I haven’t been able to clean thing like I used to.  I procrastinate and make excuses.  Many days I don’t even shower or get dressed.  I feel tense all the time.

“We used to have sex four or five times a week, but I don’t care now.  My husband is mad at me for all of this and says, “Just kill yourself, then.”  We don’t seem close anymore.

I slap my son and spoil my daughter.  My body feels old and I always feel tired.  I cry a lot, I have terrible dreams of things happening to my children.  I wake up frightened and then feel relieved.

“I think my aborted baby was a little girl.  I remember the abortion like it happened today.  I can still hear the sound, the terrible sound of the (suction machine) pump.”

Vincent Rue retells the story of one of the women he had counseled.  She has the common personal problems and relationship troubles that clinical psychologists often hear about.  But she has traced her “symptoms” to an experience that doctors and therapists have been denying for too long, according to Rue: abortion.

Rue is executive director of the Thomas More Marriage and Family Clinic in Downey, California, where he’s waging a research battle against professional colleagues who “refuse to admit” the validity of what he has dubbed “post-abortion syndrome” (PAS).

Rue and a handful of other clinicians in Minnesota, Illinois, Virginia and elsewhere are predicting an epidemic of mentally anguished women due to the estimate 20 million abortions performed since the procedure was legalized by the Supreme Court in 1973, in Canada since 1969.

Rue’s “conservative guess” is that one third of the women who have aborted suffer from “unconsummated grief.”  He compares them to Vietnam veterans, “who came home to a society that didn’t want to examine the aftermath of the decision to engage in war.

Up to half the vets were traumatized and their ability to cope with civilian life was impaired, he explained, yet their psychological disorder – “post-traumatic stress” – wasn’t recognized by the American Psychiatric Association for more than a decade.

Major death experience

Society’s ambivalence about Vietnam is paralleled by its ambivalence about abortion.  Rue argues, “The war on the unborn has produced a new veteran who has been shunned and repudiated.  She is guaranteed unlimited access to abortion, but in the end the aftermath is hers and hers alone.  All too often the emotional pain is denied at the abortion clinic, negated by herself, minimized by her lover and family, misdiagnosed or trivialized to helping professionals and ignored by society in general.”  Because abortion is not considered a “major death” experience, women are not allowed to mourn.

According to Rue, PAS is slow to gain acceptance among professionals because their organizations – groups like the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association – all publicly favor abortion on demand.  “If they acknowledged PAS, they’d be discredited,” he said.

Rue knows of only one PAS treatment center in the United States.  “I don’t know of any abortion facility that offers substantial treatment for post-abortion trauma.  If they’re so “pro-choice” and “pro-women,” how can this be so? He asked answering: “Because resolving PAS means conceding that a child was alive and is now dead.”

Instead of healing the guilt and grief over abortion, many secular therapists attempt to belittle or change the values that prompt women to have those feelings, Rue charges.

“There is enormous peer pressure on any professional who would deviate from the standard response of the professional groups,” he added.  “It’s very difficult to empathize with someone when you believe that what they’re experiencing isn’t legitimate.”

Obviously, not everyone agrees with Rue.  “He doesn’t have the data to support his arguments,” countered Gary Melton of the University of Nebraska.  Melton, as chairman of an interdivisional committee of the American Psychological Association, edited “Adolescent Abortion: Psychological and Legal Issues.”  The “state-of-the-art” book was referred to frequently in a recent report on teen-age pregnancy by the National Academy of Sciences.

He (Rue) and I have been on opposite sides in at least one case on this.”  Melton said, “The published evidence is clear.  There’s no evidence of significant long-term psychological effects of abortion.  Particularly for teenagers, it’s much more benign (than giving birth).  Indeed the mental harm of carrying to term is much better established, though I certainly wouldn’t use those facts to argue that we should compel abortions.”

The hard data, Melton claims, show that unwanted pregnancies and abortion decisions – not abortions in themselves – are stressful, and that women respond with “relief” after having them.

Harsher critics have called PAS a “pseudo-scientific” discovery and a “pro-life sham.”  Yet Rue cites 71 studies that connect abortion not only with initial relief among women who are no longer pregnant, but also with later after effects ranging from guilt, shame, depression and bitterness to hallucinations, marital disruption and drug abuse.  Most of these studies were conducted by “pro-choice” researcher, Rue noted.

