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Side Effects of Abortion
Many women who have abortions are extremely uneasy about their decision. At some level, they know and feel strongly that, “This is my baby! I will do what I need to do in order to protect and nurture this child.”
But too often, the woman’s circumstances conspire to make her think, “This is not a good time to have a baby! Isn’t abortion legal and easy? It will be as if it never happened. It’s the only solution to this mess.”
Women who choose abortion are going against deeply seated instincts, and this is why they feel guilty afterward. It doesn’t seem to matter if they have been raised in religious homes or not, the act of aborting their own children can leave them with feelings of guilt and anxiety. This condition is called Post-Abortion Syndrome.
Symptoms of Post-Abortion Syndrome
- Impacted grieving: This reflects an inability to complete the grieving process
- Self-destructive tendencies such as eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, and substance abuse
- Feelings of isolation
- Feelings of confusion and difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety attacks
- Outbursts of rage or anger
- Aggressive behavior
- Nightmares or sleeping disorders
- Recurrent and intrusive thoughts about the abortion or the aborted child
- Flashbacks to the abortion experience
- Feelings of intense grief or depression on the date of the abortion or the due date of the aborted pregnancy
- Repression or denial about thoughts or feelings dealing with the abortion
- Efforts to avoid activities or situations that remind the woman of the pregnancy or abortion
- Withdrawal or estrangement from others
- Inability to maintain loving or trusting relationships
- A sense of hopelessness or futility about the future
- Diminished interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Suicidal thoughts or acts
A recent report further confirms that women who have abortions show higher rates of later mental health problems, including depression, substance abuse, and suicidal behaviors. Prof. David M. Fergusson, who issued the report, is the director of the Christchurch (New Zealand) Health and Development study, a project that has tracked 500 women from birth to 25 years of age.
Fergusson, who is pro-choice, had set out to prove that mental health problems occurring after abortion could be linked back to similar problems before abortion, but the results contradicted his hypothesis. The data showed that even when pre-existing conditions were considered, abortion was still clearly apparent as a strong contributing factor to mental health problems.
Fergusson said that while the results surprised him, he believes they are accurate because they "persist across a series of disorders and a series of ages....Abortion is a traumatic life event; that is, it involves loss, it involves grief, it involves difficulties. And the trauma may, in fact, predispose people to having mental illness."
Abortion is a permanent decision. Once you have an abortion, you can never take it back.
If you are experiencing an untimely pregnancy and need help, click here to find a list of crisis pregnancy centers in Rhode Island, or call 1-800-395-HELP.
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Abortion/Breast Cancer Link
Recently, a number of news articles have questioned the link between abortion and breast cancer. In addition to the media's attention to the issue, there have been movements in 11 states to make laws that would require abortion providers to warn their clients about this link. Mississippi already has a law requiring abortion providers to warn women about the risk of breast cancer while Louisiana and Kansas have "right to know" laws where abortionists don't need to specifically mention the link, but the connection between abortion and breast cancer is mentioned in the informed-consent booklets that all of the patients are given. With all of these recent questions and laws about the link between abortion and breast cancer, this issue needs some clarification.
Breast cancer takes more female lives than any other cancer in the U.S. besides lung cancer. There are many risk factors that increase a woman's chance of getting breast cancer. Many of these factors, including family history and age, aren't a woman's choice. Fortunately, there are a few factors that increase a woman's chance of getting breast cancer that she can control. One of these factors is induced abortion.
In studies across the United States and in other countries, it has been found that women who have had abortions have higher chances of getting breast cancer later in life. These are studies done by professionals and are published in respected medical journals. One study, done in 1990, that summarized findings in medical studies from Canada, Denmark, France, Israel, Japan, the United States, and the USSR, found that "abortions, either multiple or occurring before the first full term pregnancy, have been shown to be significantly associated with breast cancer risks." (1) A study done by the National Cancer Institute in Washington found that women who had had abortions increased their risk of getting breast cancer by 50 percent. This risk was more than doubled if a woman's abortion (or first abortion) took place before the age of 18 or after she was over the age of 30. (2)
A study of more than 1,800 women, appearing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1994, found that overall, women having abortions increased their risk of getting breast cancer before age 45 by 50 percent. For women under 18 with no previous pregnancies, having an abortion after the 8th week increased the risk of breast cancer 800%. Women with a family history of breast cancer fared even worse. All 12 women participating in the study who had had abortions before 18 and had a family history of breast cancer themselves got cancer before age 45.
