an After abortion: 02/09/2003 - 02/16/2003

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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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Feeling like you can't go on?

The Ben File, which kindly sent readers over here the other day, reminds us today that:

"The Simpsons does religion better than any other show on TV. They may mock religion, but they get all the facts right, and their religious humor often shows more depth than any other show. This episode, where Homer decides to start his own religion, is a magnificent romp.

Homer: What's the meaning of life?
God: Homer, I can't tell you that. You'll find out when you die.
Homer: I can't wait that long!
God: You can't wait six months?"

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Friday, February 14, 2003

Thank you, Raving Atheist for saying that this new blog is "sensitive, intelligent and excellent". Do you think of yourself as raving? or is it that others don't know what to do with your unusually acute powers of judgment?

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Read Ashli's whole post today.

It is about how she responds to women who are pregnant, and the impact their child loss has had on her marriage.

Here's an excerpt.

"For an honest (not pretty) picture of what this is like, I have to confess that I have even caught myself just barely hoping a person would miscarry or get so sick for so long that they would be tempted to kill a child they want to get out of the illness. I'm shocked when I think these things, because I know I don't mean them. I know, where it counts, that I don't want any child to die, I don't want anyone to have to go through what we did, and I will do whatever I can to prevent such things from happening. I know my secret moments of malevolence are just an insincere component of the entire grieving process (or some troubling part of the post traumatic stress disorder I've been diagnosed with due to the illness/abortion combo). It's probably just my alienation and longing for people I can relate to. But I hate this. I don't want to be this way. I don't like diminishing our social calendar. I am deeply grieved by fleeting intervals of hopefulness that someone's pregnancy will go awry when it is contrary to everything I genuinely believe in. I want to be who I was before all this madness and despair. I want to be like everyone else who can not understand what I'm going through now."

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Man, this blogging business. Swollen ankles from excessive chair time and now blue lips from (or metaphorical blue lips) from thinking bad thoughts at my ISP for being down this morning.

Happy Valentine's Day.

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Thursday, February 13, 2003

I've been prodded to include links on this blog to several quite recent studies published in medical journals that indicate a correlation between abortion and later emotional distress.

It wasn't a gentle prodding, either! "She waves her hand at some journals but lacks any citations whatsoever."

Is that a nice way to talk?

These links are available at The Elliot Institute's website but that site is a bear to navigate. Or a mess, depending on the mood you're in.

I'll add all the links over the course of the next week or so.

Here's the first one, which takes you to the abstracts for American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 2002, Vol. 72, No. 1, 141–152. The AJO is a highly-regarded journal published by the APA.

The one to look for is "State-Funded Abortions Versus Deliveries: A Comparison of Outpatient Mental Health Claims Over 4 Years".

The article concerns a record-based study of 173,000 California women. It compares rates of 1st-time outpatient mental health treatment over a 4 year period in two groups, those who terminated a pregnancy and those who carried to term. The study controls for preexisting psychological difficulties, age, and the number of previous pregnancies.

Within 90 days after the pregnancy outcome, the abortion group had 63% more claims than the birth group, with the percentages equaling 42%, 30%, and 16% for 180 days, 1 year, and 2 years, respectively.

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I very much appreciate Mark Shea and Emily Stimpson at Heart, Mind and Strength for referring readers. And welcome! to those readers.

If we haven't personally experienced abortion, almost all of us know and care about someone who has.

Except for a rough patch in my 20s, I've been blessed with a harmonious, stable marriage and family life. No one would ever have imagined that I carried around a deep wound that was eating me from the inside out.

It's relatively easy for most people--whatever their secrets and sorrows--to put on a good face.

I hope this blog will give you a better picture of what it can look like "on the inside" and inspire you with the resolve, the hope and the tools you need to make a difference.

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Sophie's Choice

Kate Michelman is the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She has often told the story of her own abortion.

In 1970, she was abandoned by her husband and left to care for her three young daughters alone. Then, just after her husband left, she found out she was pregnant.

Emotionally bruised and confronted with poverty because of a husband and father who had abandoned them, she agonized over the reality that another child would have increased their expenses and been a further drain on the time she needed to raise her daughters and to earn an income.

"I had to . . . debate my obligations to my children against my responsibility to the developing life inside me," she has said.

Many years later, during a speech to the Commonwealth Club of California in January 1998, Kate Michelman said that when she learned in 1973 that the Supreme Court had legalized abortion:

"I was quite overcome. It felt somehow like a benediction — a retroactive reprieve that helped restore my sense of worth, my integrity."

That is, when the law changed, Michelman's emotions around her abortion changed. Her words about this are very loaded: "quite overcome" ... "felt like a benediction" ... "reprieve" ... "sense of worth" .... "my integrity".

This paints a picture of a woman who was experiencing a significant struggle with her feelings around the loss of the "developing life inside me."

When the law changed, her emotional struggle ended. (Or, as far as we know, it ended.)

This is such a sad and suggestive story.

