an After abortion

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Thursday, December 11, 2003

The New Choice from the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

I missed this article when it came out in early November. It is well worth reading. It features some material about Aspen Baker. She started the San Francisco-based post-abortion agency Exhale.

"Mainstream pro-choice organizations have long told women to keep their difficult feelings about abortion to themselves, warning that any hint of conflict or pain will be exploited by the anti-choice side. Baker maintains this does women a disservice. 'People on the pro-choice side have shied away from talking about that because they don't want to play into the pro-life mythology. They often say if a woman feels [anything negative] after an abortion, it's just because of her boyfriend or religion.' The problem, according to Baker, is that often 'no one is listening to what she thinks, how she feels, how she defines the experience.'

By June 2000, Baker had the idea for Exhale, a postabortion counseling agency that's not associated with either side in the abortion war. It started with five women gathered around a kitchen table, but now Exhale has 25 trained counselors and a call line open every weekday from 5 to 10 p.m. Exhale's counseling system is designed to allow women to do their own defining: what constitutes a baby, what amounts to feeling guilty, and what it means to be ready for parenthood. 'It's not always that the abortion has created such a crisis,' Baker told me, 'but you don't get to talk about it in the same way [as you do other experiences]. The social stigma makes it harder. Exhale wants to offer a place where women can tell their stories and express their emotional needs without fear of judgment or criticism or manipulation.'

If the movement tells people what and how to feel, it invalidates individual experience and can spawn a base distrust. Baker hopes that by dealing with women's complex feelings, rather than ignoring them, the movement will grow stronger."

It's true that negative feelings after abortion are harder to live with because it's hard to find someone to discuss these feelings with. But I part company from Aspen Baker when she suggests that this is the only reason that these feelings are difficult to resolve.

In the case of abortion, the woman who is suffering afterwards is not just interested in her own feelings about whether what was destroyed in the abortion was a baby. Similarly, people who have gone through other dark experiences (rape, childhood sexual molestation, traumatic combat experiences, the loss of a family member by homicide or suicide, etc.) are not solely interested in their own feelings about whether what happened was a damaging loss. They're also interested in--and receive, in therapy--validation that they really did experience a grave loss.

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