An NYT article encouraged women to share their abortion stories. Tina Whittington of Students for Life agrees that post-abortive women should speak out — but for a different reason.
In The New York Times last week, former Glamour editor Cindi Leive encouraged women to share their abortion stories.
Leive penned this call in light of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court. Like others on the left, she knows Roe v. Wade could be in trouble. And she’s desperate to fight back against any protection for the unborn. She argues it would be harder to “demonize” abortion if more women who had one shared their experience.
Leive is wrong in many ways. But she raises an important point for pro-lifers. Many women have had abortions. And they do need to speak out. First of all, so that they can heal. Secondly, because they can be a powerful force for life.
The Stream interviewed Tina Whittington, Vice President of Programs for Students for Life, about how the pro-life movement can welcome women who have had abortions.
Love and Early Intervention
The Stream: In general, do you believe the pro-life movement does a good job of ministering to women who have had an abortion?
Tina Whittington: Having had the privilege of working for a post-abortion ministry for more than five years, my experience is one in which I saw people doing a great job of lovingly reaching out and then ministering to women who have had an abortion. There are so many woman and men who have received counseling and support to deal with their past abortion experiences and have healed emotionally and psychologically from it, so that they now are willing to speak out about the realities of abortion.
I think that this is what has made the difference in where we are with the pro-life movement today, compared to 20-plus years ago. You have people who have moved past their abortion experience, dealt with their shame and regret in a constructive and healing way, and are now willing to be vulnerable and honest with other women in a way that really didn’t exist decades ago.
The Stream: How can the pro-life movement improve on this front?
Whittington: I’ve found that the only way we improve as a movement is in helping these women to keep talking about how abortion harms women, and to show them that there is a path to healing and wholeness.
With almost half of abortions in the U.S. being repeat abortions, we need to be a stronger voice and offer earlier intervention. I’ve personally found that women who go through an abortion-healing ministry don’t choose to have another abortion.
Think about how we could reduce the abortion rate with this kind of early intervention in the first few months or years after an abortion. As a movement we must address the time lapse between an abortion and engagement with a healing ministry, where women and men get support and loving assistance to make sense of what happened to them and to move on physically, spiritually and emotionally.
Not in the Mood to ‘Shout’
The Stream: Today with movements like “Shout Your Abortion,” it seems the only post-abortive women speaking up are pro-choice. When you encounter post-abortive women, do most of them fit into that category?
Whittington: I don’t find many post-abortive women on college campuses who want to shout their abortion. For many it is still a fresh experience that they are grappling with how to categorize. They feel relieved that the pregnancy won’t interfere with their plans any more; sad that something was lost; angry that they didn’t feel like they had a real choice, and so many other feelings. Most are willing to take our postcard that lists post-abortion recovery organizations as they are searching for ways to make sense of their experience.
The Stream: What would you say to a woman who had an abortion and regrets it?
Whittington: I would tell her that it’s normal to feel sadness, regret, anger and more when it comes your abortion. Sometimes there are so many emotions swirling in a hurricane of feelings that they just need to talk them through with someone who won’t judge them for feeling regret. Women need to sort out and find a place of peace after an abortion. Sadly, they find that abortion wasn’t the simple fix they were sold by the abortionist.
I would then offer to help her connect with an abortion recovery service that is right for her. If she were religious I would connect her with a faith-based program. And if she were not religious I would help her find one that is not. I’ve met women from so many different kinds of backgrounds who have profoundly regretted their abortion and now want to help others work through their own pain. It really is possible to find a good fit for anyone seeking this kind of help.
The Stream: In the NYT on Saturday, Leive cited a study claiming that “95 percent of women who end their pregnancies say they believe they made the right decision.” The study followed women for three years after their abortions. Do you think this is a trustworthy statistic?
I have some thoughts on this. One, in my experience most women seeking abortion healing were on average a decade out from their abortion experience. There are stages of grief involved after an abortion. At three years post-abortion you can still be solidly in denial about how it is affecting you because you are still in the phase of relief that your plans are still in motion and not challenged by a child in the mix. Two, you can have profound regret over something you still believe was the right decision. …
Ultimately, stats like this are all about the kinds of questions you ask and avoid asking. I question whether those asking really wanted to learn about regret and remorse. I wonder if they wanted to affirm abortion more than get insight. Ask these women again in seven years when they are dealing with infertility, or facing their newborn “wanted” child who reminds them of an aborted one. I think you will find the answers change. Life tends to open our eyes and give us perspective on our past that we don’t always have in the moment.
Questions and answers lightly edited for clarity and length.