A few months ago, CLC Youth’s virtual pro-life club watched a bunch of clips from television and film intending to normalize abortion. Despite this agenda, the somber nature of abortion couldn’t quite be obscured, almost as if the scriptwriters, directors, and actors knew they couldn’t depart too far from reality if they wanted the scene to be believable. Patients were quiet and forlorn, crying, nervous and finicky, or else excessively frivolous (e.g. quibbling over pudding flavours).
My take-away—that any attempt to minimize abortion is doomed—was reaffirmed when I read A Complicated Choice: Making Space for Grief and Healing in the Pro-Choice Movement by Katey Zeh, a Baptist minister and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She shares seventeen personal stories of abortion with the strange goal (reinforced in the foreword by Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America) of destigmatizing the experience, even celebrating it as “holy,” while also acknowledging its unfortunate “nuances.”
One of the storytellers, Erin Outson of St. Louis, Missouri, had a chemical abortion which caused pain so “awful and so intense that she passed out.” She obliviously asks, “How is it that when someone is having knee surgery, people come to support them, but they didn’t think to support me during my abortion?”
The answer is in the title of the book. No one talks about “grief and healing” or “loss” (of what?) following knee surgery, an appendectomy, or tonsillectomy. There isn’t a talk line like Exhale Pro-Voice (at least as far as I know) for those who have gone through these procedures; they don’t have the capacity to produce shame or to wound relationships.
Deep down, all of the women interviewed seemed to recognize that.
The rituals they engaged in post-abortion are the ones you would expect when mourning the death of a person—naming the baby; putting together a box to “honour” the pregnancy; throwing a bottle with messages and baby booties into the ocean; lighting a tea light on an altar.
Ashley, from Boston, reveals frankly, “Just like the loss of my father, my abortion will always be there. I will always be sad about it, and that’s OK.”
Adriana of New York, “cycle(d) through a range of emotions: relief, guilt, sadness, and shame. Sometimes these tough feelings would creep out of nowhere and surprise her.”
Heidi Howes of Columbus, Ohio, said her abortion of over five years ago “still feels raw.”
Kim Jorgensen Gane of St. Joseph, Michigan, had an abortion decades ago, but her “healing process is ongoing.”
Paradoxically, Afua Ofosu-Barko of Washington, DC, says, “It was a traumatic experience in so many ways, but I was so blessed through it.”
Reverend Karen Stoffers-Pugh of Chico, California, “is glad that she made the choice to have an abortion, even though it brought emotional and spiritual pain,” a pain lingering 40 years later.
According to Zeh, Veronika Granado of San Antonio, Texas, “didn’t have much of a chance to process her abortion experience . . . but she could see that it was having an impact on her life. Her relationship with her partner started to break down. She felt isolated and a little bit ashamed.” Nonetheless, Zeh repeatedly insists Granado was “at peace about her decision,” that it was only religious beliefs sowing doubt, and that “what she felt was not guilt but relief.” Zeh concludes, “it was the best, most mature decision she has made in her life.” Methinks the lady doth protest too much.
Inexplicably, despite documenting evidence to the contrary, Zeh asserts that the premise that “terminating a pregnancy causes long-term emotional trauma and distress” is a “flat-out lie,” and “that no scientific study has ever confirmed that.”
The cognitive dissonance is frighteningly strong, but understandable.
Last summer, while I was doing street activism, an older woman shared that she had an abortion, but didn’t regret it. I asked why not. In a moment of profound vulnerability and honesty, she said that she couldn’t handle all that would come with admitting she did.
Zeh quotes John 8:32: “The truth will set you free.” She and countless others have rejected “the truth,” however, in favour of “your truth” and “her truth” (i.e. the lies we tell ourselves). She points fingers at everyone else—family, community members, religious leaders, legislators, and medical professionals—as contributing to the struggle of post-abortive women. Preoccupied with how “complicated” this “choice” is, she misses the obvious conclusion: Abortion kills an innocent human being, one whom she spent the entire book ignoring.
The truth frees and will be freed; it already bubbles up in pain, in anger, in grief.