Tracking the Effects of Abortion on Women

Author: ZENIT



Interview with David Reardon of the Elliot Institute

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, MAY 12, 2003 (ZENIT).

The tradition of defending the cause of the weak and vulnerable of society continues in the home of Abraham Lincoln.

The Elliot Institute is a nonprofit organization based in Springfield dedicated to researching the effects of abortion on women and society.

As a result of its most recent findings, the institute has just launched a new Web site,, dedicated to changing the rhetoric of the abortion debate and exposing abortion's harmful effects on women.

David C. Reardon, author of "Making Abortion Rare: A Healing Strategy for a Divided Nation" (Acorn Books, 1996) and director of the Elliot Institute, shared his views with ZENIT in this interview, Part 2 of which appears Tuesday.

Q: Could you explain the mission and work of the Elliot Institute?

Reardon: We believe that understanding how abortion hurts women is the key to ending abortion. Perhaps even more importantly, a deep understanding and empathy for women who have been hurt by abortion will help many of us to become more faithful witnesses of Christ's divine mercy.

The truth is that abortion is simply bad medicine. Nothing good comes from it. God has intertwined the well-being of women and their children in such a way that it is impossible to kill a woman's unborn child without exposing her to grave physical, psychological and spiritual harm.

There is not a single scientific study that has shown that abortion has, on average, actually produced any benefits to women. In contrast, there are numerous studies showing abortion's harms. Many of these have been done through the Elliot Institute.

We have had our research published in major medical journals such as the British Medical Journal and the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. They have consistently shown that abortion is associated with higher rates of depression, substance abuse, psychiatric illness, divorce and death from all causes, including suicide.

Another part of our work is to be advocates for the authentic rights of women. In regard to women considering abortion, we work to hold their physicians accountable for giving good medical advice. Given the lack of anything more than anecdotal evidence to show benefits from abortion and the large body of literature documenting injuries, it is impossible to justify a medical recommendation for abortion based on the scientific literature.

For those women who have had abortions, we advocate for their right to hold doctors accountable for the injuries they have suffered. More importantly, through projects like our Hope and Healing campaign, we try to reach out to post-abortive women and men to share the good news of Christ's mercy and his desire to heal them. This is also our most important message to pro-life Christians.

We must emphasize our understanding, empathy and compassion toward those who have made the mistake of choosing abortion. This love and acceptance makes it easier for post-abortive women to process their grief, to have a conversion of heart, and to become witnesses for life. As more and more women and men find healing, they share it with others, and become the most powerful witnesses for the culture of life.

They are the ones who will create the cultural shift that will make abortion not just illegal, but unthinkable.

Q: Do you see a shift in public attitudes about abortion? If so, why?

Reardon: At least in the United States, the general public is becoming increasingly pro-life, or at least anti-abortion. This is especially evident among young people. Youth are idealistic by nature, and they are also witnesses to the damage abortion, sexual promiscuity and divorce has caused to their families, neighbors and friends.

There has been a slow steady drop in abortion rates over the last 15 years. At least in part, this is due to the fact that as more people have experienced abortion, there are now more women telling their sisters, daughters, friends and others that abortion it is not the "quick and easy" solution they once imagined.

The Elliot Institute recently commissioned a national survey that shows that only 16% of adults believe abortion generally makes women's lives better. Even among women who identify themselves as strongly pro-choice, less than a fourth believe abortion improves women's lives. Eighty percent believe negative reactions are common or very common and most believe that the negative emotional reactions to abortion are moderately severe to very severe.

Most people are already inclined to see abortion as an ugly, regretful experience. Helping them to see how extremely ugly and devastating it can be is the fastest way to erode support for abortion.

Q: Should the rhetoric of the abortion debate be shifted from a "rights-based" debate pitting women against children to one where the practical consequences and outcomes of abortion are exposed?

Reardon: It is always a mistake to think that only one approach should be used. While I discuss the question you raise at great length in "Making Abortion Rare," I can only quickly outline the main points here.

First, we are always called to witness to the whole truth. That means the truth about the sanctity of life, the authentic rights of women and children, and the evil that abortion does to both.

Second, we must always resist the false dichotomy proposed by abortion advocates that there is a conflict of rights between the woman and her child. As soon as one argues that the rights of the unborn supersede those of the woman, one is admitting that there is a potential conflict of rights and therefore a legitimate reason for people to polarize to one side or the other.

Instead, we must insist that the authentic rights and welfare of both the mother and child are intertwined. To hurt one, you will necessarily hurt both. To help one, you must help both. The former is what abortionists do; the latter is what we are called to do, and do especially well through our pregnancy help centers. The abortionist's solution is not an act of charity; it is an act of abandonment.

Third, we must remember that there are different levels of moral maturity. Many people will continue to have more concern about themselves or the pregnant women they see, than they ever will for the unborn children they can't see. Arguing about absolute moral truths with such a person will get you nowhere. Their hearts are hardened to the truth. All they care about is results.

This is why pointing out that abortion is a false solution that causes more harm than good is more effective with this group. Showing people how abortion hurts women may not lead them to their spiritual conversion, but will reduce abortions and eventually stop it completely.

