Dr. Foster tells a personal story in her book, The Turnaway Study, of being at a mom’s gathering when one woman said, “I don’t know how anyone could kill their baby.”
She describes the reaction: “Then, silence. We all heard it, but nobody engaged with her comment. She was the first to leave the gathering, maybe half an hour later. As soon as the door shut behind her, the stories pour out.” It turned out that three of the about eight women in the group had had an abortion. One while she was in high school, one in response to a terminal diagnosis that predicted her child “would suffer for its entire short life”, and the third after a sexual assault. “Three abortion stories among maybe eight of us, and the woman who made the ‘baby-killing’ statement that spurred the conversation never heard any of it. She left possibly thinking we all shared her perspective.”
Dr. Foster concludes, “If you think nobody you know has had an abortion, more likely nobody you know has told you about their abortion.”
The prevalence of abortion in Canada
We don’t keep accurate abortion statistics in Canada (thank you to Pat Maloney for exposing and explaining the unreliability of the official numbers), but there is general agreement between pro-abortion and pro-life groups that the number is about 100,000 per year. This means about 1 out of every 4 pregnancies ends in abortion. And this has been the case for the past couple decades. If you consider the immensity of those numbers, the reality is, if you are talking to a woman you are likely talking to someone who has had an abortion or knows someone personally who has had an abortion. That is the case for myself.
So next time you are at your mom’s group, a family reunion, or even at church, remember that there is a good possibility you are talking to a post-abortive woman. Does that mean you should be silent? Dr. Foster might think so. But from a pro-life perspective, absolutely not.
The offence of being pro-life
If abortion is okay – just another medical procedure – then the pro-abortion movement needs another explanation for the regret or negative feelings that some women feel after an abortion. So, Dr. Foster hypothesizes that the pro-life movement (or, as she calls it, the anti-abortion movement) is one of the reasons abortion might negatively impact a woman’s mental health. She doesn’t consider the actual ethical nature of the choice, but suggests that “even if women themselves do not feel that abortion is morally wrong, they may experience negative reactions from others and feel judged by their community or people close to them.”
Maybe she was thinking of Jessica from the previous blog post, who had to pop the pro-life balloons her children brought home. You can read that story with two conclusions. Was that reaction only because someone was anti-abortion, or was that reaction because someone brought to light something Jessica wanted to ignore? Is that reaction really only caused by external opposition to a choice, or does it come from internal dissonance and a pricked conscience?
This is something we, as a pro-life movement, need to grapple with. If you speak out about abortion you are going to face these reactions from others that have been personally impacted by abortion. You can choose to be silent, but the problem is that silence only perpetuates the isolation post-abortive women already experience.
Abortion and isolation
Dr. Foster points out that “women who have abortions generally don’t talk about them.” Throughout the stories a theme of not being able to talk about the pregnancy with family or friends emerged. Dr. Foster expounds on this isolation as a proposed reason that abortion can negatively impact women’s health: “In our study, nearly one-third of women told no one other than the man involved that they were seeking an abortion. Give birth and you may make friends with women…The same is definitely not true of abortion.”
At the same time, when women were denied abortions and forced to communicate, they generally found more support than they expected. So much around abortion happens in silence and in isolation. As the pro-life movement we are trying to break that silence. We are trying to do so for the sake of the pre-born child whose life is at stake, and we are trying to do so for women in order to help them see and value their child’s humanity, and to let them know that support is available.
The pro-life antidote
We cannot be crippled by fear of negative reactions when we speak about abortion. In fact, speaking up can be the most loving thing to do, even if it causes hurt to be expressed. We break isolation by coming alongside women facing difficult circumstances. We can help her see that abortion is not an eraser for her problems. We can help her address the situations that got her there rather than perpetuating harmful circumstances.
Now of course, we have a duty to tell the truth with wisdom and love. But the question isn’t whether we are challenging others, especially post-abortive women. Being pro-life is a challenge. A challenge to see the humanity of pre-born children and to recognize the relational bond between mother and child from the beginning of life. This is a challenge for those who want to deny these truths – a denial that can be personal and sensitive. So, let’s keep in mind that when we are challenging others our goal is not for post-abortive women to be accused, but to be called.
Abortion isolates women, encouraging them to bear the burden of their choice alone, in silence. The pro-life message calls women to recognize the truth, grieve their loss, to open up about what they have gone through, and to find forgiveness.
Speak. Speak up for the pre-born children and for their mothers. And call them to the love and forgiveness that you have also experienced.