In the previous issue of Connector we ran a lead article entitled Why Clinton Got the Catholic Vote. After its publication, our office was inundated with phone calls, faxes and letters, overwhelmingly approving of the article. Only one critical letter was received in the first full month after publication.
In the time since, during Dr. Willkes travels, several pastors offered their reason for not preaching against abortion from the pulpit. The reason offered may be quite widespread. It certainly reflects a genuine concern and poses a question that must be answered. Lets consider two examples of this concern.
“I am quite aware through my counseling that there are a number of women in our congregation who have had abortions. Most are handling this problem and continuing to function as good wives, mothers and women in a community. They know that abortion is wrong. Now you suggest that I preach on abortion. If I do, what would the content of my preaching be? Well, certainly I would include a recital of the medical facts that confirm that this is a baby from the very beginning. It would involve pointing out that abortion was killing this developing baby. I would certainly speak to Gods goodness and his forgiveness. But I would also have to be clear about the fact that this is a very serious sin.
“Many of these women carry a considerable burden of guilt. If I preach about this, it will be rubbing in the sin that they committed. It will raise an issue that they are trying to forget, and blow upon the smoldering coals of their guilt feelings. It might even cause an emotional upset to the point of one of them breaking down, crying and making a spectacle of herself that would be profoundly embarrassing to her. In spite of my speaking of Gods forgiveness, it might even drive her from the congregation. I believe, in all Christian charity, we should let sleeping dogs lie and not needlessly torment such a woman.”
Another example might be this:
A group of parents has asked us to speak to a general assembly of a religious senior high school. This might be girls alone or co-educational. The Principal asks if we intend to use slides, i.e., pictures of developing babies and pictures of aborted babies. Our answer is in the affirmative. The teachers decision, then, is to not invite us to give that general session. The explanation is much like the one above. The Principal says, “You see, Doctor, we know there are girls in the class who have had abortions. Now if you come and lecture on this, youre going to explain to them the fact that this truly was a baby that she had killed. And you say that you would actually show us some pictures of those dead babies. You realize that this would lay a very real guilt trip on some of these girls. Its even possible that one or another of them might break down and cry, become hysterical, or run from the assembly. I dont think that any of us teachers want to be responsible for such an outburst or for such emotional trauma inflicted on one of our students. You know we are pro-life, but I think it is unwise for you to give such an address to our girls.”
Fifteen years ago, a common answer to these situations was “Yes, we dont deny that this could happen, and it would be emotionally upsetting, of course. But for every one girl who has to be managed after such an emotional upset, were probably going to prevent a half-dozen other girls from getting an abortion in the first place. We think the price of upsetting one is worth it if we save six others.” Sometimes that argument worked. Often it did not.
Today, however, we have the answer to both of the above situations and others like them. We now know in depth the dynamics of Post-Abortion Syndrome. We know that, in both situations, even if, and particularly if, we caused an emotional distress or outbreak from one or more post-abortion women in the audience, we would be doing, not a disservice, but a profound favor to those women. Heres why.
The hallmarks of Post-Abortion Syndrome are repression and denial. It is well known that she suppresses the memory and guilt of that abortion. We know now that, for some at least, and for varying lengths of time, theyre quite successful in suppressing and denying the guilt and emotional upset resultant from an abortion. But this only lasts so long. We know that the suppressed emotional trauma of an abortion festers and eats away at the very core of that womans being. We know how it breaks through — flashbacks, anniversary reactions, sexual problems, nightmares, resort to alcohol and/or drugs, depression, etc. We know that many women, using this psychological defense mechanism, merely postpone to a later year these repressed problems, but that sooner or later the symptomatology breaks through. Sometimes it will be in a very disabling way, ultimately leading some even to suicide.
The answer is to stop the denial and repression, and admit to herself that she was a party to the killing of her own offspring. To do this, she must be in a supportive environment with sympathetic shoulders to lean on, confide in and pray with. She cannot handle this alone. We know today that the very best thing for her emotional health is to cease the repression and denial, admit the problem, cope with it, grieve over it, pray over it and work it through. That high school girl who is only beginning long years of repression and denial is not well served by continuing to hide this. Nor is the woman in church. We would do both a great favor to break open that shell, start her crying, because now she is in a supportive environment. Now most of the damage may not yet have been done, and she is open to healing.
We should lecture in that high school because it would be good for one or more of those post-aborted girls to come to one of her teachers crying. For now they can be helped.
In the congregation above, the same is true. That pastor must offer this counseling in his preaching. The biggest favor he can do for a post-aborted woman in his congregation is to crack that shell and to get her to come for the counseling and the compassionate help that she so desperately needs. (For details bout helping such a woman, see the March 1996 Connector. Write us if you need a copy.)
It seems clear that the reason why some clergy do not preach about abortion is compassionate but misguided. Truly informed sympathy for a post-aborted woman today should lead them to very deliberately preach on this subject. In all charity, but in all truth, we should explain to the priest or pastor that it is not really being kind to that woman at all to let her stay within the repressed and denial situation shes in. The kindest thing he can do for her is to break that shell by his preaching.
Needless to say, vast numbers of others in those congregations would warmly appreciate dynamic preaching of the churchs position on abortion. In that preaching, always understand that that priest or pastor should emphasize Gods forgiveness. He should begin with the theme of let us love them both. That should be repeated within preaching, and it should be restated at the end of that preaching. Were here to save babies lives, but were also here to love and help women in these troubled circumstances.