by Moira Gaul
February 23, 2009
Last week, Glamour magazine published an unusually candid article on the topic of abortion and women’s mental health: “Abortion: The Serious Health Decision Women Aren’t Talking About Until Now.” Surprisingly, the article conceded that women’s abortion experiences can carry with them the long-lasting burden of psychological harm and mental health morbidity. Illustrating several women’s real-life personal struggles with the aftermath of their abortion decisions, which left them depressed and traumatized, the article undermines the myth that abortion is a non-event in women’s lives. But the article neglects to mention the very real dilemma that there is an utter lack of resources on a public health level available to women and individuals devastated by their abortion experience and in desperate need of help.
The significant gap of resources for women experiencing psychological toil following abortion represents a largely unmet need in women’s mental health care today, particularly given the statistic that one in three women will have an abortion by the age of 45. Directly following an abortion, women are often unable to make sense of the emotional fallout, the impact of the abortion upon their lives - past, present, or future - even the effects upon their relationships with others. Not being at a level of readiness psychologically or emotionally to enter a recovery program, but rather at a very elemental level needing to accept that the experience is affecting her, she must adjust to that reality. Women who have successfully emerged from faith-based recovery programs have shared that it took them years, even exceeding a decade, before realizing that healing from their abortion experience was critical and necessary to address adverse mental health outcomes. During the interim period though, there is a flagrant lack of connections to ample and effective resources to offer hope and aid in the recovery process.
The absence of clinical guidelines — more aptly, a complete non-recognition by the professional mental health field of the psychological sequelae or adverse effects from abortion (as publicly decried by two practicing psychiatrists, Dr. Miriam Grossman and Dr. Martha Shuping — is the root cause of the scarcity of resources. Given the high prevalence of women affected by abortion, how can there be such silence in the professional mental health field?
A fairly new outreach, Abortion Changes You (“ACY”), offers a unique setting for women and individuals seeking help following abortion. Abortion Changes You is “a safe, anonymous space for women, men, and family members experiencing reproductive grief and loss through abortion.” It provides a non-judgmental space in which to read and connect with others’ similar abortion experiences as well as to find assistance in identifying feelings and emotions. The fact that an individual is not alone is enforced as well as the hope of “healing pathways” from which to move forward. This initiative for women, men and family members allows them to explore their grief and emotions, and to discover the availability of recovery care. The inclusion of links to multiple recovery programs both nationally and internationally is a salient feature of Abortion Changes You and represents the bridge to care. While ACY’s primary focus is connecting women and men of faith to healing programs, it also provides awareness and validation of the reproductive grief and loss following abortion to all who encounter the outreach.
With input and expert review by two psychologists practicing in the area of reproductive grief and loss, Abortion Changes You is a necessary and welcome resource. Women’s health clinics would do well to provide information about Abortion Changes You to help fulfill an unmet need in women’s health care.
Additionally the book Changed: Making Sense of Your Own or a Loved One’s Abortion Experience, an extension of the Abortion Changes You outreach, provides a very similar format to the web site with a complete listing of recovery program resources. The Family Research Council endorses Abortion Changes You as a significant women’s health resource for aid in healing from abortion experiences. [Source].
While a vociferously guarded right by advocates, abortion has been a topic which has effectively muted and bound so many who experience it, leaving them alone and trapped in a mire of emotional toil and despair. The body of scientific research showing an association between past abortion history and subsequent mental health morbidity is extensive and growing. [Source] Women must be apprised of the psychological harm and mental health morbidity risks of abortion prior to making a decision as a function of clear and accurate informed consent.
In addition, a crescendo of women’s voices that were once bound by the abortion tragedy (http://www.silentnomoreawareness.org/resources/ and http://www.operationoutcry.org/) is at last being heard. These women are determined to break the silence and free kindred souls through a new dialogue. But far more needs to be done.
In the meantime, vital outreach through Abortion Changes You, linking women and men to committed and strong recovery programs in the country, is fulfilling a need to effectively minister and provide help and hope to hurting souls. In doing so, the well-being of women and families will only grow.