A recently founded organization provides remote online consultations and prescriptions for abortion-inducing medications through the…
Bridging the abortion divide with compassion
We all know women who have had abortions.
They may be our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts or cousins, or our friends, colleagues or acquaintances. And chances are that they already had one or two children when they made the difficult and tragic decision to end a pregnancy.
“A lot of the women who are choosing abortion, especially if they already have a child, they know how difficult it is to bring a child into the world and to support the child when they are on their own,” said Kat Talalas, the assistant director for pro-life communications in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.
Given that the personal dimensions of abortion go far beyond the political arena, Talalas told Our Sunday Visitor that the Church must support and accompany women in crisis pregnancies and provide unconditional love and accompaniment for those who have had abortions.
“As a Church, the question we should always ask is, how do we do what Christ did?” Talalas said. “We know Jesus always shone a light on the truth while offering love and mercy to the people he encountered.”
An honest look at the data relating to how common abortion is and why women choose to terminate a pregnancy raises tough questions for people of faith and pro-life activists who believe in the sanctity of unborn life and argue that it should be protected by law.
Nearly 1 in 4 women in the United States will have had an abortion before their 45th birthday, according to a 2017 article in the American Journal of Public Health.
Most American women who have had abortions are in their 20s and come from all different races, ethnicities and religious backgrounds. Of the 8,380 post-abortive women who were questioned in a 2014 survey, about 23.7% identified as Catholic.
“With 40-plus years of legalized abortion on demand, all of us knows someone who has had an abortion. Whether we talk about it openly is another thing,” said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America.
Noting how common abortion is, Hawkins told OSV that she is not sure the pro-life movement’s messaging is cutting through the static of today’s fragmented media environment.
“I think that’s the bigger challenge,” Hawkins said. “We have the message that we know works, that saves lives, that tells women they don’t need to make this false choice, but the question is, will they actually ever hear it from us?”
In a June 10 interview on National Public Radio’s “Living Lab Radio,” Dr. Luu D. Ireland, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, discussed the abortion data, which she wrote about for TheConversation.com.
Ireland highlighted statistics that indicate almost 60% of women who have had abortions already had one or two children.
“These are people who know what it means to bring a pregnancy to term, who knows what it means to recover postpartum and know what it means to parent,” said Ireland, who added that she never treated a patient who made the decision to have an abortion lightly.
“I can’t tell you the number of women who I’ve taken care of who come to me with children and say, ‘I didn’t want to make this decision, but I have to because I have to be able to parent the children that I have,'” Ireland said.
The data that Ireland cited about women who already have children deciding to have an abortion is borne out by several other studies, said Charles Camosy, a moral theologian at Fordham University who often writes about pro-life issues.
“It does signal that for so many women, what’s going on here is something they don’t want to choose,” Camosy said. “Clearly, whoever has an abortion when they already have children is not anti-life. They’ve already shown they want to have one child, often more than one.”
The data also indicates that the two most common reasons for why women decide to have an abortion are that they do not believe they are ready for a child or they are concerned that they cannot afford to raise another child. Other reasons included concerns about career and education being interrupted, being in a troubled relationship, and not wanting to be a single mother.
“There are a lot of intersecting reasons why women have abortions. It’s very rarely just one reason,” said Camosy, who added that he is working with a sociologist to examine the interconnected factors that drive women to abortion.
Randall K. O’Bannon, the director of education and research at the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund, told OSV that society, too, often tells women in crisis pregnancies that abortion is the answer to their economic concerns.
“What I have to remind people of, though, and this is critical, is that, yes, these economic circumstances are real, they’re difficult, but nothing about an abortion improves a woman’s economic situation,” O’Bannon said. “You don’t solve your problem. As a matter of fact, you’re back where you were, except now you’re dealing with the heartache of having lost a child.”
Offer support, love
With abortion being so common, and the reasons for it appearing to be rooted in economic fear and uncertainty, observers told OSV that the pro-life community needs to make clear that it supports women, will help them in crisis pregnancies and will not demonize those who have had abortions.
“I think the messaging that crisis pregnancy centers use around the country works,” Hawkins said. “It’s a women-focused message, that this about you, we understand you’re in crisis, let us help you, let us support you and let us love [you] through this.”
Camosy emphasized that leaders in the pro-life movement do not believe in jailing women for having abortions, and that they are generally supportive of expectant mothers in tough pregnancies.
“There’s been a movement in recent years to destigmatize the choices of women, to offer them love, mercy and healing,” Camosy said.
Talalas, from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that while political action around abortion is important, the personal encounter is still the most vital element in fostering a true culture of life.
“Churches, diocesan ministries, parishes are seeking to fulfill that pastoral need through personal accompaniment to women who are in challenging pregnancies and communicating that willingness to walk with them,” said Talalas, who added that love is “what most changes hearts and minds on abortion” and save lives.
“It doesn’t mean we neglect advocacy in any way or that we neglect speaking publicly on these issues, because we must,” Talalas said. “We’ve been the most consistent voice in the pro-life movement for decades. But reiterating to all that desire to personally engage with new mothers and to support them in their journey is important.”
Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for OSV Newsweekly.
|‘Abortion is never the answer’|
|“Abortion is never the answer that women and families are looking for. Rather, it is fear of illness and isolation that makes parents waver. The practical, human and spiritual difficulties are undeniable, but it is precisely for this reason that a more incisive pastoral action is urgently needed to support those families who accept sick children. There is a need to create spaces, places and ‘networks of love’ to which couples can turn, and to spend time assisting these families.”
— Pope Francis, May 25, 2019