Theresa Burke of Rachel's Vineyard Ministries
KING OF PRUSSIA, Pennsylvania, 04 MARCH 2006 (ZENIT)
A woman goes through psychological stages in her relation with her
unborn child as a pregnancy progresses
factor often overlooked in the abortion debate.
So says Theresa Burke, the founder of Rachel's Vineyard Ministries, a
ministry of weekend retreats for healing after abortion.
In this two-part interview with ZENIT, Burke discusses the relationship
between a woman and her unborn child, and the link between abortion and
Part 2 appears in today's ZENIT service.
Q: What is the nature of the psychological relationship between a woman
and the unborn child as it develops during the pregnancy?
Burke: Pregnancy is not a disease or an illness. It is a natural event
that has been going on for thousands of years, in every generation.
Women's bodies are instinctually programmed to nurture and sustain life.
The psychological relationship between the mother and her unborn child
is triggered by physical and hormonal changes, but also by the woman's
support system and culture.
For most women the first trimester is a time of anticipation and
excitement about the pregnancy, or anger and fear that an unplanned
pregnancy has occurred.
Ambivalent feelings are common: The mother marvels at the mysterious
fact that her body is capable of producing life; yet she may also feel
overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for another human being.
As the pregnancy progresses, the mother may have both positive and
negative feelings about the changes in the shape of her body. The third
trimester may include anxiety about the birth; concerns about the health
of her baby; worries about how her partner will adjust to the new member
of the family as well as financial concerns.
At the same time, the woman feels excitement and anticipation about the
forthcoming birth of her baby and the beginning of a completely new
phase in her life.
By the moment of birth, when the child is placed in a mother's arms, the
mystery, the wonder, the excitement all culminate in a powerful bonding
process as the mother joyfully welcomes a precious new life into the
We could say that women also require the full nine months of pregnancy
to embark upon the emotional and psychological process that accompanies
motherhood. Together, both mother and child are going through a dramatic
and rapid developmental transformation.
Q: What roles do other factors, particularly the pressures from family
and boyfriends, plus economic problems, place on a woman's decision to
Burke: When we look behind the rhetoric of choice, we can more honestly
ask, "Whose choice is it?"
Recent research indicates that in 95% of all cases the male partner
plays a central role in the abortion decision.
Other studies, such as a July 2005 report in the Elliot Institute's Post
Abortion Review, reveal that up to 80% of women would give birth if
A former abortion-clinic security guard testified in Massachusetts that
women are routinely threatened or abused by the men who took them to
Too often, abortion is the choice of someone else in her life and we
hear most women say they had no choice but abortion.
In fact, murder is the No. 1 cause of death among pregnant women. Men
who have been convicted of the murder of their pregnant partners cite
not wanting to pay child support as the primary motive.
Such disturbing national statistics clearly indicate that there is a
high level of coercion driving women into unwanted abortions.
Without the consistent support of the baby's father or her own family,
many mothers fear they will not have the resources to provide for the
child. Given the poverty rates among single parents and the challenges
they face, this is a real problem.
In far too many cases, behind every woman having an abortion you will
find a host of persons that are very much involved in her "choice" and
often in manipulative in their persuasion.
This can be a younger woman's parents who threaten her with a withdrawal
of love or even eviction if she does not abort; the school/mental health
or health care professional who use the power of their position to make
abortion seem the rational, mature and only decision that makes sense
given her circumstances.
This is especially problematic when there is a hint of any health
problems with the unborn child. In these cases the pressure is often
quite strong to abort.
For women who are faced with severe fetal deformities, 95% of women who
are offered perinatal hospice will choose this form of support as the
more humane and emotionally desirable event. This avoids the complicated
grief brought on by late-term abortions, which is a horrific experience
for both mother and baby.
Q: What happens to the psychological relationship when a woman aborts?
And is there a difference between the effects of a spontaneous
Burke: When a mother is abruptly and violently disconnected from her
child there is a natural trauma. She has undergone an unnatural death
In many cases, she has violated her moral ethics and natural instincts.
There has been a crushing blow to her image of "mother" who nurtures,
protects and sustains life.
I have counseled thousands of women whose lives have been shattered by
the trauma of abortion, which they experience as a cruel and degrading
procedure. There is grief, sadness, heartache, guilt, shame and anger.
They have learned to numb themselves with alcohol and drugs, or master
their trauma through repetitions of it. Some re-enact their abortion
pain through promiscuity and repeat abortions, trapped in traumatic
cycles of abandonment and rejection.
Others stuff their feelings through eating disorders, panic attacks,
mental depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. Some have suffered
permanent physical and reproductive damage that rendered them unable to
have children in the future.
