What’s Wrong with the World

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Not quite right

Here's an odd and interesting post arguing against post-abortion ministries like Silent No More and the Abortion Changes You ad campaign on the grounds that they contribute to our society's elevation of emotion over reason and reality on the issue of abortion.

When the concern is stated that way, one can understand the danger of such a result while at the same time seeing no problem with the approach in principle. It seems to me that the post author's central blind spot is this: She fails to see that the emotions in question, emotions of guilt, regret, pain, and so forth, are condign responses to reality. She compares what she calls the "wailing women" of post-abortion stories to "wailing women" of yore, feminists who "wailed" about how motherhood and the lack of legal abortion ruined their lives. But that is a faulty comparison on its face. It is unnatural to wail about not being able to have an abortion. It is natural and in an important sense salutary to wail about having had an abortion. A woman who feels unhappy about her abortion and who is allowed and even encouraged to confront those feelings may well be on the way to repentance and grace.

The blind spot is made especially evident when the author compares post-abortive women whose emotions are displayed as they tell their stories with parents in England who are feted after killing their disabled children. But this is completely upside down. The case of the sort she is talking about with which I am familiar is that of Robert Latimer in Canada, who murdered his disabled daughter Tracy. When people sympathize with all that he "felt" and "went through," this is sympathy that pushes (and is meant to push) in the direction of approving his act of murdering his daughter. When we listen and offer post-abortion counseling to women suffering with grief and guilt for having had abortions, the sympathy there moves the woman and society in the direction of disapproving of the abortion. Mr. Latimer doesn't feel guilt! And the people who sympathize with him aren't sharing feelings of pain and guilt for what he did but rather are sympathizing with him for what he did. In contrast, post-abortive women are often told (as the author of the post herself says) that they should "suck it up," that there is something wrong with them if a little voice tells them that what they did was not good. Encouraging them in expressing their misery is encouraging them in at least the direction of admitting wrong-doing, not sympathizing with their wrong-doing.

There is something, moreover, highly unpleasant--and I believe objectively wrong--in the repetition throughout the post of the statement that women who have had an abortion should feel "badly" for the rest of their lives. Here's a sample:

My response to the women is, "Yes, you have done something terrible. Something foul and unspeakable. You have committed a crime that "cries to heaven" and you will have to live with it for the rest of your life...."

Well, thanks for sharing. I'm sure that'll help a lot of lost souls. I know that I wouldn't do a very good job at post-abortion counseling, precisely because I'm too blunt and harsh a person. But I see that as a limitation in myself. If I really had to help someone struggling with the feelings of a post-abortion woman, I pray to God that I would be prevented from saying anything like this. (She even goes so far as to compare the post-abortive women who tell their stories to Gollum, a truly nasty crack at women who are bewailing their sin.)

Is feeling horrible for the rest of their lives really our goal for women who have had an abortion? The author appears to be a Catholic. I am a Protestant. But both Protestants and Catholics believe in the forgiveness of sins. It's right in the Apostles' Creed. Whether after praying or after going to a priest and receiving absolution, is there not supposed to be such a thing as being freed from the horrible weight of guilt and sin, even within this life? You bet there is.

In C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce there is a scene in which a man confronts a shining spirit who was a murderer here on earth. The ghost (who has the opportunity to be saved if he so chooses) is angry at the favor shown to the murderer. He asks why the murderer should be there, so happy and in such great shape while he, who never committed a murder, has been sent to the "grey town" and must now work his way up from ghost-hood. He asks, indignantly, "What about poor Jack, lying there in his blood?" And so on and so forth. The joyful shining spirit says that he is no longer ashamed of himself, because he had to give up thinking about himself. He has been forgiven. And he points out that his victim is no longer lying in his blood but is himself in heaven.

I'm sorry to say that I can picture all too well a similar scene between the author of this post and a post-abortive woman who dares to be full of holy joy after receiving God's forgiveness later in this life, or even in heaven.

"What about your baby, lying in his blood?"

"But he isn't. He is here. You will meet him presently if you will only come with me."

"I think, if things were as they should be, our positions should be reversed!"

"Perhaps they will be in the end. Only forget about that and accept joy."

"But...but...but. It's not fair! You're supposed to be miserable!"

Having said all of this, I should add a few caveats: I, like the author of the piece, believe that the statement that "every abortion has two victims" is facile and misleading. Moveover, if and to the extent that post-abortive ministries are deliberately avoiding helping women to confront the objective wrongness of what they have done, they are not helping them as they should. If and to the extent that post-abortion ministries are deploring or denigrating attempts to see that every child is protected in law, they are working against other pro-lifers whom they should be working with.

I do not claim to know enough about these ministries to know if they are doing this, but I do think that the Abortion Changes You website shows some signs of a slight overdose of non-judgementalism. (Their ad campaign, though, seems to me like a very good idea and may well dissuade some young lady from having her child killed.) The Silent No More website directly encourages people to express regret for an abortion and contains announcements about 40 Days for Life, which is all about praying outside abortion clinics for an end to abortion.

It is not that I do not see dangers inherent in encouraging post-abortive women to tell their stories and express their feelings of unhappiness and grief. But our society needs to learn to regret its abortions, so this might well be a good start. And meanwhile, we would do well to remember that Our Lord said that the (repentant) prostitutes will enter the kingdom before those who believe that they have no need of a Physician.

Comments (2)

Good post, Lydia. Being in the business of teaching writing, I encounter this question all the time: should we use emotional appeal in our writing, and if so, how much? People who argue against using emotion at all, focusing solely on reason, forget that it is God who made us emotional beings. And in fact it is touching the emotions that often moves the will to action. I *know* a lot of good reasons I shouldn't do certain things -- but that doesn't always stop me doing them. I often need to understand by my heart as well as my mind in order to move from mere knowing to action. Of course we can overdo emotional appeal and become manipulative or mushy, but to avoid it altogether is to deny our humanity. And for those who have been through a tough time, telling the story, including the emotional cost, can be very helpful on the road to repentance and to acceptance of forgiveness, as you say. While we would hope that such stories would also give us the rational and moral arguments, it would seem odd to me for someone NOT to express emotion about the death of the unborn. I think what Aristotle says about catharsis probably applies here, too, but it's been too long since I read it to say for sure, and I must now stop and help students figure these issues out for their researched essays!

Good points, Beth. There is something that emotions are _for_. Rhetoric, properly used, involves connecting emotions rightly to reality. It seems to me that the poster from the Abortion Changes You campaign in which a man says, "My wife always gets depressed on the day when our daughter was aborted" is a good piece of rhetoric. Why does his wife get depressed? Nobody says, "My wife always gets depressed on the anniversary of her tonsillectomy."

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