The next day, I stuffed all of those feelings deep down inside and went on with life as if nothing ever happened. Many of us are very good at emotionally numbing ourselves so that we can appear to function normally after dealing with this kind of trauma. We just keep on keeping on. It’s really not that easy, though. The impact this has on us both physically and emotionally is great. The scientific community likes to pretend that there is no impact. One small study of about 800 women comparing PTSD symptoms between women who obtained an abortion with women who were unable to obtain an abortion found no difference in PTSD symptoms. It did admit that:
“This study has some limitations. Findings from this study are limited to symptoms of PTSD. Without clinical diagnosis, we were unable to assess whether women went on to develop full PTSD. Furthermore, we were unable to precisely identify the source of women’s trauma. In-depth qualitative interviews about women’s lives would have been better able to explore the coexisting stresses and complex life experiences that may have contributing to symptoms of PTSD.”
In other words, this study was a waste of time and money. No widespread unbiased studies have been done because of the politics behind it. There would be a terrible price to pay for the abortion industry if it was ever shown that abortion damages the mothers and fathers whose lives have been altered because of the after effects of abortion. Because abortion is all about women’s health, right?
An internet search for Post-Abortion Syndrome will return links to Ramah International, a Christian ministry dedicated to helping women and men recover from the after-effects of abortion. Another link will take you to AfterAbortion.org, a private organization dedicated to researching the physical and mental effects abortion has had on women. According to their website:
“There is no disagreement over the fact that abortion may trigger, worsen, or exacerbate mental health problems, but rather the main controversy is over whether abortion is ever the sole cause of severe mental illnesses, according to David Reardon, director of the Elliot Institute and author of the review published in Sage Open Medicine. Additional conflicts arise over how known facts are best interpreted and over the definition of key terms."Notably, while many pro-choice activists dismiss the idea of any link between abortion and mental health issues, this denial of any and all links is supported by AMH minimalists whose own research has confirmed higher rates of mental illness following abortion for some women.
For example, even the hand-picked team of abortion-supporting psychologists who wrote the 2008 Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, acknowledged that “it is clear that some women do experience sadness, grief, and feelings of loss following termination of a pregnancy, and some experience clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety.”
Indeed, the APA Task Force went further, identifying at least 15 risk factors which can be used to identify the women who are at greater risk of psychological problems after an abortion:
- terminating a pregnancy that is wanted or meaningful
- perceived pressure from others to terminate a pregnancy
- perceived opposition to the abortion from partners, family, and/or friends
- lack of perceived social support from others
- low self-esteem
- a pessimistic outlook
- low perceived control
- a history of mental health problems prior to the pregnancy
- feelings of stigma
- perceived need for secrecy
- exposure to antiabortion picketing
- use of avoidance and denial coping strategies
- feelings of commitment to the pregnancy
- ambivalence about the abortion decision
- low perceived ability to cope with the abortion prior to the abortion
I think we can agree that pregnancy, regardless of whether it is planned or unplanned, will change your life. Even when you think you are ready to have a child you are confronted with all kinds of physical and emotional changes that you have to learn to deal with. Our minds are in turmoil as we question how we are going to deal with the upheaval. As women, our bodies are changing quickly. A flood of hormones puts our emotions on a roller coaster up and down. Crying jags can come on for what seems to be no apparent reason. If the pregnancy is unexpected, then we are dealing with even more emotional turmoil and it can be very hard, if not impossible to make a reasoned decision when we are in this state. The abortion industry knows this and women who are in a panic are easily convinced that having an abortion will solve all of our problems.
When we choose that option, it does seem to solve the immediate problem, at least in the short term. It does not relieve any of the problems that existed before the woman became pregnant. It is true that someone died so that we could deal with the rest of our lives the same way we were dealing with them before the pregnancy. Either way, abortion or not, there are consequences.
Statistics have gone back and forth between 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 women who have had at least one abortion by the age of 44. Half of those women will go back for a 2nd abortion, many times, within the next year. My mentor once had a woman walk into her office and confess that she had had 10 abortions. As peer-to-peer lay counselors, we are trained to help the post-abortive mother. We are also trained to know when to send them to get professional help. This woman was so far gone that my friend said she wasn’t sure that she could ever recover.
So we make our choice, and we stuff those feelings way deep down inside so that we can continue to function. Or do we? What kind of emotional blowback is there after an abortion? A year ago I wrote an essay entitled “What Really Made Women Go Nuts?” in response to another essay entitled “Why Did Women Go Nuts?”. Neither essay addressed the proliferation of abortion, although the subject came up in comments under both.
Since 1972 abortion went from around 100,000 a year, which was a rough estimate to about 1.5 million a year. What are the underlying emotional problems that arise after an abortion? Maybe we should first examine what are the most common reasons women have them in the first place?
Number one on the list is “Having a baby would dramatically change my life”. Coming in at a close second is “financial strain”. Relationship problems and a desire to avoid single motherhood are also high up on the list. The health of the mother and fetal health factored in, as well as women who have decided they are done bearing children.
Done bearing children. The surprise baby. Born 17 years after my brother, with no siblings in between, I was a surprise baby. If my mother had decided she didn’t want to start all over again raising another child I would not be here. All she had to do was tell the doctor that she would commit suicide if she had to continue the pregnancy. She was embarrassed enough to quit her job before she began to show. I don’t believe that maternity leave was offered back then so she would have had to quit anyway. I wonder how many of us would not be here if abortion had been legal much earlier than 1973? But I digress.
