Abortion is a topic which evokes strong feelings. Yet, amidst the various views, little is heard of the women and men who struggle with aftermath of abortion. Indeed, the temptation is to avoid any form of discussion which might evoke feelings of grief, shame, regret, guilt and condemnation. However, as a society, we need to ask ourselves if it is right to avoid the issue. Has the time not come to give these women and men a voice and to learn from their experience?
Forbidden Grief – the unspoken pain of abortion
With this in mind, I draw attention to a book called, “Forbidden Grief – the unspoken pain of abortion” by Dr. Theresa Burke, Ph.D. (Acorn Books, 2002), an American psychologist who has specialized in treating hundreds of women struggling with post-abortion issues in the USA since 1986. Her experience and research strongly underlines the fact that women often experience a great deal of grief after abortion. She maintains that this grief is a taboo subject. Partners, families, friends and society are often unwilling to address it as in doing so individuals must also take responsibility for their role in the abortion.
In the early chapters of her book, Dr. Burke states that once a woman is pregnant, the choice is not about having a baby or not having a baby as is often suggested, but between having a baby and having the experience of an abortion. The expectation that abortion can simply “turn back the clock” and the sense of immediate relief a woman may feel leaves her totally unprepared for what may follow. Therefore, she says that grief after an abortion is neither expected nor permitted in our society. She makes this point a central concept of her book.
According to her, abortion involves the loss of a child or at least the loss of an opportunity to have a child. This loss must be confronted, processed, and grieved in order for the woman to resolve her experience. To this effect, she quotes Dr. Julkius Fogel, a psychiatrist and an obstetrician who has personally performed over 20,000 abortions when he says,“Every woman – whatever her age, background or sexuality – has a trauma at destroying a pregnancy … A psychological price is paid … Something happens on the deeper levels of a woman´s consciousness when she destroys a pregnancy. I know that as a psychiatrist”.
In recent times, information is also slowly being made available about the effects of abortion on men and on the men seeking help in the wake of abortion. It seems that there is very little research in this area. The most comprehensive study to date involved 1,000 men in the USA. The result showed that eight percent or more have beenly deeply traumatized by the abortion of their child. According to material made available by the Life Issues Institute, men have greater difficulty in seeking help in a society which already fails to deal with post-abortion trauma in women, and which gives them little space to express their emotional needs.
Higher risk of suicide, major depression, anxiety disorder and drug addiction
A group of 15 of Great Britain´s leading obstetricians and pyschiatrists added great weight to this point of view when they had an open group letter published in the London Times in October 2006. These professionals spoke of the most recent research which shows that even women without past mental health problems are at risk of psychological ill-effects after abortion. The research to which they refer is “The Christchurch Health and Development Study” (CHDS), led by Professor David Fergusson, (atheist and firmly pro-choice).
The study has been in existence for over twenty-five years and traces the health, education and life progress of a group of 1,265 people born in the Christchurch urban region, New Zealand in 1977. When investigating abortion and mental health, Dr. Fergusson and his colleagues expected to find confirmation that most women who chose an abortion experience good mental health as a result. He was shocked to find that the women who had an abortion – in contrast to women who hadn´t – were at a higher risk of suicide, major depression, anxiety disorder and drug addiction. Because he had the complete medical records of the women he was examining, he was able to dismiss the explanation that previous mental problems, not abortion, cause post-abortion syndrome. He found a clear link between abortion and depression. The study was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, Vol 47, No.1, January 2006, pages, 16-24.
Freedom of Choice?
In the book, “Forbidden Grief – the unspoken pain of abortion”, Dr. Burke also draws attention to the manner in which women´s fundamental right to information – full disclosure of the risks and consequences of abortion and information regarding foetal development and alternatives to abortion – is often violated and important information deliberately held back. She also states that their questions are often ignored and insufficient time given for reflection. It seems that many women say they were not given enough information to make an informed decision, and that had they been given more information it is very likely that they would have chosen differently. According to Dr. Burke, research conducted at abortion clinics in the USA has found that the majority of women seeking abortion have little or no prior knowledge about foetal development, the abortion procedure or its risks.
Dr. Burke adds that when women do ask questions or express fears or doubts, they often receive answers that will evade, dismiss or minimise their concerns. She points out that it is a serious breach of duty when women are not given the full facts and treats women like children who are too fragile to hear the truth and weigh it up for themselves. It is also a violation of the maternal desires and moral conscience of women as it encourages women to ignore or fail to resolve their internal conflicts regarding an unwanted abortion. Most disturbing are the cases of deliberate misformation, medical negligence, botched abortions and deaths which are covered up and allowed to go unpunished, not least in countries where abortion is legally available.
