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Abortion and Child Abuse

Fr. Frank Pavone

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There is a significant statistical association between child abuse and abortion - a mutual relationship, whereby having an abortion makes the abuse of subsequent children more likely, and being abused as a child makes having an abortion later in life more likely.

Obviously, and first of all, abortion itself is the worst form of child abuse. Secondly, it should be noted that we are talking about statistical associations. These connections do not mean that everyone who has an abortion will abuse her children, or that everyone who is abused will have an abortion.

Having said that, let's examine why having an abortion may lead to more child abuse.

First of all, every pregnancy is a "crisis" in the best sense of the term. Pregnancy creates unique demands and challenges to the mother to mature; the body, the mind, and the spirit must grow in order to accommodate to the child. This "crisis of incorporation," as psychologists call it, puts the mother at a crossroads: either she accepts the changes required of her by the pregnancy, or she aborts the child, hence choosing to regress rather than mature.

The choice not to mature, but rather to remain selfish, makes it more likely that the mother will remain a less mature parent, and this immaturity is a key cause of abuse and neglect of other children.

A second problem is that fathers have no legal right to save their unborn child from an abortion. Not knowing if the child will live or die creates an ambivalence in the father, and a reluctance to bond to the child. Unattached to their baby, they show less support to their partner as well. After an abortion, the alienation worsens. Some studies show as high as an 80% rate of breakup of relationships after abortion. The mother's anger at the lack of support from the baby's father can be displaced to a born child.

A third reason why abortion can lead to child abuse is related to bonding. Having an abortion makes it more difficult to bond to a subsequent child, and babies who are not well bonded are more likely to be abused and neglected. A pregnancy following abortion creates more anxiety, caused in part by a fatalistic sense that the child will be abnormal (as a punishment for having aborted the previous one.) This anxiety can interfere with bonding.

Moreover, if the grief from the abortion is not adequately processed, it becomes a post- partum depression, which interferes with bonding. When one is still grieving a lost baby, one cannot attach to a new baby, because the attachment is still to the one who died. Failure to attach to the one who is alive can lead to abuse and neglect.

There can also be a sense of disappointment in the subsequent child, who is compared to the aborted baby who is often idealized in the mother's mind. Expectations of the new child, sometimes viewed as a "replacement baby," are not fulfilled, resulting in anger that can lead to abuse and neglect.

Fr. Frank Pavone is a Roman Catholic Priest and director of Priests for Life.

Read this article on the Priests for Life website (new window will open).

Posted: 12/05/04



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