Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Trivializing the Unborn

Last week, I received a pro-life newsletter from a group whose mandate is education of the community on pro-life issues, but their main focus is a project to help post-abortive women find healing. This is all well and good and, given the numbers of women who have had abortions, this is a ministry that will be kept very busy for a long time to come.

What does concern me, however, is the emphasis that I think is shifting in these ministries from the true victim of abortion, the unborn child, to the second victim of abortion, the woman. Numerous studies are revealing that women who have abortions are suffering from many after-effects: physical, psychological, and spiritual. Physical effects range from scarring of the uterus that can cause infertility to damage so severe that a hysterectomy is required. Psychological effects can be anything from sleep disorders to eating disorders to full blown depression and suicidal tendencies, along with alcohol and drug abuse. Spiritual effects are much harder to pin down and are tied to psychological ones. Many women experience deep grief that cannot be expressed since abortion is a hidden component of our society; the unborn child cannot be grieved as a child that was known about. Not to mention guilt and the inability to forgive oneself which is intricately bound up with the ability to experience the love of God.

I don't deny that women who have had abortions need help, whether they admit it or not; for a woman to take part in a procedure that killed her own child has to have deep ramifications and abortion is not just something you can "get over".

Abortion has two victims: the child and the mother. But we must never forget that the child loses its life; the mother does not. Mom has a chance to seek healing in the future; the child doesn't have a future. Mom has possibilities open to her; the child has no possibilities whatsoever.

Many post-abortive ministries are Christian in their mandate; experiencing the forgiveness of God is an essential element of this ministry. But forgiveness is only necessary when one has done something wrong. And that wrong must not be diminished or reduced to make the hurting more tolerable. John Newton experienced profound guilt and repentance once he recognized what he had done as a slave-trader. That kind of experience should not be underplayed, as it brings home the reality of what has happened, not just to the person directly involved but to many others as well.

The newsletter I received concentrated on statements expressing concern by the women about where their babies are: are they in heaven? are they with Jesus now? for Catholics, the necessity of baptism to enter the kingdom of heaven becomes an issue -is the aborted baby a member of the heavenly kingdom or is he/she in some kind of limbo?

I am no theologian but I think that attempts to answer these questions by writing letters from the child to the mother are completely out of place. That is what was in the newsletter I received. A letter to "dear mommy, dear daddy" from the baby who was aborted, reassuring them that he/she was in heaven, that he/she was happy and that he/she was waiting for them to come as well. And a statement that mom and dad are not to dwell on their mistake too much, their error that sent this little one to heaven prematurely.

As well-intentioned as such a letter is, it is presumptuous. Consider this example: someone kills their toddler who is two years old, because they just couldn't control their temper anymore and dealt the child a blow that killed him/her. Or perhaps they were even abusive and the child died as the result of long-term abuse. Now imagine a letter written from this murdered child to its parents, reassuring them that he is alright, that they are not to worry or to dwell on their "sin" too much, that the child has forgiven them and is awaiting them in this place of happiness. The majority of us would cringe at the audacity of anyone who wrote such a letter.

Or imagine a letter from a victim of homicide to their killer on death row. Same thing, a letter of forgiveness and of reassurance to the person who caused their death. Or a fictional letter from a woman who was raped to her rapist, expressing forgiveness and reconciliation - not a real letter, but a fictional one.

It would be perfectly acceptable if such a letter actually came from the victim but it doesn't. It is imagined by a third party who is trying to make someone feel better about what they did, that someone being the perpetrator of the victim's death or injury. This just doesn't sit well with me at all. It is a subtle perversion of the truth about real forgiveness. If one admits to such a sin and experiences true forgiveness, there is no need for a sentimental concocted letter from the victim.

This kind of empathy trivializes the unborn child. It makes that child less than a full person; we would never allow such a letter to be written on behalf of someone who was born and then killed; why should we allow it to be written on behalf of someone who didn't get to be born? I am sure that if the person who wrote this letter were to be confronted by the mixed message it gives, he would express dismay that it was understood this way. But ask the question "would you write a letter from a Jew in a concentration camp to a Nazi guard?" or "would you write a letter from a raped woman to her rapist?" and I would not be surprised if the response might be that somehow those people are different from the unborn. Something such as "well the baby in the womb can't express itself" or "if it had thoughts, I am sure that this is what he would want to say to his mother". What such thoughts reveal, whether expressed or simply kept to oneself, is that somehow the unborn are not persons in the same way that these others are persons, i.e. they are "persons in the making" or "potential persons". It is thoughts such as those that allow people to choose abortion in the first place. As sympathetic as such people are, they do not understand that the unborn are truly entitled to their lives just as any other person on this earth is. The unborn child has been trivialized by this thinking. One would never ask the mother of a teenager killed by a drunk driver to accept such a letter in order to help her with her grief. This kind of fictional attempt at healing does not measure up to the reality of what happened and should never be used.

This kind of logic about the unborn, that they are better off now even though they have been aborted, can be used as an argument for abortion. One could even reason that abortion isn't so bad, since the baby is in heaven now. This thinking goes far beyond the abortion issue; heck, if everyone goes to heaven, you don't really have to be concerned about any wrongs that you do. Thinking in this vein brings one so close to pro-choice logic that warning bells need to be sounded loud and clear. Whenever the woman is placed before the child, abortion is not seen for the evil that it is. We must never underplay the fact that, in every abortion, someone loses their life.

