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Making a decision so difficult requires support, not condemnation

By Cyndi Tebbel - posted Friday, 23 July 2004


In 1975 at the age of 18 I was "fitted" with a diaphragm by a general practitioner who guessed my size by looking at me while I sat fully clothed in his surgery. A few months later I was pregnant and petrified.

Newly arrived in Australia, with scant knowledge of the services available to someone in my situation, I was lucky enough to meet a young woman at a party who worked at Family Planning. She suggested I make an appointment and I can still remember the thorough, considerate and compassionate examination I had, during which I was informed of my choices: I could proceed with the pregnancy or terminate it.

Despite my tender age, I was well aware that a decision to terminate the pregnancy would prevent the embryo from becoming a fully-fledged human being. And that was exactly why I chose to have an abortion, because I had no intention of being an unwed teenaged mother.

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I waited the obligatory seven weeks and presented myself at a suburban Sydney clinic that offered abortion by female doctors under local anaesthetic, as well as sexual health programs. I was assigned a counsellor who explained exactly what would happen during the abortion, as well as birth control options that might help me avoid a repeat performance.

The abortion was fast and painless. The doctor explained every step of the procedure and the counsellor stayed with me throughout. At the end, I experienced nothing more than extreme relief. And I have no regrets.

I took a pragmatic approach to a very difficult problem and came out psychologically intact.

Like most people in this country, I haven't seen the documentary, My Foetus, which will screen on the ABC on August 8. But I will watch it and I hope that it prompts an honest discussion, as filmmaker Julia Black intended, rather than just more propaganda from the anti-abortion brigade.

I believe there are many other women like me. But I can't be sure, because admitting to an abortion isn't something women are encouraged to do. Like countless others, I remained silent about my experiences until now because I feared reprisals from people who consider women like me murderers, even serial killers.

Ginger Ekselman wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald that she deeply regrets the abortion she had in her early 20s, saying:

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At no point had I been told that going through an abortion could be extremely psychologically distressing. I did not know that women's lives could fall apart the way mine did as a result ... I can't tell other women whether or not they should have their babies, but I do strongly encourage them to know the reality of abortion if they are considering having one. I am not a Christian, or a right-to-lifer, but I do know that it was my baby that I killed.

With only the contrite permitted a voice in the abortion debate, the rest of us self-censor. (That includes all of the men who've participated in both the act of fertilisation and the decision to terminate. Where are you?) Women worry that by speaking out - especially if we're not ridden with guilt - we might encourage the more vociferous members of the anti-abortion brigade to action.

These are the people who, by law, are permitted to picket abortion clinics, harassing women and men who've made the always difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy.

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Article edited by Bryan West.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This article was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 20 July 2004



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About the Author

Cyndi Tebbel is a Sydney-based journalist and author of “The Body Snatchers: how the media shapes women”.

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