Newsletter Excerpts 2010
Conversations Around Abortion
The subject of abortion makes people uncomfortable - there is a taboo in talking about it.
Abortion has become an accepted way of dealing with an unplanned
pregnancy yet there is still much secrecy, stigma and shame surrounding
it. Abortion loss or trauma is not well recognised nor widely
acknowledged and those affected by an abortion often feel silenced.
Conversations around abortion are often heated, defensive and
divisive, leading to moral debate or argued as a human rights issue.
Extremes of bias are limiting and unhelpful in having open
conversations around abortion. Whilst people are fighting to maintain a
“position” they are unable to engage in actual conversation around
Systems and processes within health services which are largely
geared towards abortion can constrain conversations needed for fully
informed choice. Often risk factors for negative abortion reactions are
discounted or minimised, if considered at all. In churches and some
helping agencies people may impose beliefs and humiliate and judge
those involved in abortions.
Conversations around abortion aren’t generally favoured around the
dinner table or at parties or other social settings. Some people may
admit their abortions as a matter of course and say they weren’t a big
deal or even encourage others to follow suit. But often the deeper
human and relational issues experienced by others are not discussed. It
seems it is better to not talk about such disturbing matters as it can
make people uncomfortable or it may offend.
The post abortive parent may have trouble discussing what is
happening for them with those who supported their decision for fear of
causing offence or upset, or being told “There’s nothing to grieve” or
“It’s over, just get on with your life now”. They may feel isolated and
alienated and not be able to share the reality of their experiences
with others for fear of condemnation. Or they may not even associate
what they are now experiencing with the abortion. It may only be
sometimes years or decades later that they can view it, and work out
what it has meant for them and their lives. Sometimes too there can be
cultural barriers or issues around the subject of abortion and it’s not
talked about. How and where are people able to talk about it in a
society that fails to acknowledge the reality and possible impacts and
- by Carolina Gnad
Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat
Healing for the Grief / Trauma of Abortion
The first Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat was held on 18-19 June in
Wellington. It was a humble privilege to be helping on team. The
retreat centre was an idyllic spot, very tranquil with an amazing
outlook, perfect for this type of soul-healing from the grief and
trauma of abortion.
The weekend was a grace-filled experience where a number of post
abortive parents were able to share around their abortion stories. The
team provided a safe caring environment for the level of sharing needed
for participants to confront the reality of what happened, and what it
has meant for them and their lives. The depth of pain shared was deeply
moving, but the movement from raw grief to hope very powerful.
The process participants go through is similar to the steps of
healing in many post abortion recovery programme. Storying around the
whole abortion and the impacts - dealing with the reality of the death
of their offspring, sharing around hurts and anger, addressing the
issue of forgiveness, memorialising and honouring the ongoing bond with
the baby, and carrying on with life.
The atmosphere was of unconditional acceptance, non-judgment and
genuine empathy. There was a Christian- Catholic focus which
participants appeared to work with well. The process effectively drew
participants deeper into themselves, touching on some painful places.
The skilled facilitation and counsellor support provided much needed
safety and containment for the work.
For some who come on the retreat this is the beginning of their
healing journey, for others it is another step along the way and for
others it is an opportunity for more closure.
The reality is the abortion experience will never be forgotten but
the pain becomes transformed and less raw, there is greater acceptance
and peace, and a readiness to embrace life more fully or in new ways
For more information contact:
Wendy Hill (Co-ordinator)
04 974 8693 or 027 733 2990
P.A.T.H.S. Annual General Meeting
Monday June 14th was a wet and wild night, but for the thirty or so
hardy souls who braved the weather it was a trip worth it. The
P.A.T.H.S Trust held a public AGM where Jan Brodie (Chairwoman), shared
the highlights of her annual report and the future directions of
As part of this future a small team have started working in the
research arena, more specifically a literature review on the effects of
past abortion on subsequent pregnancy, birth and post-partum experience
(as reported in earlier editions of this newsletter). Because of this
the Trust wanted to share with our supporters the knowledge and
findings of a prominent researcher who happens to be based in
Christchurch, Professor David Fergusson.
Professor Fergusson’s research has been well documented and is
acknowledged as a leading source of information regarding the
relationship between abortion and mental health. There were a large
number of questions that opened up the discussion to include the
experiences of those in the audience.
At the conclusion of the evening many stayed to continue their
discussion and it was heartening to see so many share their thoughts
The Trust would like to express a special thanks to Professor Fergusson
for giving up his valuable time to talk to us, and of course to all of
you who attended – thanks.
The research David spoke around relates to the study “Abortion in young
women and subsequent mental health” by David M. Fergusson, L. John
Horwood, and Elizabeth M. Ridder, Christchurch Health and Development
Study, Christchurch, New Zealand, 2006.
