The Abortion Pill Turns Every Woman's Home Into a Potential Site of Trauma | Opinion

Imagine if a person who experienced something traumatic had to revisit the site of their trauma every single day. If they suffer from pain, whether physical or emotional, from that trauma and had to go back again and again, out of necessity, there could be some horrible consequences for their mental health. Where would they go for help, especially if the culture they lived in told them that what they experienced is "normal" and should be celebrated as freedom?

Today, more than half of all abortions in this country are done by medication, a two-pill regimen a woman takes to expel the baby from her uterus, very often alone at home. These women aren't told what they will experience or how much pain they may be in. They aren't told they may feel like they are dying because of the pain and the loss of blood. They aren't told that, if they are further along in pregnancy than they thought, they may see the "product of conception"—looking very much like a tiny baby—come out of their body.

I worked at Planned Parenthood for eight years, including as a clinic director. I also had two abortions myself, one of which was a medication abortion. It was a horrific experience I wouldn't wish on anyone. The number of medication abortions is only going up and the mental health community does not seem equipped to deal with it—or even acknowledge there may be a problem. Most therapists and clinicians don't ask about reproductive loss or have any idea how past abortions can severely affect the mental health of both women and men in the present.

I think it's only going to get worse.

I have counseled many former abortion workers as well as women who have had abortions. The anguish they suffer is almost unbearable. Abortion workers see a side of abortion almost no one else does—they have to put together the pieces of the baby in the lab to make sure nothing is left inside the woman, and see the bloody cleanup that takes place. They have images inside their heads they can never forget. Now women who go the medication abortion route are going to see these same things, and like many abortion workers, they aren't trained to deal with it.

Anti-abortion pill protest
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 18: Director of the Christian Defense Coalition Rev. Patrick Mahoney speaks as a small group of anti-abortion activists rally against the availability of abortion pills at neighborhood pharmacies outside of a CVS Pharmacy on January 18, 2023 in Washington, DC. Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a regulatory change that now allows retail pharmacies to offer abortion pills to people who have a prescription. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

If a case currently before a Texas judge over one of the drugs used in medication abortion is successful, women may resort to misoprostol-only abortions, which are dangerous and have a high failure rate—some studies suggest up to 24 percent. In these situations, women may see their fully formed baby in the toilet and have to make a decision. Will they pick it up and bury it or will they flush it? Imagine, just for a second, the horror of that decision. No one is telling women this may happen. Most of what women read online downplays the reality of taking abortion pills. Now any woman whose experience proves traumatic has to go back to the site of their trauma—her own bathroom, her own toilet—every single day. What is that going to do to their mental health? We don't know. No one is studying it.

What about the women who bleed and hemorrhage? What is going to happen to them? I anticipate an explosion of post-traumatic stress and even in-patient hospitalization—and that broader society will only respond, "why are these women so hysterical, so emotional, so hormonal?"

How do we even begin to repair that damage? I don't have the answer. All I know is that this is the time to be as loving and compassionate as possible to women considering abortion, to abortion workers who see things no one should ever have to see, and to those who are hurting after their abortions.

Members of the mental health community must be ready and willing to address the effects of abortion, no matter their viewpoints on the legality or morality of it. Women and men do suffer after abortion, even if many therapists never make the connection because either they don't believe abortion can have negative effects or they don't ask.

I hope our culture becomes a life-affirming one, where every woman facing an unplanned pregnancy has the support she needs. I hope all abortion clinics someday close. I hope abortion ultimately becomes unthinkable. Until then, we have to be willing to have the hard conversations, ask the hard questions, and be loving and compassionate towards each other.

Abby Johnson is CEO and Founder of And Then There Were None and author of Unplanned.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.