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Woman who had abortion: Polls need to start exposing, validating suffering after abortion

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December 8, 2022 (Campaign Life Coalition) – Angelina Steenstra was 15 years old in 1972 when she was date raped. It made her feel abandoned, dirty, worthless, ashamed, flawed, powerless, and hopeless. She found out a few weeks later that the encounter had left her pregnant.

Her friends encouraged her that abortion was the solution. They said it would solve her problem. She gave in to her fears. Despite everything inside of her telling her to stop, she went through with the procedure. As the vacuum aspirator sucked the human life out of her womb, she experienced instant grief, guilt, and remorse. Along with that came an intense hatred of herself for what she had just done. She realized that she had just crossed a line from which she could not return. She began to cry. She was given a sedative. But nothing could quiet or console her.

The only way Angelina could cope with her new reality after the abortion was first by denial, and secondly, by seeking to escape her pain through drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity, workaholism, and starving herself, barely subsisting on coffee and two packs of cigarettes a day.

Her denial and escapism were kept in place by the world around her which reaffirmed to her time and again that abortion was ‘no big deal’ and that women simply do not have ‘regrets.’ Following this blindly kept her locked in a prison of self-punishing behaviour, suicidal ideation, and displaced anger. She would try to forget the abortion, but something would come up to trigger the memory, especially a dentist’s drill, vacuum cleaners, and doctors.

Healing only began for Angelina years later when she realized that her denial and escapism were slowly killing her. She finally began to face the truth about what had happened in that Buffalo, New York abortion mill. She realized that she had willingly participated with others in the ending of a person – her own child. And, she realized that it was wrong.

Angelina’s inner conflict finally came to an end when, facing the truth, she asked forgiveness from God, her child, and others who were significant in her life at the time.

Reflecting on her experience, Angelina now sees that abortion did not solve any problem. It ended the life of her daughter, whom she named Sarah Elizabeth, and it killed a part of her own self, leaving her with a deeply wounded heart in need of healing.

Angelina Steenstra speaks at the 2014 National March for Life, Ottawa, Ontario. Photo credit: Pete Baklinski

“Abortion did not liberate me,” she shared in a testimony of her experience at the 2010 National March for Life in Ottawa. “Abortion did not empower me. It robbed me of my genealogy and the genealogy of my children. It left me unable to have more children because of pelvic inflammatory disease contracted during the years when I was acting out my self-hatred and looking for the words ‘you are loveable; you are forgiven.’ Abortion did not turn back the clock. It led to years of regret and remorse.”

“Do I regret my abortion? How can there be any other truly ‘human’ response to abortion, but regret,” she added.

Angelina now works in ministry helping women find healing after abortion. She is Silent No More Awareness’ National Coordinator for Canada as well as the Regional Coordinator for Ontario.

The Poll

In November, Angus Reid Institute released the results of an online survey it had conducted on abortion in Canada. The poll found that the “vast majority” of women who have had abortions stand by their decision.

“The decision to end a pregnancy can generate myriad emotions, from relief to grief, to shame and anxiety, to empowerment and confidence,” an Angus Reid summary of the findings states. “Two-thirds [65%] of those who report having had a surgical or procedural abortion say that ultimately it was the right choice for them, they have no regrets. Among three-in-ten (28%) regrets linger, but not enough to make them second guess their decisions. Six per cent say a different choice would have been better for them.”

The poll also found that one-in-six Canadian women (16 per cent) have gone through a “surgical or procedural abortion.” The poll did not ask women about chemical abortions.

Screengrab of Angus Reid Institute's November 2022 abortion poll

The poll was immediately used by mainstream media sources to promote the narrative that abortion is no big deal and that most women do not regret their decision. Headlines included:

Angelina told Campaign Life Coalition in an exclusive interview that she’s not surprised with the results of the poll, primarily because of the dominant worldview that supports abortion. This seems to give rise to the need for polls, she continued, that become “a kind of echo chamber reaffirming this pro-abortion narrative.”

“It appears to me that the goal of this poll,” she said in a telephone interview, is not to “validate women’s pain” who have had abortions so they might find “hope and healing.” The goal appears to be more about upholding the “narrative,” which she called a “lie,” that abortion is a “good way to solve a problem, even if it means ending someone’s life.”

“It's so disordered,” she said. “This poll veils the truth that abortion is the disruption of life and relationship with questions about whether women ‘regret’ it or not. A poll like this reinforces the illusion that one can have one’s relationship with one’s child ended by abortion and not be harmed by this, not be burdened by this. And, it ignores the ripple effect. The illusion is that we are islands unto ourselves and that our choices do not have a ripple effect, sending shockwaves that affect our relationships with ourselves, our families, our communities.”

