Roots of the tree

No one can truly benefit at the expense of another. Therefore, when a child is aborted, people are abusing themselves. That self-abuse is almost always an echo of mistreatment somewhere in the family.
Dr Philip Ney

Correlation between childhood mistreatment and abortion

The rhetoric around choice and abortion creates the illusion that women who have an abortion are freely asserting their rights in an act of fundamental self-determination. In reality, the very opposite is often true, and this is the huge, unseen underbelly of the practice of abortion.

When a woman agrees or submits to the destruction of the unborn developing baby within her, she is often unconsciously repeating a tragedy that has already taken place in her life. Research into the factors lying behind women’s decisions to abort has found that one of the most prevalent is neglect as a child. Years before she agreed to turn away from the infant within her, the woman herself was a child who was mistreated, abused or neglected – an infant, in other words, from whom the adults in her life turned away.

When a woman’s need to be loved and welcomed as a unique individual has not been met, she learns to distrust herself and others and to expect that she will be mistreated and abused as she always has been. No matter what gifts and talents nature may have endowed her with, her expectations for herself will be chronically low and she will put up with mistreatment, neglect and abuse in relationships that would make women from healthy backgrounds run fast in the opposite direction. A child who has not been heard will be unable to listen to herself or her own needs.

Re-enactment of tragedy

Women who were neglected or abused as children are unable to understand why they have not received the love, affection and attention they see other children receiving and they do what all children do and blame themselves. This creates an enduring and unresolvable conflict: they must be inherently unworthy of love, and yet their constant and deepest yearning is for someone finally to love them unconditionally and validate their existence, in the way their parents never did or could.

Because of her chronically low self-esteem, such a woman picks out a partner who will mistreat her (having in all likelihood been neglected himself) and abandon her when she needs his support. This unconscious impulse to re-enact tragedy seems to be a bid to understand what has happened to oneself in childhood and is a very powerful drive indeed. As is well known, tragedy and abuse cascades down the generations; a woman who is not mothered properly will find it very hard to mother properly herself. Indeed, motherhood may itself be a terrifying and overwhelming thing to the child who was mistreated and neglected.

Pregnancy, which is experienced by most women as a natural wonder and joyful connection to life and love, becomes a source of terror and shame to those, particularly teenagers and younger women, who have internalized the abusive, judgemental voices of the adults who brought them up.

Crisis pregnancy and the damaged woman

All pregnant women need and want support from the people in their lives, particularly of course the father of the child. The unspoken needs and desires of the woman from a wounded background who becomes pregnant in a “crisis” situation go even deeper than that; she yearns for it to be an opportunity for those who have never loved her now to do so, the unborn child being an absolute and symbolic representation of her own self as a child, innocent and in need of protection and care.

A woman from a fractured background unconsciously looks to her partner to fill the role of her unloving, neglectful parents by welcoming the child within her. She knows that the parents who were never there for her will not be there for her now and often does not even bother telling them of the pregnancy; she knows what their response will be. To her unconscious self, she and her unborn child are one and the same and their combined fate will be determined by the response of those around her. Supremely sensitive to threats of abandonment, if there is no welcome of her baby, no welcome of herself as mother, it is as though she is engulfed by a tide of despair and depression and she sees no way out but the “solution” of death.

The man she is involved with is too often from a fractured and damaged background himself and has been unable to mature sufficiently to the point where he could welcome fatherhood and all the responsibility and renunciation of a self-directed single life that a child demands. Men’s role in pregnancy and abortion is actually fundamental but has of course been removed from the picture by the “woman’s right to choose” ideological stranglehold.

An impossible conflict

When, as so often occurs, the partner rejects the baby, the woman is thrown into an impossible conflict to which there is no resolution: her love for the baby and her need for her baby to be loved and welcomed are now in competition with the man’s threats to abandon her if she does not abort and her need to be loved by him. Finally agreeing to the abortion is often partly a desperate means of bringing an end to an unendurable pressure that seems to lead only to insanity.

Such a woman is unable to withstand the pressure, primed by her damaged childhood to believe that she has no validity in herself but exists only to the extent to which she is loved, or not loved, by others. Almost always, of course, the man will leave her after the abortion or the relationship will break up under the strain of her resentment, blame, anger and grief after this coerced act and she is left alone with nothing. The tragedy is aided and abetted on all sides, and described as her “choice”.

The humanity of the unborn child

This is one possible scenario. Another is the woman from a background of neglect and mistreatment whose own needs as a child have been so stifled and distorted that she is unable to connect to the humanity of her own infant. The baby represents that cry to be heard and seen that she herself, re-enacting her tragedy, will now destroy and stifle in her turn. Aborting her own child will however drive her unresolved conflicts even deeper, where having the baby would have allowed her to recognize and then heal from many of her childhood wounds. Nurturing her own child and the child she once was are really one and the same thing. No wise, skilled practitioners are on hand to help her see these deep patterns and possibilities; the only counsel is for abortion as the obvious “solution” to her problem.

Abortion is not the answer

Having a child rather than aborting it is an opportunity for a woman from a damaged background to heal from her wounded childhood and to embrace the soft, vulnerable and innocent parts of herself that have been so brutally ignored by her own caregivers. Giving birth to and bringing up a child is to face and relive one’s own childhood; cutting off such a chance at the pass will only drive childhood pain even further and deeper underground. Some women abort as a desperate act of concern for their unborn child, wanting to save them the suffering they themselves knew as children. Such distorted reasoning is tragic and should be dispelled by those who are in a position to do so. Despite the prevalent hold that abortion may seem to have taken in our western society, birth is still experienced as a sacred and miraculous event by all who undergo and witness it.

Looking deeper

This is a cursory summary of the complex psychological factors involved in abortion and the unskilful acting out of unresolved conflicts that it represents. To understand the dynamics more deeply, we particularly recommend the work of Canadian child psychiatrist Philip Ney, who has conducted years of research into the links between childhood neglect, abuse and mistreatment and the later “decision” to abort. His work contains valuable and thoroughgoing insights into the hidden layers of abortion and we recommend his book Deeply Damaged (see bibliography in Where to go for help).