FOR 10 YEARS I'VE BEEN COUNSELING
PEOPLE TRAUMATIZED BY THE EFFECTS OF ABORTION--I have a
doctorate in counseling psychology and run The Center for Post
Abortion Healing. Only twice has someone's father called
me for help. The most recent was a man I will call Mr. Davis.
(I've changed names to protect identities.)
He asked me to help his daughter: "She
needs counseling. Somebody objective. God certainly knows I'm
not." His voice trailed off as if in regretful thought.
"What's the problem?"
"Well," he stammered,
"my daughter, Gina, is dating this guy who is verbally
and physically abusive. He is ruining her life." The man
sounded desperate. In his voice I could detect anger and hurt,
but worst of all helplessness. "I can't just sit
back and watch my daughter ruin her life," he continued.
"This guy already has another kid he can't support.
I don't know what she sees in him. My Gina--she's
a great girl."
His tone changed to a hushed whisper
as he said, "I love her so much but I'm losing her."
He was silent for a moment, then his voice cracked as he pleaded,
"Please, can you do something? Can you help her see what
a creep he is? Gina won't listen to me anymore."
I informed Mr. Davis that I couldn't
break them up, but I could help Gina examine her relationship
and sort out her feelings about this man. Then I asked if anything
else had happened between Gina and her boyfriend.
Mr. Davis hesitated: The question itself
was a threat. Finally he answered, "Well, there is something
but it should really come from her. I think she should be the
one to tell you. After all, it's her life and I don't
want her to think I was talking behind her back."
"Did your daughter have an abortion?"
I asked in a matter-of-fact tone. The word was said: abortion.
There was silence.
Wave of Grief
I met his daughter that night. Gina
was 20, with long blond hair and sad blue eyes. Regarding the
abortion, she explained, "My dad made me have it. He told
me I could not live with them if I didn't. He knew it might
make me hate him but he was willing to take that risk. ŽYou'll
get over it,' he said. I was not raised to believe in abortion.
In high school I even wrote a paper on it." Her eyes welled
with tears, shining like brilliant sapphires.
Filled With Anger
Gina had never told anyone about the
abortion that had happened when she was a freshman in college.
a few moments, the memory surfaced like a tidal wave of grief.
The surges of the experience came crashing against the fortress
of my therapeutic composure, as I attempted to steady her for
the next gush of emotion.
Gina's story came out between distressing sobs and gasps
for air: "I came home from college on a Friday to tell
them about the pregnancy and what we were planning to do. My dad
hit the roof. He wanted to know what he ever did to deserve this.
Dad took my boyfriend into the kitchen to have a man-to-man talk.
They would not let me in. Dad tried to pressure him to convince
me that abortion was the best thing."
With much difficulty, she continued her story: "Two days
later I was up on a table, my feet in stirrups. I cried the whole
way there. My mom took me. I kept telling her I did not want this:
ŽPlease, no! Don't make me do this, don't make
me do this.' No one listened. When a counselor asked me
if I was sure, I shrugged my shoulders. I could hardly speak.
They did it: They killed my baby."
Overcome with heartache, Gina began to moan. Bent over, embracing
her womb, she couldn't believe she had actually had an
After a long tearful pause, Gina continued: "Just as quickly
as it had happened, everyone seemed to forget about it. My parents
never talked about it. They were furious when they found out that
I was still seeing Joe. They never let up on their negative comments
about him. Things were not so good between Joe and me either.
We were always fighting. I was so depressed and did not know how
to handle my feelings. I was too ashamed to talk about the abortion
with my friends and my parents made me promise not to tell anyone."
As her story unraveled I saw many signals
of complicated mourning. Gina joined our support group and also
came for individual therapy. She was angry at Joe for not protecting
her and the baby. Since it was her own parents who wanted the
abortion, the blame fell back on Gina. She was enraged at her
parents for not being able to accept her pregnancy. They just
wanted to get rid of the problem. Caught between two loyalties,
she was immobilized and unable to process her own feelings about
Gina's family is nominally Christian--religious
faith did not play a role in the decision to terminate the pregnancy.
