an After abortion

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Saturday, February 15, 2003

In the early days of this blog, a reader over here commented that if women experience emotional turmoil after abortion, that's because they know that many people think that abortion is seriously wrong, such as the people who write letters to the editor referring to abortion as murder.

The implication of this claim is that it is not the woman's own authentic internal experience and beliefs that lead her to feel distressed. Rather, it is simply the fact that others are harshly judgmental that leads her to feel distress.

This type of claim has also been made about people who are obese. People who are obese often experience tremendous pain around their obesity. See what Oprah says about that. It has been argued that the reason for this pain is the knowledge of the obese person that many people in our society have an aversion to obesity. The further claim has been made that the way to solve the problem of the pain experienced by obese people is to train people in our society to stop their harsh attitudes toward obesity. Similarly, someone could claim that if women feel emotional pain after abortion, the reason they do is because of the judgments of others, and the way to solve that problem is to train people in our society to stop thinking that abortion is murder.

I'm not going to explore the idea that in order to solve the problem of emotional distress after abortion, the thing to do would be to get people to stop thinking that abortion is murder.

I'm just going to address the claim made by the reader referenced above that IF people feel bad about their abortion, it is BECAUSE of their knowledge that some people would disapprove of them, if they knew. Here are the two main reasons I disagree with this:

One. As far as I know, slave-owners in the south did not experience emotional turmoil around their slave-owning behavior, even though they were well aware that many people were morally revolted by slavery. This suggests that the fact that a person knows that others are morally revolted does not, in and of itself, lead to anguish about one's conduct. Or, consider people who eat meat. There is no evidence that they experience anguish around this practice, even though they know of vegans who would want them to experience anguish.

Two. However, we can and at times do feel uncomfortable when people claim that something we do or have done is damaging and destructive. If Doug is involved in a secret adulterous affair, he might temporarily feel his shoes pinch if Karen two cubicles over expressed anti-adultery opinions, painting a picture of the pain she felt when she discovered her husband in an affair--although, if Doug did feel bad for a moment, would it be because he just found out that Karen would judge him if she knew or would it be because some part of Doug agrees with Karen?

However that may be, this situation is quite different from what can happen after abortion. The specific kinds of experiences and emotions reported by women who experience post-abortion distress are not the type of feeling you have when you learn that someone else disapproves of your conduct, or would disapprove, if they knew.

Flashbacks, chronic depression, triggers, nightmares, numbness, replacement babies, self-loathing, suicidality, hatred of the father, and more are quite different from the emotions we experience when we know that others socially disapprove of us.

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