Talk Transcript | Brephos Conference 2019: For such a time as this
Rape, incest and backstreet abortion: Handling the hard questions | Nov 2019
[Excerpt from 23:36] Penultimately we'll come to the most difficult question to speak about, particularly as a man: the question of sexual assault and about abortion in the case of rape. The whole point of communicating on these hard cases is that we have patience and that we have time to speak about them with people in a pastoral context. So please don't take this as a model for your pastoral engagement on this. Firstly, I think we need to say something just about the incidence. How common are these? Different studies suggest different things but I've never seen a study showing more than about 2% of abortions being for the case of rape. In a 2005 study they suggested 1%, but even in that study, sexual assault or rape was the main reason for the abortion in less than 0.5% of the cases. They didn't say exactly what percent of cases, but it was essentially four or fewer women out of nearly 1000 women, so extraordinarily rare that this is the main reason for having an abortion. The more recent data from Florida last year suggests that it’s much less than that, 0.1% to 0.2% of abortions, so an extremely rare case. But I would always counsel, whenever I speak about this, initially start by saying that these are an extraordinarily rare minority of cases, but not leaving it at that. I would always say these cases still matter because these women matter and these children matter. So certainly I would not recommend in any way using the rarity of them to undermine the importance of them because it can make people feel unrecognised. But a way to approach this that I usually start with is, ultimately the fundamental question, “Will abortion help heal a woman who has been through sexual trauma?” Now there are only two options here, and neither of those options eliminates the trauma, neither of them gets rid of the trauma, neither of them wipes away the suffering in an easy way, or a simplistic way. There is no easy or simple way to deal with this kind of trauma, but of those two options, one of them really at best patches over the trauma and pretends it never happened, and often fails in that pretension, whereas the other – I’ll give some evidence to show – can lead to deep healing and victory in surprising ways.
There are two ways to answer this question ultimately of whether abortion will help heal. Those are by listening to women, and by looking at the evidence of what women say on a larger scale. So when we listen to women, what do they say about these situations? Firstly, they say it is deeply personal, and actually that we need to listen to women, rather than just making assumptions on their behalf. We need to give these women a voice, and yet these women are usually silenced. So in the Ireland campaign against abortion some survivors of rape were invited to give a pro-life talk all over Ireland, and many people just cancelled their talks and refused to host them, even after initially agreeing, because they were pro-life. So these women's voices are actually often silenced, which is one of the worst things that I think we can do. It goes without saying that many victims of sexual assault don't want to be exploited for the pro-choice cause and certainly not for abortion on demand. Women actually say that possibly even the majority of times they keep the baby in these cases. We would never expect this because most medical counsel in these cases, most family counsel and counsel from friends, is to obviously have an abortion in these cases. But actually repeated studies seem to show that most women continue the pregnancy in such cases, even despite this pressure to abort. And actually studies seem to suggest that abortion is often regretted in these cases, whereas having the baby in these cases, is almost never regretted. There's a book by David Reardon, called ‘Victims and Victors’ which is essentially a group of testimonies of 200 women who were the victims of rape, and who became pregnant, some of whom had abortions, some of whom gave their child up for adoption, some of whom raised the child themselves. Not a single one who continued the pregnancy regretted doing so. But actually I think most women who had abortions in their circumstances regretted it, and this is something that we don't hear. But that book does a great job of actually listening to those women. One of these women is Helene Evans, who says, “Abortion does not help or solve a problem. It only compounds and adds trauma to the already grieving victim. It only takes away the one thing, her child, that can bring joy.” So let's think a little bit about the psychology of these cases. Well, one of the most important things for trauma victims in general is for them to make sense and derive meaning from their traumatic experience, so that they have some story in which to place their experience, to make some sense of why it happened. Now abortion, it seems, can never do this. Abortion can never make sense of what is going on. It can never provide meaning for a woman who has lost her sense of hope and meaning because of the trauma that she’s been through. But actually what these women who have been through this have said themselves, is that having a child can be a profoundly healing and victorious way to find meaning in that deeply painful experience. We know this is extremely important for people’s psychological wellbeing. There’s a psychologist who I don’t think is religious at all – I’ve never seen him write about the pro-life debate - he says actually the main results from the study he looked at, was that for both adults and students, the more redemptive the life story, the more pain was overcome in someone's life through healing and victory, the better a person's overall psychological wellbeing. They had better psychological wellbeing in people who had never really experienced much pain. And of course as Christians we know this in the most profound way of all, because we know that victory through suffering actually came in the deepest way and that it is profound, because that is exactly what Jesus accomplished with us and for us.
One final thing I'll say is that mental health evidence in general shows pretty unanimously there is no evidence that abortion helps a woman's mental health. But actually there's significant evidence that abortion is bad for women's mental health. So the most recent major review conducted by a pro-choice psychologist David Ferguson, in 2013, in the top psychiatry journal showed that even when you controlled for all the other factors like prior mental health, or whether the pregnancy was wanted, or socioeconomic status, even when you kept all of these constant, women who had abortions had more anxiety, more drug abuse, more alcohol abuse, and more suicidal thoughts and behaviours than women who continue the pregnancy in those circumstances. And this is borne out by other studies which show higher suicide rates, much higher suicide rates after abortion than after continuing pregnancy and much higher mortality rates. And so actually, to sum all of that up, when people invoke the case of sexual assault to talk about abortion, they're often making huge assumptions on behalf of these women and saying things that these women do not say. So, again, to sum up the case of sexual assault, the question is not, “Will the victim suffer?” because we know that whatever happens, a victim of such a horrendous crime will suffer.. The question is ultimately, “Will abortion help them heal? And what is the unborn?” Those are the two ultimate questions. And, as I suggested, there are two options there, both of which involve an enormous amount of hurt, sacrifice, and difficulty. But one of which seems to try and wipe away the crime and adds to the trauma, and one of which can be a very profound way of healing. So you can sum up by saying that abortion only adds a second trauma to the victim and a second victim to the crime.
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Available to watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7uASkOzgro