Abortion ‘is never, ever a casual decision’
‘I thought the days of assassinating abortion providers were over,’ says Dr Shelley Sella, one of four remaining doctors in the US willing to terminate third-trimester pregnancies
“This is never, ever a casual decision – that’s the stereotype. Women who realise they are pregnant at six weeks don’t think, I’ll wait until 25 weeks and then travel thousands of miles to find an abortion clinic. That never, ever happens.”
In the past few weeks Sella has cared for a nine-year-old impregnated by rape. Because she had never had a period, and because the rapist threatened to hurt her if she said anything, the pregnancy went unnoticed.
In another recent case, a teenager pregnant by rape and too traumatised to tell anyone was brought in by her mother, who was highly religious and anti-abortion – but not in the case of her daughter. “The mother feared coming home to find her daughter hanging dead in the closet,” says Sella.
A mother of three came to the clinic because, at 26 weeks, her husband was killed in a car crash, destroying her family emotionally and financially, so she felt she could not cope with a new baby. “Unless you have listened to the woman and know what she’s going through, it is hard to understand,” Sella says.
In the film, an ambivalent 16-year-old whose parents, boyfriend and boyfriends’ parents all want her to have her healthy, viable baby feels damned whether she has the baby or not. She chooses abortion.
Many would say this is clearly a case for adoption, but Sella argues that “coerced adoption” causes lifelong trauma and psychological problems. She says some women fear that their babies, if adopted, would feel abandoned, or be abused, or would learn eventually that their mother was a drug addict or their father a rapist, for example.
“The most difficult ethical situations I face are when a woman believes deeply that she needs an abortion and I don’t think we can care for her. I want to help but can’t safely do that. Abortion providers wrestle with difficult situations, whereas” people who are anti-abortion “are stuck in a black-and-white view. We are in the messy reality of people’s lives.”
After Tiller is showing next Saturday as part of the IFI Stranger Than Fiction festival; ifi.ie/stf