As she regained consciousness, Carmen heard the reassuring words of the recovery room nurse: “It’s all taken care of. Everything’s going to be fine.”
At first, she found those words comforting. Then she remembered where she was, and why. The 32-year-old mother of two was in a local hospital, and she had just had an abortion.
Across the hall were mothers with their new babies. Lying there in her hospital bed, drifting in and out of sleep, Carmen wished--too late--that she could be one of them instead.
That was in December, 1976. Today Carmen, now 46, still grieves over what she calls “the most horrible experience of my life.” In the intervening years, she has been hospitalized three times for severe depression, a condition she believes was triggered by the abortion.
“For some people that might have a predisposition to depression, I really believe something like this can bring it on,” she says. “And depression does run in my family.”
Much of the debate over abortion centers on whether a woman should have the right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy. Although Carmen did have that right under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling, she says the decision to abort was not hers. And that is the greatest source of her pain, she says.
“I was forced into it,” she says. “My husband didn’t want the baby. My parents didn’t want it either. Their pressure made me do it.
“I grew up in a family where I was the good little girl who always did what Mother and Dad wanted me to do. I didn’t have any control over it.”
Based on her experience, Carmen now believes that abortion should be illegal in most cases “because it can cause unpredictable future mental anguish.”
Many of the women who wrote to Family Life about their abortions said the decision was difficult and painful. All but Carmen, however, insisted that for them, abortion was the right thing to do.
Carmen was joined by two other women who are opposed to abortion, neither of whom has had the experience herself. Otherwise, our response overwhelmingly favored women having the right to choose whether to terminate pregnancy.
Last week, we heard the majority. Now it’s the dissenters’ turn.
Carmen was happily married, financially secure, with two young daughters back in 1976. After noticing that her blood pressure had climbed above normal, her doctor had taken her off the pill. A few months later, she found that she was pregnant again.
“I was very happy about it,” she says, but her husband wasn’t. “When I told him, his reaction was, ‘Oh, no!’ He felt he just couldn’t handle it.”
As they did with most decisions, the couple talked the question over with Carmen’s parents. “They felt we were too old to have another child,” she says. “I wasn’t able to argue. There was just so much pressure.”
They even told the girls, ages 4 and 10, that their mother was expecting a baby.
“I guess we were trying to see what their reaction would be,” Carmen says. “They were pretty excited about it, I think. I’m not sure; I have trouble remembering some things.”
Before she agreed to go through with the abortion, Carmen recalls, “I cried for 8 days straight, without stopping except to sleep.”
But finally, in her 11th week, she went along with the family’s wishes.
Still, Carmen says: “I just felt there was life there. No matter how small it is, there was.”
After Carmen came home from the hospital, she and her husband told their daughters that there would not be a new baby after all. “We just said there wouldn’t be room for another baby, and they’d like it better if they could have their own rooms,” Carmen says.
“They were little, and they didn’t really understand, so they agreed with that. My older daughter is very angry with me about it now, however.”
Carmen says she told her husband afterward that she regretted the abortion, “but every time I brought it up, he just said, ‘We did the best thing.’ ”
After a while, she stopped mentioning it.
About a year after the abortion, Carmen stopped eating and began losing weight, dropping from 140 pounds to 109. Her doctor hospitalized her for tests and later prescribed an antidepressant.
Two other hospitalizations followed, under supervision of a psychiatrist. Carmen says she still sees the psychiatrist once a week and a psychologist two times a week, as well as other doctors for other physical problems. And she is on lithium, a drug used to regulate depression.
“I’ve gotten past a lot of it now,” she says. “A lot of time has gone by, and time heals.”
Carmen says she never discussed her feelings about the abortion with her parents, both of whom have died: “I couldn’t talk to them about it. I was always afraid of them.”
Nor does she talk about it with her husband, although she says he “finally guessed that the abortion was what brought on my problems.” They separated from 1983 to 1987 but have since reconciled.
The subject does come up during psychotherapy, Carmen says, and that helps: “I’m able to release a lot of the anger I have that way. I also talk to myself, but not loud enough for him to hear.”
Carmen calls abortion “murder” and says she believes it should be outlawed, except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is threatened. “For teen-agers, I’m 50-50 on that,” she says.
“There are so many people out there who want to adopt children. I think if a girl is 17 or older, she could be a parent or give it up for adoption. Younger than that, it’s probably OK (to have an abortion). Or if the mother and father already have five children, they ought to eliminate the sixth. There has to be a limit to everything.
“But a case like mine, where a woman is married and has the means to take care of the child, that’s just ridiculous.”
Wendy, who lives in Costa Mesa, is 40 and about to give birth to her fifth child.
“Even though I am in the ‘risky’ age bracket for bearing children, I would never in this world think about having an abortion,” she says. “I didn’t even have an amniocentesis, because even if it was found that there was something wrong with the baby, I would never abort it. I believe that life begins at conception, and the medical-science community has sufficient information to support this belief.
“I believe the women’s liberation movement has done much harm to women in general in convincing them that their bodies are more important than their babies’ bodies. In the last 20 years, we have promoted sex education in the form of birth control, and now abortion has become a popular form of birth control.
“Unfortunately, this thinking has led to increased sexual promiscuity and the thinking that, ‘Well, if I get pregnant, I’ll just get an abortion.’
“I think it’s time we ended the ‘me’ generation and started reaching out to those in need. If everyone did a little to help, there would be no reason to kill unwanted babies, just because they’re inconvenient.”
And Jeanne, who lives in Irvine, sent a postcard to say that “I cannot see that abortion will solve any of the problems of an ‘unwanted’ pregnancy. It will only intensify further problems in this life.”
Next week, we’ll hear from a woman who made the heartbreaking decision to abort for medical reasons.