Professor David Fergusson, Christchurch Health & Development Study,
Christchurch School of Medicine & Health Sciences can be contacted
Write: P O Box 4345, Christchurch, NZ
Tel: 03 372 0406; Fax: 03 372 0407
People frame up abortion in many different ways but if we are to
respond appropriately to those who are grieving, struggling or
traumatised by their abortions it needs to be looked at for what it is.
Abortion is part of the spectrum of pregnancy and baby loss. The
inherent loss and trauma in terminating a pregnancy for whatever reason
and at whatever stage is often ignored, minimised or negated. Negative
abortion reactions are poorly understood and often unanticipated but
are very real when they occur. Abortion as a life-death event has the
propensity to change people whether they realise it or not.
With around 18,000 women having abortions each year in NZ it is a
subject we need to be talking about in every sphere of society. As long
as society and those working in health and welfare circles fail to
address the hidden but real impacts of abortion we won’t be able to
have conversations around abortion that honour and support those
affected. In our experience it can be incredibly hard for people to
come forward and talk about their experiences and effects for them.
This needs to change.
P.A.T.H.S. creates a safe place for anyone affected by abortion to
express themselves and be supported. We understand that the process of
healing after an abortion is a journey through many mixed emotions and
there may be conflicts that need to be resolved. Our team are skilled
and caring. We are there to listen to those who are hurting or
struggling after abortion – mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings.
We can provide information, training and opportunities for those
involved in pregnancy decisions and abortion processes, or anyone
interested in post abortion matters, who may wish to explore the issues
and have a conversation.
By Carolina Gnad
BEYOND THE POLITICS OF ABORTION
Everyone has an opinion about abortion. The problem is when the
political and moral views get in the way of efforts to help those who
are hurting because of a past abortion.
Just for a moment, set aside the question of whether or not abortion
should be legal, and ask yourself, “Shouldn’t we all offer
understanding and compassion to our friends and family members who are
feeling grief or trauma over a past abortion?”
Most people would answer yes. Indeed, this is one of the few areas
of common ground between both sides of the abortion debate.
Unfortunately, people on each side generally believe that while they
are understanding and compassionate, those on the “other side” are not.
The truth is closed to this: both sides really want to be
understanding and compassionate, and both sides are blind to the ways
in which they are failing in this regard.
As a result, women and mean who are struggling with unresolved grief
or trauma over an abortion, are caught in a trap. They’re boxed in by
the politics of abortion.
On one side, they are afraid to share their grief with friends who
are “pro-life” because they fear being condemned and rejected. On the
other side, they’ve learned that when they turn to friends who are
“pro-choice”, their grief may not be acknowledged as truly valid.
- By David Reardon
L i f e
At a recent pro-life conference a friend
and I attended we mentioned to a lady that we’d had an abortion. We
were told that she had never met anyone like me before. The truth is
she had, however had never been told. I am your Sister, Cousin, Mother,
Auntie, Wife, Grandma, Daughter, Friend, Workmate, Brother, Husband,
Father, Uncle, Grandpa, Son. People all around us have experience
abortions, however, who can speak of it?
At times when I’ve spoken of having had
an abortion, there has been an attitude of blame followed by shame. The
blame is never as strong or cutting as my own, yet it can still hurt.
I saw many of the people at the
conference as beautiful fish in a pond. Each with their own place,
purpose and position. Swimming in a school gaining understanding of a
subject they were all burdened with, man’s choice of life or death as
opposed to God’s creation of life and his time for death, with a need
to represent a voice that cannot be heard.
I felt a ripple effect in the pond as I
jumped in speaking my reality, the truth of where I have been, having
an abortion. With the reaction from others I realised I wasn’t viewed
as a fish like them, I felt more like a blemished warty frog. Someone
to stay away from for fear of catching a disease. Maybe that is my own
shame. My presence and truth upset some, and I felt I had better move
to another pond, but couldn’t until the school was over. Do fish
disdain frogs or frogs disdain fish, do they speak to one another, or
do they each do their own thing? If this is to remain, neither will
ever reach the other. They will not reach the eggs of either variety,
the eggs that have no voice and need to be heard, for their lives to be
protected, to have the right to live, until both the fish and frogs
talk and hear one another.
- Counsellor K
ALL FOR LIFE CONFERENCE
Nelson October 2010
This pro-life conference was held in Nelson at the end of October.
It was a gathering of concerned people and health practitioners who
spent time exploring around a wide range of social, health and life
issues. It was a warm and friendly gathering and a wide range of groups
were represented and shared around their work in the area of sex and
relationships, pregnancy and abortion. The highlight for me was meeting
and hearing Dr David Reardon speak. His extensive experience in post
abortion research in the USA provided unique insights into the needs of
the post abortive parent and strategies needed for groups. Churches and
society to address some of the issues.
In his talk “Compassionate Strategy” David spoke of various themes that require attention.