We always feel like abortion is our only choice. That’s rather ironic, isn’t it? Very few women will consider adoption. The reason given for this aversion to adoption is that it is wrong to give your baby away to someone else. I can relate to that feeling. I did not want to carry a baby for nine months, only to give it away for someone else to raise. Honestly, ever since then I have looked in awe and admiration at women who were able to do that. At least they let their child have a chance at life.
There is no doubt that an unplanned pregnancy feels like a crisis. Pregnancies that result from rape or incest can certainly be called a crisis, but those pregnancies are quite rare and even women who have abortions for those will have emotional problems that are not solved by the abortion. Pregnancy is a part of life but we have turned it into a disease that needs to be remedied.
People who have never had to deal with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy will commonly ask why, when there are so many options for birth control available, is this such a big problem for society? The answer to that question is complicated. The short answer is that for many women, hormonal birth control, which is the most reliable form of birth control, is not really as reliable as it is stated on the package inserts. Hormonal birth control must be taken at the same time of day, every day, without missing a single pill to reach the upper 90% effective target. Any variation from this and the reliability begins to drop. Other drugs can interfere with the efficacy. Many women have unpleasant side effects and are unable to take them. The biggest reason seems to be that women and men either are not consistent with it or they don’t practice it at all.
60 million abortions since 1973 are the result of our sexual escapades. Do you think it is possible to have that many people dealing with the kinds of emotional blowback that underlies abortions and have a sane society? If it feels like society is becoming more and more insane, there has to be a reason for it.
Some of the most common emotional difficulties that women experience after an abortion are:
- Flashbacks or nightmares
- Compulsive thoughts and feelings that started after the abortion
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings
- Depression or anxiety
- Lack of attachment to your children (bonding issues)
- Social isolation
- Relationship difficulties
- Compulsive or addictive behaviors that started after abortion
I really did go on to function as normal, married mother of two children for many years after my abortion. At least that is what I thought. A health crisis in my early 40’s caused me to think back on my life and even though I was very pro-choice at the time, I began to think about my abortion. I began to believe that I deserved to die for what I had done and no matter how I tried to divert my attention, those thoughts would not go away. Eventually, the crisis was remedied and the thoughts did go away for a while.
About a year later I had an encounter with the Lord and became a Christian. Sometimes this will change the minds of people immediately but more often than not, it’s a process and I remained pro-choice for a couple years after that.
One evening, I happened to be watching Fox News and Bill O’Reilly was interviewing actress Jennifer O’Neil. She had written a book about her experiences with abortions and her testimony brought me to tears. It forced me to look at my abortion from a different angle than I ever had before. Over the next few days I came to the decision that I wanted to help other women, not really understanding that in order to help others, I had to deal with my own issues that were intertwined within my psyche like the roots of a dandelion.
Fortunately, most crisis pregnancy centers understand this and they will require a volunteer who wants to work directly with clients to go through a post-abortion recovery class before she be in direct contact with the clients. I have spent more than 10 years serving in some capacity with a CPC and later a ministry that serves only post-abortion mothers and fathers. I stepped away from it in the past year but I will serve again, sometime in the near future. There is a definite need for this type of service.
“What do these classes look like?” you might be wondering. They go by different names but they all deal with the emotional stages women go through after an abortion.
Occasionally there is a woman who, it seems, has built a brick wall made of ice around her heart and we facilitators wonder if we are having any impact.
Forgiveness is the hardest brick to remove. It’s hard enough to forgive others who were involved in some way with our decision. When it comes to forgiving ourselves, that takes it to a whole new level. Scripturally there is nothing in the Bible about forgiving ourselves. It’s really not so much about self-forgiveness; it’s more about stopping the self-condemnation.
“4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame Ps 34 NIV
Near the end of the class, we have a memorial for their children. At If Not For Grace Ministries, where I most recently volunteered, we have a weekend retreat and on the final day before we leave to go home, we set up a chapel. We encourage the women to choose an item, or write a letter to memorialize their child who has passed on. This is when we will see the ice break. This is when we will see them finally be able to move on. Never have we had a mother who was not positively affected by this experience.
Always, they believed they did not have a right to grieve. We give them a real chance to put it all behind them, not to forget, because that will never happen, but to finally cut all of the chains they have been dragging around with them. This all may sound weird or creepy but it is not just a Christian issue. Japanese women have their own way of dealing with pregnancy loss and abortion and it’s not by ignoring it, they too have memorials for their lost children.
Very few women will take advantage of these types of classes. Partly because they are unaware they exist and partly because they are afraid to open up those old wounds.
Men are affected as well, and even fewer men will ever be able to put their experience behind them. I wonder, what does it feel like, having no voice in whether your child lives or dies?
“While studies on the impact of abortion on men are scarce, available research and anecdotal evidence shows that men can experience problems such as broken relationships; sexual dysfunction; substance abuse; feelings of self-hatred; risk-taking and suicidal behavior; increasing feelings of grief over time; feelings of helplessness, guilt, and depression; greater tendencies toward becoming angry and violent; and feelings connected to a sense of lost manhood.”
Numerous musicians have written about their experiences with abortion, even Eminem. It is raw in typical Eminem style. The video is a mini-documentary recounting how he is unable to forget about his child.
“I can’t keep my lies straight, but I made you terminate my baby; This love triangle left us in a wreck, tangled,” he raps. “What else can I say? It was fun for a while, bet I really woulda loved your smile, didn’t really wanna abort, but f*** it — what’s one more lie, to tell our unborn child?”
It is sad, because the insanity will continue until we realize what we are doing to ourselves.