Sunday 7 September 2008

Julie Burchill wins the third George Orwell prize

Post-abortion trauma (PAT), sometimes called post-abortion syndrome, is a condition members of the pro-life movement come across a great deal. I suspect this is chiefly because we are among the few sections of society prepared to offer genuine support to women suffering after abortion. Professor Philip Ney, the psychiatrist, states: “From clinical and research observations, I have concluded that abortion is the most deeply damaging trauma that can happen to any human.”

A study conducted in New Zealand, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry in 2006 concluded: “Those having an abortion had elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems including depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance use disorders. This association persisted after adjustment for confounding factors.”

The Elliot Institute's website contains thousands of pages of research, case studies and other resources on post-abortion problems including PAT. Organisations such as BVA, Good Counsel Network, Life and Silent No More work around the clock offering help and support to women and men struggling after an abortion experience.

In spite of the overwhelming evidence that abortion hurts women, the abortion lobby continue to dismiss or ignore it, whilst at the same time letting slip from time to time that abortion does indeed carry the risk of psychological and emotional harm.

The Brook Advisory Service's website fails to mention anything at all about the emotional and psychological after-effects of abortion. It might of course be covered in the pamphlets on sale at their online shop, but the abortion page on the site simply ignores the subject. Likewise, the section on abortion on the BUPA website makes no mention of how a woman may feel after an abortion, aside of physical symptoms.

The RCOG comes within a whisker of treating PAT honestly, then uses the usual "it is probably not the fault of the abortion, you are probably just like that" argument to dismiss the problem:

“Some studies suggest that women who have had an abortion may be more likely to have psychiatric illness or to self-harm than other women who give birth or are of a similar age. However, there is no evidence that these problems are actually caused by the abortion; they are often a continuation of problems a woman has experienced before.”

Later, the RCOG states that a woman should be offered “further counselling if you experience continuing distress (this happens to a few women and is usually related to personal circumstances)".

FPA's leaflet for young people claims that "most women who choose an abortion do not regret it" and that "only a few women have any long-term psychological problems and those women who do often had similar problems before pregnancy." FPA state that women should seek help if they are "feeling upset about having had an abortion", but none of the cartoon-faces illustrating the point express regret:
  • “I just felt very relieved after the abortion. I still do!”
  • “Sometimes I wonder what having a baby would have been like. But, no, I don't regret it.”
  • “I was surprised how sad I felt, but I must admit we were both really relieved.”
The token sad girl states: “It was a difficult time for me – not just the abortion. Counselling really helped me.” So even in her case, abortion is not the primary cause of her unhappiness.

An interesting angle on the subject at Women on Web, modern-day backstreet abortionists who send abortion drugs to women in pro-life countries. As expected, Women on Web do their best to dismiss the likelihood of mental distress following an abortion since “feelings of regret after abortion are rare. Indeed, the most common emotional response after abortion is relief.” If women do feel bad, readers are told, it is likely to be the fault of “taboo and social stigma” or guilt “because they don't feel guilty about having an abortion, but think they should feel guilty.”

The confusion expressed on the website, however, only serves to highlight the conflict that exists within the abortion movement itself. For example, readers are informed that “most psychiatric experts doubt the existence of 'post-abortion syndrome' and point out that abortion is not significantly different from any other stressful life experience that might cause trauma in some people.” So, is there a risk of a trauma response after abortion or isn't there? Straight after assuring readers that “most women who have abortions experience little or no psychological harm”, the FAQ reads: “What can I do to help myself heal after an abortion?” Is this the healing that women only rarely need? Healing from an overwhelming sense of relief perhaps?

Then there are the few pro-abortion types who actually use the unhappiness women experience after abortion to promote their cause. I was browsing "Abortion changes you". I should point out immediately that it appears to be a very good site, offering women the opportunity to explore their feelings after an abortion and seek help and healing. The stories posted on the site are by no means a reflection of the site's own policy on abortion and they make heartbreaking reading, charting the journeys of women abandoned by families, boyfriends or husbands as soon as they became pregnant, very young women frightened by the prospect of raising a child alone.

“I chose to pretend like nothing happened,” wrote one. “I had a mask in place to make it look, to the outside world any way that I had it all together. No one even knew I went into deep depression every year around Easter and then again in December, when my little girl would have been born.” “Whoever is thinking about having an abortion, please THINK OVER AGAIN. It's your baby. Or else you'll regret later like me and some others.” “Every day I live with regret, shame, and sadness. I hate myself for what I've done.”

Tucked in the midst of all these stories is a "prayer" someone has posted which is supposed to help women who have had abortions. It is taken from a book entitled “Talking to God."

“A Prayer After the Termination of a Pregnancy:

“I made a decision, God, to terminate my pregnancy. This choice was not made lightly. I prayed, I meditated, I searched by soul for an answer. I knew in my heart that I should not complete this pregnancy.

“You know my heart, God. You know my pain. You know my anguish. In your infinite wisdom, I pray that You will glean the spark of potential life and plant it where it may grow and flourish.

“Help me, God. Shield me from the reproach of those who do not know my heart. Teach me how to overcome feelings of shame and guilt.

“Let me begin again, God. Lead me to new hope, to new joy. Hear me, heal me, never leave me.


It is almost blasphemous in its self-justification, basically saying: "God, I just wanted to tell you what a good, upright person I am! And it wasn't really a human life, it was a 'potential life', so that's all right then, but do please protect me against these nasty pro-life types who keep pointing out that there is a something wrong about abortion." It is a stark reminder that religion can be used to manipulate women into accepting an experience their own feelings and instincts tell them should never have happened.

But once again, the George Orwell Prize goes to an individual. Step forward Julie Burchill, for her breathtakingly ignorant and bitchy attack on women suffering after abortion, published in The Guardian no less.

“No doubt if you're the sort of lumbering, self-obsessed poltroon who believes that seeing Mommy kissing Santa Claus 30 years ago irrevocably marked your life, you wouldn't get over an abortion, as you wouldn't get over stubbing your toe without professional help. But you choose to be that way, because you are weak and vain, and you think your pain is important. Whereas the rest of us know not only that our pain is not important, but that it probably isn't even pain - just too much time on our hands.”

“Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." George Orwell