Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Its Effects on Teen
Moms and Dads
"My mother was very abusive. So when I got pregnant
at age 15, I knew I couldn't depend on her for help. I had nowhere
else to turn. The abortion made life simpler for me—until now.
After the birth of my second child, I find that the memories and
dreams of my past childhood abuse and abortion have become more
frequent. I realize now that I haven't yet put the past behind me."
Jan's story is matched by countless other stories of women who in adulthood
are coming face-to-face with a decision they made as teenagers.
The professional community is only recently beginning to realize the lasting
effects of abortion on both the women and men whose lives have been touched
by it. While it's certainly true that not all women who have abortions experience
lasting consequences, some do suffer, and continue to suffer for many years.
The difficulty of the circumstances that surround the abortion determines
the likelihood of later emotional problems Because of the special difficulties
of teenage pregnancy and abortion, teenagers run a very high risk of developing
Young women often have limited life experience to draw upon,
which can make it difficult to decide what to do about their pregnancy.
They may be affected by the opinions of others (as we all are),
especially the opinions of their peers and family. When the advice
the young woman receives is contradictory, it can create an overwhelming
and sometimes debilitating situation.
Lea, a 16-year-old facing the many decisions regarding her pregnancy, describes these feelings well: "I
don't know what to do. My boyfriend says one thing, my friends another, and
my parents—well, they're always telling me what I should do. I feel like
I'm going crazy."
Mourning a Loss
These overwhelming stresses often lead teenage mothers
to the decision to abort their babies. How do the consequences
of such a decision play out in their lives?
An initial reaction after having an abortion is often
one of relief. The stress of an unwanted pregnancy and the following
decisionmaking process can be an upsetting experience. Abortion
itself puts an end to the pain of indecision. Relief comes as a
result of what the woman feels is the end of her problems.
Such relief, however, is often short-lived. "I felt great after
the abortion," says 18-year-old Debra, "like a giant weight had
been lifted off me. It wasn't until a couple months later that I
started to wonder if I did the right thing."
Memories of the abortion plus feelings of guilt and remorse are
among the more common reactions experienced by women. Even when
the woman feels certain she is making the right decision, feelings
of guilt are not uncommon. Women who feel the abortion was the "best"
thing to do rather than the "right" thing to do experience a great
sense of guilt.
In addition to feelings of guilt, some degree of post-abortion
depression is common. This usually lessens within a few months.
For some women, however, this initial depression can become more
serious and last longer. It has been six years since Carol had her
abortion. Now, at 25, she is experiencing deep depression. "Nothing
means anything to me anymore. I can't eat or sleep. I just feel
like crying all the time, but I can't even do that. I just can't
get the abortion out of my mind."
As with guilt and depression, the feeling of loss is not uncommon
for years following an abortion. Many women sometimes imagine what
their aborted baby might have been like, or wonder how their life
would have been different if they had decided to give birth to their
Janet was 15 when she had her abortion. Now, at 19, she thinks
about what her child might have been like: "I see pictures of kids
and wonder if mine would have looked like that. Would the baby have
had my eyes or Tim's nose or what? I wonder if keeping the baby
would have really been such a big deal. I mean, my parents would
have helped me, and maybe it would have been O.K. I could have still
finished school and everything, and still had my baby besides."
Painful memories and upsetting dreams can affect a woman's ability
to sleep following an abortion, adding further stress to her life.
Flashbacks are also possible. These vivid recollections of the
abortion can happen during waking hours and are certainly terrifying.
"It was like it was happening all over again," Janet says. "I was
so scared. I could see the pattern on the floor and smell the smell
of the clinic. It was just like I was there and it was happening
again just like it did before. At night even the dreams were bad.
I guess I just couldn't get it out of my head."
Each individual woman reacts to stress in her own
way. It is not uncommon for either avoidance or fixation to be present.
Those who avoid their feelings may engage in a type of amnesia,
conveniently forgetting particular aspects of the abortion. This
effort to cover their feelings may make them appear tense and irritable.
While some avoid their feelings, others may—tend to fixate on them.
For such a woman, the abortion may be constantly on her mind. She
may tend to react strongly to anything that is even similar to the
Brenda is a 17-year-old who had her abortion when she was 16.
