The case for life - Part 3

by Juan Guajardo

North Texas Catholic

Nicky Peters stands outside Planned Parenthood in St. Paul, Minn., Jan. 3. Peters stands outside the center twice a month to offer information and compassion to women arriving for abortions. (CNS/David Hrbacek)


Macaria carried a lot of guilt and suffering — an oppressive amount — until a fateful day when she took her then three-year-old son to Mass. She would often seek out the back pew, or better yet the narthex of the church. Although she sought God, her emotional strife wouldn’t permit her to get any closer.

That day as they stood in the narthex, her son grabbed a brochure, one that advertised Rachel Ministries, a Catholic outreach to help heal post-abortive women and men. Without her knowing, the young boy snuck it into her purse. After they went home, she reached into her bag and found the brochure. Her son told her, “It’s for you, Mami.”

She summoned up the courage, dialed the Rachel Ministries number, and went on her first Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. With that, she began a healing journey that brought her the peace she couldn’t find after going through multiple abortions.

Seven years after the fact, she told me, “God knows what mission or call each person has and, for me, that has become defending something sacred: life. How have my children been blessings? They’ve been my salvation. If [my son] hadn’t given me that brochure, I wouldn’t be here.”

I first met Macaria in 2009. My interview with her was the first time I’d experienced abortion as something close and very real. No longer did it feel like a distant statistic or some story in the news.

During our almost two-hour meeting, she opened a window for me to view the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain she’d carried for many years as a result of her abortions. Her testimony hit me like an asteroid. I shuddered to think how much harder it hit her.

Yet, the woman in her late 30s who sat before me carried herself with dignity and her brown eyes twinkled with hope as she spoke about God’s mercy and love and how she experienced that for herself.

Here is where we resume the Case for Life. By now, we’ve discussed the scientific evidence which verified that human life begins at the moment of conception. We’ve analyzed the rebuttal evidence which stated that even the human embryo — as foreign as he or she may seem to us — should be considered a person. Now, we consider the eyewitness testimony. In a court of law, juries tend to pay a great deal of attention to eyewitness testimony — and for good reason. When uncontaminated and properly tested, eyewitness testimony is highly reliable.

And while we can draw from a wide range of eyewitness testimony regarding abortion (the full text of the Gosnell Grand Jury report, or more recently the Center for Medical Progress’ investigative footage), we focus here on the most directly impacted — outside of the unborn child — the women.

Their testimony, for me, proved invaluable in deciding: Is a fetus or embryo morally equivalent to a newborn infant, and therefore should the unborn child’s life be defended from the moment of conception?

THE EYEWITNESSES

While Macaria’s witness shocked me in terms of the pain she endured years after her abortions, I had run into a dilemma. What I read in the news didn’t seem to match her account. Story after story seemed to present abortion as a “health decision” with no significant detrimental effects. 

Perhaps you’ve heard of studies claiming that post-abortive women experience no negative psychological or emotional problems after the “procedure.” That’s what I was seeing. 

But as I looked closer in the years following my interview with Macaria, I found that many of the studies were dismissed for problematic methodologies. A study that would have been relevant had Surgeon General C. Everett Koop followed through with it, was instead a non-starter, with Koop passing the buck.2 In 2008, a task force report by the American Psychological Association popped up, concluding “there is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women.” It was the big fish in the small but growing pond of expert literature and findings.

But that 2008 APA report was heavily criticized by both pro-life and pro-abortion advocates for relying solely on “researchers holding strong pro-choice views” to interpret scientific evidence pertaining to mental health and abortion.3 Other critics pointed out its selective use of a single foreign study and the deliberate exclusion of other important studies which contradicted the APA agenda.4 The APA bias toward abortion has been documented in the 2005 book Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well Intentioned Path to Harm by Rogers H. Wright and Nicholas A. Cummings, and by researchers like Priscilla K. Coleman, Warren Throckmorton, and Professor Rachel McNair, an APA member on the Division 48 board.

Unfortunately, studies like the APA’s aren’t difficult to find, as David C. Reardon pointed out in his October 2018 study, “The Abortion and Mental Health Controversy.” They’re a dime a dozen because similarly to global warming proponents and minimalists, there is division and bias amongst researchers when it comes to abortion. So they report the findings in either a way that minimizes or emphasizes the “negative outcomes associated with abortion.” On top of that, there are semantic issues (poorly defined terms) and challenges with research (many abortions take place in free-standing clinics where follow-up is difficult, many women self-censor, many others drop out of a study). Then there’s the fact that randomized studies are impossible (and quite illegal and immoral). Furthermore, experts agree that many women may not immediately show grief, regret, or pain, which makes it even trickier for researchers to gauge.5

Broadly speaking, Reardon, who has studied the issue and closely analyzed multiple studies across a 26-year span, says there is at least some consensus from both sides of the aisle, so to speak. That is this: “Despite these problems, the trend in findings is very clear. Women who abort are at higher risk of many mental health problems.”

Collectively, the literature across decades also points to this: “There are no findings of mental health benefits associated with abortion.”

Of course, there’s no need to tell that to women like Macaria, or the several thousand who’ve shared their testimony on awareness websites like Silent No More and Hope After Abortion and who have spoken on Capitol Hill. The mere existence of post-abortive ministries such as Rachel Ministries, Heartbeat International, and Care Net backs up the common sense finding that Reardon’s analysis reached. 

Macaria was someone who had strained relationships with her family and loved ones, contemplated suicide, went through anxiety and depression, suffered flashbacks and nightmares (especially on the anniversaries of her abortions), and suffered multiple miscarriages as a result of the uterine scarring left by abortion. 

