It's hard to think of an issue that creates as much division and furore as post-abortion grief (or post-abortion stress syndrome - PASS), nor one that deserves such lack of compassion less.
Recently I was enjoying reading Princesses and Pornstars, Emily Maguire's exploration of modern female culture and how feminism has lost it's way, replaced by meaningless "empowerment" that sees women thinking they gain esteem by pole dancing. I've written about this myself, so the book was really singing to the choir. Until that is, I reached the following passages, which I read with a heavy sigh of familiar disappointment:
"In 2005, Liberal backbencher Danna Vale, calling for a national enquiry into abortion, said that while she believed 'in a woman's right to choice', she worried that women don't understand 'the tragedy of post-abortion depression'. This sounds like she is concerned with women's well-being. If so, she can rest easy: a sizable body of research exists to show that abortion in no more prevalent in women who have had abortions than in the general population. And perhaps one of the reasons there isn't endemic post-abortion depression is that every woman in Australia who requests an abortion receives counselling about her choices and their respective risks."
All you need to know about the debate surrounding PASS is right there. Right-wingers use PASS in an attempt to restrict women's access to abortion; the left and feminists, fearing any such restrictions, hotly deny that such a thing exists. In the middle are a lot of grieving, hurt women who are made to feel like they don't exist.
It's hard to trust Danna Vale's motives in these statements. This is after all the woman who said Australians are in danger of aborting themselves out of existence, leading to a Muslim majority population here. It's hard in fact to trust anyone who speaks out about PASS, because moderates are too scared to do so, for fear of being shouted down by the pro-choice movement. PASS ends up being used as a weapon by those who seek to curtail women's sexual freedom. Sadly, it's these fears that lead some feminists to equal levels of shrill rhetoric. Emily Maguire is just plain wrong in some of her assertions. If levels of depression are no higher in women who have had abortions than the population at large - is that not just to dismiss the pain of those women who suffer from both? There is evidence that women who suffer from pre-existing depression are more likely to suffer post abortion depression.
And the statement that "every woman in Australia who requests an abortion receives counselling about her choices and their respective risks" would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic. Most abortions in Australia are carried out in privately clinics. Abortion is a business to them. The counsellors are there to sell abortions. I hate to put it so bluntly, but it's true. Anecdotal evidence abounds of stories of women who arrived at the clinic unsure what to do, and felt pressured into abortion from the moment they arrived.
As for the depression - whilst it is illegal in this country to coerce someone into intercourse, there are no laws against forcing someone to have an abortion. From the 14 year old girl whose parents force her to have an abortion or they will kick her out, to the married woman whose husband says he will leave if she doesn't abort, these women are trapped and helpless with no legal recourse. We speak of a right to choose - but there is no legal right to not choose an abortion for many women. The grief experienced by a woman forced to abort a pregnancy she wanted is scarcely imaginable.
I really don't want to pick on Ms Maguire here - she has only spoken out on the truth as she sees it. Because the voices of women who are suffering from PASS are unheard, lost in the din from the opposing forces of the abortion war. I would urge her, or anyone else seeking to learn who PASS really means, to read Giving Sorrow Words, which without opinion or politics tells the stories of 18 Australian women who have suffered from PASS. Some underwent recent abortions; for others, their terminations were many years ago. All are deeply moving and would hopefully change thinking on this issue. Also, please read the FAQ here at the PASS site - written with medical advice by women who hve suffered from PASS, it's an objective, factual look at PASS itself and many of this issues that have led to the silence surrounding women with the condition.
For it would be my greatest wish to see feminists take up the cause of PASS; that without restricting a women's right to choose, to give women the right to choose not to abort by making coercing someone to do so illegal. To provide more societal support to mothers so women didn't feel pressured by society to abort if they did not want that. And above all to acknowledge and provide support for those suffering from PASS, so we don't have to suffer in fearful silence anymore.