As human beings, we all have preferred realities that live in our heads. It’s natural to think everybody else should adopt our personal preferences because then, at least to us, it seems our personal lives would be easier. When something conflicts with our preferred reality, we tend to go into denial about it. This is especially true for major and irreversible actions––those really big gaps between our preferred reality and the facts that can’t be reversed. Hence, denial, and a lot of it.
So it is with abortion. The illusion of choice is that abortion doesn’t hurt anybody. Women who openly regret their abortions shatter that illusion. They shine light on the truth that the act of abortion is deeply damaging to women, as well as lethal to children. This frightens pro-abortion activists, who prefer and propagate the propaganda line that abortion regret is a “myth.” We can call them regret deniers.
The central problem is that actual reality––otherwise known as the truth––doesn’t care what you or I think about anything at all. Reality is always out there, like it or not. Abortion, for example, produces dead people. That’s reality. As long as we are a society that at least pays lip service, to varying degrees, to the sanctity of (most) human life, it’s a reality that still, so far, has a grip on our consciences.
Pretending It’s About ‘Empowerment’
People can pretend abortion produces something else, like “choice” or “empowerment.” They can even agree it’s killing and say it’s still no big deal, as more bold-faced abortion activists are increasingly doing these days. But no amount of verbal or emotional gymnastics will ever change the fact that abortion produces dead people.
Since nobody ever gets a chance to meet the deceased, it’s easier to pretend they never existed. But we all know they existed, because their existence was the very reason their lives were terminated.
The pro-choice editors of the journal California Medicine made this very point in 1970, just a couple of years prior to the Roe v. Wade decision. Here’s a tidy excerpt from that article that predicts the sharpening divide between abortion regret and regret denial (emphasis mine):
It has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices.
The laughable reference to “socially impeccable auspices” presumably refers to Planned Parenthood and its ilk. In any case, the article pretty much argues that our old ethic, that life is sacred, has not yet been replaced by a new ethic––that the value of human life is “relative.” So while we’re in the process of changing our ethics, the editors brazenly add that “this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary.”
Regret Denial at the March For Life
At one end of the debate over abortion regret are the women who openly regret their abortions and have come to terms with reality in order to heal. At the other end are those who vehemently deny the existence of regret, or protest (methinks too much) that abortion regret is very “rare.”
I observed both sides in action at the recent March for Life. There had to be at least 150,000 marchers this year. It was a massive turnout. Among them were many women who carried signs saying “I regret my abortion,” as part of the Silent No More campaign.
Prior to the March for Life, some of the regretters––along with many pro-life demonstrators––were in front of the Supreme Court building, the endpoint of the march. There were also about two dozen pro-choice counter-protesters gathered there at the time. (They dispersed with the massive arrival of the marchers an hour or so later.) I watched as one regretter gave personal, heartfelt testimony. Then the counter-protesters went into full denial mode.
They tried to drown her out with loud chants of “Facts not given!” Of course, facts are exactly what they were hiding from, or they wouldn’t have been so defensive, or acted so threatened by a few women who talked about personal experiences of grief, pain, and healing. Watching the deniers was like watching children who cover their ears and shout “I can’t hear you!” when confronted with something they don’t want to hear.
Regretters of abortion often testify about being haunted by visions of the sons and daughters they never knew. They are dealing with death, after all. As Elisabeth Kubler-Ross spelled out in her modern classic “On Death and Dying,” the first of the five stages of grief is denial. The emotionally stable person arrives at the final stage––acceptance––after going through mid-stages Kubler-Ross identified as anger, bargaining (rationalizing), and depression. If you are forever stuck in the denial and anger stages, you’ll never be able to find wholeness and healing.
But by coming to terms with the reality, abortion regretters go through the stages of grieving. The anger stage is probably magnified for many who felt coerced into their abortion by boyfriends, family members, counselors, or others. (An acquaintance in college cried hard when she told me about her abortion, adding, “It really makes you hate men.”)
Those who heal name their aborted children, in order to validate that a relationship was broken. In the end, they are able to find some peace. Abortion does more than kill a child in utero. It’s also an act of virtual assisted suicide because it kills the mother of that child. It kills any tangible relationship between the two. Regretters can feel that wound, and only by recognizing the destroyed relationship can they move on.
Abortion Is About A Broken Relationship
The deniers of abortion regret definitely seemed to be dealing with open wounds they fear to address. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more angst-filled, confused, and bitter group of people. As one abortion regretter told me on the spot, the deniers are suffering deeply but are stuck in the lies. She remembers what it was like to be in that place. By contrast, the regretters struck me as very calm and at peace. They were engaging, clear-eyed, and had a lot of personal warmth.
Kevin Burke and Janet Morana work in post-abortion ministries and co-authored a very insightful Public Discourse essay about the wounds abortion inflicts on women. Their key point is that “Abortion is fundamentally about relationship, a relationship that is broken by the procedure—and one that desperately needs to be healed.” This paragraph is key:
For a woman to consider abortion her best option, she must reject any intuitive sense that she is already a mother to her child. This denial, whether conscious or unconscious, is the beginning of a powerful conflict between the natural love of a parent for her developing child and a pressing need to repress this truth of the human heart, burying any painful feelings and memories of the abortion. The enduring consequences of this internal conflict can contribute to the common symptoms experienced after abortion, such as depression, anxiety, addiction, and sleep disturbance.
