January 23, 2007

"Although I harbor endlessly reverberating regret about the abortion I had..."

"... I've always resisted the consolation industry, the people who show up with Kleenex after plane crashes, or hold 'post-abortive' workshops allowing you to 'grieve, forgive yourself, and move on.'" Amba writes:
This movement encourages [deeply troubled women] to pinpoint their abortion(s) as the fountainhead of all their disturbance, a devastating act they committed in powerlessness and ignorance, one foisted on them by a no-good man, by an evil lying abortionist who told them it was only a "blob of tissue," by a callous culture. Writer Emily Bazelon concludes the article:
And then there is the relief in seizing on a single clear explanation for a host of unwanted and overwhelming feelings, a cause for everything gone wrong. When Arias surveyed 104 of the prisoners she had counseled in 2004, two-thirds reported depression related to abortion, 32 percent reported suicide attempts related to abortion and 84 percent linked substance abuse to their abortions. They had a new key for unlocking themselves. And a way to make things right. “You have well-meaning therapists or political crusaders, paired with women who are troubled and experiencing a variety of vague symptoms,” Brenda Major, the U.C. Santa Barbara psychology professor, explained to me. “The therapists and crusaders offer a diagnosis that gives meaning to the symptoms, and that gives the women a way to repent. You can’t repent depressive symptoms. But you can repent an action.” You can repent an abortion. You can reach for a narrative of sin and atonement, of perfect imagined babies waiting in heaven.
It's complicated. Yes, female powerlessness is a major cause of unwanted pregnancy and abortion: women are forced into sex or are afraid to say no or they try to trade sex for love; they find themselves pregnant with bad, irresponsible boyfriends, no job, no money, and at best fragile plans to complete their education and make something of themselves. Sadly, choosing to end a pregnancy in such circumstances sometimes gives a woman almost the only feeling of power she's ever had. Other times, she wants to hold on to the pregnancy (I did), but is pressured out of it by the man.

Nonetheless, I think, to try to coddle the woman and encourage her to think of herself as another innocent victim is to disempower her all over again....

... I don't want to forgive myself. First of all, guilt is not what I feel. I feel regret, which is appropriate and irrevocable. I don't torture myself or suffer psychological disturbance as a result of having had an abortion; I'm too healthy and probably too pagan for that. What I suffer is barrenness for myself and loneliness for someone who should have been literally as close to me as my own heart, whose face I never saw and whose voice I never heard. (The latter struck me only recently, and I wondered why I hadn't thought of it before.) What I suffer is being alone in the world and disconnected from life in the most primitive way. And that is appropriate. That is a fact. Those are the consequences of the choice I made.
Read the whole thing.

30 comments:

bearbee said...

I'm not sure that guilt and regret don't overlap. A good while back I met an older woman with two teen-aged children. She appeared cheerful and reasonably content but after a time she revealed of years earlier having an abortion and of how she felt haunted.

Time and therapy does not heal all wounds.

Anonymous said...

Ann, I appreciate your pointing out this post by Amba. I'm going to go and read it, but I wanted to say first that it has long seemed to me that those vehemently on either side of the abortion debate do everyone involved a disservice by simplifying it down to either a right or a sin. It's a complex issue. Where is the affirmation of this complexity?

As much as we love black or white, some things are grey.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bearbee, I think that guilt and regret certainly co-occur. Regret usually has to do with choices while guilt is more personal. I can regret what someone else did or did not do, but I am not sure I can feel guilty about their choices. Guilt is about me.

Real moral guilt is our friend! When I feel guilty about being short with my wife, that helps me avoid doing it again. I believe that I can regret something cognitively, almost purely cognitively. That is to say that my feelings do not get involved. But guilt is almost always an affective experience.

Trey

MadisonMan said...

I will make two points, after reading the lengthy article. (Best quote: “Abstinence works better than birth control, really,” she said. “It’s just that people don’t do it.”. Duuh).

It is futile to place all women in one box. There may be women who indeed regret their abortion, and think it is the cause of all the bad in their lives. There are equally likely women who have an abortion and don't look back.

