‘Christmas is especially difficult because, for some reason, I seem to remember more strongly,” Hannah says. “When I look at the set Christmas table, I remember that there should be other children there, but because I didn’t know any better, and I certainly didn’t trust God, today they are not sitting at their place at the table,” she continues. “For this I am so sorry.”
Hannah is one of many women whose stories are told in Anne Lastman’s book, Redeeming Grief.
’Tis the season to be sensitive. There’s a lot of pain out there.
“From the moment of conception to the last breath taken naturally, the dignity of human life cannot be compromised,” Anne Lastman writes. She does not write from a political position, but from a deep conviction drenched in the knowledge of experience.
As you’ve already seen, she lets women tell their stories of pain and forgiveness. She does so with the utmost motherly love, a deeper love than we tend to go into in abortion debates — which are so perversely insensitive, given what an intimate violence it is we veil under the inhumane cloak of “choice.”
From her nearly 20 years counseling post-abortive women in Australia, Lastman insists that our culture is drowning in post-abortion pain. In Redeeming Grace, she writes: “My contention is that, not merely ‘some,’ but to some degree everyone who has had an abortion will be affected” and that “those surrounding them, that is, family, friends, colleagues, abortionists, staff, and society” are as well. The “whole of society is affected,” Lastman writes, “because of the sheer number of abortions.” Abortion is deemed a “right,” and it’s killing us.
Lastman talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What is a “grief grounded in haloes”?
LASTMAN: I “heard” these words one day as I was listening to the pain being expressed by one of my clients. Her grief was so deep that I felt it touched and melted her soul. The type of grief which God can see as a deep regret. I felt a halo surrounding her and her pain.
LOPEZ: You write, “It is almost as if two people died on the surgical table, one physically and one spiritually and emotionally.” How do you explain that some women say they have no regrets? It seems patronizing to assume every woman who says this is in denial.
LASTMAN: I accept fully that some women feel no regret following abortion, and this even makes sense, because the immediate difficulties which the pregnancy presents are suddenly gone. However, abortion is always situation specific, and the situations causing the decision to abort will not always be there. I do not think that every woman who feels she has done the right thing is in denial, but I do think that a woman is not designed to take her child to die, and, in time, in silence, as circumstances change, there will be a remembrance and regret. This I believe is good thing. It’s redeeming grief.
LOPEZ: “From the moment of conception to the last breath taken naturally, the dignity of human life cannot be compromised.” Is the death penalty no different in your mind? And what about “mercy killing”?
LASTMAN: I am not in favor of the death penalty. I cannot fight for the life of a pre-born child and then agree to the killing of a person who has made a mess of his or her life. Pope John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae, said “Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity.” There should be justice done, of course, but state-ordered murder of an adult is similar to the crime of the perpetrator. As for “mercy killing,” or what we call euthanasia, what “mercy” is there to agree to the intentional death of someone because they are difficult, elderly, sick, or even overstayed their welcome? Where is the mercy? We can send man to the moon and other planets, but we cannot bring ourselves to alleviate pain so that death is not desired?
LOPEZ: What is the “pseudo cavalier” behavior of society toward the woman who has had an abortion?
LASTMAN: “You made the decision to abort. Get on with it. Grow up. It was the best decision you made for this time in your life. You can have another baby; this wasn’t the right time.” These comments seem well meaning but are sharp, unfeeling, and insensitive.
LOPEZ: You write that “the fact that it is a legal procedure creates the impression that it is also acceptable, or worse still, that it is good.” Should the law be a teacher? Can it be again?
LASTMAN: The law is always meant to be a teacher. It’s meant to be a guide and to “direct” for the good of all. However, that the law is written by humans who are swayed by prevailing winds and thoughts and ideas is a reality. All laws, I believe, have written within them nuances of the Ten Commandments. However, modern minds believe that these Ten Words of the Law are no longer valid for our time and so laws are enacted which no longer resemble the good of all but resemble the will of the most moneyed and the most demanding lobby groups.
LOPEZ: What do you mean when you say that we need to bring about a change from Eve to Mary?
LASTMAN: Eve said “no.” Mary said “Fiat” — “yes.” We need for every woman to recognize her most magnificent design, that is, to hold the future in her hands. She has lost that vision and bought into a lie that her value is best served as an economic producer rather than future creator.
