh. “In many cases, it’s the teen or woman’s parents who suggest this way of dealing with the pregnancy. They make it clear that an abortion will ‘solve everything.’ They typically keep the entire process as secretive as possible. The young woman in this situation is extremely vulnerable to being coerced to make the others in her life happy. She has upset those closest to her with the news of her pregnancy. She feels confusion, shame, and fear. She becomes isolated from other forms of support. Combined, these put tremendous pressure on her to comply.”
Fortunately, several states are beginning to regard coercion to abort as criminal.
In June 2016, the Michigan legislature passed the Coerced Abortion Prevention Act (CAPA), which makes it a crime to cause “emotional distress, harassment, and stalking unconsented contact.” Similar laws exist or are being discussed in several states.
According to an Americans United for Life report, “at least 11 states have considered abortion bills that deal with coercion.” Among them are laws requiring abortion providers to post signage in the waiting rooms of the
abortion clinics advising of the unlawfulness of pressuring a woman into having an abortion.
In South Dakota, the case of Brittany Weston is especially telling. She described the extreme pressure from her boyfriend to abort: “I was very emotionally dependent on Joe and I thought I needed his approval.” Confused and vulnerable, she wrote of her emotional and mental stress: “(W)hatever consent, if any, was given at all, it was under pressure, against what I wanted, and it was not informed in any meaningful way.”
Weston continues: “I suspect it must be hard for others to understand this phenomenon about how I was pressured into going to Planned Parenthood’s clinic against my desires, because I struggle to understand it myself. But my experience should be understood, not dismissed, because I am now certain it is a common experience for women. I now understand that it is common for women to have abortions they don’t want, especially when the father of their child wants it for himself.”
The high incidence of coerced abortion is consistent with another gruesome sign: the high level of violence and aggression against pregnant women. In 2007, an ABC News story shared “homicide is one of the leading causes of
death for pregnant women in the United States,” and that “about 20 percent of women who die during pregnancy are murder victims.”
A 2002 American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists report states that femicide against pregnant women often goes unreported; it also claims to be the first at reporting the “definite link between abuse during pregnancy and attempted/completed femicide. This research documents the immediate need for universal abuse assessment of all pregnant women.”
This degree of violence against pregnant women, along with the thousands of abortions performed across the United States each day, make clear the need for anti-coercion laws to be enacted in every state—indeed, in every country.
Feminists for Life of America was the only pro-life group to support the original Violence Against Women Act. FFL President Serrin Foster was the only feminist to testify in support of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, aka Laci and Conner’s Law, and was an early advocate of laws to prevent coerced abortions. “We need to see that forced pregnancies and coerced abortions are forms of violence against women ,” Foster says. “While we would hope that all feminists would support efforts to legally protect women from these forms of violence, unfortunately, abortion appears to be the priority, not women’s health and safety.”
Although some still rigorously advance the idea that abortion is “normal” and always freely chosen, the voices of those coerced refute that notion, as do health care professionals. Greg Scandlen, an authority on health care and insurance who writes about such matters, shared in a 2015 article in The Federalist his understanding about the frequency of coerced abortion. The abuse and strong-arming is significant enough, he writes, that “not-small
numbers of the victims are newly pregnant women and girls who are not allowed to be ‘pro-choice’ because someone else has already decided their fate.”
The sad reality is that when a woman succumbs to coercion to abort her child—whether by a husband, unmarried partner, parents, or other authority figures—the consequences for her are horrifically life-changing.
No pregnant woman should ever experience intimidation, threats, or violence, period—and certainly not when making decisions for her unborn child. Just as unacceptable as the dearth of choices which force women to abort is the non-choice of coerced abortion. Coerced Abortion Prevention Act (CAPA) and other new anti-coercion laws and policies across the U.S. are making progress at criminalizing coerced abortion. These are vital laws for women and women’s freedom, and it is long past time that they are implemented.
Sharon Serratore has been a member of Feminists for Life since 1996 and is now a member of its Board of Directors. She holds a master’s degree in Theology/Pastoral Ministry from Duquesne University and degrees in Communications and Economics from the University of Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Writer’s Digest, and other online and print publications. She and her husband reside in Pittsburgh.
What else can you find in Manipulation?
- Introduction- Serrin M. Foster
- Selling Our Sisters: Destroying Their Dreams- Joyce McCauley-Benner
- Coerced into Unwanted Abortions- Sharon Serratore
- Protecting Women and Girls from Coerced Abortions- Jessica Stanton
- An Insider’s Look into the Abortion Industry- Ellen J. Reich
- What to Expect When You’re Expecting at Planned Parenthood- Serrin M. Foster
- We Remember: Cree Erwin- Damian J. Geminder
- Held Hostage by Her Husband- Anastasia Economides