Abortion's effects

What effect has abortion on demand had on our society? Is an abortion a simple outpatient procedure that can be performed and forgotten on the same day?

Ardyce Sweem was serving as a chaplain at Washington Adventist Hospital when she wrote this article. Currently she is living in Germany, learning German and teaching English.

Approximately one fourth of all pregnancies in the United States now end in abortion. Although there are no statistics available on the number of Adventist women who have had an abortion, in certain areas the number seems to be fairly large.

In 1986 the United States Supreme Court declared that although it is legal for states to provide information about the risks involved in most medical procedures, it is a violation of the Constitution for states to provide medical information that pertains to the risks of abortion. Because of that ruling, the burden of in forming women in this country now falls largely on physicians, clergy, and other professionals.

How would you advise a woman who came to ask your opinion about whether she should have an abortion? The advice women receive from Adventist ministers varies widely because the church has not taken a clear stand on the issue.

The advice you give will depend on what you know about abortion and its effects upon the one who has the abortion and those around her. Of particular concern should be the medical and psychological effects on the woman, the effects on other children in the family, the effects on the father and the couple's relationship, and the effects on the medical personnel involved in the procedure.

Medical risks of abortion

According to four major medical studies, possible medical consequences for women who have had two or more abortions include impairment of future childbearing abilities, a two-to threefold increase in miscarriages or premature babies, and a two to two-and-one-half times greater probability of low birth weight babies.

An Oxford University study of 1,182 suction abortions revealed that 27 per cent of the women suffered fever and peritonitis, 16.7 percent needed blood transfusions because of hemorrhaging, 4-2 percent suffered a torn cervix, 1.2 percent a perforated uterus, and 1 per cent developed thrombosis (blood clots) in the lungs. Sterility, tubal pregnancy, and complications that have ended in the death of the woman have been experienced as well. 1

Psychological effects on women

Women who have abortions face emotional complications that include guilt, anxiety, depression, feelings of loss, anger, loss of self-esteem, nightmares, flashbacks, and hallucinations. 2

In an article written for Adventist Singles Ministry Bulletin, Garland Day described his experience in meeting those suffering psychological aftereffects of abortion. "Every month as I travel across North America I am confronted with four to six singles who are trying to come to terms with their personal involvement in an abortion: fathers who have dreams about the child that never was and their feelings of guilt, remorse, and sadness; mothers experiencing serious depression, thoughts of suicide, and their in ability to accept forgiveness from God or themselves. One common lament that I have heard again and again is 'I wish someone had told me how I would feel afterward; that I had only known more about abortion before agreeing to it.'" 3

A study of long-term manifestations of abortion as a stressful event among 30 women revealed that 100 percent had experienced feelings of grief, sadness, regret, and loss; 92 percent had had feelings of guilt, anger, and depression; 85 percent were surprised at the intensity of their emotional reaction; 81 percent felt as though they had been victimized; and that while some did not consider themselves to have been religious at the time of the abortion, after the fact 96 percent felt that abortion was the taking of a life, or murder. Sixty-five percent of the women in the study experienced suicidal thoughts, and 31 percent attempted suicide. 4

Why does the woman who has had an abortion feel guilty when our nation's laws declare that abortion is legal? As one author has said: "Abortion violates something very basic in a woman's nature. She normally is the giver of life. ... Most women who have had an abortion feel that they have killed their baby." 5

Women may also feel shame over their abortions. This is distinct from guilt in that it makes the woman feel that she is a "bad person." 6 It is partly because the woman's family, doctor, and medical staff do not want to be involved in her grief; she is isolated from the usual means of support. Neither can she express her grief through the funeral process, because the death of her child is not accepted by society as a reality. 7

In Japan, where more than 50 million abortions have taken place since the practice was legalized in 1952, some women help resolve their grief by purchasing small stone Buddhas to place in a temple as memorials to their "water babies." One temple that has more than 10,000 of these statues has become a commercial attraction. 8

While some have urged that similar rituals should be developed in the United States, others would see this as mere exploitation of a woman's grief. How much better it would be to help a woman before the abortion. Sharing with her the likely consequences and effects of abortion may help her decide against the procedure and thus obviate the need for post-abortion rituals.

The woman who has had an abortion may need spiritual counseling. Only as she is able to recognize and come to grips with her sense of guilt will she be able to find healing.

