Culture of love and life- Post abortion

Sr. Maria Jose Socias, SCTJM

Pope John Paul II's encyclical The Gospel of Life (No. 99):

“I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try, rather, to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the sacrament of reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost, and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.”

These words of our Holy Father bring so much light about the terrible consequences of abortion. Indeed, as the Holy Father says “The wound in your heart may not yet have healed”, this is such a profound wound that goes beyond our own understanding because it affects the core of being a woman that is to be a “barer of life.”


For the past thirty three years we have been dealing with a reality that many have wanted to hide for several reasons:

a. Because it interferes with the agenda that has been imposed on our society of a “false” right to choose.

b. Because admitting that abortion affects women and men in such a deep and catastrophic way, would mean accepting the fact that the famous slogan that abortion is for the well being of women is not true, on the contrary is a big lie.

c. Pro-choice advocates often hesitate to recognize the reality of post-abortion grief because they fear this means they have to recognize the death of a baby, which may somehow undermine the political argument for legal abortion.

d. In order to gain the consent of women for the abortion they have been told that the procedure will remove a "blob of tissue" a "product of conception", or a "pre-embryo." They have been assured that their "problem will be solved" and they will be able to "get on with their lives” as though nothing significant had happened. The pregnant woman have been asked to deny the fact that she is carrying a child at all, even when she can see and experience the changes in her own body (her menses has stopped, her breasts are enlarging, she is sick in the morning or even the whole day...)

Society has been trying to avoid a truth that is starting to be spoken clearly and loud in our days. From 1973 to 2006, 46,000,000 million abortions have happened in the USA alone. This means that more than 40 million men and women have been influenced and affected by this tragedy.
In recent years this reality has been more exposed to our public eye because many of those who have been hurt are speaking about their own experience. They are “silent no more”
This has brought new light and insight about this wound that is part of the lives of millions.

Recent studies have shown in the “scientific arena” the factual existence of this Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is becoming an epidemic, using the words of Dr. David Reardon. “An epidemic of invisible mourning and pathological grief.”

Grief as we all know, is a natural consequence of death. Current obstetrical and psychiatric literature abounds with articles about grief following perinatal death- death due to:
 Spontaneous abortion
 Premature birth
 Stillborn
 Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

In recent years the medical profession has come to the understanding that perinatal loss can be followed by a grief reaction that is similar to the loss of an older child or an adult.

"I can state most assuredly that couples with recurrent, unexplained or explained early pregnancy losses grieve as intensely as those with later losses or losses of live-born children. Their grief is not visible, however, since society, family, friends, press, or clergy do not support or are not trained to support them. The grief is very real and if unattended can eventually be felt by them to be aberrant, unnatural, or even unhealthy." (Beer, EA: New horizons in the diagnosis, evaluation and therapy of recurrent spontaneous abortion. Clinics in Obstetrics and Gynecology 1986; 13:115-116.)

As a response to this we see that many Hospitals have in their obstetrical units, teams of physicians, nurses and social workers trained to help parents deal with perinatal death and the issues of grief, anger and guilt.
In the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology dated Sept 1990 says:

"Ways of helping parents cope with their losses have been recommended and have reduced the frequency of prolonged emotional disturbance and of abnormal grief reactions .... Ways of facilitating the grieving process have been identified. These include seeing and holding the dead baby, giving it a name and taking photographs; all help make the situation a reality and to create memories. It is difficult to grieve when no memory of the individual exists." (Wathan, NC: Perinatal bereavement. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 1990;97:759-760.)

