The Foundations of Psychiatry

By Silvano Arieti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 26

THE PSYCHOLOGY
OF ABORTION

Edward C. Senay


Introduction

A WOMAN WHO SEEKS to abort a pregnancy she does not want presents us with a complex problem. The basic thesis of this chapter is that she is a human being in an acute psychological and social crisis. The definition of her situation is crucial. Some see her in moral terms; others see her in operant terms—for example, they view her as a "manipulator." Few appear to appreciate the psychological isolation inherent in her crisis because most tend to diminish their perceptions of her in order to deal with the abstract ethical dilemma she represents. Despite the recent partial liberalization of abortion laws, medical, legal, and political recognition of the true nature of her situation still leaves much to be desired. In some measure this is so because the psychology of her problem has not been understood and articulated clearly.

At this writing the woman in question remains an ethical dilemma for psychiatry. Professionally, with few exceptions, we have maintained a distance from the woman with an unwanted pregnancy. The lack of social sanction for our engagement with the problem, coupled with the possibility of legal reprisal, has served to create our collective attitude. Our response has also been hindered by a lack of knowledge, for it is only in the past two decades that we have started to study significant numbers of women with unwanted pregnancies. The work of Taussig,30 Rosen,24 Calderone,2 and Tietze31 has been highly important in the United States in this regard.

Despite our professional distance it is a fact that each year millions of women elect to solve the crisis of unwanted pregnancy by obtaining an abortion; they do so in every known religious group and social class in the Western world, and they do so and have done so in every known cultural and historical circumstance.4 Despite the emergence of so‐ called liberal laws, many, if not most, women still abort in social and psychological circumstances that demean them.

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