an After abortion: 04/20/2003 - 04/27/2003

3,400 confidential and totally free groups to call and go to in the U.S...1,400 outside the U.S. . . . 98 of these in Canada.
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Saturday, April 26, 2003

The idea that some women (and men) have adverse emotional reactions to abortion is not well known. People like me who abort a child and then experience a negative emotional aftermath often keep this to ourselves, thinking we are the only one.

Then again, some people deny that there is such a thing as a negative emotional reaction to one's own abortion.

On this blog I have -- rather defensively, in retrospect -- spent a fair amount of time linking to evidence that supports the claim that at least some men and women suffer after abortion. No doubt I will continue to do that.

What I haven't done is spend much time on the question of what you can do about it, if you're someone like me, although I have a bunch o' links on the left to groups that can help.

I want to start writing about the connection between what a person thinks about abortion, their feelings about their own abortion(s) and what happens in healing programs.

People, often enough, change their minds over time about what is or isn't a moral act. Education, reading, exposure to dialogue and argument, moral reflection and observations over time in our circle of friends and family lead us to re-evaluate earlier positions.

If you re-evaluate your position over time on abortion, and you've had an abortion, the emotional consequences of that re-evaluation are often excruciating. Yet the fact that in coming to recognize an earlier act as an extremely grave moral wrong--not just a grave moral wrong, but one committed on one's own child--we will suffer doesn't prevent some men and women from re-evaluating their position. The arguments and evidence about the moral status of very small children works on a part of our mind (the intellect, I suppose) that is separate from and independent of our emotions, but which then flows through to them.

For my money, cognitive-behavioral therapy is the best therapeutic approach to most psychological afflictions, including depression and anxiety. There's a massive amount of empirical research that supports its effectiveness in treating these mood disorders. David Burns is the most user-friendly CBT therapist, and his work is simultaneously entertaining, humble, charming, and seriously committed to offering an effective method to relieve mood disorders. You can get a good flavor for his approach by reading over his website, Feeling Good, especially the "Ask the Guru" section; an example of his dry humor.

The basic insight of CBT is that by and large, our mood states or emotions are a consequence of what we think. Thus, it encourages people with mood disorders to challenge and change their thoughts. However, it does not mean this in the repeat-twenty-positive-affirmations sense. Rather, CBT systematically encourages people with mood disorders to recognize that the thoughts that are causing them to experience depression and anxiety may not be true.

A very small example of this would be a person who wakes up at 3:00 a.m. and then suffers, imagining all the bad things that will happen the next day because of his lack of well-restedness. CBT therapy would help that person identify ways to cognitively challenge what are in fact a batch of false beliefs about the sure doom that will befall him if he can't get back to sleep. It is his false beliefs about that that cause him to suffer. By learning how to effectively challenge his own false beliefs, his emotional state naturally changes.

(This example makes CBT sound trite, but I'll trust my readers to read around on the suggested weblinks to get a better sense of it.)

So, CBT reminds us that our emotions most often are a direct consequence of our beliefs and it encourages us to challenge and identify false beliefs that are leading to painful emotions. This only works because our intellect can carry on a multi-layered conversation with itself wherein we can come to see that some of the beliefs with which we are torturing ourselves are false.

What it doesn't ever do is suggest that we can, or ought to, change our minds about something simply because we will feel better if we do. For example, a married man engaged in an affair may feel a lot of guilt. It's true that he would feel better if he managed to talk himself into thinking that, given the condition of his marriage, this affair is justified. Or if he decides that affairs in general are okay, regardless of the condition of one's marriage, because man did not evolve to be monogamous and shouldn't be expected to live in a way that evolution did not equip him for.

Similarly, some post-abortion counseling is based on the idea of reminding and reassuring the woman that in the circumstances she was in at the time of the abortion, she made the best possible choice. The idea is that if the woman repetitively reassures herself of this, she will naturally start to feel better.

Having tried that technique on a self-help basis myself for many years, the problem with it is that it only works if you can bring yourself to sincerely and genuinely believe it. I couldn't, in the end, because it's just not true.

While good-hearted people can disagree on the moral status of the fetus, for me it has just come to seem clear that very small babies are kids who deserve continued life and protection. So I can't comfort myself with the idea that "I made the best possible choice at the time", anymore than I would comfort myself with that thought for any other moral wrong. (If I had a terrible day, lost my temper, and socked my kid in the eye, I wouldn't try to persuade myself that I did the best thing I could, in the circumstances.)