The risk is real. It isn't some abstract idea made up by pro-life people with no scientific proof. The connection between abortion and breast cancer has been found in numerous scientific studies by medical professionals throughout the world.
If considering a surgery that wasn't physically necessary, wouldn't it be important to know that the surgery could increase the risk for a disease that killed more than 40,000 people in 2000 (3)? Isn't it a woman's right to know that she is putting herself at greater risk for a serious and potentially deadly disease by having an abortion? All women have the right to know the possible consequences of abortion and the link between abortion and breast cancer.
For more information and research studies on this topic go to the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute.
- Remennick L, (1990), Induced Abortion as a Cancer Risk Factor: A Review of Epidemiological Evidence, Journal of Epidemiological Community Health, 44: 259-264.
- Daling J.R., Malone K.E., Voight L.F., White E., and Weiss N.S., (1994), Risk of Breast Cancer Among Young Women: A Relationship to Individual Abortion, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 86: 1584-1592.
- American Cancer Society
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Miscarriages and Premature Births in Subsequent Pregnancies
The main reason for increased risk of miscarriages and premature births in pregnancies after abortion is cervical incompetence. This can result from the too-early, forceful dilatation (stretching open) of the cervix (mouth of the womb). During an abortion procedure, the cervical muscle must be stretched open to allow the surgeon to enter the uterus. There is no harm to the muscle in a D&C performed because of a spontaneous miscarriage, as the cervix is usually soft and often open. Also, there is rarely any damage caused by a D&C done on a woman for excessive menstruation, etc. When, however, a normal, well-rooted placenta and growing baby are scraped out of a firmly closed uterus, protected by a long, "green" (unripe) cervix, this "donut" muscle can be and often is torn. If enough muscle fibers are torn, the cervix is permanently weakened, the most damage being done if the abortion is conducted on a woman’s first pregnancy.
Why is this a problem?
With a woman’s first labor and delivery, her labor is often 12 to 20 hours. The nurse, as she checks the mother’s progress, uses the terms "two fingers" (or cm) — "four fingers" — then "complete." These terms refer to measuring the slow dilatation of the cervix. Only when it is wide open ("complete") can the baby begin the journey through the birth canal.
Before birth, nature opens this "door" very slowly. In a miscarriage, all those cramps do the same thing. After emptying the uterus, this strong, donut-like muscle closes tight again.
The lowest part of a woman’s uterus is the cervix, and, when a woman is pregnant and stands upright, the baby’s head rests on it — in effect, bouncing up and down on the "door" throughout the pregnancy. The muscle must be intact and strong in order to keep the cervix closed. If it is weak, or "incompetent," it may not stay closed and may result in premature opening and miscarriage, or premature birth.
"The main risk of induced abortion is . . . permanent cervical incompetence." ( L. Iffy, "Second-Trimester Abortions," JAMA, vol. 249, no. 5, Feb. 4, 1983, p. 588)
Second trimester miscarriage and premature birth frequently follow induced abortions. ( A. Arvay et al., "Relation of Abortion to Premature Birth," Review French GYN-OB, vol. 62, no. 81, 1967 Levin et al., JAMA, vol. 243, 1982, p. 2495 A. Jakobovits & L. Iffy, "Perinatal Implications of Therapeutic Abortion." Principals and Practice of OB & Perinatalogy, New York, J. Wiley & Sons, 1981, p. 603 C. Madore et al., "Effects of Induce Abortion on Subsequent Pregnancy Outcome," Amer. Jour. OB/GYN, vol. 139, 1981, pp. 516-521 161)
"In a series of 520 patients who had previously been aborted, 8.6% had premature labor compared to 4.4% of [non-aborted] controls." ( G. Ratten et al., "Effect of Abortion on Maturity of Subsequent Pregnancy," Med. Jour. of Australia, June 1979, pp. 479-480)
"The induced abortion group had the highest incidence of late spontaneous abortion and premature delivery." ( O. Kaller et al., "Late Sequelae of Induced Abortion in Primigravidae," Acta OB GYN Scandinavia, vol. 56, 1977, pp. 311-317)
Can this damage be prevented?
Using laminaria is an attempt to lessen such damage. This is a small bit of dehydrated material that is inserted into the cervix one day before the abortion. It absorbs water and swells to many times its size and, in the process, dilates the cervix. Laminaria, incidentally, are seldom used in most freestanding abortion chambers because it means two visits, smaller volume, and smaller cash flow. The use of laminaria reduces, but does not eliminate, cervical incompetence. ( S. Harlap et al., "Spontaneous Fetal Losses After Induced Abortions," New England Jour. Med., vol. 8, Sept. 1971, p. 691)
Have premature births increased?
