an After abortion

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Monday, April 18, 2005

"Smashing denial?"

The Spring 2005 edition of Life Without Limits (warning: that's a big PDF file), a publication of Wisconsin Right to Life, has an article by Vicki Thorn, who is the long-time director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing.

The article is called "How you can reach out and help post-abortive women." It's a good article. If you know someone who has had an abortion, I'd recommend printing out and keeping a copy of this article.

What I'd like to reflect on here are just a few sentences from the article:

"We must be careful not to break denial if that is how the person is coping at the moment. To rush in and smash denial may result in the person falling apart. When she is emotionally strong enough, the healing process will begin."
Looking around, I notice that the new post-abortion ministry, In Our Midst includes a similar idea in their Ministry Guidelines:

Never try to force anyone out of denial. (That is for God to do in His timing. Pray He will bring that to pass in His perfect timing.)
(I don't know how many post-abortion ministries have such explicit guidelines. Ramah does have a set of guidelines but none of them refer to "smashing denial".)

What is meant by the phrase "smashing denial"? My best guess is that it means something like "Do not tell a post-abortive woman that when she had an abortion, she paid to have her child destroyed." Is that what it means? It could also mean, "Don't give her a speech on embryonic development. For example, don't tell her that while she may have thought that the fetus was a blob of tissue at seven weeks, it actually was a developing, recognizable but very small baby with a heartbeat."

I think that something along the above lines is what Vicki Thorn and the folks at "In Our Midst" mean when they say, "Don't break denial."

If that's true, though, one of the more well-known post-abortion Bible studies includes language that I think they would frown on. Forgiven and Set Free, on the first page of the first chapter, says:

Women who have had a miscarriage feel guilty because they don't know what role they played in their child's death. Women who choose abortion feel guilty because they do know what part they played in their child's death.
I wonder how many women who have been given this book by well-meaning friends decide at this point that the book is not for them?

For what it's worth, I agree with Vicki Thorn when she argues against breaking or smashing denial. Yes, it is appropriate in some contexts to make the case that abortion is a grave mistake, and that the baby in utero is entitled to protection, not destruction. Women who have had abortions and who want to consider those aspects of the abortion are not lacking in resources to find out more about those arguments, if they are interested. I don't think a woman who is in anguish about a past abortion needs someone to tell her "oh, and by the way, it was a baby" when she is pouring out her heart and asking for support. This is something about which she can draw her own conclusions.

On the subject of denial, some folks talk as if everyone who has had an abortion will eventually come to regret or, if they don't, that's because they are "in denial". Maybe that's true. Maybe it isn't. I know women who were sexually abused as children who swear up-and-down that this did not cause any long-term emotional distress. I expect that if I were to tell one of these women, "Honey, you're in denial. I'll pray for you that one day you'll be able to recognize just how much you were hurt by that abuse" that she would feel quite offended. It's patronizing. Basically, it says to the person "Whether you know it or not, you've got BIG psych problems." Who wants or needs to hear that? People get better when they're sick and tired of being sick and tired...not when a patronizing acquaintance points out they are an emotional basketcase.

Also, women who do regret their abortions can well be in denial. One woman might have come to believe that abortion is a sin, and asked God for forgiveness. So, she's no longer "in denial" about that, but she may well still be in massive denial about the emotional impact the abortion had on her and instead believe that as long as she has asked God for forgiveness, her journey of healing is complete. She may have very little, if any, insight into the fact that she has trauma symptoms that relate to the abortion (an annual desire to kill herself on the anniversary, for example) or that she now hates all men because of the abortion, or that the reason she is estranged from her mother is because of the abortion, etc., etc., etc.

I find that it is never a good idea for me to imagine that I'm all cool and better than someone else because I'm no longer in denial about some things.

Instead, I like to imagine that I'm all cool and better than others because I have a blog.

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