How the Experience of Abortion Can Keep Women and Men Trapped in Abusive Relationships

How the Experience of Abortion Can Keep Women and Men Trapped in Abusive Relationships


By Kevin Burke, LSW

In her groundbreaking book Forbidden Grief, Rachel’s Vineyard founder Theresa Burke, Ph.D. shares how abortion can impact relationships.  She draws from her clinical experience as a counselor and group facilitator with thousands of women and men with past abortions. 

While some women feel forced to have abortions to escape entanglement with an abusive partner, others are drawn to abusive relationships in the aftermath of the procedure. 

Dr. Burke writes about her client Casey:

In many cases…an abortion may compel women to stay in a flawed relationship because they no longer believe that they deserve anything better.

According to Casey:

“I felt if I didn’t marry my aborted baby’s father, no one else would want me because of what I’d done. My sense of unworthiness increased, and my ability to do the “right thing” in raising a child was in question. My husband was abusive, but I felt he was treating me as I deserved. My abortion made me feel like dirt, and I allowed others to walk all over me.”

[Casey] didn’t believe that she deserved better treatment or a better relationship. This made her more dependent on the relationship…and therefore more tolerant of the abuse that followed.

Her need for punishment left her exposed to her husband and others who were continually aggravating her painful emotional wounds. By becoming a perpetual victim, Casey recreated the helpless, depressed emotional state that had accompanied her abortion.

By the time she entered a program for healing after abortion, there was nothing of her marriage left to salvage. Only after she was freed from the guilt and shame of her abortion experience, was she able to leave her abusive husband.  (Forbidden Grief: Chapter 16)

I can confirm in my own experience over the last 25 years with Rachel’s Vineyard and the Silent No More Awareness Campaign that abortion can leave some women (and men) vulnerable to staying in abusive relationships.   

Most men do not express their pain after abortion by abusing women, or engaging in criminal activity. However some men can channel their own complicated feelings of powerlessness and loss related to a past abortion, and other emotional wounds, into anger and rage directed at partners and others. 

Men can also direct their powerful emotions into impulsive, high-risk behaviors.  [I write about this dynamic among men with abortion loss in the prison population in my book, Tears of the Fisherman.]  Any aggression and violence toward others is of course unjust and hurts and traumatizes innocent victims.  It is also a self-destructive way to channel that pain.

Breaking Free

There is freedom from the self-destructive cycles of abuse that can sometimes follow an abortion, or multiple abortions.   

 Retreat weekends like Rachel’s Vineyard welcome women, men and couples.  The program, along with ongoing counseling and support, can help people move toward healthier relationships with self, others and God.  Here’s information on healing programs for abortion loss for women and men in your area.

  The Men and Abortion Network is an excellent resource offering a network of mentors and counselors for men hurting after abortion.  A male support group format like Project Joseph and Save One are also good programs to explore.  

Grief to Grace is another retreat program developed by Theresa Burke for survivors of abuse.  You can learn more about Grief to Grace here

On Her Way

Here’s an original song I wrote and recorded with musician and producer Henry Gennaria about Maria, and her story of abuse after abortion. She came from a troubled family, and as a teenager became more promiscuous, and attracted to dangerous men. 

Maria became intimate with a notorious drug dealer.  When she became pregnant she was initially excited about being a mother.  But her partner convinced her to have an abortion.

She was deeply wounded by the experience, and in the aftermath of the procedure, the relationship with her partner became more contentious and abusive.  She realized that if she didn’t’ get away from him, he was going to destroy her; body, heart and soul. 

Her liberation ultimately comes from the One who will never exploit and abuse her, and calls her back to His forgiveness and peace. 


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