Women Hurt – Offering Hope and Healing in the Aftermath of Abortion.

What is the effect of an abortion?

Basic biology tells us that the human life in the womb is ended.   There is certainly a case to be made for the effect on wider society when lives are seen to be easily disposable at their earliest, most vulnerable stage.  But what about the other person immediately affected by the procedure – the woman involved?  How does she fare in the aftermath of abortion?

Pro-choice advocates insist that once the abortion has taken place, there is very little more that the woman will need.  The abortion has ended her unplanned pregnancy, so from that point of view, she should be able move on.

But life is rarely that simple, and abortion is no exception.  There is mounting pressure to suggest that women suffer extreme trauma following abortion.  A Study by Professor Priscilla Coleman in 2011 found that there is an  increased risk of mental health problems in the aftermath of abortion.  Despite the fact that the British Journal of Psychiatry saw fit to publish these results, Professor Coleman has continually been forced to defend them, most notably from pro-choice activists.

Why is it that those who are in favour of abortion are so unwilling to accept even the slightest possibility that it may have an adverse effect on a woman?  They persist with the mantra that there is no evidence to suggest that abortion has a negative effect on women – even in the face of personal testimonies from women in abortion recovery groups like Silent No More and Rachel’s Vineyard.  Despite hearing of these experiences, there is no room in the narrow, pro-choice viewpoint for the many post-abortive women who feel dread and guilt instead of relief.

The problem with this attitude is that it forces women into an impossible situation.  Far from the compassionate pro-life position that assures them that they can and should feel free to discuss how they really view their abortion, the pro-choice stance that no harm has been done  ironically inflicts harm and stifles women. The message is sent out that it is not acceptable to admit to negatives feelings following abortion.  Fearing a lack of support if they come forward, many women stay silent and those in deep psychological pain don’t get the professional help they need.

One group aiming to redress this imbalance in Ireland is WomenHurt. Launched in 2011, the group is composed of committed and courageous women who have decided to come forward and give their experience of abortion.  It is a side not usually seen as it speaks of regret and distress, a need for recovery and an acceptance that in these cases at least, abortion was not the solution many would have us believe.

The group’s current campaign consists of a nationwide billboard campaign, with the aim of reaching women in a compassionate way so as to reassure them that help is available.  In the words of founder member Bernadette Goulding:-

“My hope is that by sharing my story, it will help someone who is suffering in silence, to know that there is hope and healing.  Our group has the support of countless women who have been through the experience of abortion and feel that the views of women who regret the decision have not been properly aired.”

“Suffering in silence” – this is surely the direct opposite of the women’s rights movement over the past 100 years?  Why then are these women effectively ignored by the pro-choice movement, their experience disregarded, the relevant studies ridiculed?  One blog post I read this week even went so far as to encourage its readers to vandalise the billboards!  Hardly the response you would hope for when post-abortive women finally gain the courage and strength to tell their stories.

It’s worth noting too that such behaviour would not be tolerated if it was levelled against post-abortive women who were campaigning in favour of abortion.  Those women are listened to with compassion, their voices are heard, they are encouraged to give others the benefit of their experience.  The National Women’s Council of Ireland has fully supported those women, even going so far as to encourage their campaign for legislation.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the question of women who may be experiencing feelings of regret or sadness following their abortion, the NWCI isn’t quite so understanding. In fact, when WomenHurt was first launched in 2011, the Director of the NWCI, Susan McKay, seemed to doubt whether there was a need for any regret at all, despite the fact that the women themselves had spoken about their true feelings.  So did Ms. McKay think they weren’t telling the truth?  Or was it the case that the NWCI is only prepared to represent post-abortive women who are positive or neutral about the experience?  Or only those who won’t try and seek support from other women who might be feeling the same negative emotions??

Of course, many abortion advocates adopt a peculiar double-speak when it comes to this aspect of the debate.  On the one hand, they insist that every woman is an individual who may have entirely unique reasons for needing an abortion, and for those reasons, she must have a right to abort.  Once the abortion has taken place however, the woman’s individuality seems to evaporate.  She’s not allowed to have her own feelings about the traumatic event that has taken place.  Instead, she’s lumped in with every other woman who has ever had an abortion and deemed to be “relieved” that it’s all over.

This is not a responsible route to take – and it lacks the compassion that all post-abortive women deserve.

If pro-choice proponents were genuinely concerned about women and their needs, wouldn’t they accept that for some women at least, the experience of abortion engenders feelings of devastation and helplessness?  Wouldn’t they be eager to try and alleviate those feelings in any way possible?  Ignoring or disregarding that pain doesn’t make it go away – it simply adds another layer of trauma for the woman in question because the pro-choice movement suggests that any negative feelings are not valid.  This is not acceptable, and it must be addressed.

In the words of Lynn Coles of WomenHurt:-

“We wish to reach out to women in similar situations to let them know that they are not alone.”

Isn’t this what everyone in the abortion debate should want for the women concerned – regardless of whether they were in favour of the abortion or not?

The WomenHurt nationwide billboard campaign will run for three weeks.  We can only hope that during that time, women in Ireland who may be suffering as a result of abortion will find the strength to reach out and contact this group.  In doing so, they will be taking the first step on the road to abortion recovery.  It would be nice to think that all of Irish society will get behind this initiative and support the vital work involved.