It seems like some of the women in the article link the abortion to a litany of subsequent bad. I would argue that their lives were misdirected for far before the abortion. Bad choices led to the abortion, and similar bad choosing continued post-abortion. So the abortion is symptomatic of what's wrong, not a direct cause. Getting such women off the leading-to-abortion lifestyle before the abortion happens should be where effort is expended. The trick, of course, is that of two women living seemingly the same life, only one might be heading towards an abortion. How can you tell? But blaming the abortion for a lifetime of woe just seems (to me) like you don't accept responsibility for the bad choices you made that led to what you now regret. Blame it on something else -- that evil abortion -- because it's not my fault.

I'm curious if this kind of ministry happens in Europe as well, where my understanding is that abortion is not so stigmatized. If you haven't had an evil abortion, there is less to regret, perhaps.

Meade said...

MadisonMan said...

...I'm curious if this kind of ministry happens in Europe as well, where my understanding is that abortion is not so stigmatized. If you haven't had an evil abortion, there is less to regret, perhaps.

I don't know about this kind of ministry in Europe, but it's my understanding that, in France anyway, late term abortion is generally seen as murder while early term abortion (up to 10 weeks) is generally acceptable and readily facilitated.

Are there any countries with more liberal abortion laws than the U.S.?

Harkonnendog said...

Interesting post. It's nice to see people discussing abortion on these terms. Not long ago a person would be ostracized for mentioning four or five different ideas Amba mentioned. At least she doesn't know what she's missing.

Liam Colvin said...

I am clearly a man as I cannot conceive of such an act being carried out. I have always been amazed by the rationale that aborting a baby is easier than giving it away. The tightly woven psychosis that is women and childbirth never ceases to puzzle and frighten me.

I suspect that most women don't want to really discuss what they feel about their children due to the less than "maternal" feelings they often have about them.

However, as I am a man, my opinion does not matter...

Anonymous said...

Check out this wikipedia page for more information on abortion law in various countries.

Anonymous said...

If you were raised to believe that you will see your children again in the afterlife, I think it's impossible to have an abortion and retain a sound mind.

For true 100% secularists it might be possible. They are going to hell anyway, so what's the difference?

Anonymous said...

Regret is understandable. It is good that women can talk about it without someone on the right jumping in with a 'see, I told you so.'

I regret not spending more time with my eldest daughter when she was younger (she is now 20 and married and with her own kids). I regret losing my temper and yelling at my younger kids sometimes when a different reaction would have both done more good at educating them and created less animosity between us. I regret being an underage drinker and experimenting with marijuana in college because I wish I could tell my kids 'I never did that' rather than 'learn from my mistakes.' I regret not studying harder in college.

But none of these regrets would lead me to feel that whatever I did should be legislated differently for others.

Abortion in the end represents a failure. No one has sex with the intent that they or their partner will end up in an abortion clinic. And given that it is a failure, perhaps we as a society need to figure out ways to help people achieve a different outcome more often and minimize the risk of failure. Education is a starting point.

Cat said...

Madison Man - many European women may feel no guilt (moral guilt, assuming the abortion is legal) about their abortions because they see nothing morally wrong with it. If they did nothing wrong, they won't feel guilt.

Regret is something different. If they never want that child they aborted. they will feel no regret. If they look back and felt that they made a mistake - that they either now want that child or wish they had gone through with the pregnancy, like Amba, the will have regret.

As sophisticated and secular as the Europeans are, I don't think regret (wishing you had made a different decision) is something they have evolved past yet.

MM - I am sure you didn't mean it this way, but when someone says "in Europe," it always annoys me a bit. It's used by elitists and marketers too much. Whether it's abortion, euthanasia, cheating on your spouse. or selling me a new wrinkle cream that has been a secret of women in Europe for years - Europeans are portrayed so much more "evolved" and sophisticated than Americans. When it comes to life and death, it makes the Europeans sound more like in human automotons devoid of emotion - just a continent of clinitians - and I don't think that's the case.

Anonymous said...

However, as I am a man, my opinion does not matter...

Really? Even if you are the father-to-be?

See, this is one of those unintended consequences. Feminists pound away at this notion of a woman's choice about her body in the admirable attempt to keep women from being coerced into doing something they may not want to do. The trouble is that this emphasis cuts men out of the equation, reducing--sometimes eliminating--a source of support and also letting men off the hook for the ultimate decision. "She made her choice, it's her body [look at how enlightened I am for not having an opinion on something which should concern me intimately]."