Let me say something for a minute about the idea of "moral positivism". Roughly, this is the idea that there are and can be no standards for morality outside of, beyond, or transcending the law. If something is legally permissible, then it is morally permissible, and there is nothing more anyone can say about it.

By and large, people do not believe in the doctrine of moral positivism. That is, most of us believe that if we want to find out whether an action is moral or not, we can't answer that question just by finding out whether the law permits it. Slavery was legal in the south in 1850, this line of thought goes, but that doesn't mean that slavery was moral in the south in 1850.

For most of us, our self-assessment (in Michelman's words, "our sense of worth") is tied up with whether we perceive ourselves as acting in accord with our own conscience. Our conscience is our internalized code of what is right and wrong.

If you're a moral positivist--someone who believes that if an action is legally permissible, then it is morally permissible--you don't come to your own conclusions about morality. You just accept that anything the state prohibits is immoral and anything the state allows is moral.

As I said, very few people are moral positivists.

It's unlikely that Kate Michelman is a moral positivist, in other areas of her life. If the government were to say today that wife-beating is okay when the little lady doesn't get dinner on the table by 6:00 p.m., Kate Michelman would probably not believe that because the law changed, it is now morally permissible for a husband to beat his wife.

But Michelman's intense emotional reaction to a change in the legal status of abortion suggests that in this area, she is a moral positivist.

I wonder if this doesn't create a submerged pool of cognitive dissonance in a woman of Michelman's intellectual and moral capacities.

If you balance off what sounds like severe emotional turmoil around her abortion against maintaining a certain degree of cognitive dissonance...I can understand choosing cognitive dissonance as the lesser of two emotional evils.

Magda Denes is a post-abortive pro-choice writer. In her "In Necessity and Sorrow: Life and Death in an Abortion Hospital", she says that it is easier for a post-abortive woman to "regard oneself as a martyr and to battle the world" of anti-abortion enemies than to confront the "private sorrows" and the "heartache of self-chosen destiny".

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In Delaware yesterday U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson reinstated a requirement that abortion doctors obtain the informed consent of their clients. Planned Parenthood had sued to overturn this requirement, and a 24-hour waiting period requirement.

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I tried installing a comments feature but it doesn't work. If a reader could write to me with suggestions about a reliable and easy-to-install comments box, that'd be great. Thanks.

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The Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome website was created in 1998. It has 4231 registered users. For those who want to listen and learn about how abortion can be experienced on an emotional level, but who can't attend an in-person support group or retreat, it is a valuable resource.

Members of the PASS website can join private e-groups or post messages on its public message boards.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Ashli is must reading again today.

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Here's a lively discussion following up on some claims made earlier by Matthew Yglesias in reference to this blog.

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Welcome to readers from the Matthew Yglesias blog.

Matthew says that it is not a good pro-life argument to note that some people feel traumatized or significantly emotionally distressed after abortion. (He writes that my little blog here is pro-life and "focuses heavily on emotional trauma that women are said to suffer post-abortion. This strikes me as an exceedingly weak pro-life argument.")

Although I don't believe that anyone else is confused about this, I should note that this blog is in no way an attempt to create a political argument out of the reality that some men and women suffer after abortion.

Post-abortion syndrome is an equal opportunity employer, afflicting those who are pro-choice and those who are pro-life. The PASS website is a good place to read for anyone who wants to understand that.

Matthew also suggests that by including a short dialogue from Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", written when abortion was illegal, I have failed to consider the possibility that Jig's feelings in that story are a function of the fact that her abortion is illegal. His reading of Jig is quite unusual. Most people...gosh, even pro-choice college professors! Jig's feelings as some combination of queasiness about the reality of what is about to occur and resentment about the pressure being applied by the baby's father.

The legality of abortion has made it easier and more socially acceptable to apply that kind of pressure. Consequently, there are lots of Jigs among us in the post-Roe v Wade world.

Tomorrow, I'll blog about how NARAL Pro-Choice America President Kate Michelman adopts, with Matthew, an odd kind of legal positivism around one's emotions following abortion. And as a full-service blog, I'll even explain what legal positivism is!

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Thank you, Eve Tushnet, for the kind words.

Eve, who has a not-yet-online article in the February 10 "Weekly Standard" about her experiences as a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center in Washington, D.C., is asking for anyone who attended the "Silent No More" rally in D.C. on January 22 to email her.

Annie Banno has a first-person account of her experience at that SNM event here.

Annie writes: "But what stirred me the most were the two women who asked me, 'Is that your story on your sign?' When I answered yes, they hugged me and said through tears, 'Mine too.'


"We know the truth about abortion, and our time of silence is over."

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Tuesday, February 11, 2003

'It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig,' the man said. 'It's not really an operation at all.'

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

'I know you wouldn't mind it, Jig. It's really not anything. It's just to let the air in.'

The girl did not say anything.

'I'll go with you and I'll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it's all perfectly natural.'

'Then what will we do afterwards?'

'We'll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before.'

'What makes you think so?'

'That's the only thing that bothers us. It's the only thing that's made us unhappy.'

The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of two of the strings of beads.

'And you think then we'll be all right and be happy.'