Her parents believed that insisting on abortion was saving her
from a life of poverty and tribulation with a man they did not
believe could love or support their precious daughter. After all,
Joe already had a child whom he was not supporting. Thus, Gina's
parents feared for her future with such a man.
Now the future was here and Gina was
still clinging to an abusive boyfriend. Her self-esteem crumbled,
depression was a constant companion and her parents watched sadly
as a negative transformation robbed them of the daughter they
Gina, a woman-child, desired approval
and love from the parents who had always been so vital in her
life. She had not been given permission to grow up, have a baby
and become a mother. When she terminated the pregnancy, her embryonic
womanhood had been aborted, too. In a developmental sense she
was stuck between her desire for independence and adulthood, and
an unsuccessful attempt to break the emotional reliance she had
on her parents. Immobilized and uncertain, Gina was incapable
of making decisions, powerless to assert herself, unable to love.
Anger and hurt filled her heart. There
was grief, too--tremendous grief--over a dead baby
who would never be there to offer joy and hope. Anything related
to babies made her cry: baby showers, diaper commercials, other
children. Everything triggered a relentless heartache, a wound
in the soul that would not stop bleeding.
Once she was in treatment for post-abortion
trauma, Gina was able to express some of these feelings. It was
important that her parents enter the therapy process with her
in order to validate her loss and accept their responsibility
for contributing to the deterioration of their daughter. I knew
both parents would attempt to justify and defend their actions
as they struggled with their daughter's experience. This
resistance or inability to confront and admit emotional or spiritual
pain is called denial. In this phase of treatment, denial is a
Thinks He Knows Best
Gina's mom came first. She listened
to her daughter and expressed sorrow. I watched a pained expression
on the woman's face that persisted along with the inevitable
but: "I know you are hurting but we thought
we were doing the best thing. I realize this is hard but
you must get on with your life. You wanted the baby but
how would you ever pay for it? But how would you finish
The typical list goes on and on like
laundry--never ending, never finished. Each exception robbed
Gina of the gift of fully acknowledging her loss. The suspended
feelings were then buried, becoming depression, anxiety and self-punishment.
Gina needed permission to grieve. She
was also deprived of the experience of genuine compassion and
acceptance from her parents. They could not accept the pregnancy
when it happened and now they couldn't receive her grief.
She felt utterly rejected by them.
Gina explained that her father had
no idea what she had gone through after the abortion. He had no
idea how much she had sacrificed in order to please him. It was
important for her to tell him, so Mr. Davis was invited for a
session. The night before our meeting he called me.
and Taking Responsibility
"My stomach has been upset all
week since I heard about this meeting," said the concerned
father. "I want to do what is best for Gina."
Then his tone became more formal and
forceful: "I just want you to know that this is not
a moral issue to me. Gina had to have that abortion! I still think
we made the right decision. If I had it to do again, I would choose
the same thing. I know this is not what she wants to hear. Should
I lie about it to make her feel better? Is that what I should
do? Tell her I made a mistake? I cannot do that!"
With renewed determination, I explained,
"Mr. Davis, I know you love your daughter very much. I
know that she loves you or she never would have consented to have
an abortion. The fact remains that your daughter lost something.
What she lost was a child. Her baby--your grandchild.
"Gina thinks about it every
day. She cries about it every night. The event is far from over
for her. You need to hear how the abortion has affected her."
Mr. Davis did not respond. With conviction,
I continued: "When someone dies, the worst thing someone
can say is ŽIt was for the best; it's better this
way.' This does nothing to comfort and console. It only
makes the person angry because you are not appreciating the loss
or grief that is being experienced. Worse for Gina is that you
do not recognize the life that she is missing. Gina misses her
baby, a child you have not been able to acknowledge."
Eventually, Mr. Davis agreed that he
would try to listen and that maybe he had something to learn.
I really couldn't hope for more than that--it signaled
a sliver of an open door. "Men are not prone to emotional
mushiness," he reminded me. He honestly wished he could
feel sorrow and compassion over the baby but he could not. Nevertheless,
he would listen if it would help his daughter.
When Mr. Davis came in the next morning
he made a surprising statement: "I had no right to make
that choice." He had wrestled with various points in our
conversation all night and came to a realization that he was able
to admit for the first time: The abortion had not been Gina's
The session was very intense. Gina
expressed feelings of anger, hurt and rejection. She also shared
her grief about her aborted baby. It was the first time her parents
listened without defending or rationalizing what had happened.