Abortion is a death experience. It is the demise of human potential,
relationship, responsibility, maternal attachment, connectedness and
innocence. Such a loss is rarely experienced without conflict and
It would be simple-minded to think that getting over it could be free
from complication. In my book "Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of
Abortion," with David C. Reardon, we invite the reader into the intimate
heart of human experiences, a place where the abortion debate
When the polemics, the marches, the politics of freedom and rights are
over, there are emotional aspects of abortion which defy words.
The psychological and spiritual agony of abortion is silenced by
society, ignored by the media, rebuffed by mental heath professionals,
and scorned by the women's movement.
Post-abortion trauma is a serious and devastating illness which has no
celebrity spokeswoman, no made-for-television movie, and no platform for
the talk show confessional.
Abortion touches on three central issues of a woman's self-concept: her
sexuality, morality and maternal identity. It also involves the loss of
a child, or at least the loss of an opportunity to have a child. In
either case, this loss must be confronted, processed and grieved.
In a miscarriage, the mother has also suffered the loss of a child. The
difference is in the level of guilt and shame that post-aborted women
experience because of a deliberate and conscious decision to terminate
life; versus a miscarriage, which occurs due to natural causes.
With abortion, her loss is a secret. There is no social support or
consolation from friends or family.
It's important to note that there is also a high increase in
miscarriages following abortion. When a woman loses a wanted child after
an abortion experience, women frequently report complex grief and
depression because they believe the miscarriage is "God's punishment."
Interview With Theresa Burke of Rachel's Vineyard
KING OF PRUSSIA, Pennsylvania, 4 MARCH 2006 (ZENIT)
Depression over a past abortion is an often hidden and ignored link
that needs to be addressed, says a counselor who deals with
In the second part of this interview with ZENIT, Theresa Burke, founder
of the Rachel's Vineyard Ministries, explains how depression is a
natural effect of abortion that may erupt years later.
Rachel's Vineyard organizes weekend retreats for those struggling with
the emotional or spiritual pain of an abortion.
Part 1 of this interview appears in today's ZENIT service.
Q: What are the risks of depression stemming from the guilt of an
Burke: Because abortion is legal, it is presumed to be safe. Indeed, it
is commonly identified as a woman's "right."
This right, or privilege, is supposed to liberate women from the burden
of unwanted pregnancies. It is supposed to provide them with relief
not grief and depression.
One of the big problems is that when women are assaulted by their own
natural reactions to their loss, they don't understand what is wrong
Many women go into treatment for depression, anxiety, or addictions, but
simply don't understand the roots of their illness. In many cases they
are drugged and diagnosed but never led on a path to healing and
Unresolved memories and feelings about the abortion become sources of
pressure that may erupt years later in unexpected ways. Unresolved
emotions will demand one's attention sooner or later, often through the
development of subsequent emotional or behavioral disturbances.
Professor David Fergusson, a researcher at Christchurch School of
Medicine in New Zealand, wanted to prove that abortion doesn't have any
He was surprised to find that women who have had abortions were
one-and-a-half times more likely to suffer mental illness, and two to
three times more likely to abuse alcohol and/or drugs.
Fergusson followed 500 women from birth to age 25. "Those having an
abortion had elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems,
including depression (46% increase), anxiety, suicidal behaviors and
substance use disorders," reads the research published in the Journal of
Child Psychiatry and Psychology.
Abortion is in fact responsible for a profound array of problems:
160% increase in rates of suicide in the U.S., according to the Archives
of Women's Mental Health, in 2001;
225% increase in rates of suicide in Britain, according to the British
Medical Journal, in 1997;
546% increase in rates of suicide in Finland, according to the Acta
Obstetrica et Gynecologica Scandinavica, in 1997.
In total, the average boosted suicide risk of these three studies is
This high suicide rate following abortion clearly disproves the myth
that termination of a pregnancy is safer than childbirth.
The best record-based study linking psychiatric admission rates
following abortion reveals that in the four years following pregnancy
outcome, women who abort are two to four times more likely to be
admitted for psychiatric hospitalization than women who carry to term.
Another record-based study reveals that even four years after abortion
the psychiatric admission rate remained 67% higher than for those women
who did not have abortions.
Aborting women were more likely to be diagnosed with adjustment
reactions, depressive psychosis and neurotic and bipolar disorders,
according to the Archives of Women's Mental Health, in 2001.
The risk for postpartum depression and psychosis during later wanted
births is also linked to previous abortion.
An average of eight years after their abortions, married women were 138%
more likely to be at high risk of clinical depression compared to
similar women who carried their unintended first pregnancies to term.
This is according to the British Medical Journal of January 19, 2002.
In the category of drug and alcohol abuse, we see many women trying to
cope with their inner conflict and grief through a 4.5 times higher risk
of substance abuse following abortion.
