Why won’t my friend talk about her abortion? It’s obvious that she’s in bad shape emotionally, and I’d like to help her. But every time I try to broach the subject, she clams up. Do you have any insights into what she might be thinking?
Your sensitivity and willingness to care for this hurting woman is admirable. The cultural debate over the sanctity of human life can become so heated that we forget about the individuals involved.
The preborn child isn’t the only victim of an abortion. In most cases, the mother also suffers intensely. You are seeing the effects of that suffering firsthand.
The best way you can touch your friend in a deeply meaningful way is to simply acknowledge her grief and let her know you want to help her deal with it. And by reaching out to her at this level, you can also make a powerful statement for life.
Why is my friend struggling?
Viewed superficially, your friend’s situation can seem hard to understand. If a woman voluntarily chooses to end her pregnancy to avoid a personal crisis, why should she be upset afterward about losing her baby? After all, we’re constantly being told that freedom of choice is the central issue in the abortion debate. Your friend has exercised her right to have it her own way. So why should she be sad?
The answer is that many women who have abortions are extremely uncertain about their decision. When they become pregnant their feelings scream, “This is my baby, I will do what I need to in order to protect and nurture this child.” On the other hand, their circumstances yell, “This is not a good time to have a baby. Abortion is legal and easy. It’ll be as if it never happened. It’s the only solution to this mess.” A woman in this position is torn in opposite directions. The result is terrible inner conflict.
Simply put, most women who choose abortion are going against their own morals and instincts. This explains why they feel guilt after the fact. Guilt is what prevents your friend from talking about her abortion and seeking the emotional help she needs.
What is Post-Abortion Syndrome?
A number of counsellors who’ve explored this issue have identified a condition they call Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS). PAS has been defined as:
- An ongoing inability to process painful thoughts and emotions – especially guilt, anger, and grief – that result from one or more unplanned pregnancies and subsequent abortions.
- An ongoing inability to identify (much less grieve) the loss.
- An ongoing inability to come to peace with God, herself, and others impacted by the pregnancy and abortion decision.
The challenges of grieving an abortion
A post-abortive woman like your friend faces huge barriers when it comes to the challenge of acknowledging and actively grieving her loss.
- There’s no external evidence that her baby ever existed — no pictures or other reminders.
- She may not believe she has the right to grieve a loss that she created herself.
- There’s no accepted public forum for grieving this kind of loss — no funeral, memorial service, or eulogy.
- The support system that normally gathers around a bereaved mother is limited, or absent altogether. In most cases, few people are even told about the procedure. Those who do know aren’t likely to feel inclined to rehash it – and if the mother confides in someone who didn’t know about the abortion, she risks disapproval or rejection.
- The preparation for abortion rarely includes any discussion of related emotional issues.
- Many professional counsellors don’t understand PAS so can’t help a woman in your friend’s situation.
For any or all of these reasons, it’s difficult for a post-abortive woman to have her grief validated as a normal and predictable reaction.
As a result, she may repress her feelings of sadness and anger. Without a chance to work through grief, the process is interrupted and might not be started until years later when another significant loss occurs or she becomes pregnant again.
How can I help?
- Pray. Ask the Lord to touch your friend’s heart, open her eyes, and help her admit to herself that she’s experienced a real and devastating loss.
- Listen. Become a channel of Christ’s compassionate love for her.
- Point her to more help. She can call our counsellor for a free over-the-phone consultation. She’d be more than happy to speak with your friend whenever she feels ready – and can give her a list of professional counsellors in her area.
© 2013 Focus on the Family. Used with permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.