an After abortion

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Patricia Beninato has started an I'm Not Sorry blog. Sometimes people start a blog because they have one or two things they want to get off their chests.

Ms. Beninato wanted to get something off her chest right away, and that is how she feels about Georgette Forney, Silent No More, and women who cry.

Needless to say, I'm not Silent No More's biggest fan. I think it's a hugely exploitative group, trotting out damaged women who weep seemingly on cue and then crowing "See, see? Look what abortion did!" Georgette Forney is no better than Sally Jesse Raphael in my opinion. When you see her at SNM rallies, her eyes practically glitter with glee as she watches the women sob.
In post-modern theory, they call this "demonizing the other".

This is quite an extreme view to take of Georgette, and one that is not backed up with any evidence. Has Patricia Beninato attended an SNM rally (where? when?), or is she relying on her impressions from a photo? Which one? Is there a link?

Wouldn't you want to provide some evidence if you were going to uncharitably assert that someone's eyes "glitter with glee" when women sob?

The question that I was waiting for the reporter to ask--which she never did--was "Why is it that not one of you seemed to regret your abortions until after you'd had a religious conversion?" I have yet to see someone participating in SNM who during their recitation doesn't say something about "being saved."
Goodness gracious. Note the impatience and the black-and-white absolutism here..."not one of you" and "I have yet to see". Here's a link to the testimonies at the Silent No More website. Picking one at random, The Need for Compassion, we see a woman who lived through an enormous amount of daily pain, who then experienced a considerable amount of relief from this pain after going through a post-abortion program. It's true that women who speak about their post-abortion pain in public often refer to the fact that their pain has been diminished by developing a relationship with God. But it is an uncharitable misreading to imply that the relationship with God came first and the pain later. In my experience, most women who talk about developing a relationship with God after abortion do this because they want their listeners to know what worked for them as they healed. It's done in the same spirit as recovering alcoholics who tell people about AA.

That aside, Beninato is unduly narrow in her focus here. The Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome website is one of the leaders in non-religious, non-political post-abortion recovery. This website is full (at last count, with close to 10,000 participants) of women who are experiencing a traumatic response to abortion, but who do not identify as religious.

But SNM in a lot of ways reminds me of the rash of "suppressed memories" stories that came out in the nineties. People would be depressed and someone would suggest that they'd been sexually molested as children but just didn't remember it, and aha! The light came on! SNM seems to work on the same principle.
This is not an altogether unfortunate analogy, although Ms. Beninato applies it in what seems to be a characteristically uncharitable way.

Some adults who were sexually abused as children never suppress those memories. They are more or less continuously aware of the fact of the abuse and of the fact that the abuse was a source of emotional damage. Other adults are aware that they were sexually abused, but develop a fairly flat affect and find ways to numb, deny or distract themselves from facing the pain of the sexual abuse. Some children do effectively suppress the actual memories and, as adults, recover those memories. Finally, there's a group of adults who experience major psychological dysfunction who enter therapy, and problematically "recover memories" of childhood sexual abuse under, perhaps, the guidance of an agendized therapist who is overeager to find something in the person's past that is causing their current adult dysfunctions. Some very disturbed adults have alleged childhood sexual abuse based on recovered memories, and then later recanted their allegations.

Because of the innate interest of such stories, most of us are aware that this happens. Meanwhile, reputable therapists, day in and day out, do the hard work of recovery with sexual abuse victims who gradually, through the course of therapy, come to remember episodes of abuse that they once suppressed. These stories don't get written up in the "lifestyle" section of the local paper.

The Courage to Heal is famous in some circles, and infamous in others, for suggesting that IF you have certain psychological problems as an adult, but no memory of childhood molestation, it would be worth your while to do some work with a therapist to see whether you can recover memories of childhood molestation.

I'm guessing that Ms. Beninato is not an expert on childhood sexual molestation, recovered memories, and treatment for victims of sexual abuse. It's interesting, though, that what she writes here is so strikingly uncharitable to people who recover memories of childhood abuse.

At any rate, women and men who hurt after abortion sometimes experience acute distress immediately. I've worked with three women in the last year who were psychiatrically hospitalized for aggressive suicidality within a month of their abortion. Other women find ways to deny, distract and numb themselves, but establish patterns of dysfunctional behavior in the course of doing that (substance abuse, internet porn addiction, a generally numb attitude to life, relationship difficulties, and so on).

When adults get to a point where they don't want to live with these manifestations of psychological damage, they do often start rooting around in their earlier life to think about when the negative patterns started, what might have caused it, and how to deal with whatever might have caused it.

Women who were hurt by abortion do that, and so do women who were hurt by rape, domestic violence, workplace bullying, childhood abuse, and any of the other wounds to which the flesh is heir.

I think this is the responsible thing to do, because when we get a grip on where and when any patterns of acting out began, we can do the responsible thing and address the root issue. We are then far less likely to continue to hurt ourselves and others, at a minimum, and as recovery continues, to find ways to sustain a sense of wholeness, peace and serenity.

What Ms. Beninato is suggesting is that some women who experience psychological distress as adults have been (falsely?) led to believe that an abortion is the root cause of this distress, just as some adults who experience psychological distress have been (falsely?) led to believe that childhood sexual abuse is the root cause of this distress.

One way that Beninato's analogy is less-than-apt is that her anger seems to be primarily directed at adults who recover memories of childhood sexual abuse, who weren't (she seems to suggest) actually abused. Their recovered memories of sexual abuse are actually false, or manufactured. This isn't a good analogy for abortion because women don't one day wake up and decide that they must have had an abortion that they had previously forgotten about, and create false memories for themselves about being on the abortion table, hearing the suction device, and being handed an Oreo and two ounces of Tang in the recovery room.

Rather, women who have had an abortion(s) are more in the position of someone who was sexually abused as a child, and has never forgotten that abuse, but who is uncertain about whether (or denies) that abuse has impacted her. This is by far and away the situation that therapists most often face with adults they work with. The adults are cognitively aware of past events in their life ("my dad was drunk every single night") but are numb to or in denial about the emotional impact these events have had on them.

One reason I believe that abortion causes psychological distress is that women with symptoms of emotional pain who reconcile an earlier abortion experience so often become noticeably more emotionally healthy. They become more charitable, easy, cheerful, resilient, compassionate, and recover a zest for life.

To the extent, then, that SNM "works on the same principles" as therapists who help clients understand how childhood sexual abuse may be negatively affecting their current moods and relationships, I think that's a good thing.

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