"Everyone says to just forget about it, to put the past behind me,
but I can't. Sounds, smells, even just the sight of white sheets
can make me crazy."
Does Dad Mourn?
Relationship difficulties between the child's mother
and father are another possible consequence of abortion. What may
have seemed to be a strong, lasting and loving relationship before
the unintended pregnancy may now seem less certain. While an abortion
is often seen as a means by which to eliminate the strain on a relationship,
it often serves as an additional stress on that bond. The child's
father may feel confusion or resentment. Questions of commitment
and doubt can also take their toll on what may already be an unstable
Janet remembers her relationship with Tim: "I thought we were
so in love, and I guess we were for a while but, after I got rid
of the baby, things just seemed to fall apart. Neither one of us
could talk about it, and I just felt bad whenever we were together."
There is little research regarding post-abortion
trauma as it affects women, and there is even less about men. While
he is often overlooked, the father of the aborted child is not free
from similar emotional difficulties to those experienced by the
woman. Vickie Gravila-Retich, a Michigan clinical psychologist,
has helped many young men work through their feelings about abortion.
When asked her professional opinion regarding the male perspective,
she stated, "It depends on the male. Some believe that they have
no attachment to that 'thing' and are very cold...some are supportive
and go through the same symptoms as the woman....I've seen guys
be traumatized...to say that they don't go through the same things
that the woman does is wrong. They just hide it better."
Men often have more difficulty expressing their feelings.
Gravila-Retich says, "They tend to deny and repress...they tell
you they want to cry but they can't because they don't know how....Then
there are the ones who cry for weeks....There's one thing I'd say
to teenagers: If you feel like crying for whatever reason, you need
to go through with that. Men need to be open to what they're feeling
inside if they're going to be able to deal with those feelings in
a healthy manner."
Did I Have a Choice?
An unexpected pregnancy carries with it a certain
amount of stress regardless of whether the decision is to abort
the baby, keep the child, or have the baby and give it up for adoption.
Abortion may at first seem the perfect answer, but
its aftereffects can be terrible, and abortion does not solve all
the problems. There is no perfect answer. Once the pregnancy has
occurred, life will never again be the same. An abortion cannot
truly erase what has happened, so considering abortion as a means
of escape is a mistake. It is also important to realize the possibility
that this child may be the only one that will ever be conceived
by the woman.
Cathy Young, director of Abortion Alternatives, located
in Saginaw, Michigan, points out, "About 25 percent of women have
trouble getting pregnant. Just because you got pregnant once, when
you didn't want to, doesn't mean that you're not one of them. This
'unwanted' baby may be your only one."
The choice to have a child is not free of stress, but does not
appear to cause the same painful long-term effects as abortion.
It may even turn out to be one of the most wonderful experiences
in one's life.
Kathy had her baby at 18, and although it's been difficult
to raise her son (now three years old) as a single mother, she feels
she made the right decision: "I've never been sorry. Oh sure, there
have been moments here and there when I've been frustrated, just
like any mother, but I've never wished that I made a different decision."
Not every picture of a teenage mother, however, is
as rosy. Becky had her baby at 18 also, but soon found that life
as a single mother was more than she was able to deal with: "I had
to give my baby up for adoption. It seemed like the baby cried all
the time, I didn't have any money, and my family had practically
disowned me. I felt like I was going crazy. I gave the baby to relatives
who didn't have any kids. They were so happy. I know I made the
right decision. Now I know my baby has a good life."
Becky was unaware of the many community resources
that are available to help young mothers, such as organizations
that assist with finances, religious groups for moral and emotional
support, and others. For many women like Becky, adoption is the
option they choose.
Karen is another such woman: "I know I wasn't ready to have a
baby, so I gave the baby up without even seeing her. It was the
right choice for me at the time. I think about her sometimes, wonder
what she's like, and that sort of thing, but I know that if I'd
have kept her, neither of our lives would have been any good. Now
she's with a family who loves her and wanted her, and I can always
feel good about myself for making the best decision I could for
both of us."
How Does God Fit In?
