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Woman Silenced at New Jersey
Senate Hearing Shares Her Story

"I Was Pushed, Silenced and Coerced Before Abortion ...
Now I Am Being Pushed, Silenced and Coerced Into Shutting Up Again"



A woman testifying at a New Jersey Senate hearing about undergoing a coerced abortion was stopped from speaking after being told that she couldn’t talk about her experience with Planned Parenthood. Now she is sharing the story that she wasn't allowed to tell at the hearing.


Darlene Dunn was testifying at a budget hearing about a bill to provide government funds to Planned Parenthood and other “family planning” centers. She said she wanted to share her story to convince senators that they should not give funding to a group that violates women’s rights.

Instead, she was told by Sen. Paul Sarlo, a co-sponsor of the bill, that she could only talk about “family planning and health care,” and that her personal story wasn’t relevant to the bill.

Dunn disagreed. “When you are scared to death in a crisis pregnancy and [are] told that you have one option, that is not family planning,” she told senators. “That is coerced abortion.”


Speaking after the hearing, she added, “Performing abortions is not women’s health care.”

Two other legislators, Sen. Joseph Pennacchio and Sen. Michael Doherty, spoke up in defense of Dunn’s right to speak. But when Dunn attempted to continue her testimony, she was told she had already had her chance to testify. Dunn and other pro-life advocates present at the hearing say she was then ordered by Sarlo to turn off her microphone, but that this was not included in audio recordings of the hearing that were posted online.


The Story She Wasn’t Allowed to Tell

Dunn had planned to relate her story of how she and her boyfriend went to a Planned Parenthood facility when she was about six weeks pregnant. Dunn wanted to have the baby, she said, but her boyfriend was scared and not ready to be a father.

“The weeks leading up to the abortion were anything but pleasant,” she recalled. “I felt that baby and I represented something that the father was not yet ready to take responsibility for. ... Looking back now, I see that he was scared to death. He was young; he had his whole life ahead of him. If Planned Parenthood had said to him, ‘We can help you,’ maybe he wouldn't have pushed me.”

At her initial appointment with Planned Parenthood, she and her boyfriend were told they couldn’t have a baby because “you’re too young, you have no money, you aren’t married,” Dunn said.

“They said we couldn’t tell our parents because it would disappoint them,” she explained. “I said I would consider placing the baby for adoption. The counselor’s response was, ‘Oh, my God, you could never do that. That’s the cruelest thing you could ever do to a baby.’ I started crying and said, ‘I’m adopted.’ Her response was, ‘I don’t care; that's still the cruelest thing to do to a child.’

Dunn said she and her boyfriend were given no information about fetal development, alternatives to abortion or the physical and emotional risks of abortion.

“There were no connotations of anything bad about the abortion, only about having the baby,” she said. “I was crying and pacing around the room, and the counselor was yelling at me — she raised her voice — 'You can’t have a baby.' … There was not a drop of compassion; she was very cold.”

The appointment ended with Dunn being given an appointment for an abortion, but when the day came, she refused to go. Her boyfriend made several appointments over the next seven weeks, only to have Dunn break the appointment each time.

“During this seven-week battle of the wills, my life was turned upside down,” she recalled. “I couldn't tell my parents for fear of them disowning and hating me, or so I thought. I had no support from the father and the few people I did turn to offered me no help. I didn't tell my friends, so I was totally alone except for the father, who did nothing but insist that I was going to abort. All we did was fight.

“The whole situation made me feel so degraded, so disregarded, so unworthy of love, so scared, so traumatized. I was in a true crisis. I was fighting for the life of my baby and myself. I wanted that baby and I knew that if I had an abortion, that part of me would die with him or her.”

Eventually Dunn was too far along for the local Planned Parenthood to perform the abortion, so she was sent to New York.

“The one thing I remember about the actual abortion is the nurse saying, ‘I hope I never see you here again,’ just before the abortion took place,” she said. “I remember thinking, "I will be back here because I hate myself … nothing matters anymore.”

The experience of being coerced into an unwanted abortion, undergoing the procedure and the resulting loss of her baby traumatized Dunn. She now believes she is not alone in struggling with these issues. In additional to physical and psychological problems they may experience after abortion, many women and girls have been coerced into abortion through pressure; manipulation; bullying; receiving false or misleading information from counselors and medical personnel; being denied options or necessary support; being abused or attacked; being threatened with the loss of one’s job, home, family or life; or other similar circumstances.

In fact, research suggests that most abortions are unwanted or coerced. A survey of American and Russian women who had abortions found that 64 percent of the American respondents reported feeling pressured to abort. More than half said they felt rushed or uncertain about the decision and more than 80 percent reported receiving inadequate counseling beforehand.


"Why Didn't They Take My Side?"

Dunn now believes that, had Planned Parenthood supported her desire to continue the pregnancy, both the loss of her child and her own suffering could have been averted.

“I believe that, had Planned Parenthood given us options, we would have had the baby,” she said. “I wanted to have the baby, but I needed options. Why didn’t they take my side? Planned Parenthood is supposed to be about women’s choices, but they didn’t respect my choice. Instead, they took his side.

“Because of my abortion, I had 35 years of pain and silence. I have gone through trauma for 35 years; that doesn’t go away. There is nothing they can say to take that away. All I wanted to do was tell my story.”

In fact, she said, the way she was treated at the Senate hearing reminded her strongly of the way she was treated before the abortion. She was later told by friends in the audience that while she was attempting to testify, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a co-sponsor of the bill, turned to the audience and made a gesture where she put her hand to her head as if she were holding a gun and pretended to pull the trigger.

“In telling my story, I have always said that, before the abortion, there was a gun to my head but you just couldn't see it,” Dunn said. “When I heard about the senator making that gesture, it brought back all that pain.”

Ironically, Dunn later learned that Weinberg and Sarlo are also co-sponsors of anti-bullying legislation in New Jersey. She said that she was “shocked that legislators who claim to care so much about women’s rights would treat a woman this way.”

“The bottom line is that, before the abortion, I was pushed, silenced and coerced,” she said. “Now I am being pushed, silenced and coerced into shutting up again. I was silenced already and have lived with the pain for 35 years. I won’t be silent about it anymore.”



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