Editorial: VFL panel does not fairly represent post-abortion narratives

By The Beacon | October 5, 2016 11:09pm

Cartoon by Barry Maguire

University of Portland’s Voice for Life (VFL) club hosted an event on Sept. 29 featuring five panelists, four of whom shared their post-abortion healing experiences at religious recovery camps and retreat programs. The conversation was focused on sharing the pain that the women endured, and the regret they experienced throughout their lives as a result of their abortions.

While this panel gave voice to one side of the issue, it is important to note that many other post-abortive experiences that were not represented at the panel exist and are valid. The Beacon would like to take the opportunity to contribute to the conversation about abortion by giving a fuller view of the topic.

Only five percent of women who have abortions regret their decisions to do so, according to a study done by the Bixby Center for Reproductive Health at UC San Francisco. By having only women on the panel who feel regret and the need to ask forgiveness for their abortions, this event did not represent the wide range of valid experiences that post-abortive women have.

The VFL club is dedicated to “promoting and defending the beauty and sanctity of every human being from the moment of conception to natural death.” UP is a Catholic institution and the Catholic Church teaches that life begins at conception and considers abortion to be a sin. But the University reports that as recently as 2015, less than half of UP’s students identify as Catholic. Not to mention that abortions are legal in the United States. Opinions that differ from the perspectives shared in the VFL panel are not to be stifled. Yes, UP is a Catholic university, but we are made up of diverse identities.

The Beacon applauds those who were active in making this conversation happen, but let's look at this, not as a dead end, not as something to be angry about, but as an opportunity to continue the conversation about abortion in a multidimensional way. We as student media feel compelled to give the student body access to resources and complete information on this topic. The narrative presented by the post-abortive women on VFL’s panel is not the only one.

According to research done by the Guttmacher Institute, one in three women will experience an abortion in their lifetimes and only one percent of those women will regret it. The Guttmacher Institute also asserts that abortion is undoubtedly regarded as a stressful life event and “women report feeling a range of emotions” after terminating a pregnancy — most commonly feelings of relief.

Any traumatic experience that a person undergoes can prompt the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), abortion included. “Post abortion traumatic stress syndrome” is a phrase often thrown around as a deterrent from getting an abortion. However, this is not actually a syndrome recognized by the American Psychological Association.

The American Psychological Association has done significant research to strongly identify that a woman's mental health before an unintended pregnancy is the single biggest factor in determining her post-abortive emotional state and mental health. Additionally, the Guttmacher Institute suggests that “there is evidence that the stigma around abortion, rather than abortion itself, can have negative mental health consequences.” Only promoting one post-abortive narrative furthers this dangerous stigma.

Abortion is a reality for many college women. According to a 2008 study, one in five women will have an abortion before age 25. That statistic suggests that there are many women at UP who have had abortions, and probably even some sitting in the Terrace Room last Thursday during this event.

All the post-abortive women on the panel emphasized their need to seek forgiveness, some through intensive religious recovery programs. This frames the issue as something that is inherently wrong, when there is nothing wrong with a woman making a personal choice about her body.

Whether or not there were women in the room who had had an abortion, the one in three statistic says there are many women in the room who will at some point in their life terminate a pregnancy.

Although Fr. Charlie McCoy closed the Voice for Life event with a mention of pregnancy test availability in the Health and Counseling Center, it should be noted that the University does not provide any sort of contraception for students at all. The American College Health Association reports that about 58 percent of UP college students have been sexually active within the past year. Sex is happening on this campus, and students should have access to the resources they need to prevent unintended pregnancy.

The Health and Counseling Center’s inability to provide or prescribe contraceptives to students is not due to choices that Health and Counseling Center personnel have made -- it is University protocol. Providers in the University’s Health and Counseling Center can counsel students on birth control methods, and support is available should a student become pregnant.

Thanks to the development of birth control methods and increased access to them, national abortion rates in recent years have fallen. Specifically between 2008 and 2011, abortion rates dropped 13 percent, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Birth rates have also steadily declined, suggesting that people are more frequently and more successfully using developing birth control methods, and ending up with fewer unintended pregnancies, and thus, fewer abortions.

Last February during Diversity Dialogues Week, with the support of the Health and Counseling Center, the Feminist Discussion Group and the Gay-Straight Partnership co-hosted an event called Body 101 that was focused on gender and comprehensive sex education. This event gave students access to factual information on various birth control methods and their effectiveness rates. That is the sort of open, informative factual discussion The Beacon encourages.

As the student voice of the University of Portland, The Beacon wants all women and men on campus to have access to the facts on this matter. We are dedicated to balancing the conversation that was started last week at the abortion panel. Every woman’s experience with abortion is valid, and every narrative needs to be given credit.