In the early years of legalized wide-open abortion, there was ample evidence of the fact that induced abortion caused a sharp increase of premature births and their unfortunate aftermaths. Some of the major original studies included:
- After one legal abortion, premature births increase by 14%; after two abortions, it is 18%, after three, it increases to 24%. ( Klinger, "Demographic Consequences of the Legalization of 162 Abortion in Eastern Europe," Internat’l Jour. GYN & OB, vol. 8, Sept. 1971, p. 691)
- Non-aborted women have a premature birth rate of 5%, aborted women have a rate of 14%. ( R. Slumsky, "Course of Delivery of Women Following Interruption of Pregnancy," Czechoslovakia Gyn., vol. 29, no. 97, 1964)
- Women who have had abortions have twice the chance of delivering a premature baby later. ( G. Papaevangelou, U. Hospital, Athens, Greece, Jour. OB-GYN British Commonwealth, vol. 80, 1973, pp. 418-422)
- In Czechoslovakia, premature births resulting from abortions are so frequent that a woman who has had several abortions and who becomes pregnant is examined, and: "If the physicians can see scar tissue, they will sew the cervix closed in the 12th or 13th week of pregnancy. The patient stays in the hospital as long as necessary, which, in some cases, means many months." ( "Czechs Tighten Reins on Abortion," Medical World News, 106J, 1973)
Among others, Dr. Zedowsky reported a higher percent of brain injuries at birth. His report cited "a growing number of children requiring special education because of mental deficits related to prematurity." ibid.
A very large study by the World Health Organization of 7,228 women in eight European countries showed that previously aborted women had significantly higher mid-trimester pregnancy loss, premature delivery and low birth weight babies. ( Collaborative Study, Lancet 1979 20 Jan; 1 (8108): 142-5 163)
In New York State, a major prospective study was done between 1975 and 1979. The study compared over 40,000 women, half of whom had had an abortion and half of whom had had a live birth. An analysis of the subsequent reproductive history of these women found a definite pattern of increased complications for those who had abortions (see chart below).
|Spontaneous fetal deaths All subsequent pregnancies
||1.65 times more
|Spontaneous fetal deaths First subsequent pregnancies
||1.85 times more
|Low Birthweight (less than 2500 gms) white
||1.5 times more
|Low Birthweight (less than 2500 gms) non-white
||1.5 times more
|Premature Birth (less than 33 weeks)
||1.8 times more
||3.0 times more
||1.4 times more
|V. Logrillo et al., "Effect of Induced Abortion on Subsequent Reproductive Function,"
N.Y. State Dept. of Health, Contract #1-HD-6-2802, 1975-78
More preemies die?
Yes. A study of 26,000 consecutive deliveries at UCLA was done to determine if previous abortions (and premature births) had increased the number of stillborn babies and neonatal (after birth) deaths. The findings were that the death rate "increased more than threefold." ( 164 S. Funderburk et al., "Suboptimal Pregnancy Outcome with Prior Abortions and Premature Births," Amer. Jour. OB/GYN, Sept. 1, 1976, pp. 55-60)
Why does the U.S. rate about 20th in the world in its infant mortality rate?
There are five major reasons:
- Because in some cases we’re comparing apples with oranges. Rated #1 is Japan. But they do not count deaths until 72 hours after birth. If the U.S. did this, it would be almost first too.
- Some nations, like Sweden, do not have large numbers of low socioeconomic people. Therefore, you could more realistically compare Sweden to Minnesota than to the entire U.S.
- When asked, many blame it on "poor" prenatal care, particularly in the groups with the highest rates, i.e., teens and low socioeconomic groups. But, good prenatal care is almost universally obtainable. The problem is that mothers in these groups often don’t avail themselves of it.
- The big one is the trio — alcohol, smoking and drugs — often associated with illegitimacy. Bluntly speaking, many newborns die because of their parents’ unhealthy behavior. Even good prenatal care cannot compensate for the mother’s smoking, drinking and drug use. Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute has studied illegitimacy. He points to an eight-state study that found a higher infant mortality among unmarried college graduates than among married grade school dropouts. ( M. Charen, Inst. Mort., "Deeper Than Health Care," Feb. 2, 1992)
- Prematurity as a result of earlier induced abortion. More preemies die than full term babies. With increasing technology, more ought to survive…but technology has also brought a new way for them to die. Through in vitro fertilization, multiple pregnancies are common. The technique of "pregnancy reduction" (see chapter on Abortions) sometimes results in the loss of all the fetal babies. ( L. Wilcox et al., "Assisted Repro. Tech . . . & Multiple Births..," Fert. & Ster., vol. 65 #2, Feb. ’96, p. 361)
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Increased Substance Abuse
by David C. Reardon, Ph.D.
