The debate over legalized abortion generally sets the right of a woman to choice against the right of the unborn child to life, as if there were irreconcilable differences between the two. Historically, the pro-life movement has largely taken up the cause for the unborn, but a number of organizations are taking issue with abortion on different grounds.
David C. Reardon, Ph.D., who began researching the impact of abortion in 1983 and has become an internationally known expert on the subject, approaches the issue from an overall pro-woman stance by ministering to post-abortive women and drawing attention to the traumatic after-effects of abortion. It’s not that he’s indifferent to the plight of the unborn. Rather, as he views it, the best interests of the child and mother will always be inextricably intertwined. Thus, it follows that the best way to help the children is to help their mothers. “Our first order of business,” he says, “must be shaking [our abortion-complacent culture’s] belief that abortion helps women.”
Thirty-six years of post-Roe v. Wade data support his premise. In August of 2008, Allan Parker, president of the Justice Foundation, a non-profit, public-interest litigation firm, released a joint statement by 100 scientists, physicians, and mental health professionals which said, “It is undeniable that significant numbers of women are injured by abortion” and “suffer serious physical, mental or psychological trauma as a result of abortion.” The US Supreme Court, in upholding the federal ban on partial-birth abortion, cited the Justice Foundation’s Amicus Brief filed on behalf of Sandra Cano (who was “Mary Doe” of Doe v. Bolton, the companion case to Roe v. Wade) and 180 additional women suffering in the wake of abortion. The Court recognized that “some women come to regret” their abortions and that “severe depression and loss of esteem can follow” an abortion.
Mental health professionals also attest to the emotional and psychological wreckage wrought by this singularly traumatic medical procedure. Dr. Priscilla Coleman, research psychologist at Bowling Green State University, led a study of post-abortive women that was reported in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in 2008. She concluded:
Abortion was found to be related to an increased risk for a variety of mental health problems (panic attacks, panic disorder, agoraphobia, PTSD, bipolar disorder, major depression with and without hierarchy), and substance abuse disorders after statistical controls were instituted for a wide range of personal, situational, and demographic variables.
A study of teens, also led by Dr. Coleman, produced similar findings, which were reported in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence in 2006. This study found that teens who aborted were five times more likely to seek subsequent help for psychological and emotional problems than teens who carried their pregnancies to term. These findings are particularly significant, since abortion proponents often defend abortion rights for teens, even without parental notification, on the grounds that the stress of an unplanned pregnancy is too great for teens to handle. Teens account for about one-fourth of the abortions in the United States.
Besides non-specific symptoms of depression, anxiety, and self-alienation, post-abortive women frequently display stress specifically related to their abortion: being upset at the sight of a baby; avoiding family gatherings where children will be present; strong reactions to the sound of a vacuum cleaner, which reminds them of the sound of the suction device used to clear the uterus of its contents; and annual grief and sadness on the anniversary of the date of the abortion or the aborted child’s due date. In contrast to grief following natural miscarriage or other death of a child, interviews and surveys show that feelings of distress and regret over abortion tend to increase, rather than decrease, over time. So common are these symptoms in post-abortive women that the syndrome has been given a name: Post Abortion Syndrome, or PAS.
“The scientific evidence is now strong and compelling,” Dr. Coleman said in the conclusion to her study. “Abortion poses more risks to women than giving birth.” Dr. Reardon holds the same view, but expresses it more compassionately. “All can see that these mothers weep not over the destruction of ‘products of conception’ but over the deaths of their children.”
Each abortion story is unique in its details, but grief and pain are universal. Gaylene was fourteen years old when her school counselor herded her toward a local clinic where her little “problem” was taken care of without her parents’ knowledge. Afterward, her life degenerated into a lawless haze of drugs, sex, and eventually, attempted suicide, until she came to terms with her abortion over a decade later. When Melody became pregnant, her husband refused to incorporate another child into their already busy lifestyle. Together they consulted their pastor, who counseled Melody to comply with her husband’s wishes. Reluctantly, she did, but afterward, she found herself so paralyzed by grief that she was unable to care for their two living children. Nancyjo Mann exercised her right to choose, but says it became for her a Pandora’s Box of which she was the victim. “This ‘right,’ this ‘gift,’ was filled with sufferings and regret which I could never have anticipated or imagined.”
“Legalized abortion has become a tool for the manipulation and exploitation of women,” she wrote in the foreword to Aborted Women, Silent No More, authored by Dr. Reardon. Aborted Women, a title that suggests the states of abortion’s living victims, relates the stories of many post-abortive women and shows how their lives were permanently altered by the experience and how, even long after the procedure, they still felt aborted physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually.