Theme 1: Understanding the
pressures that women are under to abort. For example: the legal and
moral dissonance surrounding the issue, believing it is a life but that
abortion is justified, how with the unplanned pregnancy a woman is
first socially aborted and how often she is wanting primarily to keep
people in her life so accedes to pressures of what others might see as
best and a decision to not abort may be perceived as being weak in our
current climate, and the choice is fundamentally between having a baby
or having a trauma.
It is heartening to know that
P.A.T.H.S. is on track with our work and trainings when we explore the
context of abortion in our seminars and in our client work. It is
hugely important to appreciate the various pressures that come to bear
in the individual pregnant woman or couple’s situation but also from
people around her/them and the wider political, medical and other
social environment aspects.
Theme 2: The Impact of
abortion on women and men. There is a need to recognise that the
welfare of the mother and child are intertwined - if you hurt one you
hurt both. The APA (American Psychiatric Association) continues to
claim that “there is no credible evidence that a single elective
abortion of unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health
problems after abortion.” and the media also promotes this idea of no
evidence that abortion has negative impacts. The evidence of those
involved in the healing work and in research shows levels of impacts,
and knowing that the worse the circumstances the greater the risk for
PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
In our work in P.A.T.H.S. we are
very cognissant of the myriads of ways abortion can affect a person,
their relationships and lives. However, the impacts of abortion remain
to a large extent denied, discounted or minimised in health and
counselling circles. This effectively traps women and men in their pain
and struggle after abortion. Admittedly, many women (men and families)
“adjust” well enough psychologically and socially after this type of
pregnancy-baby loss but often there is deeper healing needed for the
real loss(es) experienced and the potential trauma that was incurred.
In our experience and through our seminars and outreach in the
community and medical and counselling areas we hear more and more about
the different impacts that those who have had abortions recently or in
the past are having. When one responds to the needs of those hurting
after an abortion it is very difficult to join in with the current
dominant discourses. We are heartened in our conversations with people
and professionals we encounter by an increasing openness and interest
in post abortion reality and the needs for help and healing to deal
with the aftermath.
Theme 3: Understanding the
obstacles to post abortion healing. Who can the post abortive parent
talk to when she feel trapped by judgement and condemnation on the one
hand and dismissal on the other. There is a spectrum or reactions for
the post abortive woman e.g. if you remind me of my abortion you
threaten to trigger my pain, I am trapped in self blame and fear and I
become defensive to cope or I will blame others and become trapped in
resentment, anger and hatred. Compassion in reaching those affected by
abortion is more powerful than outrage.
All those involved in and
associated with P.A.T.H.S. are deeply aware of the sensitive nature of
the issues for the post abortive parent and the need for unconditional
acceptance compassion - there is no room for judgement and no-one has
the right to judge another. We need to know about the sorts of triggers
for the post abortive women, and be willing and able to engage in
non-threatening ways when they are ready to come and talk of their
experiences. We cannot have preconceived ideas about them or their
situations and need to open, interested, warm, welcoming and sensitive
in our approach, willing to really listen and hear what this experience
has been for them and means for them. No agendas just simply to be
there and willing to go there with them as they revisit it in their own
I am aware too that sometimes zealous and well meaning Christians
can put their foot in it, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes with other
motivations. We need to be informed, knowledgeable, reflective and
aware in our approach and dealings with people and families for whom
abortion has been a difficult and painful experience. As David said in
one woman’s story “It took the blood of Christ to lift my guilt, but it
took the acceptance of others to lift my shame.”
I had the privilege of offering a workshop on post abortion healing
with David - tricky as we had never met before the conference and did
not have time to rehearse our material. But hopefully it provided
opportunity for participants to reflect more deeply around the impacts
and needs for post abortive parents and become curious about what might
be useful for or could be applied by them in their sphere of influence.
Prior to the conference David Reardon, Dr Josef Hassan and myself
were interviewed by Radio Rhema for their Talk at Ten programme (One to
One: Friday 29 October 2010). If you are interested in listening to
those interviews goto HERE
I hope we will all feel more encouraged and have a greater sense of
our unique ability to respond and be willing to learn and discover how
we might respond more appropriately in this area of need in our
personal, family and professional circles.
Christchurch November 2010 - Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee
P.A.T.H.S. had an information table again at this years PMMRC
workshop. We had our poster from the literary review on display and it
generated some good interest. It is useful having this piece of work on
hand to engage with health professionals. It is always interesting
hearing others’ experiences and perspectives and wonderful to have the
opportunity to be present at such an event. A bonus was being able to
attend the talks free of charge. There was a whole range of issues
relating to perinatal and maternal health.
The Fourth PMMRC Report to the Minister of Health was presented, the
role of ethnicity, maternal weight (does it matter for the baby?),
maternal mental health, screening matters, support following
termination of pregnancy for congenital abnormality, smoking mothers,
neonatal encephalopathy and the AMOSS update (Australian Obstetric
It’s great meeting up and linking in with familiar faces from other
NGO groups. Some good networking happens with opportunities to share
the struggles and delights of working in the sector.