The Church and Abortion

As I was helping a young woman last week and doing an assessment of her situation, I was able to get to the heart of what was really pushing her to have an abortion. Her boyfriend? No, not this time. Her parents? Guess again. Her goals, dreams, and future? Not even that. It was her church. Oh, she was concerned about her future, worried that she wasn't ready, and wasn't thrilled with not being able to pursue a career before children, but she was able to think of ways to get around all of that. We'll call her Jenny.

Jenny is a college-aged woman. She's ready to look for a job that will allow her to save up some money so that she and her boyfriend can marry and start a family. She looks forward to being a stay-at-home mom at that point. She's a Catholic, and she lives in a small town. Her sister just had a baby, and her close friend became pregnant as well and placed the child for adoption. She's a very stable, good-head-on-her-shoulders kind of woman. This pregnancy is early, unplanned, but not necessarily unwanted.

She makes comments like "I don't want to be ridiculed like my friend was," "Pregnancies outside of marriage are bad, and I'm ashamed everyone will know," and about abortion: "I've been told to believe it as a murder, but it's the easiest way out." In responding to her, I let her know how hypocritical it is for the church (Catholic or Protestant) to teach that abortion is murder and then shun women who decide not to have one. I think she understood that point, but that doesn't make what she has to deal with any easier.

I found an article that touches on this. The article, called "
The Catholic Abortion Paradox" deals more specifically with the fact that Catholic women are more likely to have abortions than Protestant women and, in fact, do so at a rate equal to the general population.
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive health data, non-Hispanic Catholic women of childbearing age are 29% more likely than their Protestant counterparts to have abortions. The rate is even higher--33%--if Hispanics are factored in. Another way of looking at it: while Protestant women make up about 54% of the population, they account for only 37% of the abortions. Catholic women make up 31% of the population and account for 31% of the abortions.
That's a pretty eye-opening statistic.

The one explanation for which there is at least some anecdotal evidence is that Catholic women appear to experience more feelings of guilt around sex, and more shame about pregnancy outside of marriage.
That was certainly the case with the woman I was working with. All of her concerns had to do with what those in her church would think. While this study might be about Catholics and abortion, I believe that the same problem lies within the Protestant church too. It's a shame that we are teaching those in our church to care more about not disappointing other church members rather than caring more about their souls, isn't it?
There are crisis pregnancy centers in almost every sizeable [sic] town, where women can get help throughout the pregnancy and in the adoption process. But relatively few women make that choice. Perhaps it is because they are not aware of the services. Perhaps it's because when they first find out about an unplanned pregnancy, their initial impulse is to erase it entirely with an abortion.
I think it's the latter. Abortion makes it so easy (in a difficult way) to erase the situation. Women then often realize that it creates an entirely different situation - one that is not as easy to erase. If I had a dime for every time a woman told me she's planning for an abortion not 2 days after her positive pregnancy test, I'd be rich. I encourage my clients to wait at least a couple of weeks before doing anything. It takes time for things to sink in, for thoughts to be thought through, and for answers to be found out.

Worried about disappointing her mother and making her father angry, she turned to her boyfriend’s mother, who in turn helped her find the abortion clinic. "I feel bad about it because it is a life, and the one thing I was scared of coming here today was that my mother would be outside carrying one of those signs, you know--'Abortion kills babies.'"
This problem has been blogged about before, and it definitely does exist. Parents who are actively involved in pro-life activism make pretty unapproachable subjects when it comes to pregnancy. It's a delicate balance that I hope and pray that I will have with my daughter as she gets older. I don't want her to turn to her boyfriend's mother.

The one point I find confusing throughout the article is that they seem to blame the increased abortion rate on reduced access to contraception. I don't doubt this is true, but I think we need to delve a little deeper than the surface. The problem lies in the fact that our children aren't believing what we tell them about sex before marriage, abortion, and self-respect.

Kearney recalls counseling a 17-year-old who was pregnant for a second time. The young woman told her that in her first pregnancy, she went to a priest who told her abortion was an unacceptable sin and that she should carry the child to term. She did, but a few months later during Mass the priest "went off on a tirade about teen pregnancy," Kearney says. The young woman "felt this deep sense of betrayal," she adds, and decided to terminate her second pregnancy.
So, what can we do about this message? I don't have the answers, and I'm hoping that we can all share to come up with answers that will work as we assist our friends, family members, and especially our kids. It's clear to me that we need to develop our foundation before an unplanned pregnancy occurs. Teach our kids that sex before marriage is wrong, but an abortion doesn't make it right again. Teach them that they don't need to have an abortion to avoid embarrassment within the church. The main focus should be to show them how helping pregnant women remain pregnant makes you feel good and does the work of Christ. That way, should she become pregnant, she'll know you won't ostracize her or judge her. Preach the Gospel, and when necessary, use words. Teach them that children are a blessing that can be brought out of a bad decision, but abortion is a bad decision brought out of another bad decision. (Two wrongs don't make a right to the extreme in this case.) What are some other ways that we can share this message with our kids?

It's a delicate balance, especially with our kids. In my church, when given the opportunity to put fliers with the phone number to the local pregnancy center inside the bathrooms in our student building, they replied, "Maybe we can arrange it for the main bathroom where the "other" kids go, but we don't need those in the bathrooms where our kids go." Suuure you don't. Ignorance can be bliss - but only for awhile.


