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From the January/February, 2003 issue of Touchstone


Healing the Pain by Mary Walsh

Healing the Pain

Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion
by Theresa Burke, Ph.D., with David Reardon, Ph.D.
Springfield, Illinois: Acorn Books, 2002
(327 pages; $24.95, hardcover)

reviewed by Mary Walsh

An old Jesuit philosophy professor of mine used to speak of the root of violence being the hatred of truth. Witness the following: In every abortion, a child dies and a woman is wounded. Proponents of abortion deny both these realities.

In Forbidden Grief, a powerful and comprehensive exposé of the multiple ravages of abortion on women, men, and society, Theresa Burke, a psychotherapist who has worked extensively with post-abortive women, explores the subject that the sisterhood and various medical professionals choose to ignore: “Grief after abortion is neither expected nor permitted in our society.”

Burke notes that 65 to 70 percent of women who undergo abortion have a negative opinion of “the procedure.” Not surprisingly, buried emotions eventually bubble up to the surface and demand to be dealt with. The stories are heartbreaking. Women and girls who enter abortion clinics often feel there is no other option, despite the fact that they desperately wish alternatives were available. Counselors in the clinic sell them on abortion as the only solution and assure them that reactions to abortion are rare.

Forbidden Grief presents many personal accounts (usually under assumed names, to protect the women’s privacy), which provide a glimpse into the overwhelmingly sad world of the post-abortive woman. One letter-writer says, “I am angry. I am angry at Gloria Steinem and every woman who ever had an abortion and didn’t tell me about this kind of pain. There is a conspiracy among the sisterhood not to tell each other about guilt and self-hatred and terror. Having an abortion is not like having a wart removed or your nails done or your hair cut, and anyone who tells you [otherwise] is a liar or worse.”

Grief after death is a normal reaction, but many post-abortive women cannot grieve. Their problem stems from society’s refusal to acknowledge that in an abortion anything significant has happened.

The guilt after an abortion is overpowering. The loss of a child pierces the depths of the soul. Maura was a cancer patient at age 32. She ignored the signs of her disease until it was too late because she felt she did not deserve to live after taking the life of her child. Women will stay in abusive relationships because they do not believe they deserve any better.

Abortion distorts and often ruins relationships. Men and women withdraw from each other, each holding the other responsible. As Sasha put it, “The destruction of a precious, sweet child totally destroys the beauty of the sexual union that created it.” A subsequent child may have parents who are extremely overprotective, complete spoilers, or abusive. Dysfunction not only mars current relationships but subsequent ones as well.

Lorena Bobbitt’s malicious wounding of her husband grabbed sensational headlines several years ago. Yet the press largely ignored the story that Lorena was found not guilty as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from an abortion she had had at her husband’s insistence. The attack on her husband occurred almost three years to the day of her abortion. Susan Smith, the Carolina woman who pushed her car into a lake with her sleeping children seat-belted inside, also had a history of abortion. The link between abortion and post-traumatic stress disorder is not something that most Americans will read about in the popular media.

Burke recounts the story of Varan, a woman who suffered from localized amnesia after the finest doctors in one of the country’s finest hospitals killed her child. The abortion was botched; she had to make a return trip to the ER with a hemorrhage and a raging fever. After six days and two D&C’s, she was given a complete hysterectomy. She was sixteen.

Forbidden Grief takes the blinders off the other side of abortion. It gives a glimpse into private hells, which can be multiplied into the millions. But it also offers hope. Post-abortive women need to know of God’s love and forgiveness in order to experience healing and redemption. Burke quotes Fr. Michael Mannion: “When a mother is giving birth to a child, the mother is the child’s physical lifeline to the world. When an abortion has occurred, the child can become the mother’s spiritual lifeline to God.” Post-abortion ministries, such as Rachel’s Vineyard, founded and run by Burke, help women find this path.

Abortion is a perversion of nature and the moral order. The violence of the act sucks the child from the womb but not from the heart or mind of the woman. Eventually, violations of nature demand attention. The skyrocketing rates of depression, eating dis-orders, suicide, and self-destructive behaviors among women in the last thirty years are, in part, a witness to this truth. Physicians, mental health professionals, and the pro-life community should seek out this book. The stakes are too high to ignore it. The truth will set them free.  

Mary Walsh is a Catholic mother of seven children and a freelance writer who formerly worked as a legislative correspondent for Congressman Bob Dornan. Her articles and reviews have appeared in Crisis Magazine, Human Events, and The National Catholic Register.

Mary Walsh is a homeschooling mother and freelance writer. She, her husband, and their eight children attend St. Patrick?s Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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