Abortion is Traumatic, Not Empowering

“There are people out there to listen to your story. There are people out there to hear about your grief.”

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The Washington Examiner recently published an op-ed piece called “Abortion is not empowering – I should know, because I had one.”

By her own description, author Ally Bowlin, like so many young women, bought into the feminist fiction that abortion is an inconsequential, no-big-deal procedure with no after effects. She remembers the nurses reassuring her that the abortion wouldn’t affect her ability to have children later. She remembers telling herself, “Now I can be successful,” “Now I can finish college,” “Now I won’t have the burden of another life to look after.”

But of course there were after effects. Bowlin describes struggling for years with anxiety, anger and depression. “I had vivid flashbacks, memories of the day of my abortion replayed for years, at any given moment. Still to this day, six years later, I can tell you the color of the wallpaper in the clinic, the color of the chairs, even the color of the nurse’s scrubs.” And yet, when she eventually sought counseling, her abortion was never addressed as a potential cause of her emotional struggles.

It was this very issue – the refusal of the therapeutic community to acknowledge post-abortion suffering – that spurred Theresa Burke to found Rachel’s Vineyard. Now a ministry of Priests for Life, Rachel’s Vineyard offers weekend retreats for post-abortion healing. It obviously fills a serious need, holding over 1,000 retreats annually, in 49 states and 70 countries. So much for post-abortion suffering not being real.

So how did it start? When Burke was a graduate student in the field of psychotherapy, one of her assignments was to lead a support group for women with eating disorders. Over time, six of the eight women revealed that they’d had abortions. As Burke wrote in her book, Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion, they told Burke that their abortions were perhaps the most difficult decisions they had ever made, while at the same time denying that they’d had any significant effect on their lives. Sensing that, as she put it, “a lot of unexplored and unresolved feelings were being denied, repressed, or suppressed,” and that those unexpressed emotions could be important in treating their eating disorders, Burke spoke with her supervising psychiatrist about how to proceed. She was told in no uncertain terms to drop it.

Fortunately, she didn’t. When she completed her training, she decided to set up small, free support groups for women who had had abortions. As she told me in an interview for Salvo magazine, those sessions “were always filled, even though we never advertised. It was all word of mouth.”

Burke knew she was onto something. “I even began to sense that therapy – coming in to discuss their abortions – actually made it worse. We now know from research that talk therapy does not always help victims of trauma.” So Rachel’s Vineyard was born, so to speak.

Ally Bowlin eventually found help. “Last year,” she writes, “I had the gift of receiving loving, compassionate post-abortive healing. Post-abortive healing was probably the hardest 12 weeks I’ve had to endure in my 27 years. But, compared to a lifetime of suppressed grief and heartache, I would go through it many, many more times. I learned that feeling intense pain post-abortion is normal, feeling regret is normal. And that there is hope past that regret; there is love on the other side of that pain.”

Bowlin wants other post-abortive women to know that they shouldn’t feel pressure to see their abortion as positive. “There are people out there to listen to your story. There are people out there to hear about your grief. Let them in and let them help.”

How courageous of Bowlin to share her story with others in the hope of encouraging them to find help. And not only that: Bowlin is now a national programs coordinator for Students for Life of America.