Australian book gives voice to broken women,
might save others from same mistake

It was late January that the media publicized a flawed study saying abortion doesn’t cause mental health problems. It got worse. They claimed that pregnancy does. The headlines were out, the verdict in: pregnancy is dangerous and abortion is a legitimate, neutral tool. The subtext? Pro-lifers, stop raising this red herring. The case is closed.

This sort of misleading headline is a sucker-punch to the gut for the many women suffering deeply after abortion. This idea – that abortion is a neutral choice – only confirms why editor Melinda Tankard Reist had to publish her book 2000 Giving Sorry Words: Women’s Stories of Grief After Abortion. The soul-wrenching volume out of Australia is the result of a small newspaper advertisement asking women to discuss their abortion grief. A total of 250 women responded and 18 were chosen for the book, which gives voice to the voiceless: those women who had abortions and are suffering as a result. Tankard Reist says she compiled the volume “because there has been no one to tell the story, or because ‘the story’ has been consciously or unconsciously suppressed.”

True enough. In Canada, any abortion story that deviates from choice dogmas is indeed suppressed. The media approach has been twofold: firstly, it is one of compliance with the neutrality of “choice,” trumpeting mantras about women’s rights. Secondly, it is one of silence, which partners well with the neutrality. Abortion is a non-issue. It was decided. There is no debate.

If the women in this book are any example, they suffer all the more for how abortion is presented as neutral. It means they are the crazy ones for choosing to suffer. Tankard Reist quotes one Evelyn Tsitas, an Australian columnist who summed up her disdain for women having a hard time after abortion with this: “Abortion can be an emotional subject, particularly for people who choose to get upset about it. There is a movement taking hold called: ‘I’ll always regret what I did and want to burn in hell for it.’”

Tsitas might not have scribbled those words had she had the opportunity to read but one of the stories from Giving Sorrow Words. Each woman is unique but two ideas unify the voices. The first is the myth that abortion is a neutral or easy choice. The second is that abortion is actually a choice.

So many women felt cheated because they could never have envisioned the aftermath. Stories are punctuated by comments like “I’ll never be forgiven for what I did.” Jasmine, from Melbourne, recounts her nightmares: “I dreamt I was covered in blood that would not wash off.” Marguerite, who describes herself as non-religious, writes “for many months after termination, I woke during the night to hear my baby screaming.” For her, the grief was “palpable” and “permeates waking and sleeping hours.”

The second myth is that abortion is a choice at all. Many women awaited their abortion appointment with dread. Justine called her long distance boyfriend on regular intervals, desperate for him to change his mind. He didn’t – until the after the abortion was done. She literally wandered hospital halls prior to her abortion searching for someone who would help her keep the child. Finding only a doctor who confirmed her worst fears that her boyfriend truly wasn’t interested, she went ahead. For Anne, her mother oversaw the unwanted abortion, coming afterwards with presents “like I’d had my tonsils out.” In another, the father, “stands over me while I ring to make the appointment.” Barbara also begged her husband to change his mind, “but all he did was hiss ‘get rid of it.’” While being wheeled to the operating room she plaintively asks: “won’t anyone save me?”

The tortured lives of these women stand as testimony to what abortion offers. It may not be so for every woman, just as not every teenager who tries drugs will get addicted. Still, it is misleading to believe that drugs are neutral, even good. These women had abortions believing life could resume as normal afterwards, as they had been told it would by friends, doctors, boyfriends, husbands.

As a pro-lifer who has long known abortion harms women, I was thoroughly unprepared for how merely reading these stories would bring me to my knees. Still, their stories might help heal some, and more importantly, warn others. It is in that spirit that Celine, who attempted to kill herself after her abortion wrote in, answering the ad. “Writing this has been extremely painful for me but I think that if I can help just one person by what I’ve written, it would all be worth it.”

We must overcome the silence by telling these stories loudly and as often as possible. Without this, in face of misleading headlines indicating exactly the opposite, we are doing every woman a disservice for the moment that she encounters an unexpected pregnancy.

Andrea Mrozek is the founder of and works at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, an Ottawa-based think tank