Post-abortion syndrome, the psychological after effects of abortion on women, is a subject now becoming more openly recognized. Pro-lifers, of course, have known about it and observed its many manifestations in women seeking help for quite some time. Not surprisingly, though, it’s not been a popular topic for discussion amongst those who present abortion as having equal significance as a tonsillectomy.
Logically, of course, it’s no surprise that PAS exists. After all, it has long been recognized that women who have suffered natural miscarriages often have difficulty in coping with losing their babies. But, somehow, abortion was different. Grief and/or guilt for the lost baby were not thought appropriate reactions in women who hadn’t thought of themselves as carrying babies in the first place or who had decided that abortion was the solution to an “unwanted” pregnancy. Certainly, most pro-abortion counseling is slanted toward reinforcing “a woman’s right to choose” and downplays – or omits to mention – negative after effects.
Susan Stanford’s experience, related in her book Will I Cry Tomorrow reminds us how insidiously “pro-choice” rhetoric has infiltrated the minds of those who know abortion is wrong and yet see it as the only socially-acceptable way to resolve a crisis pregnancy. Pregnant from an affair during a troubled time, she relates how she rationalized her decision to abort, “regardless of my religious upbringing, regardless of my own feminine instincts, there seemed only one way out.”
She expected her abortion to “simplify matters so I can handle my life again” only to discover that it made her life even worse. She hated herself, her marriage finally broke down and her parents turned against her. Outward a successful career woman with a doctorate in clinical psychology, she wound up on the verge of suicide. Susan’s life was saved by friends who encouraged her to look beyond herself and seek spiritual help. Her spiritual journey was intense and she found new meaning to life. The new meaning led her to set up a Christian counseling practice in Portland, Maine.
Today, Susan Stanford’s time is spent in healing women suffering from post-abortion trauma. She uses a blend of psychological techniques and Christian healing principles for those who acknowledge a belief in God. The last section of her book discusses how she leads her counseling sessions. It makes for fascinating reading, especially her description of the “committal service of the baby” she conducts. She asks her clients if they have any sense of the sex of the child and what his or her name might have been. She writes,
“It’s absolutely phenomenal how many of my clients do have some inner sense of whether they were going to have a boy or a girl. It does not happen with everyone but certainly with a strong majority of women with whom I’ve done this healing work.”
“I then ask is she has any hint of a name the baby might have been called. The client will often blurt out the name of the child ‘almost from nowhere.’ Often days or weeks later she will tell me to hear herself say that name because it was not the name she would have ‘chosen’ for her child. I do not pretend to explain this phenomenon; I simply retort that it happens. It appears as if it was the child’s name for eternity!”
I do not suggest that all of those involved in post-abortion counseling attempt to use Stanford’s methods; it obviously requires careful training. But one of the recurrent themes in post-abortion counseling is the need for forgiveness. The woman feels she cannot forgive herself and her guilt, if she is a Christian, is often made worse when she feels God does not forgive her. Stanford heals women by showing that God does forgive them.
A priest I know once told me he had a similar approach. Assuring one woman that God forgave her sin, she responded, “But Father, that’s wonderful. I just can’t forgive myself.” His reply, “how arrogant of you then, you think you know more than God!” It was the remark that finally set her free.
If anyone reading this is struggling with PAS, I hope Susan Stanford’s story of her client “Cory” will help. Cory had had two natural miscarriages and she feared she would never be able to have a child. During counseling she admitted she felt two earlier abortions meant she was being punished. After Stanford conducted a “committal service” for the babies, Cory said,
“Susan, it takes my breath away – it’s so beautiful. There is so much peace and love there. Jesus is sitting in a field of long grass. And you won’t believe this, but there are four little children playing with Him in that field. They are climbing on his lap. There is so much love and laughter present…It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I know that my four children are with Jesus now for all eternity, and I’ll get to meet them in Heaven.”