You cannot just go out on the street, kill someone, and expect your psyche, your sense of self-esteem, and conscience to remain unaffected. Nor can a woman who has killed her child expect her future life and mental health to go untouched, since unconsciously she knows she has killed her child.
- As a doctor you treat people suffering from post-abortion syndrome. What exactly is PAS?
Medical literature treats the syndrome as a complex of symptoms. It has been discovered that women who have undergone abortions manifest classic symptoms of a physical, psychosomatic, and psychic nature. At times I have the distinct impression that my patient is listing her symptoms straight from the textbook. That is how classic these symptoms are.
Among the most common physical symptoms, even before the doctor performs the abortion, are bleeding, infections, and uterine disorders. Abortions often result in menstrual disturbances. I see this very often in the women and young girls who visit me. Premature births and miscarriages are common as well. Often there is a long latency period. By this I mean there is a considerable lapse of time between the abortion and the appearance of symptoms such as a cancer. I see women coming down with cancer up to twenty years after having an abortion. In most cases these are breast cancers, but other cancers are common as well. These stem typically from a chronic sense of guilt. Repressed feelings of guilt weaken our immune system, thus increasing our chances of developing cancer. Toward the end of the third trimester the concentration of estrogens in the bloodstream rises to well above average levels in such a way as never occurs in the normal cycle, or during a miscarriage. Estrogen causes the breast cells to grow and divide, which in medical parlance is called proliferation. These cells are as yet undifferentiated and unspecialized, and we know that cells at this stage are prone to degeneration. In the normal course of things these glands begin differentiating in the thirty-second week. As a result, lactiferous ducts are formed, and these represent an excellent defense against breast cancer. When a woman has an abortion in the first trimester, the chances of her developing breast cancer are considerably higher, especially if there has already been cancer in the family, or if the woman is young and continues to use contraceptives such as the Pill.
As far as psychosomatic symptoms are concerned, sexual disorders are very common. In addition, there are functional disorders of the abdomen, generalized abdominal pain, migraines, insomnia, and nightmares. These are classic symptoms. They show up in just about every woman who has had an abortion.
As for psychic symptoms, there is a whole list of them. Often you will observe a great sense of guilt and sorrow, an emotional numbness, a feeling of emptiness, depression, anxiety attacks, loss of self-esteem, self-destructive tendencies, and substance abuse. Women sometimes contemplate suicide. Incidence of suicide jumps noticeably in the wake of an abortion. Marital and relationship problems arise. The woman often yearns for another pregnancy to replace the lost child. These are just a few of the symptoms. To these we could add mood swings, uncontrollable crying, hyperirritability (e.g. over the sound of the vacuum cleaner), etc. There are all kinds of symptoms. One should keep in mind, however, that not every woman showing them has had an abortion. But for women who have undergone abortions these are the most common symptoms.
- Is it only women who consult you, or do other people suffer from the syndrome as well?
Abortion affects not just the woman and the child who dies as a result. What most people do not realize is that it affects all of society. It also affects the father, who might want to keep the child, or who knows nothing about the abortion, and later feels that there is someone missing. We are talking here about a sense of sadness, of joy deprived, of an undefined failure. Studies in North America have shown that the siblings of aborted children also suffer. After working with abused children, Canadian pediatrician Dr. Philip Ney, concluded that there is a strong link between abortion and child abuse. See it this way:
a woman contemplating an abortion must cross a certain threshold of aggression. It is not easy to kill a child. Often one surmounts the problem by dehumanizing the child. You tell yourself the child is not yet a child, and then you cling to this lie. But an abortion attacks the woman’s very sense of womanhood and ability to mother. In later pregnancies she may have trouble recognizing her child’s needs, or react badly to them. It is as though there was a blockage between her and her child, who suffers as a result. Such a child is often anxious, clings to its mother, cannot enjoy life, and does not know why it should enjoy life. Intense stress caused all kinds of psychic damage among concentration camp survivors. It is similar with an aborted child’s siblings, who must grow in a womb pervaded by an atmosphere of fear, death, and danger. Strong fears tend to haunt such people later in life. In childhood they begin showing aggressive attitudes toward their parents, or to authority figures in general. They may also direct this aggression against themselves, in the form of suicidal tendencies. They are unable to enjoy life. An abortion “survivor’s” complex, ambivalent attitude toward its mother – who has usurped the right to dispose of her children – will make it difficult for the grown-up child to bond with a partner. Problems of trust arise. Statistical studies also show that these people are themselves disposed toward abortion. They are unable to love children because they were not loved, looked forward to, or welcomed by their parents. This in turn leads to a vicious cycle of abortions in the family. We know that families that have had abortions will abort children in future generations. If to this we add neglect and abuse of children, whole families can die out as a result. When we realize how many women have had abortions, and see how many children have suffered the loss of their siblings, we get an idea of the general climate of our society. We have a “culture of death” in which no one trusts anyone anymore. No stable relations between people. No trust in the family, either between parents, or between parents and children. This contributes to powerfully destructive tendencies in society.
