Why Rachel Weeps

Lately, the evidence for post-abortion trauma has gotten harder to ignore.

Web sites such as the Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome Web site, www.afterabortion.com, allow hundreds of women to tell their stories. Some of the women there regret their abortions, while others believe it was the best decision they could make under the circumstances.

Some of the women think abortion should be illegal, while others believe it must remain legal. But all of the women have suffered due to their abortions. These women truly are the biblical “voice heard in Ramah, Rachel weeping for her children.”

It takes great courage to say, “My abortion hurt me.”

Think of how much shame has to be overcome to say that: First, nobody likes to think about abortion. Even those who support it often find it ugly; their minds shy away from the grim facts. So it takes courage just to say, “I had an abortion.”

Then, to admit to emotional pain after abortion, a woman has to reject the pro-abortion movement's standard “relief” script. She has to say something she often believes will make both “pro-life” and “pro-choice” people turn away from her. And finally, she often has to admit she has not just made a mistake but committed a tragic wrong. It's amazing so many women have found the strength to stand up and tell the truth about abortion.

And now that more and more women are coming forward to tell their stories of post-abortive trauma, the pro-abortion movement has to change its talking points.

The new twist is the argument that women do feel guilt and sorrow after abortion, but that's because pro-lifers harass and shame them. This claim feeds into popular stereotypes of pro-lifers: the angry man yelling obscenities at women entering an abortion business, the guilt-ridden Christians always trying to make everyone feel bad, the Puritan types who, in H.L. Mencken's quip, suffer from “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

Here are three reasons to believe this pro-abortion claim is false.

First, even staunchly pro-abortion women often feel sorrow after their own abortions. Naomi Wolf is the most famous feminist to express her belief that abortion requires mourning; but I've read many women's accounts of their abortions, and mourning does not restrict itself to pro-lifers, Christians or people who grew up in pro-life families.

Second, both basic philosophy and technological advances should lead us to conclude the being growing in the womb is an individual human life. By the week a woman typically misses her period, her child likely already has a heartbeat, brain, lungs, and arms and legs have begun to take shape; by the time the child is aborted, he or she may already look much like a little human, not a “blob of cells.” In a world of ultrasound, it's hard for women to avoid realizing abortion takes a young life. Why would we ever expect that not to be a traumatic experience?

And finally, all you really have to do is listen to know the pro-abortion claim is wrong. I've been volunteering at a pro-life pregnancy center for a little more than a year now. I had heard all the claims about how post-abortion trauma is exaggerated, how women feel only relief after abortion, and I guess the drumbeat of pro-abortion opinion had sunk in. Despite my pro-life beliefs, I have to admit I was surprised to see how many women I counseled felt grief and pain after their abortions.

I remember one woman in particular. We had been talking for about 10 minutes when I asked if she had ever been pregnant before, and she mentioned she had had one abortion. I gently asked how she felt about it (trying not to push her one way or the other). She started to talk about how she still thought about it a lot, it still hurt her; and then she started to cry. What got to me was the expression on her face: The power of her grief, the fact that it was still strong after more than a year, startled her.

She wasn't expecting her tears.

These women never refer to pro-lifers harassing them. Sometimes they were raised in a Christian family; sometimes not. Sometimes they felt pressured into abortion; sometimes not. They aren't disabled by their grief. They mourn, they pray, they try to get on with life. Sometimes they are considering a second or third abortion despite the pain they are still going through due to the first one — they often feel they have no other choice. They don't fit into the easy generalizations of either pro-abortion or pro-life activists. But almost every woman I've counseled who has had an abortion has been hurt by it.

And the way post-abortive women talk about their pain is not the way people talk about things we do that we know other people abhor. As Emily, who runs the After Abortion Web log at afterabortion.blogspot.com, put it, “[C]onsider people who eat meat. There is no evidence that they experience anguish around this practice, even though they know of vegans who would want them to experience anguish. … The specific kinds of experiences and emotions reported by women who experience post-abortion distress are not the type of feeling you have when you learn that someone else disapproves, or would disapprove, of your conduct if they knew.

“Flashbacks, chronic depression, triggers, nightmares, numbness, replacement babies, self-loathing, suicidality, hatred of the father and more are quite different from the emotions we experience when we know that others socially disapprove of us.”

Not all women report emotional trauma after abortion. I've read accounts by women who say they really did feel only relief, and a couple of the women I've counseled similarly did not express any pain or regrets due to their abortions. Of the women who did express pain, some were clearly more resilient than others — as with any trauma, some people endure a deeper and more lasting pain than others. But it's impossible to listen with an open mind to the many women who do report post-abortion distress and come away thinking they only feel bad because a protester called them a murderer or because they know that many Americans abhor abortion.

The way they talk about their own experiences is much more consistent with the bumper sticker that reads, “Abor tion: one dead, one wounded.”

Former Register staff writer

Eve Tushnet writes from Washington, D.C.

------- EXCERPT: