We know it’s a lie that abortion doesn’t harm women. We know this anecdotally, from talking with mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends who have had abortions, and shared their stories of pain, doubt, shame, guilt, and suffering. We also know it from research that demonstrates quantitatively that significant numbers of women are left clinically depressed as direct result of having had an abortion.
As often as we hear these stories, it’s still exceedingly difficult for women hurt by abortion, and their supporters, to get the message out. As Katie Yoder from Catholic Vote explains: “don’t expect the mainstream media to give them a voice. That’s not to say the media shy away from abortion stories. They don’t. But there’s a catch: The stories they share are positive ones. In presenting abortion in a positive light, the media not only dismiss countless abortion testimonies, but also overlook research.”
The Divide Between Rhetoric and Women’s Experiences
Even though more Americans identify as pro-life than pro-choice, and have for a long time, we are still a nation deeply conflicted over the issue. One of the reasons for the conflict is in no small part due to the huge significance placed on having an abortion as the true mark of a woman taking ownership of her body. As if a woman isn’t truly in control of who she is until she’s exercised her right to abort her unborn child.
Abortion advocates see abortion as the final frontier for womanhood, the event horizon, the point after which a woman will pass, and never feel the same again. This is why abortion rhetoric must be powerful, because if abortion supporters can continue to distract the post-abortive woman with the idea that she has nothing for which to apologize; abortion is about her reproductive rights; and that it wasn’t her baby, it was a clump of cells, it will be easier for her the next time she choices to abort.
But for a large number of women suffering in silence, it’s a cold, brutal wake-up call. Pro-abortion rhetoric falls heavy and flat against the harsh reality of what they’ve done. No amount of empowerment propaganda can allay the sick feeling in the pit of their souls. They have that gut-wrenching feeling you get when you know you’ve done something you can never undo, and all you want more than anything in the world is to undo it. In that moment, when everything collapses into a single point, they can see all too clearly what abortion is, and it’s utter devastation.
What 987 Post- Abortive Women Told Researchers
A recent study by Priscilla Coleman, Ph.D., et al., entitled, “Women Who Suffered Emotionally from Abortion: A Qualitative Synthesis of Their Experiences,” looked at multiple variables that affect how women adjusted to their post-abortive experiences. The authors explain that current research methods aren’t sensitive enough to capture the complexity of women’s emotions from the beginning to end of the abortion process:
The professional post-abortion literature relevant to both the average woman, and those known to be at the highest risk for adverse responses, is primarily derived from group-level, quantitative studies that often fail to capture the breadth of feelings and thoughts at the core of women’s individual experiences.
To produce research that reflects the dynamism of emotion that accompanies abortion, Coleman and her team developed a two-question, open-ended online survey that was presented anonymously to women seeking post-abortive services at a crisis pregnancy center. The full details about the methodology can be found in the study, but in short: 987 women completed the survey, and their ages ranged from 20-27. The number of abortions per participant ranged from 1-9. The majority had one (69.8 percent), and 19.7 percent had two, 7.6 percent had three, and 2.9 percent had four or more. Seventy percent of first-time abortions occurred in women 21 years or younger.
The two questions posed to women were: “1) What are the most significant positives if any that have come from your decision to abort?” and “2) What are the most significant negatives if any that have come form your decision to abort?”
The findings, which went largely unnoticed by major news outlets, run completely afoul of today’s media narrative about how abortion is a benign, safe procedure that represents the pinnacle of female empowerment. One interesting result was the increase in women seeking mental health care and prescription drug use pre- and post-abortion. Prior to their first pregnancy resulting in an abortion, 13 percent of those surveyed reported having visited a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor, compared to 67.5 percent who received mental health services after their first abortion.
Of the women surveyed, only 6.6 percent reported using psychotropic drugs prior to their first pregnancy resulting in an abortion, compared to 51 percent who stated they used prescription drugs for mental health issues after their abortion. The results of the study demonstrate abortion’s dynamic nature, and successfully capture the kaleidoscope of emotions that women internalize after having the procedure.