- What percentage of women who have had abortions suffer from the syndrome?
From my experience I would say that 70 percent of women who have undergone abortions suffer from post-abortion syndrome. The rest, who do not appear to suffer, might be said to be in denial. Sooner or later, however, the truth will catch up with them. You cannot just go out on the street, kill someone, and expect your psyche, your sense of self-esteem, and conscience to remain unaffected. Nor can a woman who has killed her child expect her future life and mental health to go untouched, since unconsciously she knows she has killed her child. When a woman becomes pregnant, the child makes its presence felt within four hours of fertilization. The body knows it is pregnant, and signals the state of imbalance to the woman.
- How can these women be helped?
You can only help those who want to be helped. A woman must be ready to confront matters. She must reject the lie that this was not a child. She must be able to look at photographs of aborted children. Women are shocked to learn that within three weeks of conception the child has a beating heart, fingers and toes. Facing this for the first time is a great shock to the mother. However, she must accept it, and admit that what was aborted was a child. This is the decisive step: yes, it was a child; yes, I did this. It is also very important to confront the question of responsibility. We judge no one. Every one of us is at fault in life, without exception, even the Pope. The woman must admit her own fault. If we picture full responsibility as a cake, then it might well be that the woman’s fault in the killing of her child comprises nothing but a small slice of this cake. Nevertheless, she must admit to this small slice. Only then can she be healed. Only after she admits to doing something wrong can forgiveness occur. The process of forgiveness and reconciliation must include everyone concerned: God the Giver of life, the victim child, all those directly and indirectly involved in the abortion, and, finally, the woman herself. These four steps are essential.
- What is the first step?
Here in Vienna we counsel women of all religious persuasions. I know from experience that God always hears our prayers. He never scorns a penitent heart. In praying with these women, we discover that many have not prayed in 20 years or more. There are those who do not know how to confess. In such cases we have to explain everything, even put words in their mouths. In our prayers – this is not classic psychotherapy, but normal prayer – we ask God for forgiveness, irrespective of the person’s denomination. If a woman is truly sorry, she will receive forgiveness. You can see this right away. You can feel it. She can sleep again, enjoy things. The process of healing begins. If the woman is Catholic, we send her to a priest, after explaining to her the importance of the Sacrament of Penance. We explain the spiritual consequences of abortion, how to regain a state of grace, how to talk with God, and how to make peace with Him. God is magnanimous. No sin is too great for Him to forgive.
- The second step is…
…to make peace with the child. In this connection, a priest in Vienna composed a special prayer for us. It is really very deep. The prayer begins by asked for God’s protection. Patron saints can also be called on to intercede. Then it asks the woman to thank God for the gift of her life, for the life of her child, and for her vocation to motherhood. What is so beautiful about God is that we can make a mistake, such as reject our motherhood, and still repair the damage. We can say later: dear Lord, today I have resolved to accept my motherhood. Thank you for my child. I have accepted it. I am beginning to talk with it, and beg its forgiveness. We always ask God to reveal the child’s name to the mother. In most cases the woman already knows if it is a boy or a girl. She discovers the name, for we know from Scripture that even as babes in our mothers’ wombs the Lord has chosen each of us by name.
- Then comes the third step…
When the woman is reconciled with the child, we ask her to beg forgiveness of all those who might have enjoyed the child, perhaps the father, an aunt, a future spouse. Then the woman must forgive those who contributed to her pain: those who deserted her, failed to help her, forced her to have the abortion, the doctor himself, and all those who were accessory to the abortion, e.g. the politicians who passed the pro-abortion laws, etc.
- And after this?
Then we ask God for the grace of baptism. People will object that you cannot baptize a dead child. But this is not a sacramental christening, but a baptism of desire – the kind that early Christians administered to their dead ancestors. There is a desire to have the child baptized. We bring this desire before God, and ask for the grace of baptism. Of course these children never sinned; still, they must be cleansed of original sin by the waters of baptism. This is what we ask for in our prayer. Often we do this ceremonially. We light a small candle, a lovely baptismal candle, and make our confession of faith. It is a very beautiful rite. We close the ceremony by offering the child to Our Blessed Mother. We ask for her love, which the child’s mother is unable to give. We ask Our Lady to take the mother’s place, and St. Joseph to take the place of the father. We also beg forgiveness of the child’s guardian angel, and ask it to carry the child to its divine Father in heaven. Then comes an important step. We ask for an interior healing for the woman. We ask Jesus to place His hand upon her, and restore her whole person, especially her maternity and womanhood. We also beg Him to free her and her family from the spirit of death and all the negative feelings that have beset the family as a result of the abortion. Then, we ask the woman to bless her child and entrust it to God. We have a beautiful chapel, where the woman can go and pray in silence. Many women do this with all their heart and return home completely at peace with themselves. Reconciliation with the child completes the process of reconciliation with God, since the abortion had destroyed the mother’s relationship with her child. The sin is forgiven in confession, but the damaged relationship with the child must be rebuilt. We tell the woman that each time she receives Holy Communion, she finds herself as close as can be to her lost child. She ought to treat this day of her prayer as her child’s christening day. For many women this is a great consolation.
