In the last few weeks I have been drawn to a story coming out of the US, where there is talk of the Supreme Court amending abortion laws, to make it more difficult for women to have terminations. The pro-life v pro-choice debate is a highly emotive and contentious issue which has rumbled on for many decades and still to this day divides opinion. As both a father and a therapist, I acknowledge and respect both sides, and will of course remain completely impartial, as is my job!
On the one side we have the rights of an unborn child who rely on people making decisions to protect their wellbeing; we have the irreversible effect of a termination; we have many loving couples who would love to adopt a child as they are unable to have children of their own. On the other hand we have pregnancies which may be a danger to the mother’s life; we have rape and incest; and we have the rights of a mother to control what happens to her own body.
My interest in this topic is primarily from a mental health perspective. I have worked with people who have been unable to have children and this has caused marital issues; people who have lost a child during pregnancy and also people who have had terminations for a variety of reasons, including being in an abusive relationship. I have also worked with people who have been forced into having children and seen the effect this has had. My job is not to form any judgment and I am perhaps fortunate that my values allow me to effectively see the merits and limitations in both sides of the argument.
Perhaps the important thing to do is to consider where an individual must be on an emotional level to have this dilemma in the first place. Some people will face this decision on their own with little support, being forced into what must be an agonising decision with potential ramifications regardless of the choice they make. It is very easy to focus on the physical challenges of being pregnant, all too often overlooking the emotional aspect. The emotional trauma of having to make that decision is something we cannot possibly understand unless we have been in that situation.
It upsets me when I see profoundly sensitive topics like this politicised. It is a subject which appears to have many people diametrically opposed with little empathy for the position of the other side. It puts our own values and views above those of others and shows a disregard for the individual who is immersed in the emotion. It’s extremely difficult to be objective when it comes to ourselves, as we have that emotional investment. Whichever side of the argument you fall on, it’s vital we show understanding to the opposing argument and position ourselves where we are able to disagree, yet empathise. If we are unable to do this we very much run the risk of putting pressure on people to make decisions they may not wish to make and making it about our own agenda as opposed to the welfare of the individual.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do is make sure we offer sympathetic and non-judgmental support to allow individuals to explore their options without fear of being castigated or judged.