Many women who have abortions are unprepared for the volume of grief that overcomes them afterwards, and more men are also acknowledging a similar, unexpected consequence.
This acknowledgement in Australian pro-life circles is at the centre of a new, women-centred approach to the culture of life that is compromised by abortion.
Marcia Riordan from the Respect Life office in Melbourne told a World Youth Day audience in Sydney in July that more women are finding that their lives are changed by having an abortion and they are unable to share their grief.
‘The abortion clinics and women’s counselling centres don’t welcome them,’ she says. The woman is often made to feel that there is something wrong with her, that she is the only one that feels this way.
She cites a book by Canberra journalist, Melinda Tankard-Reist, in which women speak of suffering lasting emotional shock, who were not prepared for the intense suffering they were about to experience. Tankard-Reist’s book, Giving Sorrow Words, which includes the personal accounts of 18 women and draws on the personal experiences of 200 others, has sold out twice.
Many women are not aware of the potential physical and psychological complications of abortion.
Men also struggle post-abortion
Fathers of aborted children can be dramatically affected also.
Commonly men feel angry after their baby has been aborted. Often this is expressed in a way that is self-harming. His anger and frustration at not being able to protect his unborn baby might surface in other ways—in alcohol or drugs or workaholism to dull the pain, feeling that he was too ‘weak’ to prevent the death of his unborn baby.
Marcia Riordan says many women speak of a lack of choice, or having the abortion for someone else, of facing an ultimatum from friends, family or the baby’s father.
‘In describing the despair which leads women to abort, Frederica Mathewes-Green of Feminists for Life US, says “No woman wants an abortion like she wants an ice-cream or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.”
‘As many as 70 percent of women go against their own conscience in “choosing” abortion. They often felt that they “had” to have an abortion, they couldn’t tell their families, they felt pressured into abortion or even abandoned into abortion.’
Women will often go to a private abortion clinic because they believe these will have their interests at heart.
‘But what often happens is that the counsellors are being paid by the abortion clinic to make sure the woman has the abortion so there’s no real discussion at the time around what her own previous position may have been on abortion.’
Ms Riordan says abortion statistics when compared with the number of women of child-bearing age would seem to indicate that one in three women in Australia has had an abortion.
An important consideration in supporting women in this decision is to see and educate people to look at the woman and her baby as a unit, rather than just talking about the foetus as if it were separate.
She says in a new book (John Fleming PhD, Nicholas Tonti-Filippini PhD Eds, Common Ground? Seeking an Australian Consensus on Abortion and Sex Education, 2007) that in the United States, where figures show one in two women has had an abortion, the abortion debate is being redefined ‘in terms of the legitimate needs of women rather than an exclusive focus upon the unborn’ (206).
A more holistic approach
Women-centred, pro-life strategies are being used to ‘limit the harm abortion causes to women by addressing issues of consent and by minimising coercion, through the promotion of practical assistance to women through the development of better social policy. They are also being used to promote compassion and assistance to post-abortive women’ (206).
Meanwhile, in New Zealand the Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) under the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act has a responsibility to ensure that sufficient and adequate facilities are available throughout New Zealand for counselling women who may seek advice in relation to abortion. The ASC appoints a counselling adviser who visits regions independent of and prior to formal ASC visits to licensed institutions.
The counselling adviser meets the staff, looks at counselling processes, the provision and content of abortion counselling services, staff competencies and qualifications and training needs and how these are being met. The ASC then reviews the in-depth report provided by the counselling adviser before visiting licensed institutions.
Linda Holloway of the ASC said the committee was impressed with the quality and dedication of the counselling staff it has met around the country.
She said the ASC was unable to comment on the quality of counselling standards in other jurisdictions.