- You say that the last step is forgiving oneself.
It is very important that the woman examine herself once more and understand what led her to resort to abortion in the first place. Often the woman discovers disfunctionality in her own childhood. She was not taken seriously, was unloved. Her needs were not respected or listened to. Her own life was not properly valued. We also ask Jesus to enter her memories, and heal them. If the woman does not have a settled sexual life, we ask her to entrust it to God so that he might heal her entirely, her whole life and person. Women who renew their faith in the process experience the greatest degree of healing. God forgives all. So we tell them that if God has forgiven them, they can also forgive themselves.
- How did you begin treating people with post-abortion syndrome?
At 17 years of age I met a woman who had had an abortion. She was married and had three children. An extramarital affair left her pregnant, and she underwent an abortion. After the abortion she began suffering panic attacks which required psychiatric treatment. The fate of this woman moved me very much. During my medical studies I met more women who had had abortions. Again I saw how much they suffered. Finally, I met another woman. We became close friends, and confided in one another. Once she confessed to me that God could never forgive her because she had killed four of her unborn children. I tried to tell her that God would forgive every sin if we were sorry for it. But then, six months later, she died suddenly of cancer at the age of 48. It was a great shock to me that I could not help her make peace with God. In the meantime I completed my internship, but I could never forget that woman. One day I went to a church in Vienna and saw a sign for a prayer vigil dedicated to love’s triumph over death. That is just what my friend had needed, I thought.
- You are a psychologist and psychotherapist, and yet everything you say has a strong religious context.
Only later did I come to understand that in resorting to an abortion a woman quite consciously cuts herself off from God, i.e. she has chosen to live in darkness. Many women are later unable to make peace with God unaided. After this spiritual death, even though they are alive physically, they require help and the prayers of others. I cannot imagine working with these women without the religious dimension. There are two things here: the loss of a child, i.e. its death, and guilt. Neither medicine nor psychotherapy can remove these things. Only God can. And since the underlying causes of the pathology are of a spiritual nature, effective therapy must also delve into the spiritual realm. It is the only way of helping the woman. That is why I do this: so that no one might die tormented with doubts, as my friend did.
- Can a woman who does away with her child in other ways also suffer from post-abortion syndrome?
A good question. Yes, we cannot forget that besides surgical abortion, the Pill and the IUD (coil) also result in the death of a child. I am willing to bet that the use of abortifacients masquerading as contraceptives has doubled the disgraceful number of one million abortions performed in Austria over the last 25 years, i.e. since the passing of the abortion law. I reckon we are grieving the deaths of two million children.
- How are the Pill and the coil abortion-inducing agents?
Doctors do not tell their patients this, but these devices prevent the embryo (the child) from attaching itself to the mother’s womb. Fertilization takes place in the oviduct area. Some 7 to 11 days are needed for the embryo to pass from the ovary to the uterus, and to attach itself to the wall. The Pill causes the mucous membrane of the uterus (which is normally very thick) to deteriorate, and become thin and flat. As a result, the embryo is denied a purchase on the uterine wall, and is sloughed away (i.e. aborted). Later the woman cannot be sure if she has had a child or not, or how many she has killed. Many women suffer psychic problems after extended use of the Pill or the coil. Depression mostly. Only the grace of God can be of help here. Women, who experience a conversion, usually come to regret the steps they have taken. The problem lies in their not being adequately informed by their doctors.
- Yes, I agree. This lack of information regarding abortion seems to afflict not only society as a whole, but the medical milieu as well. Don’t these problems arise in medical school?
I know that these problems are not discussed in medical school. I think this is because the doctors who perform abortions feel guilty. I am talking about the collective guilt of the medical profession. It is very difficult to admit to this. In Austria, abortion was legalized 25 years ago. Countless women and families have suffered as a result. The medical profession is divided: some doctors acknowledge the moral aspect of the problem; others deny it. To avoid an open split, the profession maintains a policy of silence. Unfortunately, this can lead to considerable difficulty later on in diagnosing the woman’s condition, since a woman’s abortion history is rarely inquired into.