'I know we will. You don't have to be afraid. I've known lots of people that have done it.'

'So have I,' said the girl. 'And afterwards they were all so happy.'

The complete text of Ernest Hemingway's searing "Hills Like White Elephants" from 1927.

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Belief Net is featuring a Point-Counterpoint on post-abortion stress. One article is a personal account of post-abortion healing. The other article is an opinion piece by Marjorie Brahms Signer of the National Religious Council for Choice, who says that if women have an emotional reaction after abortion, it is relief.

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Ashli has a new entry at The S.I.C.L.E. Cell..

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“It still hurts to this day. I still live with that empty spot and I don’t know that it will ever go away."

From a lengthy February 9 article in the Mississippi Meridian Star about women who regret their abortions and now counsel others.

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Monday, February 10, 2003

The American Psychological Association (APA) doesn't acknowledge that abortion can cause emotional distress. For instance, APA official Dr. Brian Wilcox mistakenly told the Atlanta Journal Constitution in January that there is no research suggesting a link between abortion and later emotional distress. However, he was tracked down for that quote by an AJC reporter.

The APA is now experimenting with a more proactive forum for denying that abortion can be a stressful or traumatic event.

In the February 2003 issue of the APA mag "Monitor", we learn that "A task force of APA's Div. 35 (Society for the Psychology of Women) recently launched a Web site section that seeks to correct inaccurate information about reproductive health-- abortion, in particular--by featuring research-based literature and scholarly opinions."

Far be it from the APA to allow its opinions to be tainted by politics but the website launched by APA Division 35 is....oops!....part of the highly politicized pro-choice website The Pro-Choice Forum.

Check it out, and you'll find an article by Linda Beckman, a professor of psychology at Alliant International University in California. Beckman chairs the Task Force on Reproductive Issues for the Society for the Psychology of Women (aka Division 35 of the APA). She is quite worried about Silent No More, the new movement where post-abortive women speak out about their negative experiences with abortion.

Beckman writes:

"Georgette Forney, a co-founder of the campaign believes that "very little attention is given to the women who have actually had abortions." Because she regrets having had an abortion she has come to the conclusion that there are millions of women who feel the same way and are suffering in silence about the aftermath of their abortions. It is regrettable that Ms. Forney may have suffered as a result of her abortion. Still she needs to read the reputable research literature on the psychological effects of abortion before she makes incorrect statements about such effects for most women."

Note that "may have suffered".

Ironic that a feminist would diminish another woman by adopting the rhetorical posture of "Honey, we can't trust you to speak accurately even about your own experience, you poor misguided little thing, but even if you were right about that, y'all are in way over your head about the research which only us experts can be trusted to read, understand and correctly interpret."

Unfortunate tone aside, the most important problem with Beckman's article is that it contains a short, highly selective review of the literature on post-abortion trauma that ends in the late 1990s. She thus misrepresents the earlier literature and ignores recent articles in the British Medical Journal, the Southern Medical Journal, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, and the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry that indicate a strong statistical correlation between abortion and heightened rates of suicide, psychiatric hospitalizations, mental health treatment, parenting difficulties and substance abuse.

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The David Tell review that Leslie refers to below also mentions the new book, Back to the Drawing Board, a collection of essays edited by Theresa Wagner from a broad spectrum of pro-life writers in the general vein of "where do we go from here?"

One of the 28 essays addresses post-abortion distress. This contribution was written by Philip Ney of Hope Alive. David Tell takes him to task:

"A couple of the book's essays are exercises in crankery. Something called 'Vicarious Pain Syndrome' affects a woman who's had an abortion, according to Philip Ney: The dying baby's trauma is 'transmitted across the placental barrier by hormones' and then permanently resides in [the mother's] head.' Children such a mother might later bear suffer 'Post Abortion Survivor Syndrome,' an 'existential guilt' about their dead sibling that 'might' lead them to 'violence' and 'terrorism'".

I'll be blogging about this in a few days. Your thoughts?

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Fox News in reporting on a successful paternity suit against rapper Ice-T, notes that "Ice-T had initially denied the child was his - and that he'd had sex with Sanchez. But Sanchez has claimed that the hip-hop star not only knew about the pregnancy, he offered her $80,000 for Sanchez to undergo an abortion."

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Sunday, February 9, 2003

Monsignor Dennis Clark offers an insightful homily at Catholic Exchange on one prerequisite for healing.

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Sydney Smith at Medpundit re-evaluates her position on whether abortion can have adverse emotional consequences. She cites new studies that indicate that it can.

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Kevin Miller notes The Elliot Institute's February 2003 newsletter, which addresses how the March of Dimes ignores abortion as a leading cause of subsequent premature births. According to David Reardon of The Elliot Institute, "At least 48 published studies have shown significantly higher risk of premature birth and low birth weight deliveries among women with a history of abortion.(1-48) One of the best, a Danish record based study (1), found the risk doubled after just one abortion. Multiple abortions increase the risk even more. A doubling of risk among an estimated one-fourth of delivering women who have a prior history of abortion would result in a 25 percent rise overall."

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