The other year I was minding my business (this is a theme in my life), when a member of the medical profession asked me how is it that I chose to use the word "abortion" on my website and other places my work is displayed. This was followed by the suggestion of using the term "early termination of pregnancy".
I was slightly taken aback as it has never been a question before, it never occurred to me what anyone would think of it, and I side-wondered if I was the only therapist actively doing so. The question was not posited in any way that could be deemed as confrontational, but sounded like a truthful curiosity so I responded to her. Granted, the medical community ascribe meaning to these terms in similar yet different ways from those of us who are not part of said community. I ask that all the medical professionals who read this, kindly excuse my non-medical use of the terms.
I will share here my reasons for using "abortion" and not the other suggestion. But before people's toes curl and they get themselves all a-flustered - a few truths:
Yes, abortion is illegal in Trinidad and Tobago except in cases where it is necessary to save the life of the pregnant person. You may read more about that here: https://www.womenonwaves.org/en/page/5163/abortion-law-trinidad-and-tobago and https://www.communitylawtt.org/abortion I will point out that it does not seem to reference the mental health of the person (as that too contributes to the persons' quality of life, yes?) - a point that I am sure a skillful attorney can maybe debate.
Yes, all religions have their own beliefs about this topic.
Every individual also holds their own personal beliefs about abortion, whatever they may be. That is not the discussion here.
Abortion is a real and existing experience for thousands of women here in Trinidad and Tobago - no matter what the law says, what religious bodies deem to be "correct" and what each person believes.
To use the term "early termination of pregnancy" makes it sound clean and neat, clinical and sanitized and tinges upon political correctness.
I can almost smell the hypochlorite.
It carries the feeling of a procedure that is publicly known; assented to by all who are aware; an experience that engages empathy from others and requires comfort to the would-be mother and perhaps father; access to a safe and legal procedure. A vestige of heroism. A martyrdom by-proxy.
Kindly note, I am NOT saying a person who has to terminate their pregnancy due to the need to save their life, feels this way or even has this experience - I know it is a distressing time. I have these clients as well and it is deeply painful for them.
"Abortion" is not the same. It is a crime here in T&T and those who engage in it at any stage are punishable by law which includes imprisonment (see links above). That alone gives you its flavour. Taboo to speak of? Check-mark! Abortion is usually (not always) a choice someone makes because of every other possible reason besides it being critical to their actual vital life. Not being ready, not planning it, wanting to pursue education/career, not wanting a life-long connection to the partner, not having the finances, fear of being ostracized, etc. Those reasons can be and are interpreted as selfish. Then comes the saying "abortion is not birth-control". That isn't news. Any wonder people keep it under wraps?
This is why it can be a deeply-held secret and can stay that way due to several factors:
Fear of reproach from friends, family, colleagues, congregation members, etc. If this is what does transpire - that suffering is usually considered worse than the act itself
Fear of loss of status. This one has mystified me a bit. If there is knowledge of it, there are people who will end a relationship based on knowing that someone has experienced abortion, almost as if the person no longer has value. Women have lost jobs and positions in organizations when it was found out. Or I have been told, "I no longer have a leg to stand on" if they want to speak out about certain problems or injustices in any arena
Fear of the afterlife/karma/Hell
Feelings of shame and not necessarily from the act itself (research has shown that there is no such thing as "post-abortion syndrome") yet, of course, there can be mental health effects stemming from the circumstances that led up to it: sexual assault, incest, peacemaking sexual interactions, if it was chosen or forced upon, even securing the finances and location both have emotions connected to them. Sharing with a judgemental other, guilt, regret, going against their own beliefs, etc., all can lead to shame. Also note, the age at which it happened - there are girls under the age of 15 having them - usually by force of family members or the person who impregnated them.
The sadness and shock of it "happening to me" and having to even make the decision
The physicality of it. I understand that many of the procedures locally do not involve anesthesia or compassion. The days after where there may be pain and the shifting of hormones and other associated chemicals that leave the mind and body spent
The loneliness of it, the weight of it if the experience cannot or was not shared within a safe space
The potential medical/health consequences if not executed appropriately
Many women pay for their own procedures, so we'll add the financial impact of it.
This latter is what I see in my practice. It is what colleagues the world-over see in their spaces. This is what I sit in gentle companionship with because it is hard and no one should have to carry that alone. Of all my clients who have had abortion, less than 1% did so for a medical life-saving reason and they received safe healthcare and had some emotional support to do so. I am not saying they too cannot experience much of what I have pointed out above, indeed they can, yet it has a different origin and evolution.
"Abortion" and "early termination pregnancy" are not the same and require a different approach yet an equally compassionate one.
That is why I use the word.
Because - words.