National Post Barbara Kay: When the ‘choice’ isn’t her own

National Post - Friday March 7th, 2014

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If abortion providers were obliged to ask women whether their decision was freely made, Charlotte Dawson might still be alive today.

Australian celebrity Charlotte Dawson seemed to have it all: beauty, brains, success and, for a time, “the love of my life” in ex-husband, elite swimmer Scott Miller. Last week the 39-year old former model and TV personality hanged herself in her apartment.

Various mainstream media accounts link Charlotte’s suicide, and a previous 2012 suicide attempt, to depression provoked by a vicious Twitter campaign. None I could find mentioned what Charlotte herself considered the primary source of her despair. According to her 2012 autobiography, Air Kiss & Tell, her introduction to the “depression bogeyman” was directly linked to an unwilling abortion.

If the decision to have the abortion had been made freely, Charlotte might have moved on with her life without a backward glance, as many women do. But she claims she was pressured into it much against her will and instinct. She became pregnant shortly after her marriage to Miller, and was thrilled; her husband not so much, as her due date coincided with the Olympics. He “and a number of other interested and invested parties” allegedly pressed her to abort.

Reluctantly, and “in total turmoil,” Charlotte proceeded with the abortion, “trying to train myself to think of my baby as an inconvenience.” Ironically, her sacrifice was doubly futile: Sex tapes of Miller and a paramour surfaced, leading to a divorce; and worse, in its way, Miller did not even make the cut for the Games. Charlotte fell into alcohol abuse and a downward emotional spiral.

While the cyberbullying doubtless exacerbated her woes, Charlotte’s memoir could not have been more clear on their root cause: “When I got home [from the abortion], I felt that something had changed. I felt a shift … I felt the early tinges of what I can now identify as my first experience with depression.”

Why the careful media detour around the precipitating incident identified by the victim herself? If Charlotte had traced her depression to a campus rape or domestic violence, the media would have been all over it like white on rice.

Intimate-partner or culturally-based coercion is widespread, especially in the case of sex-selection abortion

But we know why. Linking depression to abortion is politically incorrect. Actually, linking any risks of negative outcome to abortion is politically incorrect, even though many researchers maintain that such risks exist.

Which is why, although I believe women have the right to abort, I continue to maunder on about the need for the same kind of “informed consent” to abortion that we receive when we undertake all other surgical interventions.

Feminists are deeply invested in the belief that abortion is always freely chosen by women, and they therefore have no reason to be depressed afterward. But anecdotal evidence, including Charlotte Dawson’s testimony, suggests otherwise. Intimate-partner or culturally-based coercion is widespread, especially in the case of sex-selection abortion.

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The majority view among Western medical organizations is, in the words of the American Psychological Association, that “among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy.” But some researchers take a different view. In a 1997 letter to the British Medical Journal, for example, researchers cited data “suggest[ing] that a deterioration in mental health may be a consequential side effect of induced abortion,” even after controlling for other variables. But these researchers typically are accused of bias by pro-choicers.

Let us set studies aside. If sex without consent is traumatic, how much more so is abortion? So where is the harm in simply asking women if they are in fact choosing to abort freely. Imagine if at her abortion clinic Charlotte Dawson had heard a gentle voice say, “I’m obliged to ask, Ms. Dawson, if you feel you were in any way coerced into this decision,” causing Charlotte to burst into tears, leading to counselling and the strength to follow her heart.

If abortion providers were in fact obliged to ask this question and, if necessary, refer clients to supportive follow-up, I am morally certain Charlotte — and many other women similarly abused — would be alive today.