In Abortion's Second Victim Pam Koerbel describes her own abortion experience and its subsequent effects on her life and marriage. She has worked through her pain and suffering and found healing with the help of God and her husband. She suggests that in the healing process the woman must forgive herself and others who took part in her abortion: the doctor, nurses, counseling service, and her husband or boyfriend. In addition, she must ask forgiveness of her parents who may have grieved over her decision.9

The counseling women receive before an abortion is often inadequate to prepare them for the psychological difficulties they face later. Counselors may use terms such as fetal tissue and products of conception to refer to what the woman will eventually realize is a son or daughter. Sometimes women feel angry and exploited after their abortion. And why not? Abortion is now a major industry in the United States, grossing around $500 million a year. 10

A pamphlet published by Women Exploited by Abortion (WEBA), an organization dedicated to helping women cope with the aftermath of abortion, includes statements from several women about their abortion experience. These women testify to severe mental and physical difficulties that their physician did not prepare them to expect. 11

The psychological problems that WEBA deals with include grief, guilt, rage, bitterness, fear of punishment, preoccupation with the baby's perceived birth date or age, need to become pregnant again (to have an "atonement baby"), and self-destructive behavior such as drug or alcohol abuse, anorexia, and suicide attempts. 12

Recent studies in Canada reveal that "even though a woman felt that abortion was a wise choice at the time, it does not follow that there will be no problems with unresolved grief or guilt." 13 Women who have abortions for genetic reasons are also at risk, according to a British study. 14 Women with psychological problems face further risk if they have an abortion. 15 And women who are victims of rape have been found to do better emotionally if they carry their babies to term, since they are not subjected to a second act of violence.

Children and abortion

Children in the family of a woman who has had an abortion suffer in various ways. Sometimes the mother has difficulty in bonding with her next child, even developing an aversion to touching it. 16 It has also been found that child abuse rates are higher among women who have aborted than among those who have not. 17

Psychologist Philip Ney has concluded from his findings that "the widespread acceptance of abortion conveys to all children the frightening message that the love they receive is conditional." Young children are often aware of their mother's pregnancies, whether they end in miscarriage or abortion, and respond to abortion "as do children who have faced a major disaster in their lives." 18

Men and abortion

According to Professor Arthur Shostak of Drexel University, men also have negative reactions to the abortion experience. They experience guilt, remorse, sadness, and nightmares. Many also sense a "loss of fatherhood." When Shostak requested funding from the National Institutes of Health for further research, he was told off the record that it was denied because his study could be viewed as anti abortion. 19

Couples and abortion

According to Pam Koerbel, women who have abortions usually do so out of fear. 20 Sometimes that fear is related to losing a relationship they value. They may also be pressured into having abortions by husbands or boyfriends.

Researcher Emily Milling found that in a study of more than 400 couples who had experienced an abortion, 70 percent of the relationships failed. 21 Linda Bird Francke found that "almost every relationship between single people broke up either before or after the abortion." The reason? Sex became associated with memories of pain and guilt. 22

Some couples who married after an abortion experienced severe trauma in their attempts to reconcile their decision, while others drew closer together as they resolved their feelings through a healing relationship with the Lord. 23

Medical personnel and abortion

Medical personnel who perform abortions sometimes exhibit reactions similar to those of the fathers and mothers. Nursing personnel experience night mares and depression and tend to drink excessively. They may come to resent mothers who are having abortions, and may also become angry with doctors who leave them to do the dirty work of disposing of the dead fetus after the abortion is performed. 24

Doctors often have difficulty reconciling their feelings. Dr. John Szenens describes the conflict: "You have to become a bit schizophrenic. In one room you encourage the patient that the slight irregularity of the fetal heart is not important--that she is going to have a fine, healthy baby. Then in the next room you assure another woman, on whom you just did a saline abortion, that it is good that the heart is already irregular . . . she has nothing to worry about, she is not going to have a live baby.25

Szenens also describes how he started out aborting 15- to 16-week-old fetuses and later did 24-week-old ones. He felt that this progression was a good thing--otherwise, he might have had more of a dilemma over whether or not he was committing murder.

In one book an unnamed doctor is quoted as saying, "The first time I felt like a murderer, but I did it again and again and again, and now, 20 years later, I am facing what happened to me as a doctor and as a human being. Sure, I got hard. Sure, the money was important. And oh, it was an easy thing, once I had taken this step--to see these women as animals and these babies as just tissue. 26

Legality and morality

Legal abortion on demand may be here to stay. It depends on future Supreme Court decisions. It is interesting to note that in 1975 the Supreme Court of West Germany banned abortion on demand during the first trimester, stating that "we cannot ignore the educational impact of abortion on the respect for life." 27

We must remember that making something legal does not necessarily make it moral. In the nineteenth century the Supreme Court declared that Blacks were not people or citizens as the terms are used in our Constitution. In this century the same Court has declared another group to be nonpersons. 28 Today we agree that slavery is wrong. Will we one day wake up to see that abortion is wrong too?

What the church can do

On the local level pastors and their congregations need to relate redemptively to women in crisis pregnancies. I know of one young unmarried Adventist woman who gave birth to a son. The church members showed her love and support through her difficult time, and eventually she was rebaptized and married a fine Christian man who was willing to adopt her son.