And this is only based on those who are reporting substance abuse. Think
of all those who think that drinking eight glasses of wine each night is
simply a way to "unwind." This aspect was reported in the American
Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, in 2000.
The results of the first international long-term, follow-up study led by
Dr. Vincent Rue reveals overwhelming evidence of post-traumatic stress
Statistics collected in America reveal the following:
55% of those who had abortions report nightmares and preoccupation with
73% describe flashbacks;
58% of women report suicidal thoughts which they relate directly to
68% reveal that they feel badly about themselves;
79% report guilt, with an inability to forgive themselves;
63% have fears regarding future pregnancies and parenting;
49% have problems being near babies;
67% describe themselves as "emotionally numb."
An exhaustive review of many other studies and certainly clinical
experience indicates that for many women, the onset of sexual
dysfunctions and eating disorders, increased smoking, panic and anxiety
disorders, and an addiction to abusive relationships became the souvenir
coping styles which followed their experience with abortion.
Q: Is there a scientific or political reason for not wanting to study a
possible link abortion with depression, which has kept the research from
Burke: As a society, we know how to debate about abortion as a political
issue but we don't know how to talk about it on an intimate and personal
There is no social norm for dealing with an abortion. Instead, we all
try to ignore it.
One of the reasons we don't want to talk about the grief of women and
men who have had abortions is that we, as a society, are deeply troubled
by the abortion issue. While the vast majority believes that abortion
should be legally available in some circumstances, most are also morally
troubled by it.
According to one major poll, 77% of the public believes abortion is the
taking of a human life, with 49% equating it with murder.
Only 16% claimed to believe that abortion is only "a surgical procedure
for removing human tissue."
Even one-third of those who describe themselves as most strongly
pro-choice will still admit to believing that abortion is the taking of
a human life. This is reported by James Davison Hunter in his 1994 book
"Before the Shooting Begins: Searching for Democracy in America's
These findings suggest that most Americans put their own moral beliefs
about abortion "on hold" for the sake of respecting a "woman's right to
As a society we have chosen to tolerate the deaths of unborn children
for the purpose of improving the lives of women.
This moral compromise, however, is disturbed when women complain about
their broken hearts after an abortion. They make their listeners
uncomfortable and confused.
Depression over a past abortion forces us to look not only at the pain
of an individual, but the angst of our society. It is a deeply complex
and troubling issue. Most of us don't want to look too deeply.
Pro-choice advocates are often hesitant to recognize the reality of
post-abortion grief because they fear this may somehow undermine the
political argument for legal abortion.
Ignoring all evidence to the contrary, most abortion counselors will
tell women that psychological reactions to abortion are rare or even
nonexistent. Anything that might arouse discomfort or uneasiness is
Such facts, they fear, might "persuade her to withhold her consent to
In essence, the choice is made for her as they protect her from any
information that might dissuade her opinion.
The collusion of ignorance and denial perpetrates abuse and negligence
against women, facilitating the potential for deep and scarring trauma.
Q: Do you think this will be a deterrent for women considering abortion
to know the possibility of depression lies beyond the abortion?
Burke: I hope so. Women have a right to know the risks they face when
making an elective decision for abortion.
Any drug or medical procedure we "choose" to take is required by law to
have informed consent. This means that we know what is involved, what
the procedure is, and what the short- and long-term risks are. This is
In light of the disturbing statistics regarding mental health risks, the
increased risk in breast cancer, etc., it is obvious that restraints and
regulations are necessary for the protection of women's reproductive and
More importantly, I believe that women and men who have suffered the
loss of a child through abortion need to know that there is hope and
healing. They need to know that they are not alone.
In 1989, a panel of experts assembled by the American Psychological
Association concluded unanimously that legal abortion "does not create
psychological hazards for most women undergoing the procedure."
The panel noted that if severe emotional reactions were common there
would be an epidemic of women seeking psychological treatment. The panel
stated that there is no evidence of such an epidemic. Since 1989, there
has been no significant change in this point of view.
It seems obvious they have not been following the growth of Rachel's
In 2006 our organization will provide 450 weekend retreats for healing
after abortion. Each retreat will have between 12 and 25 participants.
That means that between 5,400 and 11,250 people will be coming forward
for treatment in the upcoming year.
Our ministry is growing at a 40% rate each year. In just the past seven
years, thousands of men and women have come for help as Rachel's
Vineyard has spread to Africa, Taiwan, Russia, England, Ireland,
Scotland, Spain, Portugal, South America, Canada and throughout the
There are hundreds of other post-abortion ministries popping up
everywhere. So regardless of what the APA thinks, those of us who are in
ministry know the truth. There is an epidemic that has gone
disgracefully ignored, misdiagnosed and untreated. ZE06030402