Gina took personal responsibility for having allowed the abortion
to occur and asked her parents to do the same.
Therapy helped these parents begin
to see how they had forced Gina to choose between them and the
baby. I encouraged them not to make her choose again between them
and Joe. They needed to understand that in bitterness and grief,
Gina might permit another type of abortion--a termination
of her role as their daughter.
Gina had been in deep psychic pain
and felt rejected. She unconsciously lashed back by forcing her
parents to accept Joe, a man she knew they unequivocally hated.
This re-created the way her father had forced her to accept having
an abortion. Gina continued to cling to Joe despite his abusive
behavior. Her low self-esteem and powerlessness were confirmed
by his mistreatment of her. Joe also served to connect Gina to
their aborted baby. Giving up Joe would mean giving up the baby,
whom she still needed to grieve. In a vicious cycle Gina had been
punishing herself and her father.
Mr. Davis began to face some things
for the first time. He was finally able to consider the baby and
to separate Joe from the pregnancy. Abortion had been a way to
scrape out any symptom of his daughter's sexual activity
and heroically free her from the consequences of her own actions.
He began to realize that his daughter was a woman now, one he
should not have tried to control. He needed to trust Gina to be
capable of making her own decisions without the threat of abandonment.
As these interpretations became clear
to Mr. Davis, denial began to lose its powerful grip. His voice
broke with anguish as he cried, "Oh, my baby, my sweet
baby, my Gina. I am so sorry. I was so wrong." He pressed
his face against her cheek and the tears finally came.
They both wept as they tightly embraced
each other. All the anger, bitterness, pent-up emotions and grief
gave way. He begged Gina for forgiveness and told her she would
have been an incredible mother. In one beautiful moment her motherhood
had been validated and Gina wept with relief.
Within a few weeks, Gina attended a
Rachel's Vineyard Retreat for post-abortion healing in
the Philadelphia area. The retreat culminated with a memorial
service and a Mass of Resurrection. Gina invited both her parents
During the memorial service, each mother
and father courageously got up and read letters they had written
to their aborted children. As Gina reconnected with her child
in love, her parents looked on through a muddle of tears, mourning
and guilt. All of their denial had disappeared. There was no doubt
that abortion had finally become a moral issue to Mr. Davis. The
pain of his own sin was evident in the bitter grief he expressed
during the service. The Davis family had been through the pain
of Calvary; now they were ready for the Resurrection.
This family was only beginning to work
through the pain and allow God's love to enter into each
of their lives. For the healing to continue, it is important that
each family member ask for God's forgiveness and be able
to forgive others, too. Forgiveness is a choice that takes work,
prayer and grace. But it does not require liking the person who
is being forgiven.
Mr. Davis needs to forgive Gina's
boyfriend for his role in the pregnancy or else the exoneration
he pleads for is in vain. His attitude toward Joe needs to be,
"You have hurt me deeply, but I am not going to allow the
hurt and hatred I feel ruin my life any more. I am not going to
lose my daughter the way I lost my grandchild because of my feelings
Abortion is a tragic mistake for all
involved--the consequences on family relationships can be
far-reaching and quite destructive. Yet there is no evil beyond
God's capacity to heal, forgive and rebuild.
For information about post-abortion
resources and programs, contact the National Office of Post Abortion
Reconciliation and Healing, P.O.
Box 07477, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53207-0477, or dial 1-800-5-WE-CARE
(1-800-593-2273). Rachel's Vineyard:
A Psychological and Spiritual Journey of Post Abortion Healing,
by Theresa Karminski Burke, Ph.D., with Barbara Cullen, is $12.95
and can be ordered from Alba House. Phone
Theresa Karminski Burke, Ph.D.,
is the founder of The Center for Post Abortion Healing, which
offers counseling and retreats for women and men. She and her
husband, Kevin, operate a residence and job-training program for
women in crisis pregnancies in Darby, Pennsylvania. Their many
other activities include working with couples who want to adopt
and ministering to youth. Theresa is a writer and the mother of
four young children.