The great majority of effective post-abortion recovery groups are designed for men and women like me. In other words, they are designed for people who have come to believe that they wilfully brought about the destruction of a child they ought to have protected and loved.

I'll leave this discussion here with a quote from David Burns of Feeling Good.

"I feel it's a huge error to believe people are 'basically nice.' I am writing a book on this subject. Certainly, I'm no real expert, any more than anyone else. However, I think people do positive, loving, creative things, and negative, hurtful, mean things. I think all human beings have the capacity for both, but that there's a huge tendency to deny or explain away the negative motives and actions.

There's a kind of liberal attitude among mental health professionals that humans are basically good, and that negative actions can be explained in terms of a thwarting of good motives, such as the desire to be loved or understood. All interpersonal therapy I have ever read about or learned about is based on this assumption. I think it is a flawed and very misleading assumption, however.

I'm more with Freud on this. He saw human nature as being dualistic. We have positive, loving motives, and devious, dark motives. Jung felt that we need to integrate the different sides of our selves to attain mental health, but that most people refuse this, because they are so afraid of their own dark side. I strongly agree with this point. I also feel that urges to reframe everything in terms of some frustrated positive motive is misguided."

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Friday, April 25, 2003

A few weeks ago we were discussing how hard it is to produce art about abortion that would support complacency. Folk-punk-rocker Ani DiFranco is a case in point.

This Metroweekly reviewer refers to DiFranco's Tiptoe as "the first-person, pro-choice call-to-arms" but he clearly has a tin ear.

"I'll miss you I say to the river
to the water
to the son or
daughter I thought better of"

That's a pro-choice call-to-arms? Am I missing something?

In her Lost Woman Song, she spends some time on her boyfriend as they wait in the clinic:

his bored eyes were obscene
on his denim thighs a magazine
I wish he'd never come here with me
in fact I wish he'd never come near me
I wish his shoulder
wasn't touching mine
I am growing older
waiting in this line

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If you're a man whose partner had an abortion, you can fill out a confidential survey here about your experience.

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Thursday, April 24, 2003

Diotima blogs on a Glamour April 2003 article about prostitution.

Evidently, the article, uh, glamorizes the profession, suggesting that it has become what is regarded as a reasonable lifestyle alternative.

Since the reporter comes up with the theory that the motivational force here is relatively large amounts of quick cash, she didn't dig deeply enough.

Women don't degrade and abuse their sexuality in order to afford Gucci. There are always underlying psychodynamics. With prostitution or other sex work, there is often an underlying traumatic wound which the woman is seeking to master through partial reenactment. Not so long ago, when women like these college students--who do not need to resort to prostitution in order to fend off starvation or avoid homelessness--became sex workers, they often had a history of childhood sexual abuse. Here's one link on that.

A history of abortion can also create a cycle of traumatic reenactment around themes like "men use my body and then devalue the result", "I can't be trusted to honor the dignity of my body".

In trauma theory, the idea of reenactment is that in an attempt to master an event from the past that one has not been able to understand, integrate or make peace with, the traumatized person is drawn to situations that in some respects resemble the traumatic event. The subconscious idea is that, this time, the outcome will be different...this time, I will not feel powerless, abused, dishonored, etc. Rita Belton has a good article on prostitution as a form of traumatic reenactment, but it doesn't seem to be online.

We see this dynamic in people who repetitively abort as a form of traumatic reenactment, such as in this story:

Excerpt: "Twice she has been pregnant as planned. Each time within 1 week of discovering this she vanishes, agonizes over whether to have the child or not and always has an abortion. (It seems to be more a panic attack than self-mutilation). Prior to meeting me she has had at least 4 other abortions that I know of."

Becoming a sex worker would be another way to reenact themes from unresolved abortion wounds.

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Conversation about feticide from Matthew Yglesias and many commentators. (Since his backtrack feature isn't working, you'll have to scroll down to the feticide post.

I contributed a note toward the end.

One of the commentators focuses in detail on the idea that a woman should never be forced to carry an unwanted baby.

It reminds me of some of the factors that go into deciding that a particular pregnancy is unwanted.

