Understanding a Post-Abortal Friend

We want to commend you on your sensitivity and your willingness to minister to this hurting woman. The cultural debate over the sanctity of human life can become so heated and contentious that we forget about the individuals involved. The preborn child is not the only victim of an abortion. Many people don't realize that, in most cases, the mother also suffers intensely. You're seeing the effects of that suffering firsthand. We'd suggest that you can touch your friend in a deeply meaningful way simply by acknowledging her grief and expressing your desire to help her deal with it. And that's not all: by reaching out to her at this level, you can also make a powerful statement for life.

Viewed superficially, your friend's situation can seem difficult to understand. If a woman voluntarily chooses to terminate her pregnancy in order to avert a personal crisis, why on earth should she be upset afterward about losing her baby? After all, we're constantly being told that freedom of choice is the central issue in the abortion debate. Your friend has exercised her right to have it her own way. Why, then, should she be sad or upset?

The answer is that many women who have abortions are profoundly uncertain about their decision. When they become pregnant their feelings scream, "This is my baby, I will do what I need to in order to protect and nurture this child." On the other hand, their circumstances yell, "This is not a good time to have a baby. Abortion is legal and easy. It'll be as if it never happened. It's the only solution to this mess." A woman in this position is torn in two opposite directions. The result is terrible inner turmoil and conflict.

Simply put, most women who choose abortion are going against their own morals and instincts. This explains why they feel guilt after the fact. The guilt is what prevents your friend from talking about her abortion and seeking the emotional help she needs.

A number of counselors who have explored this issue have identified a condition they call "post-abortion syndrome" (or PAS). PAS has been defined as an ongoing inability to process the painful thoughts and emotions, especially guilt, anger and grief, that arise as a result of one or more unplanned pregnancies and subsequent abortions; to identify (much less grieve) the loss that has been experienced; and to come to peace with God, oneself, and others impacted by the pregnancy and abortion decision.

Needless to say, a post-abortive woman like your friend faces a number of monumental barriers when it comes to the challenge of acknowledging and actively grieving her loss. For one thing, there is no external evidence that her baby ever existed-no pictures or other memorabilia. For another, she may not believe that she has the right to grieve a loss that she created herself. To make matters worse, there is no accepted public forum for grieving this kind of loss--no funeral, memorial service, or eulogy-and the support system that normally gathers around a bereaved mother is very limited, or absent altogether (in most cases few people are even told about the procedure, and those who do know aren't likely to feel inclined to rehash it). If she confides in someone who did not know about the abortion, she risks disapproval or rejection.

It doesn't help that the preparation for abortion rarely includes any discussion of related emotional issues. That's not to mention that many professional counselors don't understand post-abortion syndrome, and as a result they can't help a woman in your friend's situation. For any or all of these reasons, it's difficult if not impossible for a post-abortive woman to have her grief validated as a normal and predictable reaction; and as a result, she may repress her feelings of sadness and anger. Without an opportunity to work through it, the grieving process is interrupted and may not be resumed until years later, when another significant loss occurs or she becomes pregnant again.

What can you do? To begin with, you can pray. Ask the Lord to touch your friend's heart, open her eyes, and help her to admit to herself that she has experienced a real and very devastating loss. Then make yourself available to listen. Become a channel of Christ's compassionate love for her. If you need help or advice, feel free to call and speak with a member of our Counseling staff. Our counselors are available Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Mountain time at 800-A-FAMILY (800-232-6459). They would also be more than happy to speak with your friend whenever she feels ready to reach out for assistance.

Resources
Healing the Hurt (booklet)

A Solitary Sorrow: Finding Healing and Wholeness After Abortion (book)

Forgiven and Set Free: A Post-Abortion Bible Study for Women (book)

Healing a Father's Heart: A Post-Abortion Bible Study for Men (book)

I'll Hold You In Heaven (book)

Sarah's Choice (book)

Hope & Healing After Abortion (resource list)

Referrals
OptionLine.org - A Web site for young women that offers online support, fetal development information, true stories of girls who've faced unexpected pregnancies and a confidential crisis pregnancy help line.

AbortionChangesYou.com - This is a confidential Web space for those who have been touched by abortion, whether recently or in the past.

Articles
Changed

Men: Moving Past the Pain of Abortion

Pregnant? Considering an Adoption or Parenting? Had an Abortion?

Excerpted from Healing After Abortion by Paul C. Reisser, M.D. and Teri K. Reisser, M.MFT. Copyright © 2001 Focus on the Family.