In a recent conversation on our AFTER ABORTION LINE, an international hotline women and men contact for support after abortion experience(s), a woman shared the shame and loneliness she felt in having told her friends she had a miscarriage when she actually had an abortion. She was immediately wrapped in the comfort, attention and care she so desperately needed. But, each kind word, story, meal and gift of remembrance created a bigger gap – a greater emptiness. Out of fear of judgment, she had hidden the truth of her loss experience and her complicated feelings of relief alongside regret, sadness, guilt and anxiety.
As a licensed clinical social worker, I have heard versions of this story more times than I could count, yet it never ceases to tug at my heart. While our culture is growing increasingly more supportive of women who suffer a miscarriage, or spontaneous abortion, it is still a type of disenfranchised grief forgotten or ignored by others. Therapists recognize the trauma miscarriage(s) can induce and are prepared to offer help to work through those feelings and emotions with clients. But if a man or woman has abortion experience(s), that conversation is entirely different.
Some in our culture are pushing to destigmatize abortion, citing statistics that one in four women will have an abortion by the time they are 45, that abortion is normal “healthcare,” that women don’t suffer any negative mental or emotional side effects afterwards, and that women need abortion to achieve their dreams. The only accurate statement here is how commonly abortion happens. Everything else is not true. Yet this is exactly what women are reading in most mainstream media outlets, all over social media, at their schools, and even in some churches.
Because of these voices, many women who are feeling anger, resentment, shame, hopelessness, fear, or even despair following their abortion don’t seek healing. They don’t even know help exists. At Support After Abortion, where I serve as CEO, offering resources for hope and healing after abortion and connecting those who need healing to those who provide healing is our goal. We equip healing providers, counselors, clinicians, and other leaders with the tools they need to help women and men heal from abortion experiences. We offer religious and secular healing resources and have commissioned research studies to understand what people who need healing are looking for. We create curriculum, resources, webinars, training, and anonymous self-guided healing options – all with compassion and without judgment.
One of the common denominators of people in need of healing following abortion experience(s) is their desire for secular healing programs. While many identify as Christian, almost three-quarters don’t attend religious services regularly and only 16% want a religious healing curriculum. While our faith guides our passion and work, we are here to connect individuals to whatever healing options meet their needs now. As one of our board members said, “It’s possible that farther down the road of their healing experience they may be drawn to God or a deeper faith. But, our role today is to help them begin to find hope, healing, and peace at this stage in their journey.”
The other common denominator amongst people who are looking for help following abortion(s) is that they have no idea where to turn, or they didn’t know after-abortion healing resources existed. Our published research revealed that 82% of people impacted by abortion don’t know where to go for healing. That’s a vast number – millions of hurting people. We don’t know why this is exactly, but we believe it is because they have been told that abortion is so normal that there is no need for healing. A client shared that their reason for seeking healing a decade after this abortion experience was because they felt alone between people who judged them and others who said there was no life at all to mourn.
Why should women and men who have experienced abortion seek healing in the first place? I think the biggest reason is that, of the number of abortions that occur in this country, almost half involve women who have already had at least one previous abortion. We know from our research that more than 34% of women suffer adverse mental and emotional side effects from abortion. And, I see in my clients everyday that hurt people make trauma-informed decisions they may not otherwise have made. What if we reached them and helped them to heal from their abortion experience? Would we be able to prevent repeat abortions for men and women who desire to break cycles in their life? I think so.
There are ample resources for emotional healing from trauma, as there should be. But abortion is also trauma-inducing, and while resources exist for abortion healing, most people have no idea they exist. Sometimes they don’t even recognize they’re hurting. Sometimes, they also don’t feel they have the right to seek out those healing resources for many reasons: some feel guilty, some feel that they made their decision and have no right grieve, others listen to our culture and believe that their feelings don’t matter after their abortion. Everyone deserves a chance to heal from trauma. Everyone. Support After Abortion was founded to establish the gold standard for a readily accessible network of compassionate and evidence-based care that includes giving women and men permission to grieve their loss(es). This is the entire reason we exist and it’s my deepest hope that the stigma around talking about the need to heal from abortion is broken and people feel the freedom to seek out that healing.