About a dozen women gathered in Richmond's Bryan Park yesterday afternoon to pray and talk about a past they had hidden for years.
Their secret: abortion.
Some had had an abortion before it was legal; others had had more than one. For years, the pain, they said, ripped into their souls before they finally found healing in reaching out.
"The fact is, legal or illegal, abortion is bad for women," said Carol Talley of Richmond, who has organized local "Silent No More" abortion-awareness events for the past several years.
"Our abortions have caused us more pain than they solved," said Talley, who gathered in a half circle near the park shelter with the other women and one man for prayer and testimonials. Talley had an abortion more than 30 years ago when she was 16.
The "Silent No More" campaign was started as an outreach by members of Anglican and Catholic ministries and aims to reach out to women who are in emotional pain after having abortions, and to serve as a resource for women who are considering abortion.
Holding posters with "I Regret My Abortion" written in big letters, the women yesterday talked about the circumstances that led them to have an abortion and how it affected their lives. They attracted curious looks from others in the park to ride bikes or walk, but none joined the event.
Susan Burton said she was 17 and new to college when she got pregnant after attending a party where she was drugged and then raped. It was before abortion was legalized nationally.
"I had no idea what to do next," she said. "I was right off the farm."
She had an illegal abortion at 12 weeks, she said, describing it as a "live birth." "They just threw him in a bucket," she said.
"I found forgiveness. It took 30 years of suffering, two marriages and heartache you can't imagine," said Burton, who has two daughters, ages 30 and 18. She said that every April 2 she remembers the son she aborted.
Research on the emotional impact of abortion on women is mixed. A 2004 Swedish study of 58 women four months after they had abortions, and again 12 months after, found that many felt relief. Most of the women reported no postabortion distress, but 12 did report severe emotional distress, the researchers wrote.
A different study followed just more than 400 women for two years after an abortion. The study assessed self-esteem, emotions, decision satisfaction, perceived harm and benefit, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Researchers found that 72 percent of the women said they were satisfied with their decision and 69 percent said they would have the abortion again. Six reported post-traumatic stress disorder. Those who were younger, had more children and a preabortion history of depression were most likely to feel regret.
Some of the women yesterday were only able to discuss their feelings about their abortion after attending a weekend retreat called Rachel's Vineyard, which is designed to help women and men cope with abortion aftereffects.
Kay Marie Geiger and Joseph Geiger run the local Rachel's Vineyard retreats at a local church.
"Through the retreat I was able to give my son and daughter a name," said Shirley Joslin, who had two abortions, the first 37 years ago, the second two years after that. She said she has finally forgiven herself for what she did.
"We have found that abortion is a trauma," Kay Marie Geiger said.
"We need to go beyond making it rare. We need to make it unthinkable."
Contact Tammie Smith at (804) 649-6572 or firstname.lastname@example.org