If you're a man and the woman you're having sex with gets pregnant but she's unsure whether she wants to keep it, have an opinion. Don't all of a sudden pretend you're a eunuch who had nothing to do with her condition.

Revenant said...

"However, as I am a man, my opinion does not matter..."

Really? Even if you are the father-to-be?

Excellent question.

A good source of entertainment is to ask a feminist why (a) women have a right to abort but (b) the father can be forced to pay child support if they don't. Where's *his* choice?

Bonus points if you can get them to slip up and say something like "he made his choice when he chose to have sex".

Cat said...

I don't have much to say on that NYT article. These women have so many problems, I don't know how you can water it down to the abortions as the cause.

Amba's post was so well-written and thoughtful. She reminded me of some passages written by Thomas Lynch in his book, "The Undertaking." She writes, "I'm frightened by the power we have to tell ourselves a lie and disappear a life. I think we have to face the fact that we do have that power of life and death before we can decide how lightly we really want to use it." Yes.

Lynch dicusses assisted suicide, abortion, selective abortion and how often people seem indifferent to the consequences of their actions and those of others. "When choice is enshrined we must suffer the choices. When life is sacred we must suffer the life." A great book.

While I agree with Eli that abortion represents failure, I don't think we as a society can do more. Reproductive education via basic biology is mandatory at most schools (meaning, they may not want to talk about sexuality, but how babies are made is discussed starting in grade school). People can buy condoms at the drugstore and can get access to other forms of birth control at free clinics and planned parenthood if they can't afford doctors of their own (or there is abstinence). But whether you are rich or poor, other than children and victims of rape, it comes down to free will. There is only so much someone can do for another.

Anonymous said...

"Are there any countries with more liberal abortion laws than the U.S.?"

China.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting that, Ann.

I found the last paragraph you posted moving because it tells me as much about the gift of having had a child, as it tells others about the consequences of abortion.

Liam Colvin said...

Oddly enough, honor plays a major role here for men, even if women are allowed more latitude. My wife, who is personally against abortion says she cannot judge another woman's decision to abort a child. I respect her opinion.

However, men are not allowed such latitude. Any man who denies his child either via their departure or by *encouraging* an abortion is labeled (and rightly so, I must say) as a poor example of a man.

Men oddly enough, have latitude here, but do so with a complete loss of their honor (and hopefully of their self esteem as well). Women have, for better or worse, had the act of abortion turned into some sort of act of personal moral courage, and we, as men, are not allowed to judge them.

Such is the way our society has chosen to frame the debate. *I* feel I can judge a women who has had an abortion. Whether that judgement is granted validity by society is another thing entirely.

Abortion is a sin and a crime against our common morality. How someone who has either had an abortion or aided in a woman having one can only look to God for forgiveness.

Those who choose to deny the wrongness of their act of abortion can label me in a hundred different ways. I can only say this his how I feel.

Ultimately, the decision is not an easy one. You can either allow women who, in a state of God-knows-what, will go so far as to harm themselves to abort their child, or you can make the act safe at least to the mother. That much I must condone if only out of the lowliest humanistic impluses.

I choose however, to *not* condone the act. That much I can reserve for myself.

Simon said...

While I can't shake the feeling that something is profoundly wrong about so doing, I agree with Eli's comment that "Abortion in the end represents a failure ... [a]nd given that it is a failure, perhaps we as a society need to figure out ways to help people achieve a different outcome more often and minimize the risk of failure. Education is a starting point." Abortion is, primarily, a failure to offer women better options. IMHO, conservatives who fail to accept that sex ed and improved access contraception reduce unplanned pregnancy are living in a dream world, and are in fact compounding the problem. I am far less interested in doctrinal purity (however that may be defined) on this issue than I am in reducing the number of abortions carried out; I'm not nearly as interested in religious opinions about when life begins as I am in solutions that work. Less death is ineluctably less death; that is the equation in its fullest expression. And, of course, there is also a failure of all concerned to improve the adoption system. I suppose where Eli and I differ is as what happens if those efforts fail.

Simon said...

Liam said...
"However, as I am a man, my opinion does not matter."

