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.








International Women’s Day: Reasons to Celebrate

Happy International Womens’ Day 2012!


On days like today, we could all write a list of the many things we need to achieve in society.  It’s an opportunity to reflect on the needs of those women who are dealing with poverty, violence, depression and difficulty on a daily basis.  To say that they need the continued help and support of our society is an understatement.

From a pro-life, pro-woman perspective too, much more remains to be done.  I think today however is a great opportunity to celebrate the many important developments which have made a positive difference to women.  I just want to mention five of them:-


 1.   The growing resistance to Gendercide.

Since the Economist magazine ran their cover story in March 2010, the unease about this practice has been steadily increasing.  Questions are being asked.  Why should cultural beliefs be accepted if they mean an increase in the number of baby girls aborted?  How do we encourage the countries in question to start seeing men and women as equal members of the human race, both entitled to enter society and make their own, unique contribution?  How can governments deal with the problem?  And what pressure can be placed on governments who refuse to address it?

Little by little, a groundswell of support is rising, helped by the growing awareness that while we might have different creeds and nationalities, women should be protected throughout the world regardless of their age, status or stage of development.


2.   Ireland’s excellent maternal mortality rate record.

I think this one is worth celebrating everyday, but today it’s especially important.  To listen to some commentators, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Ireland must surely languish at the bottom of international ratings in this area.  Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth.

According to the most recent Report carried out by the World Health Organisation in 2010, Ireland has the lowest MMR in the world.    Irish doctors give such good care to women while they’re pregnant that their record can barely be improved upon.  It’s worth noting too that the MMR of countries like the UK and Holland is much higher than in Ireland.  These are of course countries where abortion is freely available, so it’s availability is certainly no guarantee that a pregnant woman won’t die.

Just recently we saw the results of the Daily Telegraph’s undercover operation in the UK, showing doctors who were willing to end life because the baby on the way was the “wrong” gender.  They showed a real detachment from  the value of what was at stake.  In Ireland, this simply can’t happen.  Irish doctors don’t just treat the pregnant woman they can see; they treat the hidden patient whose right to life is protected by law.  Bound to consider both patients, they have achieved a record in the area of MMR that is second to none.  We’re a world leader in this area and today is a good day to say Thank You to our doctors for the excellent care they give on a daily basis.


3.   The women who share. 

How does it feel to have an abortion?  Go through the experience – physical and emotional?

One aspect of the debates which is always of concern is the question of whether or not abortion has a negative effect on the woman concerned.  I don’t want to go into the various studies here because it’s not in the nature of this “celebration” post, (and I’ll certainly deal with it in later posts).  What I will say is that if abortion has a negative experience on even one woman, then it’s one woman too many.

Inflict guilt on a woman?  Make her feel depressed, worried, anxious, suicidal, bereft, useless?  These are all feelings reported by post-abortive women at one time or another.  And I have to wonder – why do we as women allow something so destructive to have any place in our society?  The argument is often put that pro-life campaigners invoke these feelings; that the stigma arises due to opposition to abortion.  But that’s just not true.

Abortion is one of the most insidious, destructive forces there is.  It doesn’t need any help from either side of the debate because the most destructive effect of all – guilt – comes from the woman herself.  It only dissipates through compassion from other people, people prepared to make the time and space to help post-abortive women realise that they’re every bit as much a victim of the abortion culture.  It takes people who are willing to listen, accept and validate the feelings of the woman.  Most importantly of all, it takes people who are determined to make her feel that she is not alone and that there is a future for every woman after abortion.  In short, it takes people like the courageous and generous women who set up the WomenHurt group last year.  Regardless of how desperate a woman may be feeling, she can be assured that they will treat her with compassion and respect.

Everyone with an interest in women’s welfare owes them a massive debt and it is only right that they should be highlighted today.


4.   The women who care

For any woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, the future is a scary place.  It’s hard to have your plans disrupted, realise that something life-altering has happened.  Things seem even worse if poverty or a difficult/broken relationship are added to the mix.

The LIFE Pregnancy Care service has been offering help and support to women who find themselves in this situation for the past 30 years.  It is that rare gem in our society – a group which has worked mostly out of the limelight for all that time, providing a priceless service to women and their families at a time when they are at their most vulnerable.

All counselling services are free and the LIFE motto is “Life cares for you both”.  Nonetheless, post-abortive counselling is also freely availed of by many women who choose to go ahead and have an abortion.

The Irish Independent ran a feature on LIFE earlier this week (read it here).  In such a changing society, LIFE has truly been a rock of security for many women. It’s only fitting that they should share in the celebrations leading up to today, having helped an unknown number of women throughout the years.


5.   The ongoing debate!

I make no secret of the fact that I’m opposed to abortion.  I don’t think it’s an experience that is ever in the best interests of the woman involved.  I truly believe that women deserve better than the fraudulent “choice” offered by abortion – one that seems to end up all too often in misery and sadness.  For this reason alone, I will always believe that we shouldn’t consider introducing it to our country.  Instead, we should be putting our energies into the things that will genuinely benefit women – dealing with poverty, childcare, maternity leave.  How many abortions take place, not because the woman in question doesn’t want to keep her child, but because she feels unable to do so because of some external pressure?  Isn’t this the real scandal, the real battle?

As feminists, why do we waste so much time on a procedure that doesn’t benefit women but may cause them harm?

Why do we support an industry which acquiesces in the targeting of baby girls on a global basis?

Why don’t we recognise the arguments in support of abortion for what they are – red herrings, trying to deflect us from our duty to ensure that every woman who considers an abortion is fully briefed on the potentially devastating effects that might follow?

Why don’t we just insist that our societies find some other way around the issue of unplanned pregnancies, something that will serve women better in the long run?

In spite of everything though, I’m hopeful about the ongoing debate.  There might be many voices with differing views, but the fact that we’re actually debating this issue can only be a good thing.  Debate leads to information which leads to knowledge.  Women don’t want any of the facts hidden from them.  Good or bad, they have a right to know exactly what abortion might mean for them.  An uninformed choice is no choice at all.

And thankfully too, the old myths surrounding abortion and feminism have long since evaporated.  Thanks to the work of groups like Feminists For Life, it’s becoming more obvious that pro-life is pro-woman.  The earliest feminists recognised abortion for what it was – just another means of placing an unacceptable burden on a woman’s shoulders; something that unjustly ended the life of her unborn child, and a procedure which should never be supported by anyone working towards the equality of women.

On this International Women’s Day, let’s hope that we can continue their great legacy and end the threat of abortion to women everywhere.