LOPEZ: Are you forever lost if you’re post-abortive and do not have religious faith?
LASTMAN: I would not say that you are forever lost. God has written His law on all hearts, religious and non-religious. (“I have written my laws on your hearts. You are my people, and I am your God,” Jeremiah 31:31–33.) The law is written, and in due course, He Himself will awaken in the woman. He created the law written on her heart. In her freedom, which He respects, she is free to respond to His voice.
LOPEZ: “It takes courage to confront the reality of abortion, or the reality of sexual abuse and neglect,” you write. “It takes courage to confront the evil of abortion and its after-effects. It takes courage to accept responsibility for an abortion and to proceed on the journey of healing the effects of abortion, sexual abuse, and other abuses of the spirit.” Is it too much to ask people and a society to deal with these things? We’re very far along now.
LASTMAN: If we don’t deal with these things, the future will know great psychological and spiritual pain. Our era has laid the groundwork for pain, so, indeed, it is too much to ask to deal with this, but we must do so. In my own little way I try and raise awareness of the pain of abortion and sexual abuse. Only by awareness can we do something about it. Burying our heads in sand never achieves much.
LOPEZ: Why is Jeremiah 1:5 so powerful? That is: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”? How would you call it out more?
LASTMAN: This verse is so important, because it tells us that every creation is present in the mind of God even before it is formed. He had a history planned for that creation. A vision of all that this creation would do and be. Abortion thwarts the history and vision.
LOPEZ: Isn’t it a bit much to call abortion a rejection of God, as you do?
LASTMAN: Absolutely not. It is a rejection of God, “Let us create man in our own image. In the likeness of ourselves” (Genesis 1:26–27). Abortion rejects that creation and that “image” and that “breath” which is breathed into every human (Genesis 2:7). It rejects the mysterious breath which enlivens life.
LOPEZ: You describe abortion as spiritual hatred, violence, degradation, dehumanization, depersonalization, death, mechanization, and “finally the death of societal conscience possibly leading to the death of society itself.” What about freedom and choice?
LASTMAN: With choice comes responsibility. Freedom of choice demands that responsible and correct choices are made. Choices for good. If we go down this road and demand that a woman has the right to abort the child she is carrying, then why can’t a pedophile be permitted his own choice? Or a rapist? Or an abuser or a sexual abuser? What we are saying is that a woman has a “right” to kill another human being, albeit one who is small and pre-born, but the others with aberrant behavior are not permitted to exercise their choice? All of the above mentioned behaviors spell death in one way or another — death of body or death of innocence or death of “choice” to be free from violation. An aborted child is refused the most basic of human rights — the right to be born.
LOPEZ: You contend that for the women you have worked with, “the journey to that abortion clinic did not start on the morning of the abortion or even the moment of conception. It started at a distant point in her history where a crisis moment was encountered, and the outcome of that particular crisis has led finally to the abortion.”
LASTMAN: With women who have experienced early childhood suffering, abortion seems to be entertained more frequently, especially where there is a stunted emotionality. Abortion to this person has been a continuation of that earlier suffering but not seen as such. Abortion at times is a “getting even with him or them.” It is not about the child she is carrying and at times she is not even recognizing what she is doing. The realization of what has happened usually takes the person to a counselor and, when counseled, a peace restored — not by denying the abortion(s) but integrating them into her history as part of who she is. Indeed, a reconciliation of her history.
LOPEZ: What do you mean when you say that “Abortion creates dissonance in the innermost being”?
LASTMAN: “Lord, you have created us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they rest in you” (St. Augustine, The Confessions). There is a restlessness, because the Spirit knows the “natural Law” written on our hearts tells us when we have done something contrary to our design. There is a restlessness and loss of peace until reconciliation with our history.
LOPEZ: You refer to abortion as the greatest form of idolatry. Can a case be made that with its legal acceptance for so long now, we have to tackle other idols first in order to see our way through to confront this one and to eradicate it?
LASTMAN: Perhaps a better word might have been self-worship. We live in a society where, unlike Jesus, who said “I give my body for you,” we say I will not give my body for you. To give your body for 40 weeks to a child who you hand over to a family who can raise him or her is to give your body for him or her. Too often, a culture of “me-ism” forbids this.
LOPEZ: You insist that abortion is not a choice but enslavement? What if the abortion was really a choice?
