Kudos to the BBC. Earlier on today I once again participated in BBC World Have Your Say, where the topic of Emily Letts, the woman who filmed her abortion was under discussion. The programme has to be one of the most pro-life broadcasts I’ve ever heard on mainstream media, which would not have been their intention.
In order to act as a counter-balance to Emily (who had the lion’s share of airtime and dominated proceedings at the beginning) they invited on 4 other post-abortive women, including Catherine Adair, a former Planned Parenthood clinic worker, who was able to tell listeners the parts of the abortion procedure that Emily Lett’s video left out such as counting up and bagging up the missing body parts and Nancy from Silent No More, who was able to tell of the effect that abortion had upon her life.
Listening to these women’s brave testimonies was incredibly powerful and moving. From a Catholic perspective it once again struck me how much potential the pro-life movement has in terms of drawing people back into the faith. Pro-choicers talk about judgemental religious bigots and yet there are so many men and women who open their hearts to grace and allow their tragedy to bring them closer to God. I’ve never experienced any shaming, judgement or snarky asides from orthodox Catholics and Christians about my abortion. Anyone whom I have discussed it with have let me know how sorry they are that this happened, and offered unconditional love and prayer. Of course the sacrament of confession by its very nature means that you will approach in a spirit of penitence, but the priest won’t bellow “you did what”, neither will he tell anyone and neither will he force you to make some kind of public reparation. Confession for us Catholics is about reconciling and forgiveness. When my kids look up at me, knowing they have been very naughty and say sorry, it isn’t my job to make them feel worse, even if they have done something they know they were expressly forbidden to do. God is pretty similar and so are the priests whom he uses. They are just happy that you’re there and want to help you. If confession involved shaming, you wouldn’t see the queue of young people waiting outside the confessional at Westminster Cathedral, giving up their lunch break for a good ear-bashing! Nor indeed would anyone go ever, if priests piled on the guilt.
When you listen to former clinic worker Abbey Johnson, she tells of how when she left her employment as an abortion clinic director, she said to 40 Days for Life founder Sean Carney, ‘look I might have left the industry, but sure as anything I’m not becoming a Catholic’. Two years later she was received into the Church. Catholic teaching in this area is what draws so many back to the church and who are then able to convince other hearts and minds. The vineyard is rich – which is why anyone who speaks up either on abortion or human sexuality will find themselves under a form of attack at some point. This is spiritual warfare where souls can so easily be led astray.
One of the many things that irked me about Emily’s testimony (once again I had no idea that she would be defending herself on the show, I was gobsmacked to discover she was a fellow guest 5 minutes before we went on air) was that when it came to the topic of post-abortive healing, she kept urging people to go to abortion-related and/or secular organisations where they wouldn’t be ‘shamed.’
Had the mic come back to me I would have picked her up on this. Pro-life counsellors NEVER shame post-abortive women and neither does the Catholic Church. The only shaming I can see going on, is the shaming of those who feel shame. Counselling should be an opportunity to explore and examine your feelings and how to harness negativity to a positive effect. A woman should be allowed to discuss, own and explore feelings of shame. While a counsellor should never seek to make a woman feel ashamed, they can help her to explore and discover for herself if her shame or guilt is justified. Ultimately no-one can or should tell another person what to ‘feel’.
It is not the role of any counsellor to remove a woman’s feelings of shame, but work out how she might best resolve those feelings. Furthermore shame is an emotionally loaded word, implying social stigma, whereas in many women the feeling is not shame, but regret. A counsellor can help a woman to realise that there may well have been mitigating circumstances surrounding her decision to abort, but it isn’t their job to suppress whatever a woman is feeling or to remove her instincts, rather to help them resolve them.
I’d be extremely concerned by a post-abortive counsellor trying to tell a woman that her feelings are wrong or misguided. We cannot help how we feel, while we cannot or should not dwell unhealthily upon negative feelings, we do at least need to acknowledge and resolve them.
While we’re on the subject of counselling, just as pro-choicers throw their hands up in horror at pro-lifers carrying out pre-abortion counselling, I’m equally concerned by a woman who thinks that abortion is a happy, awesome, dopamine fuelled experience telling women not to worry about it, it’s all fine. There may not be cutting involved in an early stage surgical abortion but it still entails intimate surgery which is the main source of anxiety for women, along with the risk of damage to the cervix and uterus. If a pro-life counsellor were to have been filmed telling a woman how physically harrowing many women find an abortion procedure, there would be uproar. Why then is someone employed by a clinic who stand to profit from a woman having an abortion, allowed to tell them it’s all a shiny happy thing of joy and love?
