Karl Stern’s The Flight from Woman, published in 1965, is not only a masterpiece of intellectual thought but a reliable roadmap to future events. In his chapter on “Womanhood,” this highly accomplished psychiatrist refers to a woman’s deep sense of time. Not infrequently, he notes, a woman who has had an abortion will experience “a serious depression” on the date that her child would have been born. For example, if the abortion took place in the third month of her pregnancy, she suffers a breakdown six months later at the time the baby was due.1
He points out two remarkable elements about this. First, the woman is not necessarily conscious about the correlation of the due date and her depression. Her depression occurs without any conscious awareness of what would have been the time of delivery. Secondly, the woman’s philosophy is not necessarily opposed to abortion. Nonetheless, her “reaction of loss” coincides with the time of the birth, which because of her abortion, did not take place.
Though he is a fervent member of the Church, Stern is not speaking as a Catholic but as a scientist, and he speaks in tandem with what other scientists have observed within the psychiatric profession. From a psychiatric point of view, this is a phenomenon that cannot be denied.
In a recent commentary, Judie Brown, president of American Life League, reported an account from a post-abortive woman named “Carol” that further corroborates what Dr. Stern reported. According to Carol: “Thirty years later, in church, I begged forgiveness for my sin—but did not feel forgiven. The priest I spoke to told me to ask forgiveness of my child. Over and over, I asked my child to forgive me. In a vision, I saw three babies playing in the clouds. One turned to me and said ‘Hi Mommy.’ It was at this moment I knew I had been forgiven.”2
This is a moving testimony that warrants sympathetic understanding. It would be less than human to inform Carol that her experience was fraudulent, as it not only conforms to the experiences of many other women but tells us something important about womanhood itself. As Professor Stern writes, “Woman, in her being, is deeply linked to bios, to nature itself.”3 To deny what a woman experiences after an abortion is to deny the very nature of womanhood itself.
Psychologist David Fergusson and a research team from Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Science in New Zealand tracked post-abortive women over a 25-year span. They found that these women experienced high rates of suicidal behavior, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, and other psychological problems. These various problems could not be attributed to anything in the backgrounds of these women.4 Also of significance is the fact that Fergusson is a pro-abortion atheist and began his study expecting to find that the women’s problems were due to backgrounds that predisposed them to problems with mental health. He was astounded when he discovered that that was not the case. The APA responded by removing his statement from its Internet site.
George McKenna also addressed women’s post-abortive emotions, and he wrote about them in an article entitled, somewhat sardonically, “The Right That Makes Women Grieve.” In the article, he refers to a piece authored by a New York Times reporter who denies the reality of post-abortion problems. McKenna paraphrases and then quotes Emily Bazelon when he says that aborting “women are preyed upon by fake therapists and religious ‘crusaders’ who offer a diagnosis ‘that gives meaning to the symptoms and gives women a way to repent.’”5
According to Bazelon, abortion is not morally wrong and does not produce long-lasting or severe psychological traumas. She is not concerned about facts that shed light on the subject. Rather, she commits herself to an ideology of pro-abortion choice that requires her to deny the undeniable. One might say that she is “ideologically possessed” rather than “realistically informed.” She denies what science has reported and aborting women have confessed. Further, she denies the fact that in recent years the market for post-abortion counseling has flourished and includes women who have been trying to repress their grief for years.
In his book Graven Images: Substitutes for True Morality (1957), philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand provides an extensive analysis of what he terms “moral value blindness.”6 He uses, to illustrate his point, Raskolnikov, the main character in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Like many people who are pro-abortion, Raskolnikov understands and lives by many values that are truly moral. But his mind is infected by a theory that leads him to believe that killing a pawnbroker, whom he regards as worthless, would be a benefit to mankind. We find a similar kind of thinking among abortion advocates, namely that the preborn are without value and that their demise would be of benefit to aborting women.
Raskolnikov, however, after committing his crime, experiences the horror of his deed and desperately tries to relieve himself of the guilt by trying to find justification in his “superman” philosophy. Likewise, it seems reasonable that a woman who kills her preborn child would also experience a similar kind of remorse. Human beings are not machines. Even in moments of depravity, one’s conscience remains undefeated. One can kill another; it is another thing to kill one’s conscience.
Denying the undeniable is at the heart of the abortion problem. The preborn child is a human being. Abortion does pose risks to women. Defenders of life are not fanatics. This problem, multifaceted as it is, has become very much entrenched in present-day culture. Nothing less than enlisting God’s redeeming grace is required to resolve it.
Post-abortion healing resources
Abortion Changes You
Lumina/Hope & Healing after Abortion
postabortionhelp.org or 877-586-4621
Project Rachel Ministry
rachelsvineyard.org or 877- 467-3463
Silent No More Awareness Campaign
The Healing Light Retreat
hlretreat.weebly.com or 509-554-9415 (confidential voice mail)
1. Karl Stern, The Flight from Woman (Karl Stern: 1965).
2. Judie Brown, “If Aborted Babies Had Voices,” American Life League, July 20, 2021, all.org/judie-brown-commentary/if-aborted-babies-had-voices.
3. Stern, The Flight from Woman.
4. David M. Fergusson, “Abortion in Young Women and Subsequent Mental Health,” Journal of Child Psychology Psychiatry, 2006 Jan;47(1):16-24. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16405636.
5. George McKenna, “The Right That Makes Women Grieve,” Human Life Review, accessed August 25, 2022, humanlifereview.com/is-there-a-post-abortion-syndrome-a-symposium.
6. Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Graven Images: Substitutes for True Morality (McKay, New York, 1957).