Far more often than many men are aware, the woman's calculations about her state of readiness to carry a child are based on not very flattering, although perhaps semi-conscious, evaluations about the father of the child. "I'm not so sure he'd be a good dad", "He's ineffective, unreliable and incompetent", "He just doesn't have what it takes to get me and the baby through this." "He's immature and not ready to be a good provider."

It's a version of the Darwin Awards.

These beliefs are rarely spoken out loud but they do come through in some sense to the father of the child. The rest of his life, whether he experiences regret or grief, he lives with the knowledge that one or more of his children weren't born partly because of an evaluation by the mother of the child (and sometimes also her parents and friends) wherein he was judged as inadequate.

Men who are the fathers in cases of unexpected pregnancies and who react by saying some version of "How you handle this pregnancy is completely up to you" or "Whatever you decide I will support you" intend to come across as supportive. Unfortunately, however, such men are often experienced by the woman as abandoning, passive and weak. In her mind, this increases the likelihood that the man doesn't have what it takes to be a good dad.

It can be psychologically difficult for a man to live with the knowledge that he has been found lacking in a matter of life or death pertaining to his own children.

Here's a link to a book about male emotional reactions to abortion, Men and Abortion, which appears to include recommended steps for acheiving resolution.

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A new activist group.

Update: Link has been fixed.

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Fresh from today's headlines, another priest accused of procuring abortion to hide his sexual abuse.

In the article, an official of the group Linkup, which is an advocacy group for clergy abuse victims, says she is aware of several cases like this.

I know of several myself. So much shame and secrecy can surround an abortion that such victims often don't report it, even years later. I suspect that there are many unreported cases.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2003

An excellent article about a Catholic bishop who back in the 50s did not shuffle errant priests from parish to parish.

The problem priest mentioned in the article impregnated at least two young teenage girls and then procured illegal (and in one case botched) abortions for them. One of the abortionists served time in jail but the priest never did.

The article quotes a Fitzgerald, who was the head of the country's first treatment center for troubled priests:

"From our long experience with characters of this type ... their repentance and amendment is superficial," Fitzgerald wrote. "A new diocese means only green pastures."

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Here's an abortion clinic that posts stories from its clients.

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Rachel's Vineyard offers weekend retreats for healing after abortion. Their webpage includes short biographies and individual email addresses of former retreatants who have volunteered to be email contacts for people suffering from post-abortion trauma.

They have now added an Hispanic email counselor:

Kathryn tuvo su aborto a los 21 años, el primer año que fué legalizado. Este ha sido la única vez que estuvo en estado y no tiene hijos. Aparte del padre del bebé, y de su esposo actual, nadie supo de ello. Al comenzar su trayectoria hacia la iglesia Católica, a los 49 años asistió al Retiro del Viñedo de Raquel. Ahora forma parte del equipo que da estos retiros y también da estudios bíblicos de sanación para mujejes que han tenido abortos. Después de experimentar el sanamiento entiende el por qué fue engañada en pensar que estaba bién. Ella está interesada en traer el estudio bíblico y el retiro a la comunidad hispana de su area. Le encanta leer, viajar y adora a los ninos.

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Theresa Bonapartis of Lumina posts a poem in honor of Conner Peterson and news about upcoming retreats in New York and New Jersey.

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This information from an e-newsletter sent out by Annie,
the Connecticut coordinator for Silent No More:

"On FRIDAY, MAY 9, 2003, MOTHER'S DAY WEEKEND, 10 am - 12 Noon at
Hartford's State Capitol Building, the Connecticut chapter of "Operation
Outcry: Silent No More" will speak up publicly to share their personal
stories. All women (and men!) who regret their (involvement with)
abortions are invited to attend, even just to stand anonymously in the
attending audience. Those participating will commemorate their lost
children in a brief memorial by announcing their aborted children's names
and placing a single red rose for each child in a decorated basket at the
press conference. Please pray for us and support us by spreading the word
and attending if you can. All the media in Connecticut is invited to this
first-of-its-kind event, and we hope to send a crucial message to all of
Connecticut that they need not be silent about their grief any longer and
that they can find support and recovery from their abortions."

Annie sends out a free monthly newsletter. She often volunteers as a sidewalk counselor. Her stories in the newsletter about that are fascinating.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2003

How does NOW stand on fetal rights?

