Studies, Polls Give Mixed Results : Abortion’s Effect on Women Unclear

Times Staff Writer

Even now, Cindy cannot bring herself to tell her children about the four abortions she had during the 1970s. She agreed to speak about it only if her real name is not used.

Cindy, now 30, blames it on her permissive mother, who considered abortion a quick and easy way out of the fix that Cindy kept getting into. “I can remember standing in the doctor’s office, and the nurse telling me, ‘All you have is a little blob. It’s no big deal. If you catch it right away, it’s nothing,’ ” she says.

Her conversion to Christianity and the experience of having children convinced her otherwise. “I feel sad and I feel ashamed and it will never go away,” she says.

What Bobbe Banks Salkowitz feels is anger. Not because she got an abortion, but because it was illegal in 1963, and she had to have hers done in Mexico. Her doctor, whose name she got from her hairdresser, could not communicate with her, and she stayed in a cockroach-infested motel.


“I felt like a criminal. For years, I operated in kind of the dead zone,” says Salkowitz, who is a speech pathologist in Los Angeles. “But I was one of the lucky ones. I survived.

“When Roe vs. Wade came, I was grateful that people wouldn’t go through that again,” she adds. “I don’t believe people should use abortion as birth control, but I do believe women should have control over their bodies.”

When a woman chooses to have an abortion, what emotional and physical effects will she carry through the rest of her life?

Will she be relieved? Will she be tortured by regret over the loss of a child she will never know?

These questions have been debated for years by pro-choice and anti-abortion groups, and will continue to be as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to reconsider whether abortion should remain a legal right.

Interviews with dozens of women who had abortions indicated that their feelings about the procedure vary considerably, depending on their personal beliefs and circumstances. Some said their grief had profoundly affected their lives; others said they were grateful that abortion was available, because it was far less traumatic than trying to rear an unwanted child or putting a baby up for adoption.

A Times Poll last month of 198 women who admitted having abortions indicated that only 26% regretted the decision. The poll had a margin of error of 10 percentage points.

Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, himself staunchly against abortion, told a House subcommittee last month that abortion poses only minimal risks to a woman’s physical health when it is done early in a pregnancy.