“A true culture of life cannot be sustained solely by changing laws. We need, most of all, to change hearts.”
These words were part of President Bush’s address to pro-lifers at the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, last week. Bush’s statement was interpreted by some to signify a reluctance to make overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states, a priority during his next term. But, in truth, his declaration gets to the core of the pro-life mission. Changing laws, especially Roe v. Wade, is important. But, our ultimate goal should be a society where abortion is not only illegal, but also unwelcome.
Despite all the talk about retiring Supreme Court justices, Roe’s reversal is in no way imminent. Even if two pro-Roe justices retire over the next four years, the president would have to nominate — and Congress would have to confirm — two pro-life replacements. Not a sure thing with the Democrats penchant for the filibuster and with pro-abortion Arlen Specter at the helm of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And even if Roe were struck down, abortion law would simply fall back to the state level where individual states would decide whether to keep abortion legal and under what circumstances. Right now at least 34 states have laws on the books that would keep abortion legal.
Abortion is a problem that requires a two-pronged approach. While knocking down pro-abortion laws is important, it is not a necessary condition to ending abortion. What is necessary — as the president said — is changing hearts.
But what exactly does the president mean when he talks about changing hearts?
What he means is that we can change the way people feel about abortion, and affect pregnancy outcome decisions, by educating people on the reality of abortion.
In part, this involves informing the public about the humanity of the unborn child who is a living, breathing, feeling human person in the womb. It also involves teaching our children how to live responsible, chaste lives that respect their bodies and sexuality. Finally, it involves acknowledging that abortion is inherently hurtful to women.
And while federal legislation has been introduced that addresses the humanity of the unborn — through The Unborn Fetal Pain Awareness Bill — and the importance of respecting our sexuality — through abstinence education — little meaningful legislative action has been taken to address the significant health problems linked to abortion.
Comprehensive scientific research has been conducted on the physical risks of abortion. They include: uterine perforation, ectopic pregnancy, sub-fertility, placenta previa, pelvic inflammatory disease, and increased risk of breast cancer, just to name a few.
However, evidence is pouring in that also suggests a strong correlation between abortion and psychological health.
The notion that a woman’s abortion experience may negatively affect her psychological health was first put forward by Dr. Vincent Rue, who together with Anne Speckhard, developed the idea of post-abortion syndrome (PAS), a variant of post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), a condition first named by psychologists following the return of soldiers from the Vietnam war. Rue and Speckhard argued that the symptoms of PAS are the same as those for PSTD, including flashbacks, denial, loss of memory of the event, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, sadness, sorrow, lowered self-esteem, distrust, regret, relationship disruption, communication impairment and/or restriction and self-condemnation. Secondary symptoms of PAS include, depression, substance abuse, sleep disorders and suicidal thoughts. Some studies have even shown significantly higher incidences of clinical depression and suicide among women who aborted.
In a special issue of the Journal of Social Issues dedicated entirely to research relating to the psychological effects of abortion, editor Gregory Wilmoth concluded: “There is now virtually no disagreement among researchers that some women experience negative psychological reactions post-abortion.”
So, even liberal academics recognize the psychological risks of abortion. However, Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups continue to claim: “serious long-term emotional problems after abortion are rare. They are more likely after childhood.” And they even insist that the emotional effects of abortion are “largely positive.”
Fortunately, there is a burgeoning movement whose purpose is to inform society — and women in particular — of the devastating risks associated with abortion, and to offer healing to post-abortive women. The groups’ names –Silent No More Awareness Campaign, Rachel’s Vineyard, Operation Outcry, and Victims of Choice — tell you all you need to know about the grim reality of abortion for many women. Among other things, these groups offer women opportunities to discuss their abortion experiences with one another. For these women, finally having a forum to talk about their feelings of regret and guilt assists in the healing process. As Leslie Graves of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign told me: “I was locked in silence because of the shame and guilt I felt.” For Graves, and many others, speaking out facilitates reconciliation and self-forgiveness.
There are many reasons why abortion rates in the US have been falling for well over a decade, including declining teen pregnancy rates, parental consent and waiting period laws, as well as the advent of technologies that increasingly allow us to recognize the humanity of the unborn child. But, in our campaign to change hearts and to build a true culture of life in America, we must acknowledge and publicize the terrible irony of this once-supposed panacea for women’s problems.
Groups that proclaim the reality that abortion is an intrinsic violence against women deserve our enthusiastic support because in the words of Leslie Graves, “We haven’t spoken up. Until we do, the public will continue to be deceived and abortion advocates will continue to ignore reality. It is up to us to break the silence. It is up to us to be that voice.”