Ministries that offer help to post-abortive women are necessary and extremely valuable; psychiatrists cannot offer women this help because true help relies on admitting that one committed a wrong and psychiatry does not deal in rights and wrongs. It side-steps moral judgments. So these ministries are the only real help that post-abortive women are going to find. But offering them help in the form of sentimental letters and statements about where their child is now, that their child is happy, that their child forgives them falls far short of what will really heal. No healing can occur without truth and, in the case of abortion, the truth is going to hurt. That hurt should never be dealt with lightly or superficially or sentimentally. An abscess has to be lanced and brought into the air for healing to occur; so too with abortion, it has to be given the word of God which cuts like a knife, and then brought to the healing heart of the Lord who can forgive all our sins and make us as white as snow.

Abortion is not wrong because it hurts women. Abortion is wrong because it intentionally kills an innocent human being. That is why it hurts women both psychologically and physically. The pro-life message must not confuse the reason abortion is wrong with the effects abortion has on women. Testimonies and personal appeal are powerful - and important - but they shouldn't replace the foundational message about what abortion does to the unborn.
- Stephanie Gray, Canadian Center for Bio-Ethical Reform

In all our attempts to help women who have been hurt by abortion, we must never lose sight of the fact that it is the child who lost its life in this abortion. The woman may feel psychologically or spiritually dead because of her abortion, but she does still have her life and the opportunity to heal; the child does not. That human being was robbed of all the possibilities and opportunities that should have been hers; let's not trivialize her shortened life by sentimentalizing it.


Suzanne said...

Excellent commentary. We need more thought like this among pro-lifers-- blogposts that examine and critique various ideas common among pro-lifers.

The women write themselves these letters because they need forgiveness. The unborn child is not in a place to offer it. We can imagine in the Resurrection that repentant mothers and their unborn children will be united, and all will be forgiven. That is a hope that mothers of post-abortive children need to have.

But we should also remember that on Judgement Day, We will all be resurrected. All our sins will be revealed. We will know the sins of others. We will come face to face to the people we have wronged.

To me, this is the scariest prospect of all.

But once we are acquitted through the blood of Christ, we will know our children. There will be no more tears. I think post-abortive women really need that hope.

Elena said...

Sentimentality doesn't help anything. It is in line with angel-spirituality in which God is replaced by cherubic children with wings. This was a very thoughtful commentary and insightful - thanks, Mom.

The Comeau Family said...

I can't tell you how much I appreciate what you've written here, because it's on my mind all the time.

What I notice is that the women who are told to "move on" or that they merely put their baby in a happier place "prematurely" through abortion, as you put it, are the ones who CANNOT move on. They are prisoners of their guilt until they get rid of it completely, and the first step is admitting to it.

I wish we could help people see that guilt is a good and healthy thing when we do something wrong, just as the body gives symptoms when it is sick. Today, we think guilt should be avoided at all costs because it doesn't feel good, forgetting that there is healthy and unhealthy guilt. Nothing improves by hiding that guilt or denying it; it only festers and gets worse, leading to despair. I think we do these women tremendous harm when we tell them not to "dwell" when they are seeking forgiveness. They should dwell on their sins, as we all should--enough to repent of them, bring them to confession or whatever else is in line with their religious views, and learn to accept healing over time. That is just healthy, the return path to God. We all have to experience guilt at some point or other. It leads to healing if viewed properly.

Another thing that bothers me about this "don't dwell" attitude is that true healing usually doesn't happen overnight, and by telling them things like the newsletter you're quoting from does, we're not allowing the women the time and space needed for healing.

Jesus said that the one who has been forgiven for much is the one who loves much. These women have done a terrible thing, but, in God's goodness, their very sin provides them with the opportunity to experience His mercy on a deeper level than most can imagine. His mercy is that amazing. If they don't fully admit their guilt, they can't experience His mercy at its fullest.

I also love what you say about the true and first victim of abortion: the unborn baby. You are so, so right. A true woman will not avoid abortion mostly because it can cause her physical or emotional damage, but because she could simply never kill her precious baby. I, too, strongly feel we need to stick to that message, because the truth is never something that needs to be watered down.

Sorry for writing so much as a comment! It's not that I wish to add to your blog or distract from what you've written, because you write so wonderfully! It's just nice to discuss all this with you and I don't even notice how much I've written until it's all done.

Julie said...

Elizabeth, I love when you post, so write as much as you like or feel inspired to do. It is always great to get feedback.

What you wrote is so correct about guilt, we are taught in this present society that guilt is something to be avoided and it is unnecessary, yet it is the built-in reminder of when we go astray.

I appreciate what you wrote about the greater the sin, the greater the depth of mercy to be experienced. The women whom I have met who are post-abortive and have experienced deep healing are remarkable women; they have their feet firmly planted in reality but they also have a compassion that is true and all-encompassing. They understand just what anyone is capable of.

I had a friend years ago, who had an abortion, it was years before she experienced healing but, when she did, she was the most compassionate person. I always felt that I could tell her anything, because she would understand and not judge. They have a tremendous gift of love to give once they know they are forgiven and loved themselves.