Choice, Coercion & Desperation
If the fallout from abortion is so devastating, why are there so many happening, well over a million per year just in America? Dr. Reardon says abortion is not nearly as freely chosen as the rhetoric of choice implies and that a majority of aborting women have been pressured or even forced by someone else to abort. “It is common knowledge that abortion often suits lovers and parents more than pregnant women themselves,” he wrote in Making Abortion Rare: A Healing Strategy for a Divided Nation. “It takes no leap of imagination to understand how these other persons often pressure, badger, and blackmail a woman into accepting an unwanted ‘safe and legal’ abortion because it will be ‘best for everyone.’” Even biomedical ethicist Daniel Callahan, a prominent abortion proponent, concedes this sick reality. “That men have long coerced women into unwanted abortion when it suits their purposes is well-known but rarely mentioned.”
Writer Frederica Mathewes-Green traveled the country and talked to many women who had had abortions. She, too, found that most didn’t want to abort.
The core reason I heard was, “I had the abortion because someone I love told me to.” Again and again, I learned that women had abortions because they felt abandoned, they felt isolated and afraid. As one woman said, “I felt like everyone would support me if I had the abortion, but if I had the baby I’d be alone. . . . I felt like I didn’t have a choice. If only one person had stood by me, even a stranger, I would have had that baby.”
These testimonies reveal that women rarely want an abortion. They resort to it because other people sway them, either actively through pressure or coercion, or passively by failing to lend support. “No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche,” Mathewes-Green wrote in a conservative think-tank journal. “She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.”
Empowered or Exploited?
When family and friends fail to come through for a woman in distress, the abortion industry leaps to her side. Planned Parenthood, the abortion industry leader, promotes itself as a provider of “vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide.” It’s true that Planned Parenthood provides “services” other than abortion. A shrewd marketer, it conducts sex-ed classes and dispenses birth-control information and products. When the sex-ed succeeds and the birth control fails, Planned Parenthood is already in the picture, offering, like a fairy godmother, to make it all go away.
Except that this fairy godmother is more like a wicked witch with a poisoned apple. Carol Everett, former owner of two abortion clinics and director of four, explains what really goes on in an abortion facility. I’m sure you’ve seen those [phone] numbers advertised that say “Problem Pregnancy,” “Abortion Information,” or “Pregnant?” When a young girl finds out she is pregnant, she may not want an abortion, she may just want information. But when she calls that number that’s paid for by abortion money, what kind of information do you think she is going to get? Remember, they sell abortions. They don’t sell keeping the baby. They don’t sell giving the baby up. They don’t sell delivering the baby in any form. They only sell abortions.
Other clinic workers who have left the industry support Everett’s blunt summation. Former counselor Debra Henry said, “We were told to find the woman’s weakness and work on it. The women were never given any alternatives. They were told how much trouble it was to have a baby.” Another, Nita Whitten, said, “It’s a lie when they tell you they’re doing it to help women, because they’re not. They’re doing it for the money.”
Clinic chains will differ, and perhaps some workers truly, though wrongly, believe they’re helping women in distress. Still, abortion is a very lucrative business. According to a June 23, 2008 Wall Street Journal article, Planned Parenthood, which performs about 20 percent of the abortions in the United States, reported a record $1 billion in annual revenue in a recent financial report. Numerous abortions take place simply because Big Abortion is firmly entrenched in the American marketplace, posing as a first-responder for damsels in distress.
Empowerment for Life
But this knight’s armor is replete with barbs. Nancyjo Mann says that “legal abortion is the most destructive manifestation of discrimination against women today.” Ellie Dillon, of Missouri Right to Life, is even less restrained:
Abortion is not a true “choice” for a woman; it is an act of despair. The psychological impact of abortion is so profound because women are acting against their maternal instincts and consciences. They react with guilt, anger, depression, substance abuse and suicide. The only people who are empowered are men. They can have sex without any responsibility to their partner or their unborn children.
Harsh words, but the testimonies of post-abortive women lend them credibility.
It is clear how having a “safe and legal” option serves the interests of prospective fathers who prefer to duck responsibility while giving the appearance of taking responsibility. It is also clear why legalized abortion furthers the interests of those who work in the industry. What is unclear is how “choice” serves the best interests of the women and girls ostensibly making the decision.
To pit the rights of prospective mothers against the rights of their unborn children is to begin the discussion with a false presumption—namely, that the interests of the two parties are at odds with one another. They are not. To harm the child is to harm the mother, and vice versa.
The abortion industry will likely continue to fight tooth and nail to preserve “a woman’s right to choose.” The rest of us would better serve women by empowering them to choose what their maternal instincts and consciences are already telling them. It is the pro-life cause that enables and empowers women to choose life—for themselves and for their children. •
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