Where Are These Women’s Voices?
One of the more remarkable findings was that 32 percent of women reported no positive outcomes from the decision to have an abortion. One comment a woman gave in response was a heartbreaking: “None, there are no positives. My life is no better, it is much worse. I carry the pain of a child lost forever. Although I know I am forgiven and have worked through the guilt and shame, the heart wrenching pain is still there. I would rather have been a single mother of two and have my baby here.”
A significant number (24 percent) of women reported feeling the pain of taking a life. This woman’s 30 years of grief and thoughts of suicide sound nothing like the sound-bites we hear from pro-abortion marches and rallies. Where is this woman’s voice in the conversation on abortion? Is she allowed to have one?
My child is dead and by my own choice. I spent years of anger, shame, and grief. It damaged my relationship with my husband, my children, and my God. For 30 years I did not speak of it to anyone but my husband. My grief overwhelmed him and left him powerless and ashamed. For years I cried every Sunday in church, experienced dark depressions, thoughts of suicide, and flashes of anger. My relationship with my children was unbalanced. I had to be the perfect mom and they the perfect children or I believed myself to be beneath contempt. Imagine the mess in which I lived. Had it not been for the Biblical counseling I received through a local CPC [Crisis Pregnancy Center] I would be there still.
Women also reported significant numbers for depression (14 percent), guilt (14 percent), self-hatred (12 percent), shame (11 percent), addiction (9 percent), and regret (9 percent). One woman’s story of self-hatred is a painful reminder that the pain of abortion can be life-consuming:
The most serious negatives are my being angry at myself that I could abort three babies. The aftermath of abortion is destructive to the soul. Once I had to face the reality of my choices to abort, and not block it out anymore, I concluded that I must not continue to be in denial and keeping it under the rug. My life was interrupted in a way that after 30 years, since my last abortion, I am still hurting, emotionally and mentally as a result of my choices. I will have to live with them for the rest of my life on earth.
All The Experiences Did Not Lead to Long-Term Despair
A surprising feature of the study was how many women were able to turn their painful experience with abortion into something positive. Many reported (18 percent) their abortion was the low point that brought them back to God and deepened their spiritual life. Others (13 percent) have committed to volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers, sharing their experiences with women who are benefitting from their personal journey.
Some (8 percent) are helping women who’ve had abortions through sharing the biblical message of God’s forgiveness. Then there are those (6 percent) who have become active in the pro-life movement as a result of their abortion. They are helping spread the message of how there is forgiveness, and love after abortion:
I have found forgiveness for my abortion, I have led others to find healing and forgiveness from their abortions, I have written a book…along with a website, I am Executive Director of a Pregnancy Resource Center and saved two pregnancy centers from closing, I have lobbied for the Ultrasound Bill and the Human Life Amendment and given testimony on many occasions. I have also appeared on Faces of Abortion and did several radio interviews.
A recurring theme from the study is that none of these women fit neatly into any particular set of definitions. Their struggle is both very personal and unique, but also common to women who have walked their journey. It’s painfully evident in looking through some of these answers that women are not arriving at the decision to abort without effects. It takes its pound of flesh.
If we could be honest about what abortion does and does not do for women, imagine how different the landscape might look for women in crisis with an unwanted pregnancy. Women might make decisions that don’t leave them feeling the incalculable pain of taking a life. They could avoid these feelings of clinical depression and deeply entrenched lack of self-worth.
It’s for this reason that Coleman et al.’s study is an excellent primer for understanding the breadth of emotions associated with abortion. I encourage everyone to read the results of the study with a willingness to see it for what it is: women being vulnerable about the pain abortion has caused them.
I hope the experiences these women shared will inspire people to save the lives of the unborn, and give comfort and help to women and girls who find themselves in crisis. Finally, I hope people are encouraged to give voice to the women who’ve suffered in silence by empowering, and encouraging other women, men, and children to become advocates for life.