Resources for Health Professionals
Dear Health Professionals,
Do you find it difficult to talk to your clients about abortion? We would like to offer these suggestions for you to consider.
Abortion Affects the Whole Person
It is not uncommon for one who has undergone an abortion to experience complex feelings of guilt, shame, regret, anger, inner wounds, and hurt. Without the opportunity to grieve, process and heal, these feelings can lead to negative self-talk and a damaged self-image. Some have said they feel:
- “I am being punished for what I have done.”
- “I am unworthy of love.”
- “I have no right to grieve or be sad for what has taken place.”
- “I do not have a right to be happy.”
- “I must flee from God’s presence because of what I have done, I am unforgivable.”
- Some professionals will argue that there is insufficient evidence to claim that abortion has a negative impact on a person’s emotional well-being. It cannot be denied that countless men and women have reported great struggles, heartache, and trials following the days, months and years of an abortion. Clients who present with struggles related to an abortion can be seen as people who have experienced a trauma and in some instances, are diagnosable with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Testimonies: Abortions Impact
- Empirical research: Detrimental Effects of Abortion: An Annotated Bibliography with Commentary (3rd ed.) by Thomas W Strahan.
- When abortion is seen as nothing more than a medical procedure, a person can walk away believing that their negative thoughts and emotional responses are irrational or unnecessary. Many turn to maladaptive coping to find ways to hide, suppress, or deal with the negative thoughts and feelings. Often the journey is walked alone and in silence. Traumatic and difficult life circumstances (including people) can influence a person to have an abortion. These things too add additional traumatic layers to the story and identifying the source of hurt can be complex.
- It is common to experience depression, anger (toward self, others, or at the situation), regret, hopelessness, lack of self-worth and feeling not worthy of love.
- Marital and relational problems may be present as a result of regret, blame, feeling powerless or unable to stop the decision to abort.
- Persons who struggle may develop defense mechanisms of emotional blocking, dissociation, increased substance use, rationalization, projection, withdrawal, or emotional detachment.
- For many, complex traumas have been associated with repeated abortions. Often, with each abortion, the individual relives the experiences of grief, loss and shame and numbs oneself in order to find the strength to carry on.
- Men can be overlooked as persons who might be grieving. Some men may be wrestling with feelings of regret for what they have said or done in influencing an abortion, or may have had no say in the decision to abort and was powerless in protecting his child’s life.
- Recommended reading:
- Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion, by David Reardon and Theresa Karminski Burke.
- Redeeming a Father’s Heart by Kevin Burke, David Wemhoff & Marvin Stockwell
Considerations for Helping Your Clients
- Invite sensitivity and openness to talk about the impact abortion has on people. Ensure a non-judgmental environment to allow the topic to be rooted in trust so clients feels safe to disclose. Too often the subject is overlooked, misunderstood or avoided because of personal and polarized opinions on the politics of it. Clients need to know that politics, positions and issues will be left at the door and what is of upmost importance is their healing.
- Consider gentle ways to include the assessment of possible trauma related to the effects of abortion into your practice at the initial assessment or informally on an ongoing basis.
- Each person experiences trauma in unique ways. Help your client see their abortion experience in the context of the story of their life and family history.
- Learn from other professionals.
- Have the courage to talk with your colleagues about trauma related to abortion. Often the subject has become one of taboo. Talking about this as trauma creates an avenue for greater awareness and sensitivity for those struggling and are forced to carry this wound in silence.
- Help clients understand that self-disclosure to family and friends is a personal decision and should be reviewed with careful consideration and avoided if motivated by guilt or compulsion.
- Be aware of your own history and anything that might make the subject difficult for you, to avoid obstacles that might get in the way of the person you are serving.
- Counseling is not always enough, often a person who is post-abortive has unmet spiritual, pastoral, and peer support needs. Consider helping your client become connected to resources that relate to the whole person. Explore our website (rvineyardmn.org) for more information and share with your clients about our retreats. Scholarships are available for those who need financial assistance.
- Consider serving on a Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreat. The experience will give you greater insight into the complex trauma of abortion loss and the confidence to assist your clients in their healing journey. Contact Nancy for more information.