The front lines of the pro-life movement can be an eerily irrational place where the normal rules of logic and morality give way to emotion and fear. The recent decision by a post-abortive New Mexico woman to sue an abortion clinic for transferring (or selling) her aborted child’s remains for scientific research — an objection seemingly inconsistent with the woman’s earlier decision to abort — offers a timely example of this phenomenon. The news comes on the heels of the ongoing congressional investigation into the fetal-parts trade.
The incongruity of the lawsuit demonstrates that abortion opponents must address the chaos and instability that often drive the abortion decision rather than just convince women that they’re killing a baby. It also underscores the need for clear moral education in our families and churches long before the crisis occurs.
The New Mexico woman, Jessica Duran, sued a prominent late-term-abortion clinic in Albuquerque last week for failing to tell her that the remains of her aborted fetus would be sent to the University of New Mexico to be used in scientific experimentation. Duran contends she was horrified to learn her child had been the subject of research. “To know my child was used as a science project, a child I loved and wanted, it’s devastating,” Duran said.
The logic of the lawsuit and the mother’s statement are baffling. As she is bringing an informed-consent case, Duran will have to prove that she never would have consented to the transfer or subsequent research and that she suffered severe emotional distress as a result of it. She says she loved and wanted the child. Yet she chose to take the child’s life. How could a mother who willingly chose to abort her child care so much what happened to his or her body after death? And how could a mother who understood that the child was a person and professed to have cared for the child have taken that child’s life? Some may ask whether she is just trying to make a quick buck through a lawsuit.
But the same sort of off-kilter mindset exists away from the cameras and the courtrooms. At Human Coalition, almost all of our clients are women on the verge of choosing abortion, and we see this thinking on a daily basis. I recall a recent story from one of our care coordinators who was manning our mobile clinic outside an urban abortion clinic one Saturday morning. A young woman stopped by to see us on the way to her appointment for an abortion. Our ultrasound exam revealed that she had already experienced a miscarriage. The client wept.
From time to time, our clients tell us that they think they’re doing the right thing for their children by seeking an abortion. They can foresee the challenges of their children’s lives, and they think it better to terminate the pregnancy than to bring the children into their own world of chaotic relationships and economic instability.
From time to time, our clients tell us that they think they’re doing the right thing for their children by seeking an abortion.
What our staff anecdotally reports after spending time listening to our clients is that these conflicted emotions often stem from the client’s desire to regain control over her life. Abortion allows clients to continue their attempts to overcome poverty (through either employment or education) and regain control over the trajectory of their lives. To an abortion-determined mother, our staff has observed, a miscarriage strips away a woman’s sense of control over the situation, her hard-wired mothering instinct then returns, and she mourns the loss of her child.
Feeling out of control may also help to explain why adoption is not a more common choice for women experiencing a crisis pregnancy. For instance, in our clinics this year, we’ve counseled 2,080 clients seeking or considering abortion, but only 18 have chosen to place their children for adoption. With adoption, the mother brings her child into what she perceives to be a cruel and unforgiving world. She worries the child will be placed with an abusive family or lost to the foster-care system. She believes she will be constantly confronted with the trauma of losing her child. And she fears the thought of knowing that her child will be a stranger to her, preventing closure. Indeed, researchers have equated the position of birth mothers to that of the family members of servicemembers missing in action.
If the desire to regain control underlies many abortion decisions, it makes sense that a mother who chose abortion would be upset that the remains of her child were used without her knowledge or permission for a stranger’s research.
While some mothers may certainly contrive an explanation for their abortion to cover the fear and selfishness driving their choice, our experience suggests that the best way to save babies is not to emphasize the immorality of abortion and urge them to choose adoption instead. In fact, many of our clients acknowledge the sinfulness of the procedure they’re considering; yet the fear and desperation they experience often outweigh that moral sense. Thus, when counseling abortion-determined women, we’ve found it more effective to focus on hopefulness and stability and, where we can, to help bring calm and some measure of security. In this way, we can walk with women like Jessica Duran, offering the help and empowerment they need to regain control of their circumstances before a life-shattering abortion decision is made.
#related#This observation doesn’t mean that moral engagement has no place in the discussion. It means that we must work harder to instill fundamental respect for human life before a woman ever finds herself faced with the choice between life or death for her child. The majority of women in America who seek abortion identify as Christian, and almost half of them attended church regularly at the time of their abortion. Yet, in spite of lifelong exposure to moral instruction, these women are still choosing abortion at rates comparable to non-believers. America’s churches, families, and other mediating institutions must solidify the conviction that all children should be afforded the basic human dignity of being protected in the womb. This conviction must be built over months and years of routine teaching and character formation — it’s not enough to wait until the moment of crisis. By then, it’s too late.