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I fooled myself

Some women who have an abortion never recover from the experience.

Bernadette is 37 and still attempts to come to terms with the abortion she has 16 years ago. She was 21, carefree and loved life, when she became pregnant. But neither she nor her boyfriend of three years has used contraception. "My immediate feelings were of devastation when I knew I was pregnant. My boyfriend deserted me and told me to get rid of it. I was so full of fear. I could not tell my parents and I thought my career would be ruined."

Bernadette decided the only alternative would be to have an abortion. "I fooled myself into thinking it was just a mass of cells. I only told a couple of friends and my justification always remained. "It was the right thing to do."

Bernadette now looks back on that decision and blames it for ruining her life. She believes that, indirectly, the abortion in her twelfth week of pregnancy at a private at a London clinic caused her to abandon her career in public service, that it was responsible for the break-up of her two marriages and that it put her through two years of hell during which she turned to alcohol.

"Basically, I was on a self-destruct mission. But it was not until years after the abortion that I was bale to face up to what I had done and then realized what I was suffering from was grief. I was mourning my lost baby."

Bernadette is a member of the British Victims of Abortion, a division of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, formed 11 months ago and now backing David Alton's controversial bill, which receives its Second Reading today.

In the past year, more than 100 men, women and even grandparents have contacted the organization, which offers a network of counselors around the country. The callers include women who felt they were forced in some way into having abortions and others who now regret their own decision. Some are men who carry guilt and relatives mourning "lost children".

Because of her own experience, Bernadette now believes that all terminations should be outlawed -- even in cases of gross handicap -- the only exception being when the own mother's life is put at risk from the pregnancy. "This is because I now believe that all life has a right to be born. And, I do not say glibly. I have been through an abortion and I know the suffering it can cause."

Bernadette admits, however, that immediately after the abortion she felt a huge sense of relief. "It was easy but I shall never forget every detail. It was a business deal. The clinic was very impersonal. I tried to cancel the experience form my mind. I even went back to my boyfriend and eventually married, but the abortion had a terrific impact on the relationship."

"I kept asking him if I had kept the child would be have come back to me. In the year we got married, I became pregnant but it was an ectopic pregnancy. I also developed an infection, which meant that I had to have one fallopian tube and an ovary removed. I was told that my other fallopian tube was damaged, which meant that I could never have children. Even then, I denied ever having the abortion to doctors. I couldn't say the word. Whenever it came up, I said "termination".

Her marriage broke up after 13 months. Bernadette comes from a Catholic family and she says: "When I came home from my first marriage. I told my mother what had happened and it nearly destroyed her. She was not looking at it from the God angle, but from seeing a daughter in distress." Two years of unhappiness followed.

"I pressed the self-destruct button. I started to blame everyone." Bernadette gave up her career. "I simply had no values, no sense of self-worth, so I could not continue. I took various different jobs, but I was far too vulnerable, far too screwed up." That period came to an end when Bernadette met her second husband. "Someone prepared to have me."

By some miracle, as Bernadette describes it, she became pregnant and gave birth to her son. This second marriage lasted only six years. "It broke up partly because of my destructive behavior. I became overly possessive. I can link the problems and reasons back to the abortion." But it was this marriage break-up which eventually set Bernadette on the road to understanding her problem. "I turned to Christian counselors specifically because I thought Christians believe that all human life is valuable, so they should not condemn in any way."

This counseling helped Bernadette appreciate that, for years, she had been grieving for her lost baby, but had been unable to response to the grief. "My feeling about the abortion now is, of course, complete regret. I came to realize the abortion solved no problems and the years that followed were wasted years because they should never have been like that."

Bernadette has been divorced for seven years and says she still mourns for her baby. "The loss is something that you never get over, but you can learn to come to terms with it. I will always have that pain. The date of the abortion is firmly fixed because it is the day before my own birthday."

Bernadette feels strongly that the baby aborted was a girl. "That makes it even more reverent regarding woman's rights. The baby had no rights at all. But I have asked her forgiveness in prayer." She will eventually tell her son the whole story. "Although my son is precious to me it does not compensate for the child I lost."

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