Interview with David Reardon of the Elliot Institute

Priests for Life

January 01, 1999

P: I am happy to have with us today Dr. David Reardon of the Elliot Institute. He has done a great deal of research in what happens to women and men after abortion, and a great deal of work on the question of how to turn around the tragedy of abortion by focusing on the healing and compassion that we offer to such people. David, welcome.

R: Thank you Father. Glad to be here.

P: Tell us a little bit about the Elliot Institute, and its work.

R: We started out primarily trying just to do research on what women experience after abortions to try to verify, and to prove and give scientific credence to their complaints about how abortion has affected them, especially psychologically. We also look at some of the physical aspects, but most of our work is focused on the psychological. To me it was pretty obvious: If abortion does not help women, why are we killing babies? And I found that a lot of people who consider themselves pro-choice, once they began hearing that, they began thinking, Why are we doing this?, because they are some how able to live with abortion if they think that women are being helped. So I felt that information was very critical.

Now the Elliot Institute has moved more also into trying to educated the Pro-Life movement on the power of the post-abortion information. We also promote post-abortion healing, and giving voice to the women. My role is simply to help bring the voices of the women and men who have experienced these problems after abortion together and in a way that people will hear them and learn from them.

P: Why is it that we would hear some people who defend legal abortion say things like, "Oh well, we don’t see any negative effects of abortion on women. They are relieved after they have this procedure."

R: I suppose there are different reasons for different people.

Some of the people saying that are women who are leaders of national feminist organizations, or reproductive rights organizations, and have had abortions. They are deep in denial and the defensiveness of their abortion, they surround themselves with women saying abortion is a good thing, because they need that support structure. And for them it is very important to be able to explain and to defend what they did -- and to be able to insist that you don’t have a right to judge me. In a certain sense… with a lot of sympathy I understand them.. the reason we see actually hatred sometimes towards pro-lifers is because they feel that we are rubbing their noses into a personal, painful, situation in their lives that they do not want to look back at. They are trying to go forward in their life. And they divert their anger towards us. It’s projection. Instead of looking at their own feelings and dealing with their own feelings, they project all of their anger and hatred towards other people. It is easier to hate others than to reflect on yourself. In fact one psychiatrist, who had an abortion and then watched women at a clinic, wrote a book called, In Necessity and Sorrow. Her name was Magda Denes. She made the point that it was actually easier to rail against the Church, and against society, than to live in a society where everybody says abortion is OK and the Church says abortion is OK -- and then you have to just carry it alone. So it is actually helpful for them to rail against the people who are viewed.. against women’s rights. It gives them a way to divert their anger towards others.

The other aspect, slightly different, would be the abortionist -- those who actually provide abortions. They know it is ugly business, they don’t like it, many of them feel like they are mercenaries. But they have to believe that they are helping women. Any shred of self-respect that they have is based on the notion, "I’m just helping these women." And so that’s why they are so resistant to information about abortion and breast cancer, abortion causing mental problems, -- because if abortion hurts women, we have just been hurting women, and killing babies, and everything we’ve done is not only sad, it’s despicable. So that’s why there is, from these two different factions, this great resistance to any information about how abortion hurts women. It is very obvious at least some women are hurt. And there are these extreme statements from the other side like, "Oh no it doesn’t ever cause that." That is, you know, a totally odd connection with thousands of women who are going through post-abortion healing programs, to say "Oh, they are just guilt trippers." You know that is just unrealistic.

P: Many people think that abortion is a matter of freedom of choice. In reality it is a question of women feeling they have no freedom and no choice. Certainly you have seen that in your research; tell us a little bit more about that.

R: Well I think one of the most compelling things that I learned (and I didn’t expect this when I began the research) … In our study, 56% of the women felt forced (the word we use in the question) by other people…forced by boyfriends, or parents, or doctors sometimes saying "Oh this is what you have to do." So there is all of this pressure from other people. Women may use the excuse when they get to the clinic, well I can’t afford it or I am single, or this other thing, but usually the driving force behind abortion is a relationship problem: Lack of support from parents, from boyfriend, from husband. I make the point when I give pro-life talks that God did not make women to have babies by themselves. He made us to be families. A woman is not supposed to go off on a mountain top and have a baby by herself. It is a very frightening thing to be told by your parents, boyfriend, or others, "If you do this you are on your own." So this is the tremendous pressure that women face. Basically all of their support mechanisms, the people that they rely on, are pulling away and saying, If you don’t have this abortion, we’re not here for you. And many women feel they have to make the sacrifice to please others.

There are other women -- for example, a young teenager who described that she had an abortion simply because she did not want to disappoint her parents by letting them know that she was pregnant. She knew it was wrong, but she thought it would be easier to live with the shame of an abortion than the shame of telling her parents. Obviously it did not turn out that way.