The necessary data are not all in either.  Rue said, because the published literature relies on interviews with small numbers of women “six hours to three months” after their abortions.  But PAS is a delayed response that, due to denial, may not significantly affect a woman for five or 10 years.

American churches and the pro-life community, where PAS proponents are finding sympathetic ears, have been stepping up their campaigns to help women suffering from PAS and to advertise the existence of the illness.  The National Right-To-Life News, dedicated a 28-page issue to PAS in January.

Therapists and other helpers who counsel women suffering from the consequences of abortion will convene in July at the University of Notre Dame for a “Healing Visions II” conference sponsored by the National Pro-Life Coalition in New York.

Meanwhile, Women Exploited by Abortion, American Victims of Abortion and Open ARMS are three support groups spreading nationally across the US.  And soon, half the country’s Catholic dioceses will have adopted Project Rachel, the Church’s abortion-healing outreach in the U.S.

Research funds refused

But outside this circle, attention to the after-affects of abortion has been scant.  A review of popular magazines turned up only two stories in the past five years that referred to the negative psychological fallout possible from abortion.  (Numerous articles have been run about mourning and grief following miscarriage).

Consumer publications usually follow, rather than lead, the “experts.”  And so far, the evidence is more anecdotal than empirical.  “Clinical impressions and vignettes can be blown away if people don’t want to hear them.”  Said Dr. Edward Sheridan, associate clinic professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University in Washington.

We’re taught by patients one by one,” he said.  It takes the universities and the National Institutes of Healing to get some hard, long-term data going.  We’re approached places to do this but they abjure the research as “not-too-thinly-veiled –valued-system judgment.  (Dr. Mary Blehar of the affective and anxiety disorders branch of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that NIMH has received no proposals that she knows of to study PAS.  She added that “the topic per se, is not grounds for turning an application down.  One could study post-partum depression, that’s legitimate, so why not study post-abortion depression?)”

The ultimate aim of PAS researchers is to get the disorder into the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the professional bible clinicians rely on to diagnose mental illnesses.

First must come “education discussion, publication” according to Rue.  “We have the reports of women,” but it’s hard to get research accepted in a “generally pro-choice publishing environment.”  He said the psychologists’ association rejected his offer to organize a panel discussion on post-abortion counseling at one of its annual meetings.

Interest is welling up, though.  The Association for Religious and Value Issues in Counselling,  a sub-group of the 3,000-member American Association for Counselling and Development, is printing a Rue synopsis on PAS  “TO my knowledge this is the first thing ever written about PAS in a professional organ,” he said.

Dr. Anne Speckhard, a Virginia researcher and counselor, and Terry Selby, a Minnesota social worker who runs a residential PAS treatment program, are writing a book titled “Coming to Terms with Post-Abortion Syndrome.”

Meanwhile, the Association for Interdisciplinary Research (AIR) has been set up under the National Right-To-Life Committee.  With a membership of now more than 50, it brings PAS researchers together in a co-ordinated effort to extend further into the wider scholarly community, according to Wanda Franz, AIR president and a developmental psychologist and teacher at West Virginia University.

Research will help women

“There’s a strong resistance among professionals right now,” according to Franz.  “We like to think of them as people with open minds who are always looking for new data, yet they’re putting their blinders on and focusing only on information that reinforces their belief that abortion is safe and simple.”

Hard to dispel could be the claim that PAA is important to researchers and pro-lifers mainly as a weapon to attack the legality of abortion rather than as a diagnostic tool to help women.  Rue, for one, urges that PAS not be “used for partisan purposes in the abortion debate.”

Guilt and trauma

But even harder to dispel may be the notion that the guilt and trauma of women following abortion is not real but imposed on them by religious fanatics.  Sheridan, however, said his “colleagues who are pro-abortion – Jewish, agnostic, women psychiatrists” – find the mourning to be real.

People immediately bring up that I’m biased against abortion and therefore subtly oozing this condemnation – that this is why women end up depressed.  No.   Any woman who’s had an abortion who comes in for depth therapy for anything like depression, anxiety, anger, if they look intimately inside themselves…they will find abortion to be one of the most powerful conflicts in their lives.”

Spokesmen for the Planned Parenthood of America and for the American Psychiatric Association did not return phone calls for this story.

C1987. Reprinted from the National Catholic Register with permission from Twin Circle Publishing.