A recent Elliot Institute study has established a strong statistical correlation between abortion and subsequent drug or alcohol abuse. This finding is based on a national, random sample of 700 women participating in a reproductive history survey.
After excluding women who engaged in substance abuse prior to their first pregnancy, Elliot Institute researchers found that of the women surveyed, those who aborted their first pregnancy were 3.9 times more likely to engage in subsequent drug or alcohol abuse than those who have never had an abortion. These new findings have a high degree of statistical significance, p<.0001, which means that there is less than 1 chance in 10,000 that these findings could have occurred due to chance.
Researchers who have studied substance abuse have long reported that women are more likely than men to date the onset of alcohol or drug abuse to a particular stressful event or a "definite life situation." 1 It is not surprising, therefore, that numerous studies have found a direct correlation between substance abuse and abortion. Indeed, if there is any agreement among researchers on both sides of the abortion debate, it is the consensus that abortion is, at the very least, "stressful and emotionally difficult for most women." 2
During in-depth interviews with 30 post-abortion women, Speckhard found that 60% admitted to increased alcohol use following their abortions. The majority of the women interviewed specifically attributed their drug or alcohol abuse to stress related to the abortion. Only 10% stated they had already engaged in substance abuse prior to their abortions. 3
Because of her sampling method, Speckhard's study cannot be generalized to the entire population of women seeking abortions. But her findings do indicate that among women who have suffered from negative post-abortion reactions, most of those who did engage in substance abuse believe they did so in an attempt to cope with abortion-related stress.
Numerous other studies on substance abuse have also reported a correlation with abortion. For example, a 1981 random study found that women who admitted a history of induced abortion were more than twice as likely to be heavy drinkers (13%) compared to women in general (6%). 4 In another study of women treated at a alcohol detoxification center in Washington state, researchers found that female patients were likely to have experienced an abortion in the same year as their alcohol-related problems began. 5 Researchers at the Medical College of Ohio have reported that teenagers are at a significantly higher risk of engaging in substance abuse following abortion compared to older women. 6
The new Elliot Institute study confirms the pattern observed in these previous studies and adds additional insights into the relative risk of substance abuse for those carrying an unplanned pregnancy to term versus those who choose abort.
This study found that for all the women surveyed who were pregnant prior to a history of substance abuse, the rate of post-pregnancy substance abuse rose from 3.8% for women who did not abort to 14.6% for women who did abort their first pregnancy.
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Affect on Extended Family and Society
The Hidden Part: A Journey of Healing
by Dr. Karen Stevenson, a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
"Behold thou desirest the truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part, thou shalt make me to know wisdom" (Psalm 51:6).
Who am I? I am woman, nurturer, and sustainer of life. I am fearfully and wonderfully made - a magnificent work of God's creation. I was created with a divine purpose, a mission to uplift my people. I am friend, lover, sister, daughter, wife, and I am mother. I usher in each succeeding generation and with my blood, sweat, and tears I help to transmit my culture, my values, my spiritual connection to God.
In this increasingly complex society I have become troubled on all sides. My loving relationship with my spouse is now adversarial. Where we once labored together to prepare our children to live victoriously, I now too often labor alone. My nurturing relationship with my children is now one of constant struggle and rebellion, because society and the peer group now dictate what is right and wrong. I am buffeted by a society and culture that denies even my womanhood. It seeks to destroy that which makes me unique, my ability to bear and nurture a child.
I speak to you today about an issue like no other, which has placed a woman in conflict with her very essence - the bringing forth of life. America is similar to most western cultures that have placed the needs of the individual above the needs of the group. We speak of the individual liberties and freedoms without realizing that all privileges come with responsibilities. Our African cultural heritage was based upon the needs of the individual within the context of the community; we know that it takes a whole village to raise a child because in doing so we transmit common moral, ethical, and spiritual values. Our homes, our churches, and our schools at one time transmitted common values. We knew who we were as men, women, and children in a world infested with the plagues of racism, hatred, and evil.