Inherent violence of abortion as experienced by women
Dr. Burke speaks of the inherent violence of abortion as experienced by the women themselves and recounts situations where abortions have been carried out after the women changed their minds. A study by Dr. Sandra Mahkorn entitled “Pregnancy and Sexual assault, New Perspectives on Human Abortion” (1981) was the first of its kind in that it studied 37 pregnant rape victims in the USA. Again, it produced findings which contradicts the commonly held belief that rape victims seek and need abortion. In Dr. Mahkorn´s study, most pregnant assault victims refused abortion; most women in the study felt that abortion was an act of violence and that issues relating to the rape experience, not the pregnancy, were of primary concern in counselling and rehabilitation.
It is also worth noting that members of the Ad Hoc Committee of Women Pregnant by Sexual Assault (WPSA) have this to say in their petition to Congress and State Legislators in the USA,“In many cases, we felt pressured to abort … For many the abortion caused physical and emotional trauma equal or exceedingthe trauma of the sexual assault that our abortions were supposed to cure”.
In her book, Dr. Burke quotes the experiences of the women who speak of abortion as a form of abuse, a second rape; of women who describe abortion being used to cover up the crime of incest; of the women who are psychologically and physically coerced by partners, families and friends to have an abortion; and of the serious lack of moral and material support offered to women wishing not to abort. Dr. Burke´s experience is also borne out by the latest detailed research available from the Elliot Institute in the USA – a culmination of various professional studies carried out in USA, New Zealand, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, U.K., India and China and other counttries where abortion is legally available.
The following is a summary of some of the findings. More detailed information is available at ”Abortion is the UnChoice” (www.unfairchoice.info) and from the Elliot Institute ( www.afterabortion.org ):
- 64% of women having abortions felt pressured by others.
- Coercion can escalate to violence or even murder.
- 84% reported that they did not receive adequate counseling
- 79% were not informed about available alternatives.
- 65% suffer multiple symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after abortion.
- 60% said “part of me died.” according to a survey of women who aborted
- Suicide rates are 6-7 times higher compared to women who give birth.
- In cases such as rape and incest, 70% had their babies and none regretted their decision.
- 78% of those who aborted had regrets and said that abortion was the wrong solution
Throughout her book, Dr. Burke provides the most up-to-date research on abortion problems and draws on the experiences and insights of hundreds of her clients. She recounts the experiences of women and men whose lives have been governed by repressed grief, guilt and anger. She shows how repressed feelings may be acted out through self-destructive behaviour, broken relationships, repeated pregnancies and multiple abortions, sexual problems, obsessions, eating disorders, substance abuse, parenting problems and other emotional or behavioral problems. But she doesn´t stop there! She offers a way out.
Hope, Help and Healing
In this regard, she points post-abortive women and men in the direction of an organization called, “Rachel´s Vineyard Ministries” which she founded as a result of her experience with those suffering from the aftermath of abortion. Through Rachel´s Vineyard Ministries, those who have had abortions are able to speak of their experience, meet others who have had the same experiences and are offered a healing process that helps these women and men to experience God´s healing love and mercy.
Weekend programmes are offered, the aim of which is to transform the pain of the past into love and hope for post-abortive women and men, with remarkable results. In the words of a participant,“For eighteen years I have been haunted with heavy guilt that no one could take away, tormented by thoughts of what my child would have been like. Through the Rachel Retreat, I was finally able to forgive myself and accept God´s forgiveness. God has given me a peaceful mind, cleansed my heart and washed away my guilt”.
Can we afford to be complacent? On average, 45 abortions a year are performed in the Faroes. What is the impact on our society? What is the experience of the women, men and children living in the shadow of abortion? Is anyone listening?
I think of the women and men who must be suffering. I pray for you and carry you in my heart. I search for ways to reach out to you and give you a voice. Writing this article is one way. I also encourage you speak to someone in confidence. It is possible to contact Bernadette from Rachel´s Vineyard Ireland at firstname.lastname@example.org ; telephone: + 353 87 85 92 877. She is post-abortive and will understand your needs and your pain.
Anyone wishing for more information, for prayer, to speak in confidence or wishing to participate in a Rachel´s Vineyard weekend on the Faroe Islands is also very welcome to contact either me, tlf. 515386 – 700710 or Hilda Viderø, tlf. 216785, official representatives of Rachel´s Vineyard Føroyar.
More information about Dr. Theresa Burke
More information on post-abortion trauma
Men and Abortion
Maria Forrestal, 2004 (edited 2015)