Presented at the World Congress of Families V in Amsterdam, August 2009
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"When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society. So when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged." These are the words of one of the founders of the women’s movement, Mattie Brinkerhoff. Together with others who were at the forefront of modern feminism, she opposed abortion and did not see it as any part of the authentic advancement of women.
The idea that abortion somehow benefits women will be counted in history as the greatest hoax that was ever perpetrated against women.
In 1973, the United States Supreme Court legalized abortion throughout pregnancy. The text of that Roe vs. Wade decision states: “Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care.” (Roe at 153).
In 2007, when the same Court upheld the federal ban on partial-birth abortion, the following words appeared in the Court’s Gonzales vs. Carhart decision:
“It seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained….Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow…”
Feminism, at its best, listens to the voices of women. It listens with new ears, not pre-judging what it will hear. It’s time for a new feminism, ready to hear the message that women around the globe are now raising, that is, I regret my abortion. In private and in public, women are expressing the shared experience that abortion represents an empty promise.
Women are not told of the many harmful physical and psychological effects of abortion. Many physical complications can arise, including miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, sterility, stillbirths, bleeding and infections, shock and coma, perforated uterus, peritonitis, loss of body organs, insomnia, and loss of appetite.
As the book Lime 5 documents, the complications and deaths of women from abortions are under-reported, and recorded under different causes than abortion.
Psychological effects are also very real. Women suffer from PAS (Post-Abortion Syndrome). They experience impacted grief, intense and lasting guilt, loss of confidence and self-esteem, mourning and withdrawal, hostility and rage, despair and helplessness, inability to forgive oneself, suicidal impulses, and a preoccupation with death.
Perhaps most fundamental, however, among the kinds of damage that abortion does to women is the powerful statement it makes about their very nature and role in society. The abortion mentality looks on pregnancy as a disease. It does not take women seriously in their unique privilege and power of bearing new life! As Rosemary Bottcher, a Feminist for Life, has written, "Abortion reduces women to the status of sex machines which can be 'repaired' if necessary."
Dr. Phillip Ney, a Canadian psychiatrist who has done massive research into the impact of abortion, holds that there is nothing more damaging to the family than abortion. He points out that an abortion distorts the mother’s ability – and indeed the ability of the human species – to respond properly to the helpless cry of its own young. Having met that helpless cry with the violence of abortion, we are less able to respond to that cry the next time, not only in regard to the unborn child, but to other members of the human family.
This is the point that Mother Teresa of Calcutta made in her speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC on February 3, 1994 when she said,
“If we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? … Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”
This is also the point that Pope John Paul II makes in his encyclical The Gospel of Life when he writes in paragraph 99,
“In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a "new feminism"… in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society… I address to women this urgent appeal: "Reconcile people with life". You are called to bear witness to the meaning of genuine love… A mother welcomes and carries in herself another human being, enabling it to grow inside her, giving it room, respecting it in its otherness. Women first learn and then teach others that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health. This is the fundamental contribution which the Church and humanity expect from women. And it is the indispensable prerequisite for an authentic cultural change.”
Women, therefore, are at the forefront both of bearing the damage of the culture of death and forging the way to a new Culture of Life. No human relationship is more basic than that between a mother and her own child, and it is only when we can maintain peace and harmony in that relationship that we can learn how to maintain peace and harmony between ethnic groups, economic sectors of society, and nations.
Women will lead the way more effectively the more they can be healed from the negative impact abortion has had upon them. This involves both a psychological and spiritual healing, facilitated by the support of others in their communities and the expert help of those who understand their wounds. This is at the basis of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, a joint project of Priests for Life and Anglicans for Life, by which the large numbers of women who are saying I regret my abortion are organizing themselves to speak that message more loudly and effectively. The Campaign’s goal is first of all to extend the opportunity for healing to all who have lost a child to abortion. The Campaign likewise aims to raise awareness of the harm abortion does to women, and to provide, to those who are ready to do so, the opportunity to share publicly their testimony of pain and of healing.
These testimonies are shared in Churches, on television and radio programs, on the internet, and at public gatherings all around the world. Others, who regret their abortion but do not feel called to speak publicly, are nevertheless letting themselves be counted by registering anonymously with the Campaign. This can be done online at IRegretMyAbortion.com.
In my own life, I have experienced this kind of journey, because I have lost children through the earliest and most hidden form of abortion, that which comes about through abortifacients. I had embraced everything that the feminist movement promoted as being liberating and empowering for women. In reality, I had not been liberated; everyday I felt more trapped in a bad marriage, and conflicted between my desire to avoid further pregnancies by using birth control, and my fear of their possible side-effects. I therefore underwent tubal ligation. When I returned to the practice of my faith, however, I began to learn more about the fact that birth control drugs can kill newly fertilized human lives, and began to mourn the fact that, after years of using such drugs, I had indeed lost children as a result.
The journey of healing and reconciliation I have undergone has been the true liberation I was looking for.
I his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II wrote, "Therefore, in firmly rejecting 'pro choice' it is necessary to become courageously 'pro woman,' promoting a choice that is truly in favor of women…The only honest stance…is that of radical solidarity with the woman" (p.206-207).
This is a task for everyone, women and men alike. The basis of our solidarity with women, as well as with unborn children, is our common humanity, not our gender.
To be pro-life is to be pro-woman. We do not say, "Love the baby and forget about the mother." Rather, we say, "Why can't we love them both?" We can and we must. To harm one is to harm the other; to love and serve one is to love and serve the other. The destinies of mother and child are inextricably bound to one another.
Pro-woman" is not simply a project, strategy, or package for the pro-life message. Rather, it is that message. Whenever someone speaks up for the equal dignity of the unborn child, that person is advancing the status of women. Whenever someone reveals the horror of abortion, that person is counteracting the exploitation of women, so many of whom are deceived into thinking that abortion is no horror at all. Whenever the pro-life message is advanced, women are ennobled. For that we will continue to work, and in that we rejoice!