A Life for a Life

How post abortive syndrome can steal a woman's life

by Michele Howe

You saved a life today.

Not many of us will ever hear those words spoken to us in direct response to something we've said or done. But Joan Canning, an advocate and regional spokesperson for Silent No More Awareness, an international awareness campaign that shares the truth about abortion, has heard it on more than one occasion. As owner of a strategic business and human resources management-consulting group, she spends her professional life warning, informing, and educating businesses about the current regulatory climate and HR best practices. But what her heart calls her to do personally is to warn, inform, and educate young teens and women about the painful aftermath that choosing an abortion can bring.

Canning's quest to deliver truthful information to any female who is considering an abortion (or anyone who loves someone who is considering it), had a very personal and costly beginning. She describes herself even today as a woman of faith who has never forgotten the price both her baby and she paid after an abortion some 20 years ago. Having lived with the guilt, shame, and remorse for many years, Canning fully understands the ongoing struggle of trying to forget a decision as traumatic and irrevocable as ending the life of an unborn child.

Like many women who choose to end their unborn baby's life, Canning did not grow up in poverty or obvious neglect. She was born into a seemingly well-adjusted pastor's family where appearances were everything. However, unlike the perfect picture Joan's family presented to the outside world, her home was rife with conflict from physical, verbal, and alcohol abuse. Her parents openly supported a woman's right to get an abortion during the 1960s, prior to its legalization. But even as a young teen she sensed the hypocrisy between welcoming life as a gift from God, as taught in her home and through her religious training, and the message her parents expressed in their support of abortion rights. She was understandably confused, and this further fueled her later entry into alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and sexual promiscuity.

Always an exemplary student, Canning went to college on a full scholarship, and despite her black-out drinking and erratic eating, she excelled. But she got pregnant during her sophomore year, dropped out of college, and married her boyfriend. Her baby boy, Lucas, was delivered by emergency C-section, and three years later her second son, Chase, was born. Despite the joy her sons brought, her troubled marriage ended soon after her Chase's first birthday.

Fast forward a few months: Canning is a single mom living in a small apartment with her young sons; her parents express their disappointment in her for divorcing; her employment options are limited due to her incomplete college education.

Joan Canning waiting to give her testimony on the steps of the US Supreme Court in 2013

Joan Canning waiting to give her testimony on the steps of the US Supreme Court in 2013

Despair soon overtook Canning. Alcoholism consumed her, as did vain attempts to soothe the pain of her broken marriage by looking for love at nightclubs. She didn't find love, but she did find herself single, alone, and pregnant again. The baby's father reacted to the news of her pregnancy by going out and sleeping with another woman, though Canning wanted to marry him and keep the baby. After that painful wake-up call, abortion looked like the only possible choice.

Years later, Canning still recalls the dingy atmosphere—both physical and emotional—of the abortion clinic. The staff, too, were harsh and cold and completely insensitive to the needs of the women there. She remembers thinking to herself, "How does a mother who has already been blessed with precious children knowingly end the life of her baby? I am truly a despicable person."  Immediately following the abortion, she felt relieved not to be pregnant anymore,  but her relief was quickly overshadowed by guilt and remorse. A few months later, she quit her respectable clerical job and began working in bars, isolating herself more from her family and giving up custody of her sons to their father.

She didn't know it at the time, but Canning was imploding, and her case is all too common. The Post Abortion Review cites that "women who have undergone abortion often fit the profile of someone suffering from Post Traumatic Stress according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (standard for diagnosis of psychiatric illness in the United States.)" [The Post Abortion Review, 2, (3): 4-8 Fall 1994, published by the Elliot Institute; additional material posted at AfterAbortion.org.]

After several years of spiraling ever downward physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually following her abortion, Canning broke down and turned to Christ. Her life changed dramatically as she started her faith walk with Jesus, began a life of sobriety, responsibility, and healing. She knew God had forgiven her for her choice to abort her baby. What she didn't yet understand was that she still needed to grieve the loss of her unborn child.

In 2009, Canning heard the testimony of Linda Cochrane, a woman who had also had an abortion, and how she had been set free from the guilt, shame, depression, and a multitude of other post-abortive syndrome issues. Canning sat up and took notice. Later she worked through Cochrane's Bible study, Forgiven and Set Free, and during that intense study Canning took that final step out of the abyss and was herself set free.Canning's story is typical for women across the US who out of desperation make a choice that is frequently done under extreme pressure and coercion. Consider these statistics from Abortion Is the Un-Choice:

  • 64 percent felt pressured by others. Pressure can come in the form of  anything from guilt trips and persuasive arguments to verbal threats and physical violence. Deceptive or inadequate information presented as fact by health officials, experts, authorities, educators, pastors, and other leaders also acts coercively.
  • Up to 83 percent of abortions are unwanted.
  • Most felt rushed and uncertain, yet 67 percent had no counseling before abortion.
  • 79 percent were not informed about available alternatives.
  • 84 percent said they were not given enough information to make an informed choice.

When women end their child's life, they often then spend the rest of their own life paying the price. An estimated 20 million US women suffer from post-abortive symptoms (fathers suffer as well). While this number is staggering, the answer to the pain lies in the decision to seek healing. One woman at a time, one day at a time, mothers who ended their baby's life can find forgiveness, freedom, and healing.

As Canning realized, healing often comes from places we least expect it. Sometimes the truest form of healing comes when we share our experiences with others in the hope that they won't repeat our mistakes. Canning found restoration through her personal relationship with Christ, but it didn't end there. She continued to work through her grief with others who have walked her path. Today she leads other young women away from abortion by sharing her story and educating the public about the hidden costs of choosing abortion.

abortion symptonsWhat many people don't realize is that not only are a woman's emotions and mind affected by an abortion, but she risks her physical health as well. Over 140,000 women per year have immediate medical complications from abortion that include infection, uterine perforation, hemorrhaging, cervical trauma, and failed abortion/ongoing pregnancy. A woman's risk of breast cancer rises by 30 percent with an abortion. Abortion can lead to infertility and to complications in future pregnancies. A woman's suicide risk is six times higher than childbearing women who have not had an abortion.

Certainly, having an abortion is not the isolated, personal choice that mainstream media makes it out to be. It affects the mother. It affects the baby. It affects everyone in the mother's circle of influence. It affects society at large. Perhaps the biggest challenge for men and women today is to look for practical ways to help women (of all ages) to know they have options other than abortion and to help them know they are loved, accepted, and will have help caring for their child or in finding that child a loving home. There are many viable options available to pregnant women today. The only option not viable—in any sense of the word—is to abort.

Recommended: Help and Hope: Resources for women (and men) after an abortion.

Michele Howe is the author of 12 books for women and hundreds of articles on mothering, health, and spirituality. Her newest release is One Size Fits All: Making Healthy Choices, Stepping into a Meaningful Life (Lighthouse of the Carolinas, 2013).

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