Abortion and Depression

I must apologize for my lack of activity here. Life is going on in other areas in good ways, but I have missed writing.

A new study was released last week about
depression after an unwanted first pregnancy (PDF file). This has everyone in an uproar. The study found that abortion carries a lower risk of depression than does parenting an unwanted first child. This gives the pro-choice camp something to hold over our heads. It also puts the pro-life camp on the defensive. How many of you read the news and thought, "There must be an error! We have to show that women are horribly depressed after their abortions!" Deep breath everyone. In......out..... There. Let's take a closer look at this study.

I must preface this by saying that I am not a statistician. I do not have a Ph.D. I welcome any constructive criticism and look forward to learning more from any of you. I'm sure that many of the things I have issues with are also used in the
Reardon & Cougle study that showed a depression risk following abortion. I'm willing to accept that, and I also believe that, on either side of the fence, researchers are going to be more prone to discovering and reporting the things that further their opinion. How else can you explain such different results based on the same original study?

Basically, in 1979, men and women between the ages of 14 and 24 were selected for a study by the US Department of Labor (called the
National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979). These men and women were asked about various aspects of their lives on an annual basis. However, questions that had to do with fertility occurred in 1983, 1984, and then every other year from then on. First pregnancies ranged in occurrence from 1970 to 1992.

For this study, selected information was pulled from the regular, yearly data: Women were sectioned off from male respondents. Then, those who were categorized as having depression were further selected. Out of that group, they further narrowed it down to women who had experienced an unwanted first pregnancy that ended in a live delivery or abortion. The race and the age at first pregnancy were measured. In 1992, measures for education, income, and marital status were gauged. Likewise, the
Center for Epidemiological Studies depression scale (CES-D) was used in 1992 as a means to gauge depression. (PDF file)

There are some flaws in this study. But more than that, there are reasonable explanations to the results that are not taken into consideration.

First off, realize that this study concerns only the first pregnancy. We all know that each pregnancy/abortion/birth is an event all to itself, and any of these events has the potential to spin off in a variety of directions. A first pregnancy that results in parenting could be a happy event, but a subsequent abortion could cause problems. Likewise, an initial abortion could cause no problems while a second abortion does.

Another problem I have with this study is what I call the "snapshot" issue. The test that they used to determine depression can be found
here. (PDF file) It consists of 20 questions that reflect on the past week. Only the test results from 1992 were used for the purposes of this study. Therefore, women who aborted or gave birth in 1970 through 1992 were only questioned about depression in 1992. That's a pretty large time span. The US Dept. of Labor was not looking to pinpoint depression as it relates to abortion/parenting, but rather they were looking at a multitude of factors, one of which was a general inquiry of, "How many of these respondents are dealing with depression at this point in their lives?"

The authors of this study on depression, however, seem to miss the point when they did not allow for a more fluid response to depression. Not to mention that the CES-D only reflects back on the prior week. Depression can come and go. Depression can occur one year and be gone 1 year, 2 years, or 5 years later (etc.). This is a snapshot of what might have occurred in this small sample of women who did not want their first pregnancies. Asking these women to look back at one week in 1992 and broadening that to encompass the entire unwanted pregnancy situation that could have occurred up to 22 years ago is a bit misguided and shows a misunderstanding of post-abortion stress syndrome.

Another issue I have is how depression is linked to socioeconomic status. The mindset that says if you don't have money you must be depressed is upsetting. While it is true that a person's socioeconomic status can relate to depression and overall outlook on life, in this case, using this as a predictor for depression is not accurate. Of course women who do not parent their first pregnancy are going to have more opportunity to continue their education, pursue career goals, put off childbearing, and climb the ladder of socioeconomic success. That does not mean they are happy, however. On the other hand, women that do parent are presented with less time and opportunity to continue with their education or pursue a career. Again, this does not mean that they are depressed. These things are easily explained by time and opportunity, and I do not think that either one clearly establishes a path to depression or happiness.

Lastly, many post-abortive women simply do not struggle with
clinical depression. They have feelings of loss, regret, guilt, etc, but for many of them, this does not steer them toward full-blown depression, and even for the ones that do slip into depression, they often don't stay there for years and years.

With all this being said, the numbers still remain very close - 28.6% of women who gave birth were depressed compared to 24.8% of women who had an abortion. Looking at it another way, out of 1247 women who either aborted (479 of them) or gave birth (768 of them) to a first unwanted pregnancy, 119 women who aborted were depressed, and 220 women who parented were depressed during that one week in 1992 and possibly longer.

What does this tell us? What can we learn from all of this information if we take the results of this study at face value and assume that all things are equal? I think that it shows that when women are faced with sadness after their abortion, they are able to find counseling, healing, and support. I do not think that it finds that feelings of regret and guilt (or depression) occur less often in women who abort compared with women who parent because I do not feel that this was adequately assessed.

However, it does show that we need to double our efforts to reach out to women who decide to give birth to that "unwanted" child. We're reaching those who have had an abortion, but we need to focus just as much on the woman that was into the pregnancy center a year ago, had her baby, and now has no support. Regrettably, quite often when she has made up her mind we are too quick to send her merrily on her way to a life of bliss. I think we need to be sure that she has ongoing support - if not through us then through other local agencies, churches, or support groups. I'll agree with the last sentence in the study, "...if the goal is to reduce women's risk for depression, research should focus on how to prevent and ameliorate the effect of unwanted childbearing, particularly for younger women."