Many young women are concerned about their relationship
to God and the Church as a result of choosing an abortion. Sister
Leona Sullivan, director of Christian service for the Diocese of
Saginaw, Michigan, addresses this issue well. She understands that
a young woman's self-esteem can be damaged after having an abortion
and the pain of guilt can be enormous. "Underneath, the person
may fear punishment from God or the loss of God's friendship. [She]
may be angry at God or the Church, not able to enjoy life," says
Sister Leona. She tells women who feel this way that they are not
"condemned" and forgiveness is possible.
"You are...crushed because you feel like God must
reject you. I also hear you saying you feel condemned by the Church
or Christians when they call you a murderer," Sister Leona says.
Abortion is sinful, she says, and many people are tempted to judge.
God alone knows the human heart and the complications and complexities
that might have led to such a choice.
"I am sorry in the name of the Church and those of us who call
ourselves Christians for the harshness and judgment which have added
to your burden. In this, we have not been like Jesus who tells us
God is like a father who waits to welcome his prodigal son back
home and shower him with gifts. Our God is a God of forgiveness
What is important in dealing with the pain and guilt is growing
from it. Even negative experiences like abortion can have a positive
result. "I would want to ask the person what [she has] learned from
this experience that will be profitable for the future. Everyone
who has come to acceptance has grown in [her] capacity for compassion
and each can extend that compassion according to [her] situation,"
affirms Sister Leona.
Whether it's the woman who has had the abortion or the man who
has had to deal with feelings of guilt and helplessness, those who
have gone through this experience can give support to others in
a way she or he perhaps did not receive. "I would want them [all]
to realize that they could be a blessing for others," Sister Leona
The decision of whether or not to have an abortion can be heart-wrenching
and very difficult. It can also carry with it many emotional aftereffects
that reach into later adulthood, as we have seen in the lives of
Jan, Carol and other young women.
While the apparent finality of abortion may seem the end to the
worries surrounding pregnancy, it can inflict new wounds. Looking at this now can help you to see that all choices have consequences,
what some of those consequences are and how to weigh your choices.
What rights, if any, does the father of
the baby have? Can he have any influence on the mothers decision to abort the baby?
While it's certainly true that the father
of the baby may be able to affect the mother's decision to
abort the baby, he does not have any legal rights in the matter.
The mother does not need the father's consent to have an abortion,
whether or not they are married. Regardless of the lack of
legal rights, it's important that the father make his feelings
known. He should be honest and very clear about how he feels.
Offers of support, both emotional and financial, will help
the woman feel more secure and better able to make a rational
decision. In recent years more and more men have become verbal
about their lack of rights, and although I am unaware of any
formal organizations at this time, I'm sure we will hear more
about this issue in the future.
What should a young woman consider when
trying to decide future plans for her baby?
I posed this question to Kim Bruce, M.S.W.,
pregnancy counselor at Catholic Family Service in Bay City,
Michigan. She says, "Get in contact with a neutral pregnancy
counselor rather than an attorney because pregnancy counselors
can provide support and guidance....They should think about
what's in the baby's and the mom's best interest—not what
others want them to do, but what will give the baby and the
mom the best future. They should consider things like support
and financial systems, family relations, school goals and
many other issues. A pregnancy counselor will help parents
get reality-based in their plans for a child." Abortion is
never the right nor the best thing to do for anyone involvedmother,
father or child.
What about adoption?
If the decision is made to give the baby up for adoption, there are many different choices. The types of adoption vary greatly from state to state, with various forms of "open" vs. "private" adoptions.
In an open adoption the mother may be able to select the couple who will adopt her baby and may also have the choice of having later contacts with her child. In private adoptions an attorney or agency may facilitate the match between the baby and the adoptive couple. The adoptive couple may pay the adoption fees and
perhaps the expenses of the mother. All of the particulars involved in the adoption process vary from state to state.
Tony Brunswick, 18; Amy Lange, 15; Mary Seger, 15; and Gary Thieman, 16,
of St. Henry Parish in St. Henry, Ohio, met to critique this issue. They suggested
changes to avoid stereotyping and asked that an 800 number be included as a
resource, in addition to other helpful fine-tuning. Linda Thieman, youth minister
at St. Henry Parish, also assisted.