LASTMAN: Abortion is always situation specific and even if the choice is made because of prevailing circumstances, in time and more specifically in the afternoon and evening of life, the situation which demanded an abortion has passed but the memory of the abortion remains. An 85-year-old, afraid to die because her daughter would hate her and God would hate her — and the fact that she has remembered for so many years and even gendered her conception and named her — speaks to me that what is written in a woman’s psyche, body, and spirit will not permit her to forget or dismiss. Enslavement is the response to doing something that she is not designed to do yet does it because of fears and anxiety.
LOPEZ: “The feminist movement in many cases has been helpful in raising the awareness of past injustices on women, ameliorating the lot of the modern woman,” you write. You add: “However, it has also contributed to the loss of dignity of the feminine and the feminization of the male, and erosion of the male identity leading to a confusion of roles and identity. The loss of dignity of the male has in turn led to the weakening of fatherhood, where today a father can actually insist and take his pre-born child to be killed.” That’s quite the accusation. What would you do to restore dignity and identity and roles? Have you seen anything work?
LASTMAN: It’s not an accusation but a reality. Today a woman does not command the respect she did in former times. In all manner of daily life, a woman is treated as someone who can do it “yourself — after all you wanted women’s liberation.” And so you stand in the train, carry your own load, and open your own doors. There is no sense of honor for femininity. As for the male, who was designed to be the mate who provided, cared for, and protected his woman and his family, today he is all too often quite happy to let his partner, female, wife, take care of that while he “finds himself.” Men can be seen at abortion marches carrying banners which indicate that it’s her body and her choice. What about his part in the conception of the child which is in her body and the choice she is making to terminate his child? He seems to have surrendered all of his paternal engendering and protective instincts. This is a shadow of God’s design.
LOPEZ: Is there a danger in soaking our language with religious imagery?
LASTMAN: All language in one way or another has been soaked by religious imagery, but most especially when we are dealing with life and death issues, when we are dealing with the metaphysical. When we speak about all of creation, we speak a language of mystery. With the creation of a child (even if with assisted reproductive technologies), there is an element of mystery which always speaks of the transcendent.
LOPEZ: “Post-abortion grief is unique because no memories of images exist to cushion the loss,” you write. Can Christmas be painful, for years, forever? Stories and images of an infant and a mother, after all, are everywhere.
LASTMAN: Abortion is an imageless death experience — there are no photos to hold and to look at and to kiss. It is a loss of love – it’s a rejection of love. There is a recognition that this is a different loss.
LOPEZ: What hurts most about abortion?
LASTMAN: What hurts most about abortion is the instant when the realization comes that a son or daughter was killed and the mother played a role in that death. And, of course, the fact that abortion is something which cannot be reversed. It cannot be undone.
LOPEZ: What helps most a woman in pain?
LASTMAN: Really good counseling by a counselor who is knowledgeable about abortion grief. A counselor who does not try to minimize the woman’s pain by trying to rationalize for her the humanity of her child. If the woman does not see her child as a child, then she will not grieve. And a counselor who can help to re-humanize both the mother and child and help the mother to integrate into her history the loss as a death experience, openly grieve for the death, and then do something to lay the child to rest. It does not have to be a religious service, but a saying-goodbye ceremony, where this time she bids the child goodbye in love — with tears — and not in violence or threat as she did the first time. A really good abortion grief counselor can do much to help with this pain.
LOPEZ: Can abortion ever cease to exist? What about hard cases?
LASTMAN: Can abortion ever cease to exist? It would be so good. It would change our society so much. It would raise humanity to such a higher level, but sadly I don’t think that this will ever happen. Recently I read in Didache: “You shall not procure abortion, nor destroy a new born child.” If this was penned nearly 2,000 years ago, then it must have been happening then for it to be deemed worth condemning. So do I see it as ceasing? Sadly, no — especially because of the loss of sense of sin, the loss of sense of valuing human life. The past century has seen all manner of loss of life and loss of the sense of sacred. When God is removed from our midst, everything that just shouldn’t be becomes possible.
As for hard cases: a child conceived in rape, a child conceived disabled, a child conceived in a very poor household . . . how is the conceived child to be blamed for the circumstances of his or her conception?
We will never know the losses our society has experienced because a decision was made to end the life of a “hard case.”
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.