Recently I visited a married Christian woman who was pregnant with her third child. She told me that because of severe morning sickness she had been tempted to have an abortion. This was a chilling reminder to me that abortion has become too easy an option. I was able to encourage her in her pregnancy by reading Scripture and having prayer with her. Helpful texts that show God's concern and plan for the unborn include Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:13-16; and Galatians 1:15.

Since 75 percent of the abortions in the United States are done for unmarried women, part of the solution to the problem lies in helping young people see the importance of refraining from premarital sexual relations.

We also need to be more affirming of women who choose to stay home and raise children. Something as simple as providing occasional free baby-sitting to a harried mother may help keep her from feeling the need of an abortion if another baby is coming too close on the heels of her toddler.

We need to consider carefully what educative role the church should play in the community, and what support it and its members should give to organizations that are working to discourage abortions. It seems clear to me that the church's voice must be heard.

In the 1940s only a few Christians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against the persecution of Jews. Bonhoeffer, who is known mainly for his defense of Jews, was also against abortion. He wrote that "destruction of the embryo in the mother's womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life . . . and that is nothing but murder." 29

Bonhoeffer believed that eventually Hitler's persecution of the Jews would extend to Christians. It is important to note that many others died first: "the aged, the infirm, the senile and mentally retarded, and defective children." Other "doomed undesirables" included epileptics, World War I amputees, children with badly modeled ears, and even bed wetters. Physicians took part in this planning on matters of life and death to save society's money. 30

Today it is mainly the unborn who are being sacrificed. But as people become accustomed to this, their respect for life deteriorates. Surely Seventh-day Adventists who call men and women to worship God as Creator, Redeemer, and Lover of all should be in the forefront of those who are seeking to keep their society from losing sight of God's love for all.

1 The statistics quoted in this section are from a
fact sheet titled "Medical Complications Following
Abortion" (Gaithersburg, Md.: Shady Grove Preg
nancy Center).

2 M. H. Liebman, M.D., and J. S. Zimmer,
"The Psychological Sequela of Abortion: Fact and
Fallacy," in David Mall and Walter F. Watts,
M.D., eds., Psychological Aspects of Abortion
(Frederick, Md.: University Publications of
America, 1979). Cited in "Abortion: Some Medical
Facts" (Washington, D.C.: NRL Educational
Trust Fund).

3 Garland Day, "Abortion: A Noble Protest,"
Adventist Singles Ministries Bulletin, July 1986, pp.

4 Anne Catherine Speckhard, "The Psycho-
Social Aspects of Stress Following Abortion" (Falls
Church, Va.: Christian Action Council).

5 Dr. and Mrs. J. C. Willke, Handbook on Abortion
(Cincinnati: HiltzPub. Co., 1972), pp. 41,42.
Cited in Pam Koerbel, Abortion's Second Victim
(Wheaton, 111.: Victor Books, 1986), p. 123.

6 Terry L. Selby, "Postabortion Trauma" (un
published manuscript, Counseling Associated of
Bemidji, Inc.), p. 10.

7 Ibid., p. 15.

8 Based on a transcript from a Japanese television
documentary. Cited in Curt Young, The Least
of These (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), p. 65.

9 Koerbel, pp. 148, 178.

10 Young, p. 30.

11 See "Before You Make the Decision" (Schoolcraft,
Mich.: WEBA).

12 Patti McKinney and Jill Lessard, "Surviving
Abortion: Help for the Aborted Woman" (Schoolcraft,
Mich.: WEBA).

13 "The Pain That Follows: Coping After an
Abortion" (Lewiston, N.Y.: Lifecycle Books).

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Philip G. Ney, "A Consideration of Abortion
Survivors," Child Psychiatry and Human Development
13, No. 3 (Spring 1983): 173. Cited in Young, p. 68.

17 Ibid., p. 67.

18 Ibid., pp. 66, 67.

19 Ibid, pp. 65,66.

20 Koerbel, p. 121.

21 Day, p. 6.

22 Linda Bird Francke, The Ambivalence of Abortion
(New York: Random House, 1978), p. 47. Cited in Young, p. 56.

23 Koerbel, p. 180.

24 Young, p. 93.

25 Dr. Magda Denes, "Performing Abortions,"
Commentary, October 1976, pp. 35, 37.

26 John Rice, The Murder of the Helpless Unborn
. . . Abortion (Murfreesboro, Tenn.: Sword of the
Lord Publishers, 1971), p. 31.

27 John Powell, S. J., Abortion: The Silent Holocaust
(Allen, Tex.; Argus Communications,
1981), p. 128.

28 Young, pp. 6, 15.

29 Cited by Powell, p. 29.

30 Ibid.

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Ardyce Sweem was serving as a chaplain at Washington Adventist Hospital when she wrote this article. Currently she is living in Germany, learning German and teaching English.

July 1988

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