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Family Planning - Abortion - What you need to know

This is cross posted from The Culture Vulture

Today’s blog post could have easily been titled: ‘a tale of two NZ abortion guides’.

You seen, the NZ Family Planning Association (NZFPA) has recently released a new booklet guide on abortion targeted at women considering an abortion, but this is not the first time that such a guide has been published.

Back in September 1998, the NZ Ministry of Health published a guide for women contemplating an abortion.

What’s interesting is that the latest version of this booklet from the NZFPA is missing lots of important information that WAS present in the 1998 version, it hasn’t been updated with vitally important science that women in this position need to know, and it contains several problematic sections.

The missing information…

The following is a list of information that is found in the 1998 guide to abortion, but which is missing from the recent NZFPA version:

-Information about alternatives to abortion
-Information about adoption
-Information about guardianship
-Information about fetal development
-Contact details for organizations other than the NZFPA

The following information has been altered in the new edition, with far LESS information actually provided in the latest NZFPA edition:

-Physical risks of abortion
-Psychological risks of abortion (this section is woefully inadequate and does not reflect actual research on this issue)

The information that hasn’t been updated:

-There is absolutely no mention of the new research which shows that having just ONE abortion, in the first or second trimester, have a 35% increased risk of giving birth to a low-weight birth baby and a 36% increased risk of having a premature baby.

-There is absolutely no mention of the new research which shows that women who have more than one abortion had a 72% increased risk for subsequent low birth weight and 93% risk of subsequent premature birth.

The problematic sections in the new edition…

a) The section on mental health issues associated with abortion…

The ENTIRE section on emotional harm from abortion states the following:

“Every woman is different. If you are sure about your decision and the reasons for having an abortion then you are less likely to have negative or long term emotional effects”

That’s all there is, nothing more.

As stated above this is woefully inadequate and simply doesn’t present the full facts about subsequent mental health risks, let alone advice on where to seek help should such issues arise.

According to Professor David Fergusson (who is pro-choice) from the Christchurch School of Medicine, his longitudinal research shows that abortion is likely to lead to an “increase [in] mental health risks among those women who find seeking and obtaining an abortion a distressing experience.”

I would suggest that this is subtly different from what the NZFPA booklet claims, because a woman can be both certain about her decision, and reasons to abort, while at the same time still distressed by the experience of seeking and obtaining an abortion – which would mean that she was actually still at an increased risk of subsequent mental health problems (according to research).

One thing that is noteworthy is that this new booklet does NOT deny the link between abortion and subsequent mental health problems in some women – which is definitely worth taking notice of, because if the NZFPA truly did believe that there was no link between abortion and mental health problems they would have boldly trumpeted this in the booklet (as they do in the section of the booklet on abortion and breast cancer).

b) The section on abortion and breast cancer…

The entire section on abortion and breast cancer reads as follows:

“There is no scientific evidence that shows that having an abortion increases your risk of developing breast cancer.”

Notice the difference between this statement and the one the booklet makes about abortion and mental health risks? That’s right, the statement on mental health risks doesn’t deny they exist, and it certainly doesn’t try and invoke scientific research, probably because they know that it doesn’t actually support such claims.

What is concerning about this section however is that it is seriously misleading as there is actually scientific evidence which points to a link between abortion and breast cancer (see hereherehere andhere), and on top of this, even if there is dispute about the abortion breast cancer link, there is no debate about the fact that carrying a first pregnancy to full term, and breastfeeding the baby, has a protective effect against breast cancer, especially if you are under 30 years of age.

It seems to me that it would, at the very least, be important to present women with the information that they may be denying themselves a protector against breast cancer by having an abortion.

Remember, the NZFPA are the ones who decided to include the breast cancer issue in this booklet, so surely they should actually present ALL of the relevant information?

c) The section on male involvement…

The section titled ‘What about the guys?’ states the following:

“Unplanned pregnancy can be difficult for men. Men may feel strongly about the woman and her pregnancy and feel they have a right to be informed or involved. Legally they don’t have any rights to make decisions about continuing or terminating the pregnancy.

Deciding to seek an abortion is the woman’s choice. A man shouldn’t pressure the woman to do something she does not want to do, whether that is to continue the pregnancy or to have an abortion.

Men may feel excluded, which can result in strong and uncomfortable feelings. They may be frustrated, angry, or hurt if they don’t agree with the woman’s final decision.

If this is the case, men can look for help and support to come to terms with this.

Men can share responsibility for contraception, and use condoms. Using condoms and lube during sex is especially important for the first few weeks after an abortion, to help prevent the woman from getting infections.”

Any man reading this section would have every right to feel frustrated and angry by the outrageous sentiments it expresses.

Firstly, it rightly points out the woefully unjust ideology which dictates current law in this area, denying men their natural rights to have a say in the future of any child they have helped to create. Remember, in no other area (apart from the legitimate cases of spousal abuse, domestic threats, or rape, etc) does the law try and work to the ludicrous notion that children belong only to their mothers, and not to their fathers. So why do we tolerate this unjust ideology when it comes to issues before birth?

It’s interesting to note that the law does not take kindly to men who try and exercise ‘freedom of choice’ when it comes to opting to not make child support payments for children they have helped to create.

The NZFPA booklet (in this same ‘What about the guys?’ section) actually states the following:

“Men who are named as the father of a baby are legally and financially responsible for that child, until the child reaches his or her 19th birthday. If the man is under 18 years of age the financial responsibility falls on his parents.”

