The Elliot Institute News
From the Leader in Post-Abortion Research
Vol. 7, No. 3 -- March 3, 2008
The UnChoice Campaign: TheUnChoice.com
IN THIS ISSUE:
British Woman's Death Part of Dangerous Trend
of Unwanted Abortions and Post-Abortion Trauma
The recent suicide of a British woman who had undergone an abortion points to the urgent need to raise awareness of the problem of unwanted abortions and post-abortion trauma.
The London Daily Mail reported that an inquest was held on the death of Emma Beck, a 30-year-old artist who underwent an abortion in September 2006. Her mother told the court that her daughter, who had been pregnant with twins, had not wanted to abort but that Beck's boyfriend had not wanted the pregnancy. Beck's doctor said that she had been "extremely vulnerable" prior to the abortion and had missed or cancelled two appointments for the abortion.
However, the hospital where the abortion was performed said that Beck had received adequate counseling, even though the regular counselor was away on vacation and the doctor who performed the abortion wrote on a form that Beck was living alone and had no support. The court heard that Beck had made "numerous cries for help" after the abortion and had made a previous suicide attempt the month before her death. She died in February 2007.
In a suicide note quoted by the Daily Mail, Beck wrote: "Living is hell for me. I should never have had an abortion. I see now I would have been a good mum. I told everyone I didn't want to do it, even at the hospital. ... I was frightened, now it is too late. I died when my babies died. I want to be with my babies - they need me; no one else does."
Her story echoes that of other women who said they were in despair and suicidal after their abortions, many of which were coerced or unwanted. Judith, quoted in Hope and Healing, writes:
"My doctor said the baby-at six-and-a-half weeks-was 'just a blob,' and I believed him. Afterwards, before I even got home, I began to cry. It didn't help. When finally I stopped crying on the outside, I kept crying on the inside. … I felt cheated, betrayed, and manipulated. I went to counseling and the psychologist said 'Forgive yourself,' and 'Let yourself go on.' She didn't say how."
Another woman, Janet, a police officer, writes of trying to shoot herself after her abortion:
"With quiet deliberation, I took my handgun from under my pillow. I chambered a round, walked into my living room, sat in a chair, put the gun to my head and pulled the trigger. ... To this day, I cannot think why the gun did not fire … I find it amazing in retrospect, how we can function so well in front of others, while suffering like that."
Research Links Abortion to Coercion, Suicide
In one survey of U.S. and Russian women who underwent abortions, 60 percent of the American women said they "felt like part of me died" after having an abortion and 36 percent had thoughts of suicide. 64 percent said they felt pressured by others to abort and more than 50 percent said they felt rushed or uncertain about having an abortion. However, 84 percent said they did not receive adequate counseling and 79 percent said they were not given any information about alternatives to abortion.1
Record-based studies of women in Finland and the U.S. found that women who had abortions were more likely to commit suicide than women who carried the pregnancy to term. In Finland, aborting women were six times more likely to commit suicide in the following year than delivering women,2 while a U.S. study that looked at outcomes for up to eight years after the pregnancy found that women who had abortions had a 154 percent higher risk of suicide than women who had giving birth.3
For more information on suicide and abortion, click here.
1. VM Rue et. al., "Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women," Medical Science Monitor 10(10): SR5-16, 2004.
2. M. Gissler, "Injury deaths, suicides and homicides associated with pregnancy, Finland 1987-2000," European J. Public Health 15(5):459-63, 2005.
3. DC Reardon et. al., "Deaths Associated With Pregnancy Outcome: A Record Linkage Study of Low Income Women," Southern Medical Journal 95(8):834-41, Aug. 2002.
A Conspiracy of Silence
Dismissal of Post-Abortion Injustice, Trauma and Pain
Leaves Many With No Place to Turn
Melinda Tankard Reist, Giving Sorrow Words
Conventional wisdom has it that abortion is mostly trouble-free. Because of this, those who are troubled are made-indeed, often forced to be-invisible.
Attitudes towards women overwhelmed by grief following abortion demonstrate a cruel indifference to women's pain. Their suffering is considered a figment of their imagination, a by-product of social/religious conditioning. In short, they are an embarrassment.
There is another constraint on their expression of grief. The politics surrounding abortion have drowned out the voices of women harmed by it.
How free are women to share their anguish when advocates extol abortion as "an act of individual self-determination," and a "rite of passage into womanhood," a "positive moral good" for women and "a source of fulfillment, transcendence, and growth"? Women whose lives are shattered by the abortion experience and for whom abortion was not a "maturational milestone," women coerced or pressured into unwanted abortions, women who did not feel abortion made them a "mistress of their own destiny," are cast aside as oversensitive, psychologically unstable, victims of socially constructed guilt. Their experience is trivialized.
When an article I wrote about women's negative experiences of abortion appeared in The Canberra Times in 1997, a Family Planning figure hastily wrote in to dismiss post-abortion trauma. Similar reactions surfaced in a feminist e-mail discussion about my book that lasted several days. The project was treated with contempt by all but two participants. Someone suggested a quick on-line collection of "stories of women not hurt by abortion" be compiled. This reaction unnecessarily pits women's differing stories against each other and, once again, suggests there is only one authentic experiential reality when it comes to abortion.