Angelina suggested that it seems that the questions of the poll were framed in a way designed to keep women in the illusion that abortion is ‘no big deal.’

The first question from the survey on the topic is the following: “First, have you, or a close friend or family member ended a pregnancy?” This is shortly followed by: “And looking back, all things considered, how did you or the person close to you who had the abortion feel about it all?” Of four possible answers, the first option is “Right decision – no regrets.”

The pollsters begin this section of the poll by using the euphemistic phrase “ending a pregnancy” in reference to the killing of a preborn child. Pollsters speaking euphemistically about the killing of pre-born persons is the first indication of bias. It’s also worth pointing out that the follow-up question about “feelings” after abortion has as the first option for an answer, “Right decision – no regrets.” The placement of this answer as the first in order is not accidental. It will especially appeal to women who are living in denial about their abortion experience since it upholds the narrative that abortion is ‘no big deal’ and there are ‘no regrets.’ Women living in such denial will not even care to read the subsequent possible answers. In this way, it would appear, that the question and ordering of the answers were crafted to elicit the greatest possible response from post-abortive women living in denial of their abortion trauma.

Screengrab of question on Angus Reid Institute's November 2022 abortion poll

Angelina suggested that a post-abortive woman who is still living in denial may view answering a poll like this as “a way of unwittingly keeping her denial in place, while having the unintended consequence of also keeping a block to her healing in place.

“A poll, such as this, can keep her in a prison of lies and deceit, holding her hostage,” she added.

“Forty years ago, when I was still living in denial, it’s very possible I would have joined the 65 percent of women in saying that I had ‘no regrets’ about my abortion. Why? Because subconsciously I had a vested interest in keeping the narrative alive that abortion was something good and no big deal. I had made a decision to abort, and answering such a poll would be an outlet, all subconsciously, for upholding my decision and the worldview that this was OK.”

‘Not Yet’

Based on her experience over the years of journeying with numerous women who’ve had an abortion, Angelina related that abortion does harm women. “But does the woman know she’s been harmed? That’s the journey that every woman who has had an abortion is invited to go on,” she said.

“Did I think that I was harmed by the abortion? Not at first. I experienced relief, because after living in the crisis, and the physical reaction to the crisis, my sense was that, ‘Finely, the crisis is over.’ But, you know, reality starts to set in. You start asking questions. ‘Did I do the right thing?’ ‘Was it a baby?’ ‘Could I have gone through with the pregnancy?’ ‘Was it a boy?’ ‘Was it a girl?’”

Angelina called abortion a “death experience” for the mother where she not only loses her child, but has a hand in the loss. “She needs to resolve the death experience,” she said. Despite denial and escapism, Angelina believes that a “day of reckoning” comes for every woman who has had an abortion.

To women who claim they have no abortion regret, Angelina immediately counters, “maybe, not yet.”

Sometimes women bring their unresolved abortion trauma to their deathbeds.

Canadian award-winning palliative-care pioneer Jean Echlin, before her death in 2021, related two real-life stories of women on their deathbeds where abortion became the central issue. The stories were published by The De Veber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research in the 2007 winter edition of its newsletter Perspectives.

Jean Echlin. Photo credit: University of Windsor

In one story, a 92-year-old woman named Caroline came under Echlin’s supervision. Echlin noted that the elderly woman had a high level of “death anxiety” which was shown by her “extreme restlessness and agitation.” The woman also experienced abdominal pain in proximity to the area of her womb. When Echlin talked with the woman about her restlessness and agitation, the woman shared a secret that she had been carrying for more than 50 years. She had undergone two abortions, suffering terrible guilt and regret as a consequence.

“At the end of her life she shared with me her agony over her lost babies,” wrote Echlin. “From age 50 on, she felt that she had committed murder. She was very worried that God would never forgive her.”

Echlin also tells the story of a 59-year-old woman named Lydia who was dying from breast cancer that had spread throughout her body. The woman was exhausted by her physical pain. And, mysteriously, her pain was proving impossible to manage. Even with the use of a pain pump, which gave Lydia 24-hour morphine at a steady rate, her pain did not abate. When Echlin asked the woman if prayer could be of help, the woman made Echlin promise to keep a secret before she replied: “I can’t pray…. God won’t listen…. I killed a precious baby when I was 18 and got pregnant. The abortion clinic treated me like a piece of dirt. They kept calling my baby a ‘fetus’ and when I cried they told me to stop being such a baby… ‘You got pregnant and now you have to pay for the fun.’”