By acknowledging this fact, If we reflect upon it we have to come to the understanding that for a post abortive man or woman this need to grief is very real, the only difference is that our society does not acknowledge their pain, as a matter of fact, is like it does not exist at all, is the “forbidden grief” spoken of by Theresa Burke and David Reardon in the book that have the same title.
When a woman goes to an abortion clinic she is not going to find a "Perinatal Loss Team" to help her deal with her confusing and perhaps overwhelming feelings. She is typically alone, without her partner during the procedure. There is no dead child to hold, no photographs, no funeral, burial, or grave to visit, no consolation from friends, relatives or clergy. Her only memories are of a rushed, painful procedure and of her own efforts to convince herself that what her "abortion counselor" had told her was true.
The psychological defense mechanisms of denial and repression are massively in effect by the time she leaves the clinic. It is not surprising then, that "exit poll" research and studies of the immediate post-abortion days, weeks and months find that women feel relieved and claim to have no adverse psychological aftereffects of elective abortion.


Post Abortion Syndrome
This is the name given to the series of symptoms that a woman that has gone through the trauma of an abortion may experience.
PTSD is the name given by therapist and doctors to the defense mechanisms we use when we have a traumatic experience of any kind.
Is not a tangible thing, like a virus. It is a label used to describe a specific grouping of psychological symptoms.
It can be described as a psychological disorder that results from a traumatic experience that overwhelms a person’s normal defense mechanisms. The shock of this experience is so great that the person’s defense mechanisms become disorganized and disconnected from reality, either temporarily or for a prolonged and indefinite period of time.

Abortion is a traumatic experience that has the capacity to unleash one or more of the following symptoms:

1) Low self-esteem
2) Grief
3) Depression
4) A sense of alienation from family and friends
5) A feeling of being “numb”, not able to feel joy from activities that used to be pleasurable
6) Isolating self from others to avoid discussing the abortion experience with them
7) Guilt and shame
8) Difficulty concentrating
9) Anger towards self, or the child’s father, or others involved in the abortion decision
10) Sleep disorders Abortion related nightmares, flashbacks or even sounds of baby’s crying
11) Anniversary reactions of grief or depression on the date of the abortion or the baby’s expected due date
12) Problems bonding with her other children (being over-protective but emotionally distant)
13) Fear that God will oust her, or is punishing her
14) Some , especially young girls, experience symptoms soon after the abortion

(depression, loss of self-esteem, self-destructive behavior, sleep disorders, memory loss, sexual dysfunction, chronic problems with relationships, dramatic personality changes, anxiety attacks, guilt and remorse, difficulty grieving, increased tendency toward violence, chronic crying, difficulty concentrating, flashbacks, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities and people, and difficulty bonding with later children. (Reardon, Aborted Women-Silent No More, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1987). Reardon, "Criteria for the Identification of High Risk Abortion Patients: Analysis of An In-Depth Survey of 100 Aborted Women", Presented at the 1987 Paper Session of the Association for Interdisciplinary Research, Denver. )

Among the most worrisome of these reactions is the increase of self-destructive behavior among aborted women. In a survey of over 100 women who had suffered from post-abortion trauma, fully 80 percent expressed feelings of "self-hatred." In the same study, 49 percent reported drug abuse and 39 percent began to use or increased their use of alcohol. Approximately 14 percent described themselves as having become "addicted" or "alcoholic" after their abortions. In addition, 60 percent reported suicidal ideation, with 28 percent actually attempting suicide, of which half attempted suicide two or more times.

Not all women experience all this symptoms, some may experience clusters of symptoms; others may have a very dramatic and debilitating reaction; still others may appear to tolerate the procedure and its aftermath with little, if any, effect at least during the period in which their reactions are studied.

But when one sits and listens to the intense pain, grief, and confusion women experience after an abortion that was supposed to make their lives better, it is easy to understand their need to withdraw and deny their experience. Without the understanding and support of loved ones, it is simply too much to bear on one’s own. No woman is safe from this negative emotions.

This is the reason why now more than ever we need Post abortion healing ministry is so crucial. We need to respond with compassion and love to all those who suffer from the pain of a past abortion. The Church with her arms open offers to them the forgiveness and healing form the Heart of Christ through the Project Rachel Program.

May the culture of life triumph!


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