Tracking the Effects of Abortion on Women

Interview with David Reardon of the Elliot Institute

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SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, MAY 12, 2003 ( The tradition of defending the cause of the weak and vulnerable of society continues in the home of Abraham Lincoln.

The Elliot Institute is a nonprofit organization based in Springfield dedicated to researching the effects of abortion on women and society.

As a result of its most recent findings, the institute has just launched a new Web site,, dedicated to changing the rhetoric of the abortion debate and exposing abortion’s harmful effects on women.

David C. Reardon, author of «Making Abortion Rare: A Healing Strategy for a Divided Nation» (Acorn Books, 1996) and director of the Elliot Institute, shared his views with ZENIT in this interview, Part 2 of which appears Tuesday.

Q: Could you explain the mission and work of the Elliot Institute?

Reardon: We believe that understanding how abortion hurts women is the key to ending abortion. Perhaps even more importantly, a deep understanding and empathy for women who have been hurt by abortion will help many of us to become more faithful witnesses of Christ’s divine mercy.

The truth is that abortion is simply bad medicine. Nothing good comes from it. God has intertwined the well-being of women and their children in such a way that it is impossible to kill a woman’s unborn child without exposing her to grave physical, psychological and spiritual harm.

There is not a single scientific study that has shown that abortion has, on average, actually produced any benefits to women. In contrast, there are numerous studies showing abortion’s harms. Many of these have been done through the Elliot Institute.

We have had our research published in major medical journals such as the British Medical Journal and the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. They have consistently shown that abortion is associated with higher rates of depression, substance abuse, psychiatric illness, divorce and death from all causes, including suicide.

Another part of our work is to be advocates for the authentic rights of women. In regard to women considering abortion, we work to hold their physicians accountable for giving good medical advice. Given the lack of anything more than anecdotal evidence to show benefits from abortion and the large body of literature documenting injuries, it is impossible to justify a medical recommendation for abortion based on the scientific literature.

For those women who have had abortions, we advocate for their right to hold doctors accountable for the injuries they have suffered. More importantly, through projects like our Hope and Healing campaign, we try to reach out to post-abortive women and men to share the good news of Christ’s mercy and his desire to heal them. This is also our most important message to pro-life Christians.

We must emphasize our understanding, empathy and compassion toward those who have made the mistake of choosing abortion. This love and acceptance makes it easier for post-abortive women to process their grief, to have a conversion of heart, and to become witnesses for life. As more and more women and men find healing, they share it with others, and become the most powerful witnesses for the culture of life.

They are the ones who will create the cultural shift that will make abortion not just illegal, but unthinkable.

Q: Do you see a shift in public attitudes about abortion? If so, why?

Reardon: At least in the United States, the general public is becoming increasingly pro-life, or at least anti-abortion. This is especially evident among young people. Youth are idealistic by nature, and they are also witnesses to the damage abortion, sexual promiscuity and divorce has caused to their families, neighbors and friends.

There has been a slow steady drop in abortion rates over the last 15 years. At least in part, this is due to the fact that as more people have experienced abortion, there are now more women telling their sisters, daughters, friends and others that abortion it is not the «quick and easy» solution they once imagined.

The Elliot Institute recently commissioned a national survey that shows that only 16% of adults believe abortion generally makes women’s lives better. Even among women who identify themselves as strongly pro-choice, less than a fourth believe abortion improves women’s lives. Eighty percent believe negative reactions are common or very common and most believe that the negative emotional reactions to abortion are moderately severe to very severe.

Most people are already inclined to see abortion as an ugly, regretful experience. Helping them to see how extremely ugly and devastating it can be is the fastest way to erode support for abortion.

Q: Should the rhetoric of the abortion debate be shifted from a «rights-based» debate pitting women against children to one where the practical consequences and outcomes of abortion are exposed?

Reardon: It is always a mistake to think that only one approach should be used. While I discuss the question you raise at great length in «Making Abortion Rare,» I can only quickly outline the main points here.

First, we are always called to witness to the whole truth. That means the truth about the sanctity of life, the authentic rights of women and children, and the evil that abortion does to both.

Second, we must always resist the false dichotomy proposed by abortion advocates that there is a conflict of rights between the woman and her child. As soon as one argues that the rights of the unborn supersede those of the woman, one is admitting that there is a potential conflict of rights and therefore a legitimate reason for people to polarize to one side or the other.

Instead, we must insist that the authentic rights and welfare of both the mother and child are intertwined. To hurt one, you will necessarily hurt both. To help one, you must help both. The former is what abortionists do; the latter is what we are called to do, and do especially well through our pregnancy help centers. The abortionist’s solution is not an act of charity; it is an act of abandonment.

Third, we must remember that there are different levels of moral maturity. Many people will continue to have more concern about themselves or the pregnant women they see, than they ever will for the unborn children they can’t see. Arguing about absolute moral truths with such a person will get you nowhere. Their hearts are hardened to the truth. All they care about is results.

This is why pointing out that abortion is a false solution that causes more harm than good is more effective with this group. Showing people how abortion hurts women may not lead them to their spiritual conversion, but will reduce abortions and eventually stop it completely.

The witness of the women and men who have lost their children is far more powerful than anything I can say. I see my role, and really the role of all pro-life activists, as one that helps provide a platform for the voices of these women and men to be heard. They are the ones who will soften hardened hearts, because they can speak from their own experiences about the evil of abortion.

Tomorrow: From «pro-choice» to «poor choice.»

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