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Voices Online Edition
Lent/Easter 2003
Volume XVIII, No. 1

Abortion -- exposing the lies 

Review by Virginia Sullivan

Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion
Theresa Burke with David C. Reardon
Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 2002

When the right to have an abortion was granted by the United States Supreme Court in 1973, I was -- like many Americans -- uncertain about the nature of life within the womb of the mother. When was it viable? Should the mother have the right to terminate the life within her?

We now know just how viable the life within the mother is. The blueprint for the human body is discernible a few hours after conception. The latest advances in embryology confirm that human life is a continuum from conception onward.

What is not generally known is that there are two victims of abortion: the child and his or her mother. Theresa Burke, Ph.D., a psychotherapist working in individual counseling and group therapy sessions since 1986, has found that abortion destroys the psychological health of the mothers who have them.

In her excellent book, Theresa Burke exposes the accepted lie that abortion has no negative psychological effects on the lives of women who have aborted their children. Most women who choose to abort their children are told that there are no psychological risks to abortion and that emotional problems following the abortion are rare. Dr. Burke's book refutes this lie by offering sound evidence that just the opposite is true, because society forbids women to grieve the loss of their children. The prevailing attitude is: you made your choice; now forget it and get on with your life. Unfortunately, for almost all women, the pain of loss will not go away; and buried grief emerges in psychologically destructive behavior: drinking, suicide, failed relationships, decision-making paralysis. Dr. Burke describes these behaviors in painful detail.

How is it that the lie regarding the deleterious effects on the lives of mothers who aborted their children took hold in a society that has made abortion the right of every women in America by way of a Supreme Court decision that has divided the country politically; that in many cases has become the occasion of a sentence of psychological death for the mother rather than a coveted right to abort her child? One can almost hear the advice when a women experiences an unwanted pregnancy: "Take care of it yourself, honey".

Before the 1960s, the medical community was in agreement that "almost without exception, abortion inevitably causes trauma, posing a severe threat to psychological health". (Mary K. Zimmerman, "Psychological and Emotional Consequences of Elective Abortion: A Literature Review" in Abortion: Readings and Research. Paul Sachdev, ed. Toronto: Butterworths, 1981).

In the 1960s there was a pervasive fear in some quarters that we were in danger of having a population explosion, and the way to control it was to overturn state laws regulating abortion. In 1967, my husband, then a teacher of Social Studies, and I attended a Social Studies convention in Seattle. I'll never forget the remarks of a participant from the Philippines, who said: "Don't you Americans go around the world telling poor people not to have children. For a poor man, children are all he has".

So -- with the fear of the population explosion at its peak, coupled with the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association reversed their prior opposition to abortion.

Paul Woodring, professor of psychology at Western Washington State College in the late 1960s, wrote an essay in 1968 entitled "Eros on Campus". In it he captured the mood of the times: "Now that the fears of pregnancy and disease have been substantially reduced, there is an even greater need than before for a code of ethics to guide behavior. But in our pluralistic society, there is no clear cut moral code for young people to follow".

In our time we see the tragic consequences of such a "clear cut moral code". Abstinence education is beginning to take hold in schools, but young people who grew up without it are reaping the whirlwind: AIDS and unwanted pregnancies are two of the unintended consequences of the so-called sexual revolution.

Since 1973 abortion has become big business. A Wall Street Journal article published in 1995 said that the abortion business was worth sixteen billion dollars. People with that kind of business are reluctant to tell women about to have abortions the tragic psychological consequences -- consequences that can last a lifetime.

Theresa Burke's book exposes the lie that abortion is safe for the mother. It is a must-read for all health educators of young people, for all women contemplating an abortion, and for all government officials responsible for the laws governing the body politic.


Virginia Sullivan is associate professor of English emeritus, State University of New York at Farmingdale.

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