Monday, January 22, 2007

The self-fulfilling prophecies of anti-abortion activists

In this interesting article about "Post-Abortion Syndrome" from Sunday's New York Times Magazine, you'll find this bit:
While it seems that some anti-abortion advocates exaggerate the mental-health risks of abortion, some abortion advocates play down the emotional aftereffects. Materials distributed at abortion clinics and on abortion-rights Web sites stress that most women feel relief after an abortion, and that the minority who don’t tend to have pre-existing problems. Both claims are supported by research. But the idea that “abortion is a distraction from underlying dynamics,” as Nancy Russo put it to me, can discourage the airing of sadness and grief. “The last thing pro-choice people, myself included, want to do is to give people who want to make abortions harder to get or illegal one iota of help,” says Ava Torre-Bueno, a social worker who was the head of counseling for 10 years at Planned Parenthood in San Diego. “But then what you hear in the movement is ‘Let’s not make noise about this’ and ‘Most women are fine, I’m sure you will be too.’ And that is unfair.”

Initially, Torre-Bueno’s encounters with grieving patients surprised her, because sadness wasn’t an issue in the first years after Roe. “In 1975, I’d say, ‘I wonder how you’re feeling,’ and women would answer, ‘Thank God it’s legal!’ ” she says. But by the early 1980s, Torre-Bueno and a handful of other counselors who favor abortion rights say, the emotional tide began to turn along with the political one. Congress cut off Medicaid money for abortion. The Supreme Court retrenched. Protesters picketed clinics and made bomb threats. Some clinic directors decided it was not enough to treat abortion as a straightforward medical procedure. Charlotte Taft, who founded an abortion clinic in Dallas in 1978, later began practicing what she calls “emotional triage” to identify women at risk of adverse reactions. She would ask prospective patients: Are you against abortion but fel you have no choice? Do you believe that abortion is murder? Do you think God will never forgive you? Is someone pressuring you? Do you have a history of depression? “Some women are clearly fine,” Taft told me. “Others are torn apart, and they need more process.” When women answered Taft’s questions by saying things like “I’m going to hell, but I have to do this,” Taft sent them home with exercises to help them work through their emotions.
What is never explicitly pointed out (of course) is that those who support the criminalization of abortion and use, in part, the emotional effects suffered by women who've had abortions are probably the most direct cause of those emotional effects. As I've said before, my feelings about abortion are complicated, but it seems to me that the people who are being most obtuse in the abortion debate are those who say they're trying to "protect" women from the emotional effects of abortion despite spending time waving signs at those women telling them they're going to hell.

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