I disagree. If abortion is framed purely as an issue of reproductive choice, then you're probably right. I maintain that such a conception of the issue (no pun intended) is deeply flawed; abortion ceases to be a pure matter of reproductive choice the instant that the choice affects another life. That is, once the child that would be aborted is alive, the language of choice ceases to apply. One often sees pro-life t-shirts with a picture of a fœtus bearing the legend: "what about my choice?" Precisely right. Since I don't believe that science can determine with precision when life begins, abortion ceases to be a question of choice when life's physical indicia -- a heartbeat and brain activity -- become detectable. See generally my comments here (PDF warning) (my views are "a statement that the child's life has some worth to be considered, not a statement that in any way reduces the value of the life of the mother"; abortion regulations "place[] a[n] invasive, draconian and discriminatory burden upon women ... [and only] if a child's life is in the balance, then – and only then – is it legitimate to enact" such measures).

Dangit, I told myself I wasn't going to get drawn into this thread.

Kirk Parker said...

Meade,

"Are there any countries with more liberal abortion laws than the U.S.?"

I'm pretty sure the Soviet Union did, but I don't know if or how that's changed in Russia and the various former-Soviet republics. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article cited earlier here has no data for Russia in its chart...

amba said...

Cat,

You've really made me want to read Thomas Lynch's The Undertaking. In fact, I just ordered it! Thank you.

Ann Althouse said...

Here's a previous blog post that mentions "The Undertaking." It's about driving through Colorado and listening to Lynch on the radio.

Simon said...

Meade-
"Are there any countries with more liberal abortion laws than the U.S.?"

It's hard to get more liberal laws than no laws. What you're looking for is parity or less. Per Our Hero:

"According to the United Nations, the United States is now one of only fifty-three countries classified as allowing abortion on demand, versus one hundred and thirty-nine countries allowing it only under particular circumstances, or not at all. Among those countries the UN classified - this is in 2001 - as not allowing abortion on demand were the United Kingdom, Finland, Iceland, India, Ireland, Japan, Luxemburg, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and virtually all of south america. Yet the court has generally ignored foreign law in its abortion cases."

If this source is reliable, it isn't reasonable to imply that the United States is in a category which includes nothing but rogues and pariahs in allowing abortion on demand - the list includes both Canada and Australia, as well as several countries in "Old Europe." Of course, that data says nothing of how prevalent it is or whether it is considered socially acceptable in those countries, and it says nothing about how it was legalized -- was it democratically adopted, or was it imposed, either by an authoritarian government, as in China, or by Courts, as in the United States? And, at risk of sounding bluff, does it matter what all these countries think, even assuming that the state's law reflects what the nation believes? If every other country on Earth banned abortion in all circumstances, I would still defend a woman's right to choose, if I didn't think that abortion took a life. Does any pro choicer take a contrary position to that? Should a woman's right to choose in America hinge on the laws of Iran and France? No takers on that one, I would think. And if it shouldn't, why should a child's life be found wanting when weighed against the laws of North Korea or Germany?

me said...

"However, as I am a man, my opinion does not matter..."

Really? Even if you are the father-to-be?

Excellent question.

A good source of entertainment is to ask a feminist why (a) women have a right to abort but (b) the father can be forced to pay child support if they don't. Where's *his* choice?"

I think most feminists would say that a man who does not want to be a father should be able to get his parental rights terminated whenever he learns of the pregnancy and/or birth and never have to pay one cent of child support. Women have a choice; so should men. The courts and the legislature don't agree, however. One opinion I read on this issue basically said, "well, its not fair, but too bad, the state's interest in not having to pay welfare trumps." It's not the feminists enforcing the child support laws, it's the courts and the legislatures, which are made up of, by a great majority, of men.

Anonymous said...

A good source of entertainment is to ask a feminist why (a) women have a right to abort but (b) the father can be forced to pay child support if they don't. Where's *his* choice?

I can sympathize with the principle, but I think it's kind of a weak argument. Once you get to the point of talking about child support, the question of parental choice is moot. The kid's there, the father participated in making that kid, and he needs to accept his responsibility. In a way it's unfair because what happens with a woman's body is indeed her choice, but the only way to allow for an alternative is through coercion.

Women have, for better or worse, had the act of abortion turned into some sort of act of personal moral courage, and we, as men, are not allowed to judge them.

