Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion
Theresa Burke Ph.D. and David Reardon Ph.D.
Acorn Books 2002
In the thirty years since Roe v. Wade, the public debate about abortion has coalesced around two opposing moral precepts. Pro-lifers argue that because abortion kills a human being that abortion should be regulated or banned outright. Pro-choicers argue that a woman's "right to choose" trumps all other moral claims making abortion a private decision that should be free of any outside influence.
Pro-choicers resist calling any unborn child a child at all. They prefer "fetus" (Latin for little one) because it dehumanizes the aborted child. Most people know deep down that abortion is wrong. Dehumanizing the child makes the procedure more palatable.
It used to be that the deliberate abortion of an unborn child met with almost universal disapproval. In the last three decades however, the public stigma against the procedure has eroded, in large part because the language of dehumanization has taken hold. This language has shaped discourse,and in shaping discourse it has shaped thinking.
A new book helps us think more clearly about abortion."Forbidden Grief" by Theresa Burke and Patrick Reardon reveals that abortion is far from the benign and neutral procedure characterized by pro-choice activists.
Burke and Reardon counsel women who underwent abortions and reveal that many, perhaps most, women suffer trauma because of their abortions— including women who were committed pro-choicers when they had one. Women who chose abortion are afflicted by grief, guilt, and a tremendous sense of personal loss. Many carry the trauma for years afterward.
This grief remains largely hidden — forbidden — from public view. One important reason is that the decision to abort is rarely freely decided. A major Los Angeles Times poll reports that 74 percent of women who admitted having abortions stated that they believe that abortion is morally wrong. The decision to abort is usually made in the blizzard of a personal moral crisis when the mother is especially susceptible to outside influences by mental health professionals, family members, a partner, abortion clinic counselors, or others who can exert leverage they would otherwise not have.
This leverage is often expressed as subtle coercion. A woman in a crisis pregnancy needs the support of family and friends to help her raise the child. If this support is implicitly withheld, the most immediate solution is abortion since it promises (falsely as it turns out) that circumstances can return to what they were before the woman became pregnant. The woman is compelled to abandon her child to avoid being abandoned herself.
This personal trauma occurs within a culture that has what Burke and Reardon call an "empathize-despise" relationship with victims. We empathize with victims but are impatient with the time it takes for them to heal. At the same time, we tend to be suspicious of people who claim they have been victimized.
Moreover, when the victimization involves psychological claims, the argument takes on a political dimension because psychology is not a precise science but subject in many cases to social fashion and personal agendas.
In particular, people who have an interest in promoting abortion are quick to dismiss the evidence that abortion harms women. Those who profit financially from abortion, or those driven by an ideology that seeks to control the "quality of life" of other people, or politicians, physicians, psychologists, clergy and other public figures who have an investment in maintaining a pro-choice culture, necessarily turn a blind eye to the suffering of post-abortive women.
As a result, women who have undergone abortion soon discover that no support exists for resolving their trauma. Affirming the distress is either too great a threat to pro-choice dogma, or too difficult for others to bear. So they are forbidden to grieve.
This is not the first time that the evidence of trauma has been ignored write Burke and Reardon. In the past both hysteria and shell shock were recognized as legitimate trauma only after the victims finally spoke out. Abortion will be recognized as trauma only as post-abortive women continue to speak out.
"Forbidden Grief" is a humane and compassionate work that reveals how emotionally and psychological destructive an abortion can be for women. Burke and Reardon explain that many women choose abortion out of ignorance and desperation and not ideological motive or moral callousness. They offer hope by showing that forgiveness and healing are possible.
They also show that the most articulate defenders of the unborn can be the women who have experienced the trauma of abortion. We should listen to them.
Copyright © 2003 Johannes L. Jacobse. Rev. Jacobse is a priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. This article was published on the Breakpoint Online and Opinion Editorials.com websites,and featured as a book review selection on the Town Hall website.
Read The Evil of Abortion: A personal testimony to learn about one woman's journey into healing.