I have now been encouraged to "find myself' and to seek that which will make me happy at the expense of my family. I have been told that I can have it all, now, and that I can be a superwoman! What I have discovered instead is that I am tired, depressed, overworked, unappreciated, and struggling to maintain my many relationships and obligations. Society has encouraged me to "find myself" and to seek its version of self-esteem, but this has resulted in the loss of the realization of my divine purpose. In my struggle to shield myself from pain, I harbored secrets. My deepest secret, tucked away so carefully, became my hidden part.
This crucial issue attacks our very womanhood. It grips us more hauntingly than the gang violence plaguing our neighborhoods. It destroys more lives than crack cocaine. It is the new holocaust, more devastating than AIDS. In this country, it has destroyed thirty million souls, more American lives than all the wars that we have ever been involved in. This silent killer is abortion.
Abortion impacts not only the woman involved, it impacts families. Although abortion proponents say that they want it to be safe and rare, it is quite common. It affects one in four pregnancies and almost forty percent of women who have had an abortion have had more than one. Over 1.5 million abortions each year are performed in this country alone. It interrupts the special bond between mother and child just as it is beginning to form.
When a child is torn from his or her mother's womb, it triggers a tragic chain of events. Because a woman was created to be a giver of life, she now must justify her actions toward her child. Denial allows her to initially feel relief and she thinks that her problem is solved. Yet her denial slowly evolves into anger and rage. When it is directed toward herself it becomes depression, anxiety, fearfulness, and lack of motivation. She vividly relives the event through intrusive thoughts or through nightmares. It becomes difficult to see babies, to hear their cries, or to view anything relating to them. If her anger is directed outwardly, she lashes out in rage toward her husband or other children. She has difficulty forming trusting relationships with others, especially men. Since she has already broken the initial bond between mother and child, her relationships with her other children may be affected. Her children may be smothered and overprotected and not allowed to attain their full maturity, or they may not be nurtured in a loving relationship with her.
The rates of child abuse have risen sharply over the past twenty years. Is it possible that abortion can make a woman more vulnerable to abuse her child? Both Susan Smith, who drowned her sons in a North Carolina lake, and Donna Fleming, the woman who threw herself and her children off a California bridge, had recently had abortions. The rates of alcohol and other substance abuse are three to four times higher in women who previously have had abortions than in women who have never had them. These women may be trying to numb their pain. Others develop an attitude toward life in which they are chronically numb or unhappy. They stop crying in response to pain; they cannot experience joy; and they cannot enjoy sexuality within the context of loving marital relationships.
African-American women are at higher risk for complications following abortions. We have higher rates of infection, hemorrhage, miscarriage, difficulty conceiving in future pregnancies, and sterility. Breast cancer among women has also seen a precipitous rise over the past few years. There have been numerous studies that have noted a correlation between abortion and breast cancer. Of course, the rates of breast cancer, like many other illnesses, are higher for black women than white.
Grieving for the lost child is not the exclusive domain of the woman. The man in her life suffers because he is told that the "choice" is the woman's. This is especially poignant for the African-American male who is again faced with another example of a society that emasculates him. Other men actively encourage their mates to abort their children. They state that they are not ready for the responsibilities of parenthood. It is quite painful to live in a society that encourages the gratification of one's desires without encouraging people to take responsibility for their own actions. Young men are being raised by women dealing with past hurts often relating to the men in their lives, and they emerge from childhood sparsely equipped to form positive, loving relationships with the women in their lives.
Conflicted grandparents have, on many occasions, driven crying and confused daughters to abortion clinics. They wrestle with their own values as they make what they consider the best decision for their child. No one realizes the toll it takes until they are haunted by the demons of the past. The abortion may alter the course of the relationship between parent and child. Other grandparents grieve for the child who was never born. They immerse themselves in a silent world of pain because of the grandchild who can never be talked about.
Children learn about abortion from overheard conversations, by being directly told, or by sensing their mother's pregnancies that do not bring forth a sibling. It evokes fear and anxiety in them or it produces anger and rage. Sexual promiscuity is rampant among our youth as is the explosion of violence. Are our children trying to reconnect with, yet lash out at, a society that has so devalued them that they are not even safe in their mothers' wombs?
Women have been told that the fetus is just a lump of tissue, yet by three weeks gestation the baby has a heartbeat; by seven weeks brain waves can be measured; by nine weeks he withdraws from pain; and by ten weeks all of his organs are formed and the baby just needs to continue to grow.
