Breaking the silence - information, hope and healing after abortion

  Spiritual Sequelae 

Abortion is a life-death experience, and affects a woman at every level of her being - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Dealing with the loss of her baby, at the core of her being can be extremely painful. A woman’s spirituality, faith or religious beliefs can impact on issues and feelings relating to her abortion.

Often a woman instinctively reacts to an unwanted pregnancy resolving her crisis by having an abortion, and she may not have time or the opportunity to fully explore the possible impact of her decision. Often the seemingly sound practical reasons for proceeding with an abortion, outweigh spiritual or religious concerns when under pressure to make a decision.

A woman’s spirituality and moral beliefs are significant in her experience of abortion and how she frames it up afterwards. If a woman believes she has contradicted the will of God by aborting her baby she may become trapped in long term fear, guilt and shame. Deep hurt may open within her heart and psyche. “Have I made a mistake?” “Will I be punished for this decision?” Devoutly religious women from denominations that ban abortion often fear they may struggle with misgivings about their past abortions, whilst women who feel a less rigid religious identification are sometimes amazed by their spiritual discomfort afterwards.

A woman’s sense of her relationship to her body and her ability to create life is significant. For a woman to simultaneously view herself as ‘creator’ and ‘destroyer’ can generate confusion, a vital questioning by her of her own character, conflict in her moral convictions and her identity as a spiritual person.(1)

If a woman perceives her abortion experience as traumatic, it may overwhelm her normal coping mechanisms, leaving her feeling not only psychologically but also spiritually wounded. Violence, or perceived violence, traumatises the body, mind and soul. When someone has been traumatised, they may “lose their breath”. Recovery from trauma then is also about recovery of the wounded spirit.(2)

Some symptoms of spiritual dis-ease include feelings of fear, despair, impatience, jealousy, disillusionment, emptiness, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, bitterness, hopelessness, boredom, insecurity, irritation, anger...

Signs of spiritual dis-ease might include:

  • indifference towards others or self-pity
  • lessening of wonder and enthusiasm
  • lessening of gentleness and courtesy, rudeness, teasing, sarcasm, nagging
  • bad humour, quarrels, quick temper
  • chronic feelings of being used or misunderstood
  • routine or mechanical communication
  • taking advantage of others or taking others for granted
  • pre-occupation with or neglect of self
  • continuous escapes: do-gooding, overindulgence/misuse of food, alcohol, sex

Women often express this ‘disquiet’ deep inside, feeling disconnected, alone... and it can seem like nothing quite makes sense anymore. There is a sense that ‘something is not right’ at the deepest level, indicating a sense of separation from God or spiritual alienation. Guilt and shame can become magnified and the desire to run or hide is a natural response.

Some women describe the feeling of being trapped in a dark place, filled with pain and unspoken fear. A woman’s sense of self-worth may decrease and she can sometimes think she cannot possibly be forgiven for her part in the death of her baby. Self-judgement is often huge and self-forgiveness can be the biggest obstacle.

Some of the spiritual work in dealing with the aftermath of an abortion experience:

  • breaking through denial and grieving

  • discovering ‘how the trauma has affected me’ and ‘who I am now’

  • overcoming guilt and shame

  • understanding and resolving the spiritual and moral conflicts that arise

  • offering and receiving forgiveness and unconditional love

  • finding self-acceptance within present spiritual beliefs or redefining beliefs to include the reality of the abortion

The journey into darkness and isolation can, with appropriate spiritual help lead into the intimacy of being known and the joy of being healed.

“I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

1. The Healing Choice, Candace de Puy & Dana Dovitch, Hodder & Stroughton, 1997
2. A Spirituality of Trauma, Joe Wardhaugh, FMSA., Human Development Vol 21, No. 3, Fall 2000

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