So there you have it in black and white folks – if you’re a man you have no ‘freedom of choice’ while your child is unborn, and of you get named as his father then you have no choice but to pay for that child’s upkeep until it is 19 years of age.

Secondly, the NZFPA makes the bizarre statement that:

“Men may feel excluded, which can result in strong and uncomfortable feelings. They may be frustrated, angry, or hurt if they don’t agree with the woman’s final decision.

If this is the case, men can look for help and support to come to terms with this.”

Why would men feel these feelings, and then need to seek help and support if there is actually no real issue here?

Surely the only reason to seek such help would be if there is actually an issue of injustice, and the fact that the NFPA booklet raises this is actually an admission that there is a serious problem with the prevailing ideology which unjustly, and for no sound philosophical or scientific reason excludes male involvement?

Then to top things off, men are reduced to little more than a negative gender stereotype with the completely condescending statement:

“Men can share responsibility for contraception, and use condoms.”

What’s the assumption here?

That all men can think about is having sex, even with partners who have just undergone a major and invasive surgical procedure, and who will be feeling pain or discomfort, and emotional hurt because of it?

And, more importantly, how the heck is sharing ‘responsibility for contraception’ after an abortion meant to resolve anything for the the man who is emotionally wounded by feelings that he has been unjustly excluded from the decision to end the life of the child that was equally his?

d) The sections on abortion risks…

The section titled ‘Does having an abortion make it harder to have babies in the future?’ states the following:

“It is very unlikely that having an abortion will stop you becoming pregnant in the future.

If you do not have any problems or injuries with your abortion then having an abortion does not reduce your chances of getting pregnant or having a baby in the future. Problems are not common.

If your cervix has been damaged, there is some evidence that you may have a very small increased risk of miscarriage if you get pregnant again.”

As mentioned earlier, this section makes no reference to the research which shows that even one abortion increases the risk of subsequent low birth weight, or premature delivery, both of which are surely factors important to future pregnancies, and therefore shouldn’t it have actually been included here?

Then there is the troubling statement: “If your cervix has been damaged, there is some evidence that you may have a very small increased risk of miscarriage if you get pregnant again.

In actual fact, cervix damage has serious ramifications for future miscarriage risks, so it is hard to believe that the statement ‘you may have a very small increased risk of miscarriage’ was even used in relation to this particular issue.

Even if we take figures from other organizations which suggest that only 1 out of every 100 abortions will lead to serious complications (one of which is damage to the cervix), this would mean (based on NZ’s current abortion numbers) that approximately 170 NZ women suffer serious complications from abortion EVERY YEAR – and damage to the cervix is one of the very real risks that these women could experience.

Consider also the fact that, according to an earlier section (on the physical risks of abortion) of this same booklet:

“One in 20 women will have a problem after an abortion.”

If we accept this figure, and then apply it to the current number of approximately 17,000 abortions annually in NZ, that means that at least 850 women every year in this country are physically harmed by abortion – this is no small number.

Why does the NZFPA booklet not clearly spell these facts out to women?

e) The section titled: ‘Pregnant? Things to think about’…

This section of the NZFPA book is extremely troubling due to the impact that it is likely to have on any female reader in a distressed state after discovering she is pregnant.

Just look at the list of questions it ask such a woman to consider:

-What do I want out of my life?
-How would a pregnancy and baby change my plans?
-What about my education and career?
-How do I feel about being responsible for a child?
-Is this a good time to have a baby?
-Do I have the skills to cope with a child?
-Will I tell the guy? Will he help me whatever I decide to do?
-What if the guy that I got pregnant to is not someone I like or care about? Do I want to remain connected to him through a child?
-Are we ready to be parents?
-Will I tell my family/ whanau? Will they help me?
-If I have the baby who will help me? Where will I live? Where will the money come from?
-How do I feel about adoption or guardianship?
-How do I feel about having an abortion?
-Do I really understand my options?
-Have I given myself a chance to think things through?

Any counselor of any repute will tell you that many of these questions are negatively geared towards encouraging only one outcome (abortion), and that just ONE of them could act as a powerful enough emotional trigger in an already confused and pressured person.

The extremely problematic thing to note here is that this list actually reads like a list of problems that will be caused if a woman keeps the baby, and then there is the fact that many of the ‘problems’ highlighted in this list of questions can actually be resolved without any need to resort to abortion.

This passage of the book is clearly not consistent with best practice guidelines for non-directive counseling.

I think it is also important to ask why this section does not include questions such as: ‘have I considered the physical risks of abortion?’ or ‘have I considered the emotional risks of abortion?’, both of which are clearly part of later sections of this booklet.

This list of questions is almost an exact replica of a list of questions in an earlier NZFPA pamphlet titled: “Unplanned Pregnancy” (a pamphlet which promoted me to write an article titled: ‘The little pamphlet that seems to want you to have an abortion‘)

All in all this latest booklet from the NZFPA would have to rate as a major FAIL when it comes to proper informed consent regarding abortion.

Not only is too much vital information either missing or downplayed, but it’s section on pregnancy is extremely troubling and lacks balance and perspective that is simply likely to pressure a vulnerable women into wrongly believing that she has no other option apart from an abortion.

Just compare this NZFPA booklet, to the earlier booklet, for yourself and tell me which one you honestly believe provides more comprehensive information to women.

What makes this situation even more troubling is that this latest NZFPA booklet has been funded by taxpayer money via the NZ Ministry of Health – that’s yours and my money folks that’s being used to produce ‘healthcare’ information that is woefully inadequate.

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