To Echlin, the lesson from the experiences of these two women was clear: “These women’s stories show that women suffer from abortion in many ways. They need our compassion, and they deserve to have their pain and suffering recognized by their medical care providers.”

Reflecting on the stories related by Echlin, Angelina said that it shows that women who are post-abortive and who have “never processed that death experience” have a hard time facing their own deaths. There's an “existential guilt” that surfaces from abortion when you’re “standing on the precipice of the end,” she said.

Abortion triggers

Some women may subconsciously postpone dealing with the trauma of their baby’s abortion, or, as Angelina said, “not be able to access the trauma,” until the end of their lives.  This is shown in the stories of Jean Echlin’s patients. Nothing, however, can stop a woman from experiencing what Angelina called “abortion triggers” or “connectors” that bring the woman back to the entire experience of the trauma of losing her baby through abortion.

“Abortion has various components of trauma attached to it,” she said. “At the heart of it is the sundering of a relationship between mother and child, which is a death experience. This trauma can be repressed. And then it surfaces later on in life, perhaps because of another deeply distressing and disturbing experience, perhaps because of some deep personal loss.”

Victims who experience trauma have the little, insignificant details surrounding the trauma seared into their memories. These can be as innocuous as the cloth pattern on an attacker’s or abuser’s shirt, some sound that happened unrelated to the trauma, or even a smell. Later on in life, such a cloth pattern, sound, or smell in a completely different environment and context can trigger vivid memories of the trauma. So, too, do women who experience abortion trauma have details seared into their memories that can be triggered by something unrelated to the actual abortion.

Angelina Steenstra (right) joins other women who regret their abortion at the 2014 National March for Life, Ottawa, Ontario. Photo credit: Pete Baklinski

“We don't know when that's going to hit us,” said Angelina. “It could be a crying baby; a person running late; the sound of a hairdryer; the colour of a man's tie; the sound of a song.”

For Angelina, it was especially the sound of a vacuum cleaner, a sound that she simply detested following the abortion, that constantly triggered in her the memory of her baby being destroyed by the abortionist’s vacuum aspirator. For a long time, she did not understand why she experienced this reaction when she cleaned her home.

“Women may not know why these things trigger them the way they do. They need to learn to identify the trigger with the trauma. It’s a step in the healing process to recognize one’s own triggers. This leads to self-understanding, which allows us to learn how to manage our reactions, and this leads to integration and finally freedom.

Resolving the death experience

Angelina believes that for a poll about abortion to truly serve the public good, questions could be asked that help a woman connect with her abortion experience and help her to understand that she is not alone in the burden of dealing with the aftermath of abortion.

“The aftermath of abortion affects us emotionally, psychologically, physically, spiritually, and relationally,” she said. “Essentially, our whole being is affected by abortion. It’s walking in this light of truth that we can move toward healing,” she continued. “The whole goal is restoration, restoration in our own selves and in our relationships with others so that our lives can become a blessing to all who encounter us.”

The kind of questions that could be asked women about the abortion experience come from Angelina’s own journeying with women who, she said, “suffer the aftermath of abortion” and who are eager for healing. These include:

  • Do you have intrusive, unexpected thoughts about the abortion? Do you have unexplained, sometimes strong, emotional reactions to certain sights or sounds? Is there a pattern?
  • Have you ever felt conflicted, or continue to be conflicted, about whether the abortion was right or wrong?
  • Are you able to talk about the abortion?
  • Are you still in relationship with the person who helped you facilitate the abortion?
  • Are you in relationship with the child’s father? What is that relationship like?

“I would like to know how many people are suffering as a result of abortion, so that they can face the truth with help, so that they're not in bondage, so they don't need Prozac,” she said.

Angelina Steenstra is Silent No More Awareness’ National Coordinator for Canada as well as the Regional Coordinator for Ontario. Photo credit: Silent No More Awareness

Move to tears during the interview, Angelina said that it “really grieves” her to see so many women remain hurting in their pain by the denial of the realities of abortion.

“People are hurting from abortion, and who is validating the pain?”

“We don't know the ‘yets’ of our life,” she said about women who do ‘not yet’ experience abortion regret. For Angelina, it’s important to respond to the call of ministering to those who are hurting after abortion, bringing them a message of hope and healing, helping them move away from illusion into truth, from darkness into light.