I’m with the Anchoress on this one. To my mind this was counter-productive. It wasn’t a happy video at all, Emily looked strained and displayed signs of self-deception, such as by repeating her words, she parroted glib catch-phrases and seemed lacking in conviction. When it came to the procedure itself, there was no disguising it was traumatic – note the lift muzak to disguise the noise of the suction machine and the clink of surgical instruments. Emily’s singing was forced – it reminded me of a recording I once heard of the Captain of doomed Saudi flight 163, who was heard on the flight recorders singing and humming to himself, instead of taking the decisive action needed which would have undoubtedly saved the lives of 301 souls on board who all perished unnecessarily. Emily’s singing and expressions of “I’m such a lucky girl” were coping strategies to distract herself from what was really going on down there.
Interestingly Emily’s catchphrases were about women who shouldn’t have to suffer in silence – suffering, pain, grieving and loss were her key themes. Having an allegedly vaguely bearable abortion procedure doesn’t somehow circumnavigate those issues that many women really do face. For those women who have faced heartbreak over a reluctant decision to abort, feeling that there really was no other option, this video is a slap in the face, making light of what is for many, a tragic and unwanted last resort.
There were plenty of ways of getting people talking about abortion, sacrificing her own baby’s life, without much thought and without consulting the father, doesn’t seem to be the most constructive way of doing so. Hey I’ve got you all talking she said, gushing over how beautiful and awesome we all were, in perhaps the way that only Americans can. Fact is Emily, I’d much rather have shut my mouth if it had meant that your baby lived. There are plenty of other stories out there which all need to be heard. If abortion is about suffering, then why aren’t we doing what we can to avoid it, rather than false attempts to sanitise and gloss over what is at the very least, an emotionally raw experience?
Emily said that she didn’t mean to get pregnant but also that she was not bothering to use birth control either, she was haphazardly monitoring her ovulation cycles. Were she to have been doing that, then she would have known fine well when she was fertile, so one has to wonder what this was all about. She had no long term partner, but ‘things happen’ and she wound up pregnant! And this was a sex educator?! She could have chosen to go down the same route that I did and use the pill, which is normally advised at her stage in pregnancy when someone is dead set, but after talking to a friend who had already videoed herself using this method, opted for surgery.
When Josie Cunningham used the prospect of abortion to gain fame, she was demonised around the world and yet by and large Emily is feted and admired for her ‘bravery’. What’s the difference between the two women who both used abortion as a form of self-publicity which makes one the target of admiration and the other the lowest of the low? Probably the time limit had something to do with this, but also class and that the middle-class college-girl liberal activist making a feminist political point is more pleasing on the eye. Josie Cunningham has spade loads more courage than Emily, nonetheless. It isn’t brave to film yourself doing something that you were planning to do anyway and edit out the nasty parts to mislead your audience. Raising an unplanned baby alone – now there’s selfless courage!
Emily’s repeated on-air exclamations of how great, awesome and inspiring abortion is, deeply unsettled me, because they sounded so hollow and empty. “Hey, yeah wow, abortion, awesome, trust women”. Women make mistakes with their bodies just the same as men. Gender doesn’t sanctify or validate an unwise decision. Trust women, cos they like never ever get anything wrong about their reproductive decisions, like err unexpectedly getting themselves pregnant in the first place. (And no, that’s not shaming, it’s fact. There’s a reproductive decision, that Emily got wrong).
With that in mind, I do wish her all the best and hope this conflicted young lady doesn’t have a rough ride in the future, either in terms of future fertility or suffering from an emotional fall-out. Today was only the second time I’ve discussed my abortion on air and the first time I did so in any great detail. Putting yourself out there like that is tough, I hope Emily finds the support that she needs, whatever the outcome.
When Emily said that were her apartment to catch fire, the scan photograph of her baby would be the first thing she would grab, it underlined her dissonance. That she is marvelling over her (God-given) ability to make life and that she likes to be reminded of the fact that she made a life either makes her a complete psychopath or a tragic victim of the deceptive and destructive sophistry that seeks to uphold abortion as a good.
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