The witness of the women and men who have lost their children is far more powerful than anything I can say. I see my role, and really the role of all pro-life activists, as one that helps provide a platform for the voices of these women and men to be heard. They are the ones who will soften hardened hearts, because they can speak from their own experiences about the evil of abortion. ZE03051222


Interview With David Reardon of the Elliot Institute

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, 13 MAY 2003 (ZENIT).

As one familiar with the effects of abortion on women, David C. Reardon finds the rhetoric of "pro-choice" particularly hollow.

Reardon is director of the Elliot Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to researching the effects of abortion on women and society.

In this second part of his interview with ZENIT, the author of "Making Abortion Rare: A Healing Strategy for a Divided Nation" (Acorn Books, 1996) tells why "pro-choice" needs to be re-labeled "poor choice." Part 1 of this interview appeared Monday.

Q: Why should pro-life activists start to use the term "poor choice"?

Reardon: First, this term accurately describes abortion. Abortion is a poor choice. Framing it in that sense reminds listeners of that fact. As noted earlier, the vast majority of people already see abortion as a choice that is riddled with emotional land mines and produces little, if any, benefit to women.

Second, abortion advocates learned long ago that if the discourse was allowed to center on abortion itself, they would lose ground. Their market research led them to realize that their appeals for support were stronger when they focused on the abstract idea of "choice" rather than the reality of abortion.

In essence, they have been arguing, "Don't worry about looking at abortion too closely. If each woman is free to choose, she can make her own evaluation of the risks and benefits."

This "pro-choice" appeal has proven to be especially powerful in our democratic and consumer oriented culture. But it only works as long as it serves to distract people from the question of whether the choice being offered is ultimately good or bad, helpful or harmful.

Using the terms "poor choice," and "poor-choice advocates" presents a direct challenge to abortion advocates to defend abortion as a good choice, which in turn provides us with opportunities to show that it is a bad choice.

Third, "poor choice" has an especially strong rhetorical value because it sounds so much like the phrase "pro-choice." It is memorable. It creates a mental link between "pro-choice" and "poor choice" that quickly erodes the value of all the "pro-choice" clichés. Who wants to be in favor of a bad choice?

I discuss how and why this poor choice rhetoric can be used in greater detail at our new Web site, We also have Poor Choice fact sheets on the site that make it easy to show others why abortion is a bad medical choice.

Q: How will abortion advocates counter "poor choice" rhetoric?

Reardon: It's too early to tell. They might argue that a poor choice is better than no choice. But it's hard to imagine that they could gain much ground in the public debate with that approach. They might also try to show examples of women who will say their abortions were a good choice. But this is just anecdotal evidence, and we have just as many women, if not many times more, who would say their experience was just the opposite.

In fact, many of the post-abortive women who now work to stop abortion will also testify that for many years they too thought they had been benefited by their abortions. On average, it takes about 10 years for a woman's emotional defenses to collapse under the weight of her repressed grief.

But I don't think the professional abortion advocates will want to open up the debate to a comparison game. On an emotional level, the stories of women's grief are more compelling than those of the women who are satisfied with her abortion. On the scientific level, opening up the debate to a rigorous review of the scientific literature on abortion complications will lose them support, not gain it.

Refusing to discuss abortion's dangers has always been their main line of defense. This is why the poor-choice rhetoric label is especially effective. It is a quick, two-word challenge that we can insert at every place in the abortion debate. When we do this, the public's repeated exposure to phrases like "poor choice" and "poor-choice candidate" will erode the mind-numbing power of their "pro-choice" catch phrase and properly call attention to the facts poor choice advocates want to ignore.

Q: How effective has the use of different rhetoric such as "pro-abortion" or "anti-life" been in shaping public opinion in the abortion debate?

Reardon: I do believe there are some people, a small minority, who truly are anti-life and pro-abortion. These are either mercenary abortionists or zealous population controllers who don't care if women get hurt by abortion as long as they are either making money or reducing targeted populations of the poor.

That said, however, most of the people who describe themselves as "pro-choice" really dislike abortion but accept it as an "evil necessity" because they think it helps women. Or at the very least, they've bought into the idea that they should respect the freedom of each woman to decide for on her own.

When such a person hears pro-lifers talk about "pro-abortionists," they feel misjudged and resentful. The "pro-abortion" phrase may intimidate them into silence, but it doesn't call them to reflection. Our polls show that many people in this group will actually acknowledge the idea that abortion is a poor choice. Exposure to this phrase will not turn them into pro-lifers overnight, but it will encourage them to reflect more deeply on abortion and will open their hearts to regulatory laws to restrict abortion.

For example, I think this approach will result in widespread support for laws that would hold abortionists responsible for failing to screen women for factors that place them at higher risk for abortion complications. Since most women have numerous risk factors, such laws could radically reduce abortion rates. Most immediately, the assembly line abortion mills would shut down because they can't do proper screening in the five to ten minutes allowed for processing abortion patients.

It is my belief that in the short run our top priority should be to build a public consensus that abortion should be avoided as a poor option and allowed only when doctors know it will be safe and beneficial to women.

Since abortion is inherently dangerous and there is no medical evidence that it is ever beneficial, such a reasonable effort to protect women's health would effectively result in doctors no longer performing abortions. We would still have decades of post-abortion counseling ahead of us, but abortion will end if doctors are held fully and properly accountable for their decisions to abort. ZE03051324  

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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