When it comes to facing an unwanted pregnancy in Australia, choice is apparently what women want. But is that what they get? When a vulnerable young woman books an appointment with her GP or walks into a youth support service – is she presented with the full gamut of options out there? Or is she given the option that the professional thinks is ‘most appropriate’ to her situation?
Recently I had the opportunity to ask these questions of a woman who had an abortion in Launceston when she was 19. While the laws have since changed, making abortion more accessible, her answers give an interesting snapshot of how our society handles abortion and the mental health repercussions.
This Q & A makes up a part of Sandra’s story (not her real name).
When did you have your abortion and how old were you?
2007; I was 19.
How far along were you when you had the abortion?
Nearly 11 weeks.
Where did you go first when you realised you had an unwanted pregnancy?
*A youth mental health service, now under the name of Headspace – Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Service. It is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing under the Youth Mental Health Initiative Program.
The website describes it as “a youth friendly environment where you can come and talk to professionals who are specially trained to help young people, aged 12-25, deal with all the health problems you may have… even those really private ones.”
The current procedure at Headspace involves a nurse who profiles any clients seeking abortion and arranges an appointment with a doctor – who would provide the referral. She is also required to complete an online survey.
What advice was given?
I was in with a social worker for five minutes and the main question was, “Are you sure about this?”
Were you offered any counselling, both before and after the abortion?
No, not at all.
Did you have an ultrasound scan?
Yes, I had a dating scan.
How many people, aside from medical professionals, knew about your situation?
Five people – the father and some friends. I didn’t tell my family.
Would you say you were given sufficient information on all the available options before you made your decision?
No. Absolutely no alternatives were given to me (eg. adoption or pregnancy support services).
Once you made your decision, how quickly were you booked in for the abortion procedure? (Was a cooling-off period suggested, for example, to give you time to change your mind if you were still unsure?)
They told me I should go and get a scan to see how far along I was because the abortions happened on a two-week on/off basis. They specified that, if I was over the 12 week period, I would just have to fly to Melbourne to have the procedure.
The time between seeing the social worker and having the abortion was about a week.
How much did the abortion cost you?
It was fully funded.
Did you have to travel far from your place of residence? Where did you have the abortion?I had the abortion at a local clinic in Launceston.
How did the staff treat you at the abortion clinic?
From the start to the end, everything was very clinical. It was like going to the dentist.
How long did the abortion procedure take and was there any follow-up care (physical and emotional)?
The abortion took around three hours from the time I walked in, to the time I left the recovery room. There was absolutely no follow-up care after the procedure.
Regarding the care you received before, during and after your abortion, is there anything you think could have been done better, any additional service that could be offered?
I see now the that the five-minute conversation I had with a social worker at the time could have been a perfect opportunity for them to talk with me about other pregnancy options. I know I went in there with the intent to have an abortion to get rid of the ‘problem’ but I believe if someone had talked to me about the beauty and preciousness of life when everyone else had been screaming in my ear, “You’re too young!” “This is just an accident!” “I’m not ready to be a father!”… then my heart would have truly chosen my baby.
After the abortion, I felt so many emotions which I didn’t know how to deal with. I was never told to expect that. I wasn’t told this was the way I would feel.
After the abortion my whole body ached and tensed – it was like I was carrying around a heavy burden everyone could see. I started to hate myself and what I had done. I delved into self-destructive behaviour. I believed I needed to be punished, so I lashed out pain on myself.
I was never told about the emotional instability an abortion would cause, and that’s why I’m now sharing my experience. This procedure goes against a woman’s design and inner makeup. Please don’t take this path! It’s one that is so hard to walk through to complete wholeness again.