Or, even worse, a political statement.

Whether that judgement is granted validity by society is another thing entirely.

I think talking about this in terms of "judgment" and "morality" is a common mistake for men when they do express an opinion. That turns the argument into "us vs. them" and distances men from the issue. It's a distraction from the reality that men do indeed have a personal stake in this whole thing.

Finesse it however you want--argue about when life begins or whether an early stage fetus is a clump of cells. Either way, barring complications, that clump of cells will become a person. If the man who was involved in making that person is only interested in imposing his morality or principles, then he truly is a heartless SOB and the woman really is on her own when it comes to the ultimate decision. If, OTOH (and as seems more likely), his concern is as a father-to-be and he expresses his concern from that point of view, then he may find his opinion in the matter more welcome.

A big, big blind spot for activist abortionists has been to hammer home the idea that a woman is on her own when it comes to abortion. It's no wonder that there are so many women with post-traumatic stress. Whether the feeling is regret or guilty, you would have to have no conscience or be extremely ignorant to not realize that there is something fundamentally wrong with abortion and feel something about it. Dealing with that feeling alone has got to be shattering for people without stable personalities.

Simon said...

"Me" - you stand with Ethan Leib, then. My rejoinder now remains the same as it was to Ethan then.

Revenant said...

I can sympathize with the principle, but I think it's kind of a weak argument. Once you get to the point of talking about child support, the question of parental choice is moot. The kid's there, the father participated in making that kid, and he needs to accept his responsibility.

That would be the "you chose to have a kid when you chose to have sex" argument I mentioned earlier. :)

Once the sex act was completed, the man had no say in whether the child was born or not -- the woman can abort, or give birth, without any regard to the man's wishes. Feminists hold that the act of having sex is not equivalent to the act of consenting to the birth of a child. So since the man's having slept with the woman didn't amount to consent to have and support a child, and since the man's consent (or lack thereof) was never obtained *after* the sex act... how, exactly, did he acquire responsibility for the child? Hell, the *mother* isn't even forced to bear responsibility for the child. She can give it up for adoption at her discretion.

See my point? The act of casting abortion as a matter of "choice" is ridiculous in light of the way men are treated by the law. The same women who recoil in horror at the idea of a man having veto power over their choice to abort a child they just don't feel like having tend to react with similar horror to the notion that they can't force that same man to be their sugar daddy in the event that they *do* choose to carry the baby to term.

I'm not particularly advocating one position or the other, but the current state of "choice" law is nonsensical.

In a way it's unfair because what happens with a woman's body is indeed her choice, but the only way to allow for an alternative is through coercion.

Its coercion either way. Why is coercing the woman wrong and coercing the man acceptable?

Simon said...

Revenant - coercing a man's wallet is one thing; coercing a woman's womb is quite another. Per link above, "[a]ny rule which seeks to pressure women to have or not have an abortion" -- in intent or effect -- "seems to come dangerously close to a line that should only be crossed (that is, of individual bodily autonomy) when a genuinely compelling reason - such as fœtal personhood - hangs in the balance."

Revenant said...

Revenant - coercing a man's wallet is one thing; coercing a woman's womb is quite another.

Neither the wallet nor the womb is being coerced. The owners of the wallet and the womb are.

You may see a difference between coercing a person into working long hours for someone else's benefit and coercing a woman into giving birth, but I don't.

Simon said...

Revenant,
The subject of abortion places me in an uncomfortable position where my views on feminism are, to some degree, in tension with my beliefs regarding the value of human life, when it begins, and the moral obligations those views impose. But whenever the subject of "men's reproductive rights" is broached, the foregoing views are united against such claims. I find incomprehensible the suggestion that there is anything even remotely approaching parity between the burdens pregnancy, childbirth and childrearing places on the mother and the father. "[We allocate risk the way we do] [b]ecause the burden ... disproportionately fall[s] on women to carry the child to term and then raise and support them ... [P]regnancy and children are a gift, but one for which the responsibility and risk[] falls disproportionately on women."

In my view, the obligation of the father is absolute and admits of no exceptions, subject only to the discretion of the mother in choosing to abort (although I would obviously place significant restrictions on the circumstances in which the mother may make that choice).