Saturday, January 27, 2007

Looking Beyond the Politics of Abortion for Healing

Oftentimes, on pregnancy message boards and chatrooms, and in debates, arises the question 'Is there such thing as "Post-Abortion Syndrome?" '  This is an in-depth look at research and listening to women's stories.
Post-abortion grief is contraversial with some studies, such as these indicating post-abortion depression and a group of syptoms, while pro-choice groups, such as Planned Parenthood are quck to deny any negative associations with abortion.

Yet many pro-choicers legitimately fear admitting there may be conflicting or negative feelings associated with abortion will be giving fuel to their political opponents, anti-abortion activists. But among the political debate, where are the voices of women who've experienced abortion?

Recognizing PASS is should not be about opposing abortion,  nor should opposition it be about politics and "stealing ground from the fundies", but rather it should be about listening to the voices of  women and respecting their inner beliefs, expriences, and feelings surrounding their abortion experience. It should be recognized as a medical issue, like PMDD or PPD so they can receive adequite counseling and treatment.

While I can't say if Post Abortion Syndrome is a real thing or not, I do believe in Post-Partum Depression (which this may be similiar to) and know that some women can and do feel affected by their abortion in negative ways. It has been my experience, as well anyone who's counseled a woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, there are a number and varying emotional reactions to having an abortion. While some women have no regret or negative feelings about their abortions and many feel sad about it but feel they made a good decision; there are also women who experience a more profound loss and grief and/or depression.

These are the women seeking counselling from organizations such as Project Rachel and Jilly's PASS Site. National Office for Project Rachel deals with 5,000 cases a year and knows of twenty-five other counselling programs. Jilly's site has 12 pages (with about 9 stories on each page) and 16,000 members on the message board of men and women who are working through post-abortion issues. Also, the pro-choice post-abortion hotline, "Exhale" exists to allow women to work through their emotions and feelings after their abortion. And other post-abortion message boards exist, each one filled with numerous men and women emotionally struggling with a past abortion. For example, the "Post Abortion Healing Support" board at Voy Forums and the "Post-Abortion Syndrome" forum at Safe Haven Ministries (links can be provided if requested). These women exist, we can't ignore their presence or needs for support/counseling as well.

While I definatly think hormones play a part in post-abortion depression, just as in post-partum depression, also her grief may be tied to more than that: the circumstances surrounding the decision, a physically painful and/or traumatic experience, her inner beliefs and feelings, coercion or pressure to have an abortion, and her support system (or therefore lack of).

If PAS is "real", I don't think it's significant whether all women suffer from it or not - just as skin cancer is no less "real" because not all people who use tanning beds get cancer. Acknowledging that SOME women suffer from this syndrome does not automatically translate to ALL women will suffer from this syndrome any more than claiming that NONE suffer from it will make that true.What I do know is what I think most of us know who read this journal, have experienced various pregnancy outcomes, or in some way have dealt with pregnant and post-abortive women - that some women experience various mild to severe negative emotional reactions following an abortion. I just don't want to forget those women. I've personally known several of them, and it is absolutely heartbreaking what they go through. It is a blessing that not every woman who aborts goes through that kind of anguish.

While having an abortion may not cause all women grief, what of the women who do experience some form of grief or loss or even serious depression after their abortion? They are often belittled, shamed, and dismissed by abortion providers and pro-choice activists.

While those who doesn't feel any sadness or regret are entitled to their feelings, she should also be entitled to acknowledge and work through her own feelings. Women who have a stillbirth or miscarriage are permitted to grieve their loss, so why shouldn't women who feel sad or loss after their abortion? Some feelings aren't right or wrong, they just are. She may be looking to speak about her experience and work through her pain and get beyond it. But she may encounter hostilities and burdens to healing from both sides of the abortion debate. From the pro-choice side she may be met with statements such as:
"Respected psychological studies have shown that the vast majority of women do not suffer psychological or emotional problems following an abortion, and for those few who do, the emotional problems existed prior to the abortion."
"The majority of women only feel relief"
 "It is not the abortion, but, instead, the negative social and political climate surrounding abortion that is harmful to a woman and her family's well-being." There may be some truth in that stigma may contribute as a barrier to emotional closure after an abortion, however it is often used in a political context  to point fingers at political opponents rather than to directly address the need to explore complex issues (socio-economic, emotions, inner, beliefs, etc) which contribute to poor post abortion coping.
She is faced with an enormous amount of pressure to be "ok" with her abortion and I think in seeking to normalize abortion, abortion rights activists have lost sight of the importance of listening to women.
Various recent studies on post-abortion grief have been researched by two post-abortion ladies here:
Also, of two letters sent to and published by the Canadian Medical Association in response to their May 13 (2006) article relating abortion to increased risks of psychiatric hospitalization, one was by Celia Ryan, a social worker and specialized grief counselor.
This part of her letter really spoke to me:
"I am not a researcher, and the hurting men and women who come to my office for counseling, or to my groups, are not interested in statistics or expectable outcomes. They are interested in having a language, structure and a framework for their abortion experience and an opportunity to use that information in a helfpul and healing way. They are grateful and relieved to finally be able to name and explore an issue that society says does not exist. They are no longer disenfranchised from their appropriate grief."

From my experiences, I'm motivated to acknowledge a woman's feelings - whatever they are - after her abortion. I'm motivated to give my support and love to women who experience PAS symptoms. I'm motivated to contribute towards creating a society that is supportive of pregnant and parenting women - especially in our education system and in our workforce - so that women truly have the freedom choice. It's been said many times before, and it's very true - the woman at highest risk of responding negatively to an abortion is the woman who feels forced into it either by lack of options or lack of support. Create a society that is supportive of pregnancy and parenting, and I'm willing to bet you will see a massive decrease in the number of women needing abortions and the number of women regretting their abortions, and a lot more satisfied, successful, happy women. We need to make society truly woman-friendly and only then will women have any meaningful freedom of choice.
I don't think it should be so much a political issue as a medical/mental health issue. Just my two cents.