Abortion's Other Blindness

A Senate subcommittee recently heard testimony about the impact of abortion on women.

On one side were women who testified solemnly, sometimes tearfully, about the emotional and psychological difficulties following their abortions. On the other were women utterly unsympathetic to the idea that abortion could cause suffering and smugly dismissive of the women who make such claims.

Like the “collective amnesia” that occurs when a culture forgets a common experience, abortion in this country requires a collective blindness — first to the humanity of the child and second to the suffering of the woman.

Roe v. Wade made our Constitution blind to the personhood of children not yet born. But “legal person” or not, few of us are willing to pretend the developing intrauterine thing is not human. Today we “see” the child better than ever. Technology has brought us face to face with the child and we are utterly captivated by her. In vain did former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders tell us to “get over this love affair with the fetus.” Technology has spawned a whole industry “devoted to sparking fetal love affairs,” as “pro-choice” feminist author Naomi Wolf candidly observed. Even the scales on “pro-choice” eyes have fallen: Note Wolf's 1995 acknowledgment of “the humanity of the fetus” and that “the death of a fetus is a real death.”

But there is another blindness.

The “pro-choice” witnesses at the hearing were confronted in person with real women who have suffered from abortion and who know thousands of other women just like them. Their response? Deny, minimize and change the subject.

The Rev. Dr. Roselyn Smith-Withers of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice said “some women” might experience “sensations” of regret, sadness or guilt. But these “sensations” are not because of abortion. They are because of the pregnancy, or society, or their own prior mental problems, not the abortion. Anything but the abortion.

Withers said she didn't know women who regretted their abortions but has met plenty who regret having children. “Unintended childbearing” is the real problem, she testified; the negative effects of “unwanted births” must no longer be ignored. Pressed as to what she meant, she explained: “Women have great visions for themselves that they can't realize because they had children.” Perhaps, but they wish their children dead?

Withers argued that, while millions of women have had abortions, there's been no epidemic of women seeking post-abortion treatment — ergo, no harm. To Withers and her peers, the eating disorders, alcoholism, nightmares and suicidal urges of women seeking help could not possibly have anything to do with their abortions. Withers has an agenda, and no suffering women will get in her way.

Abortion supporters are fond of citing the “Koop Report” as evidence that abortion does not harm women. Psychiatrist Nada Stotland told the subcommittee that Dr. C. Everett Koop's conclusion of “miniscule” psychological effects from abortion still holds true today. In truth, there's no “report” but a 1989 letter to President Ronald Reagan saying studies to date “do not provide conclusive data” and recommending that a multimillion-dollar comprehensive study be conducted. Fifteen years later, no such study has been funded or conducted.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., asked the witnesses whether they would benefit from further study about the impact of abortion on women. Stotland answered quickly — “No” — then added, yes, she would like to see more research: on how legal restrictions on abortion impact women's mental health.

It is remarkable that the call for more information is so controversial. After all, we live in a society that requires information, more and more of it, in all aspects of life. We live in a society that looks to social science and medical science for everything. Yet here we are, 31 years into this unchecked and unstudied experiment on women, and abortion advocates rage against the threat of greater information. Perhaps it is because our eyes are opening to the humanity of the unborn child that they must be kept shut to the suffering of the woman.

But post-abortive women will not be denied. They know their nightmares. They know them well and they know that abortion had something to do with them. And what they want is to warn others.

Brownback is owed a debt of gratitude for conducting a hearing on a subject that should not be taboo. Should we learn more about the impact of abortion on women? If we care about women, the answer is obvious.

Cathleen Cleaver Ruse is director of planning and information for the Pro-Life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.