David Reardon is a biomedical ethicist who has done extensive research on the effects of abortion on women. In this article he quotes extensively from pro-choice activist Linda Bird Francke’s 1981 book “The Ambivalence of Abortion,” which is out of print and difficult to obtain. Reardon then cites some of his research about how most women eventually confront their regrets:
Abortion is such a profound event in one’s life, that one must either thoughtfully integrate it into one’s life, or fearfully suppress it. Neither is easy. The former requires great fortitude and honesty. The latter is simply unhealthy. It is a fundamental principle of psychiatry that suppression of emotions is the cause of numerous psychological and physical ailments. Suppressed feelings create their own internal pressures, sap emotional energy, and cause turmoil in one’s life until they burst forth in a way which can no longer be ignored.
Suppression and denial are the most common means of coping with abortion. Between 60 and 70 percent of women who eventually confronted negative feelings about their abortions admit that there was a period of time during which they would have denied to others and themselves any regrets or negative feelings. On average, this period of denial was about five years, with a low of one month and a high of twenty years.
More Denial Coping Mechanisms Are on Display Today
Denial is an ancient coping mechanism humans use when we can’t come to terms with reality. It seems to have hardened as the propaganda media force-feeds the public a strict diet of illusions. Deniers seem to be hard at work to prop up hookup culture, and all manner of destructive acts that cause people pain, grief, and emptiness.
As promoters of abortion get more desperate to prop up its illusions, they display more manifestations of denial that are increasingly ridiculous and cruel. Consider the recent campaign to “Shout your Abortion!” complete with an illustrated coffee table book ordering woman to express happiness and pride in their abortions. One clear intent of “shouting” is to drown out the voices of those who feel sadness or grief about their abortions, as demonstrated by the deniers at the Supreme Court building.
One of the authors of “Shout Your Abortion,” Amelia Bonow, even staged a video of herself talking about her abortion to a bunch of children, basically hounding them to applaud abortion. Her exercise was especially ghoulish since children are the people most likely to have instinctive qualms about abortion, as well as about being ridiculed if they disagree.
As if that’s not enough, there’s a macabre new genre called abortion comedy. It’s led by “comedians” like Michelle Wolf and a group calling itself the “Ladyparts Justice League.” The whole idea is literally a case of whistling past the graveyard. I suppose they believe that if they just crack enough jokes about abortion, they’ll feel good about it.
Yet another offshoot of denial is the attempt to mimic the success of the regretters’ Silent No More campaign of testimonials. The idea of their campaign, called “Draw the Line,” is to get celebrities and others to open up and talk, talk, talk, and talk some more about their abortions as a good thing. But regret has a way of slipping through those cracks because the reality of what abortion is and what it does to mother and child never changes.
Celebrities Express Regret about Abortions
Even celebrities who claim to support abortion have expressed regret, often in their work, but in interviews as well. Consider that, in 2014, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac confirmed to Billboard Magazine that her hit song “Sara,” with its haunting lyrics of sorrow and loss, referred to a child she aborted.
In the 1950s, the Academy Award-winning actress Pat Neal aborted the child she had with Gary Cooper. In her autobiography, “As I Am,” Neal stated that she grieved her entire life over that child. Although she later had five children, she wrote: “If I had only one thing to do over in my life, I would have that baby.” Writer Alice Walker said she was lucky to have a safe abortion before it was legal, but she struggled with anxiety and depression afterwards, and wrote a short story about it called “To Hell With Dying.”
Some who specifically state they have no regrets about their abortions go on to show that the experience affected them deeply and not for the best. Sharon Osborne told The Daily Mail “I’d never recommend it to anyone, because it comes back to haunt you.” Sinead O’Connor told Elle Magazine that she wrote the song “My Special Child” after her abortion. According to Penny Marshall, “That situation was one of my life’s only big regrets.” Nicki Minaj said “It has haunted me my entire life.” She also wrote a song about it called “All Things Go,” with the line “My child with Aaron would’ve been 16 any minute.”
One of the saddest and strangest attempts at denial and rationalizing is that of songwriter Ani Difranco. She claims to be a big supporter of no-qualms abortion. The song she wrote about her clinic experience, “The Lost Woman,” contains a lot of predictable pro-abort sentiments: how she crossed a line of pro-life protesters at the clinic, how great the clinic staff was, and how she won’t sacrifice her freedom of choice, etc.
An interesting twist is that DiFranco dedicated that song to the poet Lucille Clifton (1936-2010), who was twice a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Within DiFranco’s song is the line “Lucille, your voice still sounds in me.” Why does Lucille’s voice still sound in DiFranco? Is it simply a political statement? Is it simply because Clifton’s abortion wasn’t legal while DiFranco had the presumed benefit of legality?
In her song, DiFranco claims her abortion was “a relatively easy tragedy” compared to Clifton’s. But she still calls it a tragedy. DiFranco’s song seethes with contradictions while insisting that the woman must reign supreme, although there’s no mention of any child. It’s basically a tribute to the triumph of self-will. Yet she claims, right after saying “My heart hit absolute zero,” that Lucille’s voice “sounds in” her. Why?
It’s worth peeling back a layer, and going directly to Clifton’s poem, entitled “The Lost Baby Poem.” Clifton provides a lot more clarity and honesty about what the lost relationship does to the mother. She grieved for the person of her baby. Clifton testifies to actually seeing and experiencing the reality of the death of the child as a person. She speaks directly to him. In short, Lucille’s is a voice of remorse, while DiFranco’s is more like a cover-up, like regret denialism.
What Clifton Wrote about Her Abortion
A big part of the lure of abortion is the belief that abortion-on-demand shields women from the harsh realities. That way they are more able to deny it and “get on with life.” Clifton describes this bait-and-switch in a cri de coeur at the beginning of her “The Lost Baby Poem:”
the time i dropped your almost body down
down to meet the waters under the city
and run one with the sewage to the sea
what did i know about waters rushing back
what did i know about drowning
or being drowned
What do we know about denial of abortion regret? Why don’t we understand that reality has a way of coming back at us like rushing waters to haunt and drown us?