Since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, thirty million babies have perished. Ten million, approximately one in three, have been African-American. If there is ever a question of genocide in our community, let me share with you some facts. In the United States, for every three black babies born, two are aborted. Every month, 133,333 abortions are performed and 41,667 are black. Every week, 30,769 abortions are performed, and 9,615 are black. Every day, 4,384 abortions are performed, and 1,370 are black. In Tennessee, blacks comprised 38.2% of the state's 17,821 abortions in 1992. We make up only 16% of the state's population. Memphis is home to 45% of the state's blacks and it boasts the largest number of abortions. Of the 6,420 abortions performed there, 4,389 - 68% were performed on black women. Black women are two times more likely to abort their babies than white women.
The statistics from many other states are just as appalling. Women of African descent are more likely than any other women of color in this country to abort their babies. In our pursuit of education and careers, often with relationships in which there is no equal sense of commitment, we have sacrificed our most precious commodity: our children. Every minute of the day an African-American youth quits school; every minute and a half a black child is born into poverty, every ten minutes a black child is arrested for a violent crime; and every four hours a black child is murdered. Does abortion cause these problems? Abortion breeds an attitude, a cultural response that devalues our children. Our children have turned society's attitude upon themselves, and the results have been devastating.
Let us, in pursuit of who we are, recognize that God created each of us to fulfill a divine purpose. I must reconnect with my Creator in order that He might reveal to me my life's work and give me a vision to fulfill it. I must seek His forgiveness for those past hurts and painful choices. I must also forgive myself and allow His healing to truly liberate me. Then forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching toward those things that are before, I press toward the high calling God has given me.
There is hope and there is healing for women who have been traumatized by abortion. The other victim is the mother who has not been allowed to grieve for her lost child. Yet she must go through each day, whether it be as a successful career woman, college student, or adolescent, struggling to fill a void which resulted from a pivotal moment in her life. She must be allowed to grieve and to acknowledge her pain. She can be silent no more. She must gently unlock the door of her hidden part. For it is in the hidden part that the Lord will reveal His wisdom, and her inward parts can begin to heal. And only when the healing journey has begun, can she truly answer the question, who am I?
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Increased Child Abuse
by Theresa Karminski Burke and David C. Reardon
Experts agree that during the past 25 years, the rate of child abuse has increased dramatically. Between 1976 and 1987 alone, there was a 330% increase in reported cases of child abuse. While a portion of this increase is due to better reporting, experts agree that these figures reflect a real trend toward ever higher rates of abuse.
These figures clearly contradict the pro-abortionists' claim that abortion of "unwanted children" prevents child abuse. Ignoring the obvious illogic of this argument - which suggests that killing children is better than beating them - there is not a single scientific study that supports this theory. Instead, there is a clear statistical association between increased rates of abortion and increased rates of child abuse. Indeed, statistical and clinical research supports not only an association, but also a causal connection between abortion and subsequent child abuse.(1)
These academic studies, like all research, can be criticized as insufficient to prove that abortion causes child abuse. But these conclusions are also supported by the personal testimonies of women and men who have reported a direct correlation between their unresolved post-abortion feelings and subsequent patterns of emotional or physical abuse of their living children.
For example, one woman described feelings of intense rage whenever her newborn baby cried: "I did not understand why her crying would make me so angry. She was the most beautiful baby, and had such a placid personality. What I didn't realize then was that I hated my daughter for being able to do all these things that my lost [aborted] baby would never be able to do."(2)
The reasons for child abuse are complex and can't be fully dealt with here. But clearly, if abortion contributes to feelings of depression, self-hatred, anxiety, and anger among mothers and fathers, not to mention patterns of substance abuse, their children will pay a price.
In some instances, abortion can lead to complete emotional breakdowns with tragic results. For example, Renee Nicely of New Jersey experienced a "psychotic episode" the day after her abortion that resulted in the beating death of her 3-year-old son, Shawn. She told the court psychiatrist that she "knew that abortion was wrong" and "I should be punished for the abortion." The psychiatrist who was the prosecution's expert witness testified that the killing was clearly related to Renee's psychological reaction to her abortion. Unfortunately, the victim of her rage and self-hatred was her own son. (3)
A similar tragedy occurred just one week after Donna Fleming's second abortion. Depressed and distraught, Donna "heard voices" in her head and tried to kill herself and her two sons by jumping off a bridge in Long Beach, California. Donna and her five-year old son were rescued; her two-year-old son died. Subsequently, Donna claimed she tried to kill herself and her other children in order to reunite her family. (4)
There is no reason to believe that these are isolated cases. Indeed, in the years to come it may be shown that post-abortion trauma was a major cause of the dramatic rise of child abuse cases in the last two decades.
