A Matter of Choice

Posted: April 21, 2010 in Pro Life

Abortion: A Matter of Choice?

The issue of abortion remains one of the most hotly debated moral and social issues in the United States, particularly with the recent passage of the health care reform bill that many experts say will include tax-payer funding for the procedure. Abortion is now legal at any point during pregnancy, in some cases long past the point of viability. The counseling that women receive from abortion providers prior to the procedure is often insufficient if not intentionally misleading, which calls into question the issue of informed consent and whether or not women are actually presented with the information necessary to make a wise choice. Many women will present in counseling offices with issues directly related to an abortion experience and the wise counselor will be aware of this possibility. Unfortunately, many mental health professionals either do not know of or simply disagree with the reality of Post Abortion Syndrome and women suffer as a result.

Introduction

The pro-choice movement insists that a woman has the right to choose what to do with her own body and that a pre-born child is not really human until some vague moment that is undefined. The pro-life movement believes that life begins at conception and thus to have an abortion is to take a human life; it has often been perceived to focus only on the life of the unborn child to the exclusion of the mother. The pro-choice lobby screams loudly that they are concerned about the woman and her rights but deny the mounting evidence that abortion actually harms many women. At the same time, the pro-life movement has failed to make the case that Post Abortion Syndrome exists and is harmful to women by focusing mainly on the unborn child.  It seems that the way to advance the pro-life cause with those who support a woman’s right to choose is to convince them that abortion is not a harmless procedure and that it damages women.

A Definition of Post Abortion Syndrome

Post Abortion Syndrome (PAS) is defined by Rue and Speckhard (1992) as being similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and as consisting of the four basic components of exposure or participation in an abortion experience, uncontrolled negative re-experiencing of the event, attempts to avoid or deny painful recollections, and experiencing symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or guilt that were not present prior to the abortion. One of the hallmarks of PTSD is that the individual will “reorganize her whole life around the traumatic event” which is also characteristic of women suffering from PAS (Rue and Speckhard, 1992, p 108). There is often a strong element of denial present, however as women mature and go through life experiences such as marriage and childbirth, the abortion is appraised differently and the realization arises that it did end a human life which results in emotional distress.

The Problem with Existing Research

The “reluctance to call attention to the negative consequences of abortion” due to social and political pressure has likely led to under-reporting of symptoms by many women who have been adversely affected (Rue and Speckhard, 1992, p. 96). A woman may deny that she is suffering because she is told that she should not, or may be so ashamed of what she has done that she lives in fear that someone will discover her secret. Regardless of the stance that abortion is a right and that it is legal, women were created with a strong instinct to protect and nurture their young and abortion is in direct opposition to this truth.

It seems that there has been an intentional position of denial of PAS by the American Psychological Association, who have not to date officially recognized PAS or included it as a diagnosable condition and who have suggested that research shows that abortion is “an emotionally benign experience for most women” (Coleman, Cougle, Reardon, and Strahan, 2005, p. 238). The APA has been criticized for relying on research that is flawed in methodology and of over generalizing the results. As of 1992, there were at least 20 cited shortcomings of APA research including insufficient sample size, no baseline measurement, unclear outcome criteria and substantial study attrition (Rue and Speckhard, 1992). Additionally, many researchers attempt to use moderators such as whether or not the woman was “emotionally attached to the fetus” and whether or not “she believed that the fetus was human” as areas to address in order to lessen the negative effects of abortion (Coleman et al, 2005, p. 245). It seems that the humanity of the fetus should not be in question and is simply a biological fact. Women are often given information concerning the procedure and its physical effect while receiving misinformation about fetal development. When a woman is thus deprived of the truth, she is deprived of her right of truly informed consent. Based purely on the number of abortions performed in the United States, a fresh and unbiased look at how abortion affects women is desperately needed. Abortion was legalized on the premise that it benefits women; however Coleman et al. (2005) state that “well-designed research specifically documenting how the procedure enhances women’s quality of life is generally absent from the professional literature” (p. 259). Failure to reexamine these issues will mislead women into making decisions based on insufficient information and will deprive them of informed consent and true choice.

Conclusion

There is a real and growing need for specialized post abortion counseling models and education for both menat health professionals and the general public. It is the opinion of the author that post abortion counseling is most effective in the context of the church, but sadly the church is often the last place a post-abortive woman turns to for fear that pro-life Christians will judge her. Christians must be intentional to value not only the life of the preborn, but to offer Christ’s grace and mercy, and the gospel message of His love and redemption, to women who made a choice that they now regret.

References

Coleman, P., Cougle, J., Reardon, D. and Strahan, T. (2005). The psychology of abortion: a review and suggestions   for future research. Psychology and Health. 20(2): 237-271.

Rue, V. and Speckhard, A. (1992). Postabortion syndrome: an emerging public health concern. Journal of Social Issues. 48(3): 95-119.

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