Many misconceptions exist regarding abortion in our society. Misconceptions can be dangerous when they begin to inform our choices. Good decisions are empowered by good information. So, let’s get into debunking some of the most common abortion myths out there!
Myth #1: Plan B is Abortion.
This myth comes down to the science of two different medications. Misconceptions occur regarding how emergency contraception works and may lead people to believe that taking Plan B is the same as inducing an abortion. However, the abortion pill and Plan B are not the same; the medications work differently inside your body.
Pregnancy occurs during ovulation, the phase of the female menstrual cycle when your ovary releases a mature egg which then travels down your fallopian tube toward your uterus. If the egg encounters a sperm during the five days leading up to and including ovulation, it becomes fertilized and your pregnancy begins.
Emergency contraceptives, also called the “morning after pill,” work primarily by preventing ovulation. When ovulation is prevented, the egg is also prevented from being fertilized. Emergency contraceptives are more effective the sooner they are taken after unprotected sex, since the egg can be fertilized any time it meets a sperm living in your body. Types of emergency contraception include Levonogestrel (Plan B One-Step®), Ulipristal acetate (ella®), and a Copper IUD (Paraguard®). See our article Emergency Contraception (Morning After Pill) to learn more about how each option works as well as potential side effects.
How is Emergency Contraception Different From Abortion?
Morning-after pills won’t work if your body has already started ovulating. This is where the abortion pill differs from options like Plan B. As Plan B prevents fertilization, it works to prevent a pregnancy before it ever occurs. Abortion pills, on the other hand, work to terminate an existing pregnancy. Know the difference so you can avoid using these options interchangeably. Each process serves different purposes and has different effects.
If you take Plan B when you’re already pregnant, it won’t impact the pregnancy (1). However, if you take the abortion pill in place of Plan B, it can pose risks to your health. Abortion pills are contraindicated in women experiencing ectopic pregnancies. Ectopic pregnancies are when the pregnancy implants outside the uterus (usually in a fallopian tube). Ectopic pregnancies cannot survive and require medical treatment. If you take the abortion pill when experiencing an unknown ectopic pregnancy, you put yourself at risk of a rupture of the pregnancy which can lead to hemorrhaging. If you think you might be pregnant and are considering medication abortion, confirm your pregnancy first via ultrasound before taking the pill.
Myth #2: Only Young, Childless Women Have Abortions.
A lot of stereotypes exist regarding what types of women have abortions, whether those are about financial status, race, age, or religion. One of the most commonly held stereotypes is that the majority of women having abortions are very young.
The poster-child abortion patient might be a scared teen, anxious and alone. In reality, 60% of abortions are obtained by women in their 20s, and 59% by women who already have children (2). A 2005 study by the Guttmacher Institute interviewed over 1,200 abortion patients about their reasons for choosing abortion. Among the top cited reasons was that having a child would interfere with their ability to care for current dependents, aka the children they already have. In this particular study, the majority of women who said they couldn’t afford a baby right now already had children. Some women cited fears regarding their ability to parent the children they already had if they added one more to the family.
Statistics show that one out of every four American women will have an abortion before the age of 45. When talking about abortion, we should be sensitive to the reality that abortion is a common experience lived by many people. Perception of circumstances, including financial capacity to afford another child, single motherhood, relationship problems, and responsibility to current dependents, heavily impact abortion choices.
One in four American women will have an abortion before age 45.
Myth #3: I Don’t Need an Ultrasound Before My Abortion.
With the growing popularity of the abortion pill and growing accessibility of online abortion options (also called Plan C or at-home abortion), many skip the step of receiving an ultrasound before starting their abortion process. However, this poses various risks to your health. We understand wanting to address your unplanned pregnancy as quickly as possible, but you should only do so in the safest way.
There are four main reasons to schedule an ultrasound before your abortion procedure:
- An ultrasound will help you determine the status of your pregnancy. This means, if you are having complications such as a miscarriage or molar pregnancy, an ultrasound will help identify that. If you are miscarrying, there is no reason to take the abortion pill.