Psychiatrist Philip Ney, M.D., a clinical professor at the University of British Columbia, has done by far the most research into understanding the link between abortion and subsequent child abuse. Most of his analysis, and that of others examining this issue, has focused on the role of abortion in disrupting bonding with later children; weakening of maternal instincts; reduced inhibitions against violence, particularly toward children; and heightened levels of anger, rage, and depression. It is probable that all these factors have contributed toward increased levels of child abuse following legalized abortion.
In this article, we will attempt to expand on the work of Dr. Ney and others by examining in greater detail compulsive behaviors and intrusive thoughts related to child abuse that can serve as a traumatic reenactment of abortion.
Why Reenact Trauma?
Traumatic experiences are by definition overwhelming experiences that are simply "too much" for a person to handle or understand. The ordinary response to a trauma is to banish the experience from one's mind - to run away from it, hide it, or repress it. On one level, trauma victims simply want to forget and put their horrible experience behind them forever.
In conflict with this avoidance reaction, however, is the equally powerful human need to understand our experiences and find meaning in them. Thus, while a person may consciously choose to avoid thinking about the traumatic experience, their subconscious insists on calling attention to the trauma. Their subconscious knows that an unresolved trauma is unfinished business. In order to be conquered, the horror of their traumatic event must be exposed, proclaimed, and understood.
This tension between the need to hide a trauma and the need to expose it is at the heart of many of the psychological symptoms of post-abortion trauma. Symbolic reenactment is one of the ways that the subconscious seeks to simultaneously satisfy both of these needs: the need to expose trauma and the need to hide it. Reenactment allows the person to expose the trauma with the hope that its exposure will eventually lead to understanding and mastery over the trauma. At the same time, because the trauma is reenacted behind a symbolic mask, the essence of the trauma it is still concealed and protected. In other words, reenactment allows the person to call for help while disguising the areas that need help.
As trauma specialist Judith Lewis Herman, M.D., has observed, symbolic reenactment of a trauma serves to "simultaneously call attention to the existence of an unspeakable secret and deflect attention from it. This is most apparent in the way traumatized people alternate between feeling numb and reliving the event. The dialectic of trauma gives rise to complicated, sometimes uncanny alterations of consciousness.... It results in the protean, dramatic, and often bizarre symptoms...." (5)
A Day Care Nightmare
For women who have been traumatized by abortion, acts of child abuse are a natural symbol for reenactment of unresolved abortion issues. For example, Rhonda was plagued with guilt and shame for having aborted five children. She believed that God wanted her make up for her past by giving love to children who needed someone to care for them. She tried to meet this obligation by starting a full-time day care career in her home.
While Rhonda was attempting to master her psychic trauma by giving love to children, the eight children under her care literally exhausted her. By the end of the day she frequently became irritable and anxious. Rhonda reported that she occasionally lost her temper with the toddlers and would find herself hitting or shaking them in a rage of fury and frustration. After these violent outbursts, Rhonda would shrink into a corner and cry, convinced that she was a horrible person.
By placing herself in a stressful situation with young toddlers, Rhonda recreated her feelings of helplessness and incompetence with children, themes that were dominant in her choices to abort. Her repeated loss of control with the children confirmed her feelings of self-hatred and disgust. The resulting ritual patterns of child abuse, followed by shame, guilt, and grief, mirrored her abortion experiences with complete emotional accuracy.
Reenactment Through Intrusive Thoughts
Dianne, another patient seeking post-abortion counseling, also had a daycare business. She watched infants in her home. Dianne reported disturbing intrusive thoughts about pulling the babies' arms out of their sockets. She felt a compelling desire to grab the infants' little arms and disconnect their limbs. Such thoughts caused excessive anxiety and horrific grief. Each time Dianne was confronted with these traumatic thoughts, she was overcome with horror and sadness. Each intrusive episode confirmed that she was a disgusting person and filled her heart with sickening grief.
Fortunately, on the anniversary date of her abortion Dianne finally recognized the connection between her abortion and the intrusive thoughts. In a searing moment, the truth of what was happening to her cut through her soul, and she wept with grief over her loss. Fortunately, Dianne sought help to deal with the long-repressed trauma, and all the unwelcome intrusive thoughts have ceased.
Intrusive thoughts like Dianne's are a common experience for trauma victims. Once an intrusive thought comes, it can be very hard to put it out of the mind. Afterwards, people may wonder: "Where in the world did that image come from?" Like dreams and fantasies, intrusive thoughts often contain complex symbols of the trauma.
