A Conspiracy of Silence
by Melinda Tankard Reist
In two previous excerpts from her book Giving Sorrow Words: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion, journalist and women's rights advocate Melinda Tankard Reist discussed how inadequate and deceptive pre-abortion counseling contributes to the lack of authentic and fair choice, and many women's experiences of coercion, mistreatment, and the psychological and physical effects of abortion.
In this excerpt, she describes the silence and absence of help that many women face after abortion -- a further injustice that deepens their pain and isolation and can lead to prolonged suffering.
But there is no period of mourning for a woman suffering grief after an abortion. There are no grief teams, no body for her to cuddle and dress, no footprints or photographs to keep in an album, no ceremony, no grave on which to lay flowers; in short, nothing to acknowledge that this baby ever existed.
Peta makes this point in an extract from her story, writing, "The pain and grief continues because there is no acknowledgment of death, except in my heart ... The shadow of my lost little girl or boy will always follow me."
Beatrice, who underwent a second trimester abortion, describes what this lack of acknowledgement feels like:
My grief will be unresolved because you cannot grieve the normal way, you can’t repeat and repeat yourself. My husband and I never talk about the inner feelings ... although I’m sure he must think of it too. It’s just taboo and you put it to the back of your mind ...
Katarina, a psychologist, wrote of feeling cheated because she is not free to grieve:
My sister has since had two stillbirths—as a family we have grieved and empathized with her and her husband’s dreadful pain. Inside of me I felt cheated as no one had grieved with me for my two lost children—not even me. When my mum says no one in the family has experienced pain like my sister my heart cries out silently, "But I have."
Women are told they’ll get over it, that time heals, but many find this is not true. Elizabeth had an abortion in 1973:
The aftermath was a numbness I hadn’t anticipated. I was numb, hollow, dead, and so very heavy with sorrow. The feelings didn’t “go with time” as my delighted mother assured me they would. I grew morose, bitter, very sad; so heavy with sadness, I can’t describe it . . .
I cried every day, I stayed as drunk as I could for as long as I could, and I hated myself and everyone else. I used to dream about the child I’d lost ... I wanted my child. I loved it, cherished it, yearned for its birth, missed it when it was taken from me, and to this day, 26 years later, feel the tragic heaviness of loss. My only consolation is that one day when I die our souls may reunite.
A grieving post-aborted woman faces a conspiracy of silence. She is expected to be full of gratitude and praise that she could access the “right to choose;” to speak badly of her experience makes her seem ungrateful.
Women often spoke of being unable to get satisfactory help for their grief from clinics or organizations connected with abortion. Karleen said that when she sought help at a women’s counseling clinic, she was told it was wrong of her to speak badly of her abortion experience. Kara told of posting her personal abortion story on an Internet discussion of abortion. She was told to “get lost”—her story wasn’t welcome.
Sue also went to a women’s center and tried to share the grief she had carried for 24 years:
I took a risk last year at the local women’s center and was very surprised to be confronted by the hostility of one woman present—she had every right to her opinion but I made the mistake of assuming that the women’s center would be a safe place to discuss it without judgment.
There are few “safe places” for women to share their grief. Women are made to suppress their pain and invent other reasons to explain what they are going through. A woman who shared her abortion pain in a story in The Age in 1992 described trying to get help from a pro-choice organization:
They said the reason (that you are hurting) is that you’ve got stuff in your background that you need to resolve. But I don’t think I’ve got unfinished business.2
If a woman is depressed after an abortion, she is made to feel it’s her own inability to deal with sadness which is the problem. The onus is all on the woman. But, as Isabelle wrote, "[P]ost-abortion grief is a very real experience. It goes on and on. Every time abortion is debated it sounds ten times as loud and it hurts ten times as much."
Contributors to this book described many ways of trying to understand what happened to them, searching for a place of “healing” or “resolution” or “peace.” They had in common a need to find a way through crushing grief and to give expression to their mourning and sense of bereavement. A few were able to find a pathway to resolution; others still look for it.
But many more have not been permitted expression of their pain, nor been allowed to seek a way through it. They remain locked in, shut up, shut out of the discussion. Surely the time is long due that they too be encouraged to speak, to give their sorrow words and so help resolve their grief.
This book is available from the Elliot Institute under our Acorn Books publishing imprint. For more information, visit www.theunchoice.com or call 1-888-412-2676.
For information on finding help and healing after abortion, visit our healing page.
1. E. Joanne Angelo, “Post-Abortion Grief,” Human Life Review, Fall 1996, p. 43.
2. Jane Cafarella, “The heartache of abortion,” The Age, Aug. 28, 1992, p.14.
I had many friends when I was younger who had similar effects from abortion that never got resolved...I hope they can find these types of sources to help them. I haven't seen or heard from many of them for years.
This is another perspective from the abortion issues that I am glad is coming "into the light" for all to see. It is an important aspect of the abortion issue to look at, and not experienced by few, but by many.
Thanks so much for this excellent account.
I have always believed that the unborn was not the only victim. Being a true believer in God, I have always felt that the baby just gets a free pass to heaven and it is those left here on earth who suffer the most...
I agree with DNK however the person who had the abortion has to learn how to forgive themselves as God does forgive and understand. Nice topic.
It is true that grief after an abortion is quite documented. I've known quite a few girls who have been in this situation. The grief they felt after abortions was far worse than the grief they would have felt having only given up the child for adoption. Sadly these girls see no other way out.
I look forward with great anticipation to reading this book. Excellent post.
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