NOW backs away from statements by Morris affiliate head.

This article from today's Daily Record (Parsippany, NJ) says in part:

"NOW officials declined to comment Monday on statements made this weekend by Mavra Stark, 'out of respect for (Peterson's) family and what they're going through,' spokeswoman Rebecca Farmer said by telephone from Washington.Farmer would not say whether NOW opposes fetal homicide statutes that exist in at least 23 states."

Reading between the lines, I assume that if NOW felt that their position on fetal rights would be seen as respectful to Laci's family and what they are going through, they would have been happy to say what it is. I linked to their 2001 position yesterday.

NOW's public relations attitude on this is consistent with the advice given by the ACLU in their position paper opposing feticide laws.

Some highlights of the ACLU's position paper are:

"And by "rhetorical," we mean that they must take care when they discuss or criticize fetal protection bills; our language should reflect understanding of why many people, including some who are pro-choice, might support fetal protection legislation. While we need to make clear that we respect and sympathize with the many emotional dimensions of this issue, every effort must be made to ensure that fetal protection statutes will not pave the way for government actions that threaten women's rights or reproductive choice."


"While acknowledging the deep emotions that fetuses may evoke for millions of Americans, the ACLU opposes the creation of theories of 'fetal rights.'"

That's quite a sentence. Don't you get the impression that it went through several drafts?

"the deep emotions that full-term but not yet delivered babies evoke in Americans"

"the deep emotions that fetuses evoke in Americans"

"the deep emotions that fetuses evoke in most Americans"

"the deep emotions that fetuses evoke for millions of Americans"

"the deep emotions that fetuses MAY evoke for millions of Americans"

There! Now it's perfect.

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Monday, April 21, 2003

More on the Peterson child

Jonah Goldberg just noted in The Corner that NOW president Patricia Ireland in an interview with Fox News calls it a double homicide.

He is following up on an earlier post of his where he noted that the now blogfamous Marva Stark of the Parsippany, NJ NOW chapter is, indeed, merely a local chapter head and predicted that on a national level, NOW would not fall into a PR blunder on this.

However, as I noted earlier, NOW is on record as opposing fetal homicide laws.

If Scott Peterson has a good defense attorney, we will continue to hear about this. In California, murderers are liable to receive the death penalty only under certain special circumstances. One of those special circumstances? More than one victim.

Update: More than you ever wanted to know about fetal homicide

Reproductive rights organizations have consistently opposed fetal homicide laws. Here are some links. The Cincinnati Enquirer covers opposition to a recent fetal homicide law. The two families testifying in favor of the law had lost children to drunk drivers. In both cases, the women were in labor and on their way to the hospital.

The ACLU's position paper on feticide laws.

CBS News reviews fetal homicide legislation late last year.

The Kentucky Courier Journal quotes an ACLU lawyer opposing fetal homicide laws:

"Beth Wilson, with the reproductive rights section of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said yesterday that the bill 'absolutely'' is an effort to ban abortion. She said the ACLU believes enhancing penalties for an attack on a pregnant woman that results in a stillbirth or miscarriage is the solution."

Another local pro-abortion group hot under the collar about fetal homicide laws.

In late January, the Philadelphia Inquirer reviews feticide laws.

A primer from the National Council of State Legislatures, which states:

"Pro-choice advocates say such laws grant a fetus legal status distinct from the pregnant woman-possibly creating an adversarial relationship between a woman and her baby."

(Right. Pro-choice advocates are super opposed to creating an adversarial relationship between a woman and her baby.)

ABC News notes that one reproductive rights group opposes fetal homicide laws:

“'This legislation is the first step toward recognizing the fetus as a person and just a part of the larger assault on a woman’s right to choose,' says Sharon Levin, spokeswoman for the National Women’s Law Center.

'This bill does not address crime against the pregnant woman. It focuses on crimes against the embryo, zygote, fetus — at any stage of gestation,' she says. 'Really, the purpose of the bill is to elevate the fetus to the same status as a living being, thereby beginning the process of granting it legal rights. And that begins to undermine the philosophy of the Roe vs. Wade decision.'"