With abortion trauma, intrusive thoughts about harming children may also include symbols of the abortion procedure itself. Kathy related the following story:
I love my kids. There is nothing I wouldn't do for them. They are everything in the world to me. But I get these horrible thoughts that just mortify me. It's hard to even talk about. I might be standing at the kitchen counter making dinner and I'll think about poisoning their food. I imagine them reacting to the poison, and I have to rush them to the hospital. I go crazy with guilt and shame. Then I imagine that the doctors discover that I did it on purpose. They call my husband and tell him that I shouldn't have the children...that I tried to kill them. These thoughts just jump into my head. They are so crazy...I can't believe I think such thoughts. It makes me hate myself.
Kathy first entered counseling for panic attacks. She began reporting these types of thoughts each week with tremendous distress. It was hard for Kathy to even talk about them without crying. As we reviewed her life, I was hardly surprised that a saline abortion was in her past. She visibly shook when she talked about it. When I asked her how a saline abortion works, she described the procedure as a "poisoning" of the fetus.
All of Kathy's symptoms developed after her abortion. Through these intrusive thoughts, Kathy continually relived the emotional experience of her abortion. Each episode clustered around hurting or killing her living children and the shameful aftermath. Her mourning had become complicated and was surfacing through these disturbing fantasies.
Kathy is one of the gentlest, most soft-spoken women I have ever met. I know it was enormously difficult for her to experience such horrendous thoughts. I am happy to say that these impressions, which had plagued her for years, ended after she had done grief work related to her abortion.
Emily's case is similar. She experienced an abortion twelve years before getting married. Afterward, she refused to allow herself to think about it or grieve what she had lost. This "stuffing away" of emotions worked fine until she began to have children. Emily's first flashback hit her violently when she had her first ultrasound while pregnant with a "wanted" child. As time went on, she would get frequent intrusive thoughts concerning her abortion when looking at the faces of her babies. After a time, she also began to experience habitual, obsessive, and scary thoughts about hurting her children. She imagined stabbing her children with a knife one by one, suffocating them with pillows, and strangling them.
Emily is a wonderful and devoted mother, yet she could not escape intrusive thoughts about death and killing. As time went on, they became more elaborate and more real. Emily could not figure out why this was happening to her. She was appalled that she was even capable of such hideous thoughts. She certainly had no intentions of ever carrying them out. But her destructive thoughts were like starving rabid animals, hounding, scratching, and gnawing at her conscience. They left her feeling bewildered, crazy, and ashamed. She desperately yearned to silence these dangerous beasts in her mind. Fortunately, all these symptoms were alleviated after Emily had done grief work related to her abortion.
The firsthand testimonies of women, combined with therapists' case studies and even media reports of criminal cases involving child abuse or child homicide, conclusively demonstrate that abortion trauma can create or aggravate tendencies toward child abuse. While most women who experience intrusive thoughts about harming their children are probably able to resist these impulses, the fact that these destructive thoughts occur at all is alarming both for the sake of their children and themselves. If even a small fraction of the millions of abortions performed each year lead to abuse of subsequent children, whether in homes or in daycare, this problem should be of grave concern to us all.
Theresa Karminski Burke, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist. The case studies presented in this article are excerpted from her forthcoming book, Forbidden Grief. Copyright 1997 Theresa Karminski Burke.
David C. Reardon, Ph.D., is a biomedical ethicist and the director of the Elliot Institute.
Originally published in The Post-Abortion Review, 6(1), Winter 1998. Copyright 1998, Elliot Institute.
1. Ney, P. Fung, T., Wickett, A.R., "Relationship Between Induced Abortion and Child Abuse and Neglect: Four Studies," Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal 8(1):43-63 Fall 1993; Benedict, M., White, R., and Cornely, P., "Maternal Perinatal Risk Factors and Child Abuse" Child Abuse and Neglect 9:217-224 (1985); Lewis, E., "Two Hidden Predisposing Factors in Child Abuse," Child Abuse and Neglect 3:327-330 (1979); Ney, P., "Relationship Between Abortion and Child Abuse," Canadian J. Psychiatry 24:610-620(1979).
2. Reardon, D., Aborted Women, Silent No More (Chicago, Loyola University Press, 1987) 130.
3. Ibid, 129-30.
4. McFadden, A., "The Link Between Abortion and Child Abuse," Family Resources Center News (January 1998) 20.
5. Judith Lewis Herman, M.D., Trauma and Recovery (NY: Basic Books, 1992) 1-2.
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