As crowds of impassioned pro-lifers gather once again on Jan. 22 for the annual March for Life in Washington, Pope Francis has said more should be done in reaching out to women who’ve had abortions.
Vicki Thorn, founder of the post-abortion apostolate Project Rachel, recently spoke to Register correspondent Sue Ellen Browder about why abortion is still such a hot-button emotional issue and how Catholics can help pour “oil on the wounds” of abortion in our culture today.
As the March for Life unfolds once again, what’s the most important thing pro-lifers, Catholic or otherwise, need to think about when we talk about this sensitive subject?
We must always remember the walking wounded. Our compassion certainly concerns the lost child. But we must also extend our mercy to the mother, father, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings. We all know somebody who’s been touched by an abortion.
Abortion can deeply wound a woman’s heart, psyche and spirit. Emotional and spiritual symptoms can erupt years later. And yet you say you’re cautious about using the term “post-abortion syndrome.” Why?
Syndrome implies a pathology, that you need a psychiatrist. The reality is that most women after abortion are somewhere in the middle — from only a little bothered to deeply, deeply grieving. The post-abortion syndrome language has served us well, because it allowed us to begin the public discussion. But aftermath (or grief) after abortion is, in fact, not pathological, but the normal response of a mother who has lost her child in a traumatic and unnatural way. When we talk about abortion grief or aftermath, those are two less threatening, more approachable words than post-abortion syndrome, and they also more accurately state what’s really going on in women’s lives.
The abortion industry often claims there’s no difference between having an abortion and getting your appendix out. And yet women who’ve had abortions find it impossible to forget the children they’ve lost. Why?
There’s actually a biological reason for that. Science (see, for example, an article in the February 2008 issue of Scientific American, “Your Cells Are My Cells” by J. Lee Nelson at the Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Seattle) indicates that we women carry cells from every child we’ve ever conceived for the rest of our lives. That’s why it’s biologically impossible to forget a child you’ve lost.
Our surviving children also carry our cells, and any subsequent children who follow the loss of a sibling carry cells from that sibling. So every child in the family has cells from all the previous siblings.
Amazing! So as families (and mothers), we’re far more biologically interconnected with each other (and our children) than the abortionists would have us believe.
That’s what the latest science is saying. Dr. Nelson suggests this research gives us a new view of self. According to previous medical thinking, the placenta acted as a barrier between mother and child.
Now scientists say, “The placenta allows for a lot of two-way traffic,” with cells between mother and child crossing back and forth. So much for the radically individualistic, outdated “I alone own my own body” canard!
Is the message of forgiveness a central message women need to hear?
Absolutely. One of the major wounds, regardless of where she comes from, is the woman’s sense that “I offended something bigger than I am.” If I’m coming out of a Christian tradition, it’s God. If I’m coming out of an agnostic or atheistic background, I offended “something in the universe.” It’s just a piece of gut knowledge that women know.
What else do those reaching out to post-abortive women need to understand?
We also have to understand how frightened these women are. They’re often without resources. There’s this myth that these calm, cool, rational, collected women are just using abortion as birth control. I’ve been doing this work for 30 years, and I haven’t met those people yet. Many of these women look very together on the outside, but inside there’s a hole in their souls.
You also draw a distinction between the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-abortion.” Why?
Because I’ve met so many people who say, “I could never have an abortion … but a woman needs to have that option.” When you hear the rest of the story, the next sentence is often, “Because my mother or sister had an abortion many years ago, and she must have needed it.”
So you’re saying many people’s “pro-choice” stance is coming from a place of compassion.
Oh, I think so. It might not be compassion, but it’s at least concern: “I don’t dare say something publicly against abortion because the fallout could be damaging to someone I know and love.” Of course, many adamant pro-abortionists (those who seem to believe that abortion at all times, under all circumstances is a good thing) are women who’ve had abortions, and they’re working out their issues by supporting abortion for other people.
I often find myself wondering how many of these pro-choice politicians are so adamant about the issue because they’ve had abortions themselves or they fathered a child who was aborted.
Exactly. And if I’m unhealed or if I’m still in denial or if I think I or some other woman really “needed” it, I’m going to be very impassioned about the issue.
One increasingly notices how many young people now go to the March for Life. What’s that about?
That’s a good question: Marching about Washington, D.C., in the cold … does that sound really exciting to you? I think we see all these young people zealously promoting life today because they’re the survivors.
Many men are now involved in the pro-life movement. Why is that?
Because men are also wounded. Men are not always the forcers they’re painted as being. Some men would have put their lives in front of a car to stop the abortion. Others would have done anything to stop it, but everyone they knew said, “You have to be quiet. It’s her choice. It’s not yours.” Then there are the guys who find out only after it happened, and they’re devastated. So for the 50-plus-million abortions among women, there’s an equal number of men who’ve been affected.
In other words, at least 100 million men and women in this nation have had personal experiences with abortion since Roe v. Wade was decided. That’s mind-boggling.
Exactly. That’s why the impassioned feelings in this nation surrounding abortion aren’t about to go away anytime soon.
For confidential care, go to HopeAfterAbortion.com.
Sue Ellen Browder writes from Ukiah, California.