Our society says, has decided to say, that abortion is morally neutral – doctors and others who facilitate it are providing a service to women, who have the right to choose to do what to do with their bodies. If you go onto to sites dealing with how to get an abortion, it will all be presented as a smooth, anodyne medical procedure that may carry some “mixed feelings” with it but which is basically risk-free and certainly blame-free. No room is given for those who might view or experience abortion vastly differently – as a massive decision of life and death involving a human being, involving the human heart. In this brave new world, humans have seemingly beome streamlined, complex-free entities who freely choose what is right for their particular lives, without further ado.
The lived reality of abortion, certainly after the event is… rather different for many women. Guilt is certainly experienced and some women have committed suicide after abortion, along with intense and desperate grief. In February 2007, artist Emma Beck hanged herself in Cornwall, England, shortly after aborting twins; she had been abandoned by the father of the babies. The inquest into her death heard that her mother had written to the hospital asking why her daughter had not received counselling, saying “she could not live with what she had done.” In her suicide note, Emma spoke of her grief and regret for the abortion. Recording a verdict of suicide, the coroner stated “It is clear that a termination can have a profound effect on a woman’s life.” All of this was duly brushed under the carpet and business at the abortion clinics went back to normal. Nothing, after all, must disturb the right to choose…
My own abortions were such an appallingly bad decision for me, let alone for my children, that it is no longer possible for me to connect fully to the woman I was when I allowed them to happen. I know I was very concerned about suffering, and about the fact that my child should not suffer, should not experience the painful childhood I had done. I was also in some kind of thrall to my lover of the time. None of this understanding that in some terrible way I was trying to act morally and responsibly has ever diminished the sense of guilt at what was involved – the violent ending of human life. And what makes the guilt even more complex and crazy-making is that there is almost no context for its expression afterwards, since the humanity of what was killed is not recognised. Little wonder that quite a few women take to Christianity after abortion, with the promise that Jesus has taken their sin upon himself and that repenting of the sin will thereby lead to forgiveness and restoration in God. I do not mock such a view – it could be of deep comfort and healing. Unfortunately I cannot myself share it. I recognise that what I did arose out of ignorance, fear and with so many causes and conditions behind it, related both to my childhood and indeed to my society – for what was wrong was sanctioned and performed by medics who had a duty to care for me, not endanger and harm my mental, emotional and physical health through abortion. I have never been able to deny that what died in abortion was fully human and was in fact something incredibly precious.
When, if ever, are we going to get this, allow this expression? Abortion is NOT an anodyne, morally-neutral act. It is the ending of human life and we venture into that territory at our peril.