And it wasn’t just her.

Betsy Kopor, program director for Rachel Ministries in the Diocese of Fort Worth, has worked with post-abortive women and men for 20 years. She estimates working with 7,000 clients seeking healing after abortion.

In her experience, “abortion is a traumatic wound and people react differently.” She testifies to the existence of “post-abortion syndrome” — a catch-all term that includes symptoms common to many post-abortive women: regret, guilt, depression, shame, anxiety, suicidal ideations, and PTSD. “And it’s like a continuum from they can’t even function to they can function okay. But it bothers them and they push it down.”

Some coping mechanisms include avoiding church, growing distant from God, but also going out of their way to avoid seeing the clinic where they had their abortion. “Some women can’t stand to see babies or pregnant women,” Kopor said.

She should know. Kopor herself went through an abortion and the hell it wrought before finding the healing of Rachel Ministries and making it her life’s work to help other women recover from abortion and, hopefully, to avoid it in the first place.

“I see women that are hurting after abortion, I see the healing too, so I know it’s real,” Kopor explained.

The faces she works with in counseling and on retreats reflect the outcomes recorded by one of the few qualitative studies done on post-abortive women, published in 2017. Rather than attempting to force responses into a multiple-choice format, this study by Professor Priscilla Coleman differed in the open-ended approach it took.6 Asked the most significant positive outcomes that had come from the decision to abort, a third of women responded along these lines: “None, there are no positives. My life is no better, it is much worse. I carry the pain of a child lost forever.”

Their testimony drove home what’s at stake in an abortion: Nothing less than a human child.

How could it be otherwise?

If it was just tissue, or a potential person, as abortion advocates declare, why were the consequences so devastating for a woman? If we granted their euphemisms saying the woman had just had “a procedure” to remove a “mass of tissue,” why was the reaction so extreme? The outcome I had seen wasn’t proportionate to the mere action of removing a “product of conception.” Repression, intellectualization, and rationalization wouldn’t be common “defense” mechanisms for these men and women if what was at stake was “a pile of cells.”

As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote, “The conscience tells us when we do wrong so we feel as if we’d broken a bone on the inside….Thanks to the power of self-reflection, we can see ourselves, particularly at night.” To downplay the pain of these women and countless more by obfuscating the reality of abortion would be a serious disservice to them and to those encountering that decision in the future. The perhaps well-intentioned lie abortion advocates try to sell is not a true cure for their pain. The true cure lies with God, Kopor explained. Of course, there’s no need for fellow Christians to cast stones either. In the words of Macaria, “There are no stones left. I already threw them all at myself.”

THE HEALING

That’s where people like Kopor and Macaria come in with merciful embraces, a shoulder to lean on, and a gentle nudge toward the Divine Physician. “I’m not a theologian, but I can help somebody meet Christ for the healing,” Kopor said.

Since experiencing God’s healing mercy at a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat 17 years ago, Macaria hasn’t stopped volunteering at the ministry, helping bring the Spanish-language component to the Diocese of Fort Worth 10 years ago.

“It completely turned my life around,” she said of the retreat. She acknowledges her abortions were “incredibly painful, erroneous, and complicated” decisions. “But a merciful and good God exists and I’m going to receive His healing.”

Not just hosting weekend retreats in English and Spanish, Rachel Ministries also provides resources like trained counselors, all in a confidential, non-judgmental setting.

THE VERDICT

After gathering evidence from both sides over a period of years, I had seen and learned a lot. The dozens and dozens of pages of compiled evidence shouted from the rooftops: Abortion isn’t a choice; it’s the taking of a human life. How had I not seen it before? Perhaps part of the blame lies in “political correctness” or in the massive and well-funded efforts by the abortion industry to obfuscate the reality of human life at its early stages and paint it as something else, something misleading. I don’t bring these up as excuses, but rather to point out the danger faced by inconvenient truths in our “me-first” society. I could go on, but the deceptions crafted by the abortion industry have been touched on in detail elsewhere. Just ask Abby Johnson, whose story of Planned Parenthood director turned pro-life advocate premiered on the big screen in March.

At any rate, I had found the truth. This, of course, was a truth that the Church had preached all along: “The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are more precious, but this one is fundamental — the condition of all the others. Hence it must be protected above all others.”7 Human life is inviolable because it comes from God and belongs to God. God is its beginning and its sole end (CCC 2258).

As different as an embryo or fetus seems — he or she is our neighbor. We are their keeper. It’s a truth I now like to share every chance I get.

Read Case for Life Part 1 Read Case for Life Part 2

 

References
1 Wixted, John and Mickes, Laura. “Eyewitness memory is a lot more reliable than you think.” Scientific American, June 13, 2017.
2  Koop, C.E. “Post Abortion Syndrome: Myth or Reality?” Health Matrix, Summer 1989.
3  Coleman, Priscilla. “APA Task Force Report on Abortion and Mental Health: Violation of the Methods of Science and a Breach of Public Responsibility.” AfterAbortion.org, 2010.
4  AbortionRisks.org/index.php?title=APA_Abortion_Report
5  Kumar Gill, Punam, dir. Exec. prod. Drew Martin. Prod. Joses Martin.  “Hush.” Mighty Motion Pictures, 2016.
6  Coleman, Priscilla, Boswell, Kaitlyn, et al. “Women who suffered emotionally from abortion: A qualitative synthesis of their experiences.” Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Winter 2017. 
7  Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Declaration on Procured Abortion. 1974, no.11.

Macaria carried a lot of guilt and suffering — an oppressive amount — until a fateful day when she took her then three-year-old son to Mass.

Published