Friday, February 23, 2007


ShrinkWrapped has a must-read series of posts on the psychological consequences of abortion on demand. In Part I, he discusses some of the historical developments that made the legalization of abortion on demand compelling. He also notes a strange fact:
A cursory search of the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association via the Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing site (available by subscription only) which covers the premier Journal of American Psychoanalysis from 1953 -2003, revealed only 48 citations for "Psychoanalysis AND Abortion". In contrast, there were ~450 citations for "Pregnancy OR Pregnant AND Psychoanalysis" and a search for "Children AND Psychoanalysis" led to too many citations to list. It is no surprise that Psychoanalysis would be so concerned with Childhood and with Pregnancy, after all these are critical developmental milestones in people's lives, but the relative dearth of articles exploring the meaning of Abortion, despite the very high percentage of patients who have been touched by abortion in one way or another, is quite striking. I believe that, among other reasons, this reflects a probably unconscious decision among Psychoanalysts to avoid the topic for reasons that I will suggest as this series develops. Prominent among the reasons would be a sense that discussing Abortion has always been extremely likely to evoke and provoke extreme reactions. Abortion is such a charged issue that reason is rarely a part of the discussion. In some ways this would make it an ideal subject for Psychoanalytic exploration, but in reality, for political reasons, most Psychoanalysts have avoided the issue.

Shrink does not avoid the issue, and he goes on to dissect some of the unintended psychological consequences that have come into play in a society that endorses "abortion on demand." In Part II he says:
For a couple who desire a child, life begins before conception. A couple trying to become pregnant find that each month, if the woman has her menses, there is a small feeling of loss; the hoped for and already loved child has not appeared. When, finally, the woman determines she is pregnant, often responding to barely conscious and unconscious bodily signals that herald the changes taking place within, the child begins to take on a reality, a life of its own. By the time of "quickening", typically in the fourth month or thereabouts, the child is already a baby in the minds of the parents. There is no question that wanted children are psychologically already babies from very early in the sequence. Furthermore, a wanted child is the repository of all that is best in the couple. They imbue the soon-to-be infant with all sorts of possibilities and qualities. Most first time parents have significant anxiety over their ability to parent and raise a child, but there is no question that from the moment of the positive EPT, reinforced each step of the way (heartbeat, sonograms, movement), the woman is carrying a person, not a fetus, and not a clump of cells.

Contrast this with an unwanted pregnancy. The language and the psychological processes couldn’t be more different. The future abortion is dehumanized from the start. It is a clump of cells or a fetus. It is the repository of all that is rejected and ambivalent in the parents.

Our society’s response to abortion is an almost direct reflection of the psychological process of splitting....

Our splitting is played out in the contrasting responses and psychological work involved in a planned, termination, abortion by choice, versus an unwanted termination, ie a miscarriage. When a wanted pregnancy is lost, the intensity of mourning is, to a certain extent, proportional to the reality of the infant. There are women who lose a pregnancy in the first trimester who experience profound mourning, but this is much more typical of later miscarriages and miscarriage on delivery, ie a still-born child. Because the infant has been primary experienced as an idealized and idealizable person, the mourning is painful but necessary to allow for a later healthy pregnancy. Psychologically, all of the unconscious ambivalence toward the pregnancy which caused such pain, can be resolved through the process of mourning, letting go of the lost proto-object.

Abortion by choice is a very different proposition. From an early point the pregnancy is psychologically attacked. By assaulting the humanity of the future child, both the good and bad aspects of the fetus are repressed. The parent disowns and disavows the clump of cells and repudiates it in the strictest terms. In such cases, mourning is either discouraged or overtly denied.

Part III can be found here; and Part IV should be up later today. As an accompanying piece you might also want to read these two posts from Siggy, which detail his own personal experience with abortion and the effect it has had on him.

He represents one of the many invisible consequences of abortion on demand that are rarely addressed--the effect that abortion has on the father.

It is important to note, that ShrinkWrapped takes neither a pro nor a con position with regard to abortion; rather he sets those questions aside to concentrate on what abortion psychologically means to those who have been affected by it.

Whether you are "pro-choice" or "pro-life", you will want to read this series because it raises some profound issues that basically have been taken off the table of discussion ever since the Roe v Wade decision. It is a hallmark of the insanity that characterizes the abortion debate that, if you dare to even bring up some of these concerns, you are branded as "hating/raping women"--or worse--on one side of the political aisle; or as a "murderer" on the other.

Let me be perfectly clear. I happen to be pro-choice. When I was a very young woman--a girl really and still in my teens, I made a choice that today, some four decades later, still reverberates in my life. In retrospect, it was a careless, thoughtless and extremely selfish choice; but it was my choice to make; just as the consequences are mine to deal with.

I have come to appreciate that what we have lost in all the hysteria that surrounds the issue of abortion--and both sides are guilty of hysterical behavior--is the ability to discuss in any rational manner some of the important personal and societal issues that Shrink raises in his posts.

And, like most conflicted issues that are forced into the dark realm of the unconscious, abortion on demand has brought forth a slew of unintended and serious consequences for our society, and has altered in very fundamental ways how we think about ourselves and our children.

It seems to me that in many ways, the irrational, uncompromising and unequivocally histrionic behaviors that accompany any discussion about a woman's "right" to an abortion are nothing more than the leftover narcissistic rantings of the self-absorbed and rather adolescent 60's "Me" decade.

Surely as a society we are capable of some growth and maturity in revisiting this subject? Otherwise, we will will remain forever in that genderless pre-pubescent Peter Pan state of self-indulgent crowing. We were clever enough to insist that women ought to have control over their own bodies--are we mature enough to discuss some of the personal and societal repercussions of that decision?

For the narcissist, growing up--taking responsibility and facing consequences of one's choices--is awfuller than all the awful things that ever were.

I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me,
Not I,
Not me!
So there!
Never gonna be a man ( Dr. S note: or woman for that matter),
I won't!
Like to see somebody try
And make me.
Anyone who wants to try
And make me turn into a man,
Catch me if you can.
I won't grow up.
Not a penny will I pinch.
I will never grow a mustache,
Or a fraction of an inch.
'Cause growing up is awfuller
Than all the awful things that ever were.
I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up,
No sir,
Not I,
Not me,
So there!

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