On the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, women around the nation spoke out about their abortions, reflecting different experiences: relief that a difficult decision was made, self-respect for taking control of their lives, and gratitude that a safe, legal procedure is available. Many also felt sorrow and grief at the loss of a potential life.

But pro-choice clergy who counsel women before and after abortions know that most women believe they have made a responsible decision. In a moving statement called "Women Know," Jean Stewart Berg and Anne Baker of the Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois, wrote, "We women know when it is or is not the right time to bring a child into the world...We act out of compassion when we wait to have a child until the time when we can give it the kind of life every child deserves. We act out of love when we consider what we would be taking away from the child or children we already have if we brought another child into our family now...We women know the truth: That given certain circumstances, abortion is the most morally responsible and loving choice we can make."

A 1989 study done by Nancy E. Adler of the University of California at San Francisco, among others, supports what women know in their hearts: that women's emotional responses to legal abortion are largely positive. They also indicate that emotional problems resulting from abortion are rare and less frequent than those following childbirth.

To insist, as anti-abortion absolutists such as the Roman Catholic Church do, that women who have an abortion--and as many as 43% of women do, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute--are devastated as a result simplifies the complex nature of each woman's feelings. Even worse, such pronouncements induce and nurture guilt, undermine women's self-respect, and convince women they must be forgiven for a sin, even though abortion might be the most responsible, moral decision.

Opponents of abortion created a term--Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS)--as one of many efforts to frighten women from making decisions about childbearing. PAS is said to be "a form of post-traumatic stress disorder." Despite years of repeated claims about this "condition," there is no evidence it exists, according to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The American Psychological Association found that severe negative psychological reactions to abortion are rare and that this "syndrome" is not scientifically or medically recognized. The association concluded that the vast majority of women experience a mixture of emotions after an abortion, with positive feelings predominating. The American Psychiatric Association also studied the psychological impact of abortion on women. A panel of six leading psychiatrists concluded that "government restrictions on abortion are more likely to cause women lasting harm than the procedure itself."

Religious women who have had abortions have very different feelings from the guilt-inducing feelings put forth by the Catholic Church's Project Rachel. The book Abortion, My Choice, God's Grace, by Anne Eggebroten, tells the stories of women who have had abortions. Elise Randall, an evangelical Christian and graduate of Wheaton College, who had an unwanted pregnancy, said, "I was filled with resentment and afraid that I might take out my frustrations on the child in ways that would do lasting damage." She and her husband concluded that abortion "was the most responsible alternative for us at this time. The immediate result was an overwhelming sense of relief. Now we were free to deal with the existing problems in our lives instead of being crushed by new ones... Only God knows what might have been, but I like to think that our decision was ...based on responsibility and discipleship."

Christine Wilson, an active member of a Presbyterian church in suburban Baltimore and attorney, wife and mother of two grown children, became pregnant when she was 16 after having sex for the first time with her boyfriend. At first naïve and then later embarrassed and afraid, she did not tell her parents until she was five months pregnant. Because abortion was illegal at that time, her father took her to England for the abortion. For many years she suffered in silence from guilt and emotional turmoil. Now, she says, "If I had (legal) access in 1969, I know it would not have taken 25 years to attain the peace of mind I have today."

Women such as Elise Randall and Christine Wilson deserve respect for making a complex decision. It is our hope that people of faith will give them the respect they deserve, rather than condemn and blame them.

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