I would like to offer a response to a Jan. 6, 2019, article in the Quad City Times entitled “Planned Parenthood launches #SayAbortion.” This campaign is focused on the stigma around abortion and seeks “abortion culture change” by encouraging women who have had abortions to tell their stories unashamedly.
There are also, of course, stories that could be told by women whose experience of abortion was negative. A large and definitive study of the mental health risks associated with abortion was published September 2011 in the British Journal of Psychiatry. This meta-analysis examined twenty-two major studies published between 1995 and 2009.
The researchers found that women who have had an abortion have much higher rates of anxiety, depression, alcohol use/misuse, marijuana use and suicidal behavior, compared to women who have not had an abortion.
These findings correspond with what I have found in my ministry over the years to women and men with a history of abortion. My encounters with them occurred in counseling, confession, retreats and Project Rachel (a Catholic ministry of care for those suffering in the aftermath of abortion) settings.
Some might argue that both sides of this debate can point to academic studies that support their beliefs, and to differences of opinion related to methodologies employed in post-abortion mental health studies.
Therefore, rather than trading in personal anecdotes and professional studies, it behooves us to step back and take a look at larger, general principles. Who are we, or who do we want to be, as a people?
Simply declaring, feeling or desiring that something is normal, right or good, doesn’t make it so. Using positive, stigma-quashing language (in the article there are four quotes in which people use the term “abortion care”) doesn’t change the fact that we are talking about terminating the life of a prenatal child.
The choice to abort impacts not only a woman and her prenatal child, but also many other people, as well as our culture. It contributes to what St. Pope John Paul II called a “culture of death” and others have described as a “culture of violence.”
Pope Francis uses the term “throwaway culture.” In such a culture, everything is disposable, including vulnerable human beings who are viewed as inconvenient or problematic. There are many categories of people living on the peripheries of society whose dignity often is not recognized or respected.
In his most recent papal exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad), the pope writes: “Our defense of the innocent unborn … needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.
Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”
We all-too-readily marginalize and dehumanize persons such as immigrants and refugees, those who are homeless, and prenatal children. By giving them names such as “illegals,” “beggars” and “clusters of cells,” we reduce them to objects that can be dismissed and discarded.
In order to build a more just and peaceful world, Pope Francis recommends that we replace our throwaway culture with a “culture of encounter.” He encourages us to see one another, especially vulnerable prenatal and postnatal persons, as brothers and sisters with inherent human dignity, rather than as mere objects and burdens that can be cast aside.
In a culture of encounter we could envision a “life culture change” campaign called #SayYes2Life.