A woman's abortion pain is discounted and minimized due to the prevailing view that a termination is really no big deal-an easy fix. Abortion is promoted by many who dominate the discourse on the subject as a procedure without repercussions. Because of this, attempts to discuss women's abortion suffering have been constrained.
Suffering post-aborted women feel a resentment towards a society which ignores or neglects their suffering. They are not allowed to acknowledge or mourn their loss openly. The disdain for women suffering after-abortion trauma sends the message: you're only upset because you've chosen to get upset. Herald Sun writer Evelyn Tsitas epitomizes this attitude: "Abortion can be an emotional subject-particularly for people who choose to get upset about it. There is a movement taking hold called: 'I'll always regret what I did and want to burn in hell for it.'"
This mocking response to women's abortion-related suffering makes them feel they're being melodramatic, oversensitive, attention-seeking. But many women are suffering emotionally from a procedure which was portrayed as emotionally benign. They are filled with feelings of self-loss, daily haunted by their abortion experience. "We live with that regret till the day we die and for some we were wishing we too were dead," wrote a woman who signed her name "Tortured."
These women might have been told "there is nothing there," or that their fetuses look like "scraps of paper" (the description given to one woman by an abortion counselor). But to them, these were flesh and blood babies; for them, a baby died in an abortion. "I do not think I terminated a 'bunch of cells' but a real human being," wrote Marguerite.
Their arms feel empty, they don't like looking at babies, they cry often. They ask: "What would my baby have looked like? Was it a boy or a girl?" Would-have-been birthdays are quietly marked year after year.
As Margaret Nicol points out in her important work on maternal grief, it is a myth that a mother only bonds with her child after birth. A woman never forgets a pregnancy and the baby that might have been. When the baby is lost and there are no memories or visible reminders of the baby, "the feeling of emptiness and nothingness becomes pervasive and it is this uneasy and anxious void that makes women wonder if they're going crazy."
Beatrice, who underwent a second trimester abortion, describes what this feels like: "My grief will be unresolved because you cannot grieve the normal way, you can't repeat and repeat yourself. My husband and I never talk about the inner feelings ... although I'm sure he must think of it too. It's just taboo and you put it to the back of your mind ... the regret will always be there."
Katarina, a psychologist, wrote: "My sister has since had two stillbirths-as a family we have grieved and empathized with her and her husband's dreadful pain. Inside of me I felt cheated as no one had grieved with me for my two lost children-not even me. My sister's children died at the same time as both my losses-I felt responsible, guilty and so alone. When my mum says no one in the family has experienced pain like my sister my heart cries out silently-but I have."
E. Joanne Angelo, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine in the U.S., has written about the importance of the mourning process:
"Grief following a death in the family is a universally accepted experience. A period of mourning following the loss of a loved one is a normal expectation in every culture. It is also generally understood that if this mourning process is blocked or impacted, there will be negative consequences."
But there is no period of mourning for a woman suffering grief after an abortion. There are no grief teams, no body for her to cuddle and dress, no footprints or photographs to keep in an album, no ceremony, no grave on which to lay flowers; in short, nothing to acknowledge that this baby ever existed. A grieving post-aborted woman faces a conspiracy of silence.
Excerpted from the book Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief After Abortion by Melinda Tankard Reist. Copyright 2007 Melinda Tankard Reist. For ordering information, visit http://www.theunchoice.com or call 1-888-412-2676.
New Resources for Men Who Have Been Involved In Abortion
While the movement to acknowledge, raise awareness, and provide help to women struggling after abortion has been steadily growing over the past few decades, there has been comparatively little focus on the experiences of men who have lost children to abortion. A number of web sites and other resources are now becoming available (there are other resources besides the ones listed below).
This fall, the first ever international conference on men and abortion, organized by the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, was held in San Francisco. The conference, called Reclaiming Fatherhood: A Multifaceted Examination of Men Dealing With Abortion, drew together researchers, counselors, and post-abortive men to present information on men's abortion experiences and to explore ways to help men heal after abortion.
Resources for Men
The conference organizers have put together a web site at www.menandabortion.info that includes research, articles, personal stories, information and healing resources for men. It also includes information for counselors and others who provide post-abortion help to men.
The Fatherhood Forever Foundation at www.fatherhoodforever.org/index.html is dedicated to helping men find healing and hope after abortion by creating awareness that abortion does have an impact on men and providing encouragement and resources to those seeking help.
The Men's Abortion Network at www.lifeissues.org/men/MAN/index.html is a network of researchers, counselors and others who promote healing and create awareness of men's abortion experiences. The site contains helpful articles and links to counseling resources. A speaker's bureau is also available.
Rachel's Vineyard post-abortion healing ministry has information for men on their web site at www.rachelsvineyard.org/men/index.htm. The group provides support for men struggling after abortion through weekend retreats and email support.
The Abortion Recovery International web site at www.abortionrecovery.org lists groups that provide healing services for men (as well as for family members such as grandparents or siblings who have been affected by abortion.)
Ramah International has a men's page with links to resources on their web site at www.ramahinternational.org/for-post-abortive-men.html. There is also a short page for men whose partners have experienced abortion at www.ramahinternational.org/post-abortive-spouse.html.
Each of these sites contains links to other sites and information on awareness, hope and healing for men. Visit our men and abortion page at www.theunchoice.com\men.htm.
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