- An ultrasound will help you determine the approximate gestational age of your pregnancy. If you are someone who experiences irregular periods, you may have trouble identifying when you got pregnant based on a missed period alone. An ultrasound can confirm if you have a live pregnancy in your uterus. If you are considering abortion, gestational age is a key piece of information in the process of determining what types of abortion are available to you. Medical abortion (the abortion pill) is FDA approved up to 10 weeks gestation. If you find out about an unplanned pregnancy later than 10 weeks gestation, then only surgical abortion options are available to you. For your own safety, do not take the abortion pill if you are unsure of the gestational age of your pregnancy.
- An ultrasound can help you determine the location of your pregnancy. Pregnancies are supposed to develop and grow inside the uterus. As mentioned above, an ectopic pregnancy implants somewhere outside the uterus (most often in a fallopian tube). An ectopic pregnancy cannot survive and can be extremely dangerous to the pregnant woman. Symptoms alone may not be enough to help you identify an ectopic pregnancy (3). An ultrasound is one way to help identify ectopic pregnancy, although it’s not foolproof (as many as 40% of ectopic pregnancies go undiagnosed at first) (4). Still, if a pregnancy can be identified inside the uterus via ultrasound, this greatly reduces the risk of an ectopic pregnancy.
- An ultrasound protects both your reproductive health and your peace of mind. When it comes to making lasting decisions about your reproductive health (such as whether or not to have an abortion, or what type of abortion to have), it is best to do so in light of good information. Good medical information protects you physically, and it also serves to protect your peace of mind.
At Clearway, we can offer you a free ultrasound to confirm viability and gestational age. Regardless of what pregnancy decision you are going to make, this is an important step to take in your reproductive healthcare.
Myth #4: There is No Connection Between Abortion and Mental Health.
The connection between abortion and mental health has incited much controversy over the years. Two conflicting perspectives lead to different interpretations of the data at hand. From a 2018 study: “When interpreting the data, abortion and mental health proponents are inclined to emphasize risks associated with abortion, whereas abortion and mental health minimalists emphasize pre-existing risk factors as the primary explanation for the correlations with more negative outcomes” (5).
In simpler terms, people interpret data in different ways. Those who tend to believe abortion negatively impacts mental health will view the data through that lens, while people who believe the two are not connected will focus on outlying factors that could have also contributed to mental health issues.
Regardless of your perspective, both sides tend to agree that some women do experience “sadness, grief, and feelings of loss following the termination of a pregnancy, and some experience clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety,” from a study by the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion (TFMHA) (6). Does this mean everyone will experience grief or mental health consequences after an abortion? No, not necessarily. Based on a Turnaway Study, the most common emotion women report after an abortion is relief. The same study showed that most women consider that their abortion was the right decision for them up to 5 years after the procedure.
Even so, the TFMHA identified various risk factors for mental health problems post-abortion, including perceived pressure to terminate a pregnancy, terminating a pregnancy that was wanted or meaningful, and lack of perceived social support, among other factors. So, we have two perspectives. One that says abortion negatively impacts mental health, and the other that it leads primarily to relief. Your interpretation of the data will determine your conclusion on the issue.
Regardless of your conclusion, it is important to understand that abortion affects everyone differently. Whatever you believe about the impact of abortion on mental health, it is never okay to invalidate someone’s lived experience. Post-abortion stress is not yet officially acknowledged as a mental health disorder, but that doesn’t mean some women don’t experience intense emotions and grief after an abortion experience. If a woman is prevented from expressing her grief because society denies its legitimacy, this ultimately harms her. Remember to show love and compassion, even if you don’t understand or relate to what someone feels.
Is Abortion My Only Choice?
Agency is defined as the ability to take action or to choose what action to take. Agency is super important when it comes to unexpected pregnancies. Often, the reasons women give when they choose abortion connect to a perceived lack of agency.
“I can’t afford a baby right now.”
“I can’t finish school if I have a baby.”
“I can’t raise a baby by myself.”
Financial, educational, and relational obstacles are real, and they can be overwhelming. But these don’t have to determine what you can and can’t do. You can determine that. You should have every option in front of you so that when choosing between abortion, adoption, and parenting, you have equal access to each possibility. That is what will truly give you the right to choose.
If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy, we are here to empower you with good information, access to resources, and emotional support. Schedule an appointment today for a free pregnancy test, ultrasound, pregnancy education, and options information. We will also provide you with a customized referrals list for local resources in Massachusetts based on your needs. Call our office at 508-438-0144 for more information.
Reviewed by Rebekah B., BSN, RN