Note: If you studiously read through the links, you'll see that representatives of reproductive rights organizations evaluate fetal homicide laws not on their merits, but on the intentions of those who propose them. They might have an argument on the merits, but if they do, they don't make it. It's a bit ironic that they would pursue this argumentative strategy since by opposing fetal homicide laws, they imply that the intention of the pregnant woman toward her fetus (to allow it continued life or not) has no bearing on anything. Of course, that's only a tiny irony in this sea.

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Mark Shea has resumed a full post-Lent blogging schedule.

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A new blog, which weighs in on the Laci/Conner Peterson double-homicide issue.

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A pro-choice post-abortion website

"It makes me so mad that we have to feel ashamed to have an abortion. Abortion is legal!"

That quote is from this interesting website.

This site was put together by an earnest young woman who is very pro-choice and yet seems to have experienced a great deal of emotional difficulty following her abortion. She includes a long list of the traditional post-abortion feelings, most of which she has personally endured.

She writes, "when my partner ignored Mother's Day I felt indignant. Even though I didn't have a child to validate my motherhood, I had been, in some small way, a mother."

In one section, Skye writes of a post-abortive flight attendant who struggled with her feelings toward women with children. The flight attendant would volunteer to hold infants and would then pinch them in order to make them cry. Her motive in doing this was so that the other passengers, instead of looking at the infant's mother with the affection and respect we normally accord to young mothers, would instead feel irritated and annoyed by being around a mother with a squalling and disruptive infant.

While abortion is legal, there are many behaviors which are perfectly legal which are nevertheless dishonorable and which thus induce a sense of shame. The law cannot save us from shame.

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Vernadette Broyles of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes about her most controversial column to date.

It was about abortion. In her reflection about this column, she addresses herself to those who have already experienced abortion:

"women who abort subject themselves to tremendous internal conflict. For some, these emotions remain buried. For others, it wells up as a deep longing to reverse what's been done. For others still, it morphs into anger that lashes out against anything that affirms the nagging voice within.
Everything aside, I would like to close by speaking to readers who have experienced abortion. My singular message to you is this--there is forgiveness (both between you and your Maker and the one you had made). Neither do I condemn you. Though you may label me every evil imaginable, my prayers remain with you."

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Laci Peterson's child

World Net Daily collects a bouquet of fleurs de mal in reference to the attempt by the Modesto County authorities to charge Scott Peterson with a double homicide:

"'If this is murder, well, then any time a late-term fetus is aborted, they could call it murder,' Morris County NOW President Mavra Stark told the Daily Record of Parsippany, N.J."

Note that Stark isn't raising the possibility that someone who aborted an 8-month fetus could be charged with murder. She appears to be upset about the possibility that someone might "call it murder."

My main point about the NARAL and NOW reaction to fetal homicide laws is that their leitmotif at all other times is that the pregnant woman is and should be the sole arbiter of whether the life she carries has a right to feel the sun on its cheeks.

In their opposition to fetal homicide laws, they incoherently disregard what the particular mother in question has chosen for her child. Her preferences and beliefs no longer count.

Here's what NOW says on their webpage.

Note one quote in particular:

"Feminists argue that the House’s passage of UVVA was not meant to protect women, that instead it was meant to lay the groundwork for dismantling Roe v. Wade by giving the fetus rights separate from the mother. 'This bill is being sold as an effort to deter violence against women, but it ignores the pregnant woman,' Gandy said. 'It is nothing more than a poorly disguised attempt to elevate fetal rights.'”

As I said, this is incoherent, since it doesn't "ignore the pregnant woman". These laws, in fact, support the preferences and beliefs of a very large class of pregnant women, namely, those who think that their yet-to-be born child is a real human person, entitled to the protection and care of its parents and society at large.

When Gandy says that these laws "ignore the pregnant woman", what she must have in mind are those pregnant women who do not have those attitudes and beliefs about their child.

As a psychological observation about Gandy, it is interesting that she so quickly identifies the entire group of pregnant women with those who do not believe their child has or should have any independent standing under the law.

Update 1: Here's the link to the Daily Record (Parsippany, NJ) that originally quoted Marva Stark. Thanks to the Raving Atheist.

Update 2: Take a look at The SICLE Cell's reflection on the fact that over 8000 people have posted their condolences on Conner's death at a Laci Peterson website.

Update 3: Please excuse my attachment to trivialities. I briefly mentioned in an earlier blog the issue of what happened to Scott's hair. For other inquiring minds, this article follows up on that. See the last paragraph.

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