But the problem, from my viewpoint, is that it is OK for people to be ignorant about these things -- what’s criminal is what’s going on in the abortion clinics where they don’t tell these women this is what is going to happen. And this is why you are at high risk suffering all of these problems, because actually we know that 70% of women going in to abortion clinics believe it is morally wrong. They are acting against their conscience because of whatever pressures they faced in the outside world. So that tells us volumes but it also tells us that those women (research is well established) are more likely to have problems. The abortion clinics are getting away with not even screening for that, because they don’t want to know anything, they just want to do the abortion and say goodbye, good luck.

P: As you alluded to earlier, the research that you and others have done in post-abortion phenomena not only tells us something about what the abortion does to the woman, but also tells us something about what the Pro-Life movement needs to do to end abortion. Can you talk a little bit more about how your work has led you to develop a strategy for the pro-life movement which in many ways is new.

R: On the political side we have kind of fallen in to the trap set up by the other side: a choice between helping the baby or helping the woman. Whose rights are more important, the baby or the woman? That’s a false dichotomy. God joined woman and child together in such a way that to help one you have to help the other, if you hurt one you are going to hurt the other. It’s unavoidable.

So we have to be much more vocal in expressing that we care about women not only before they have an abortion when they are pregnant. We care about them after they have had an abortion. We care about women. We want to protect them. If they are going to have an abortion and nobody can stop them, we want to protect them from the abuses of the abortion industry. We’ve got to show the American people that we are more pro-woman than the pro-abortionists…that we care more about them and their babies. And so I use the analogy that a marathon runner couldn’t win a race breathing only with one lung. And sometimes the pro-life movement breathes with one lung for the baby -- but we need to breath with both lungs. One lung for the baby, one for the woman. Together they are a package and we have to care about both.

Now we are kind of actually in a situation where we have to play catch-up. We have focused so much on the baby before -- and I am not saying that we shouldn’t focus on the baby or that we shouldn’t talk about it -- sometimes people misconstrue what I say and think I am saying we should only talk about the women. No that is not it at all. But actually as we help women find healing, they are going to be far more effective talking for their babies than I am. I can talk about the scientific facts that a heart beats at three weeks and certainly that’s true, but what is more important, what converts hearts better, is when a woman or a man who lost a baby says "my baby died in that abortion." That ownership, that giving of personhood to it by their statements and their familiar connection is much more powerful in waking up the nation to a real tragedy going on here. Our nation has hardened it’s heart to the baby. As I alluded to before, the average person out there in the mushy middle of America dislikes abortion, wishes it would be rare like Clinton says, and that is the genius of his statement. But they have hardened their hearts to the baby because they think at least women are being helped. Polls show that over 80% of American people believe abortion is the taking of a human life. But still they tolerate abortion. Why? Because they think abortion helps women. So as we educate them about how abortion hurts women, it changes the whole equation in their minds. Their heart can soften now. This is why even pictures of aborted babies -- people harden their hearts to it because "I have already made up my mind, I’m for the woman." And so we have got to talk on what they are concerned about, the woman … and help them see, well, don’t you at least agree we should protect women from being pressured in unwanted abortions? Well yeah. Well shouldn’t we make sure that women are screened for risk factors so they don’t end up being hurt afterwards? Well yeah. So we can move them along slowly. And in that process their heart will thaw and they become more concerned about the women.

In promoting post-abortion healing, and this is the real dynamo of this whole thing, as more and more women find healing, they go out and they invite more women to find healing. And they spread hope. These women then begin speaking out in public, they talk to mom and dad who previously said, "I am not going to be against abortion because Suzy had an abortion and I love Suzy; she must have had a good reason." But when Suzy comes back and says abortion devastated my life, it was the worst thing I ever did -- now mom and dad are no longer shackled into silence; they are free to be against abortion. So in a certain sense we couldn’t have done all this stuff early on. But because of the tragedy, we've got 25 million women or more in this country who have had abortions, and a similar number of men. The potential of post-abortion healing bringing forward hundreds of thousands of millions, tens of millions of people, can rapidly change the whole dynamic of the abortion debate in this country. And I am really confident that we will see an end to abortion within the decade.

P: I have the same kind of confidence. In traveling the nation as I have also done, I see the situation unfolding whereby the lies upon which abortion is based are collapsing under their own weight and under the weight of the evidence of those, as you say, who have experienced this pain and tragedy now beginning to speak out in greater numbers than ever before. What is the role as you see it, of the Church, particularly of the clergy, in caring out this strategy that you have outlined for us focusing on the healing of those who have suffered from having had an abortion?

R: When we think of sermon on abortion there is a tendency to think of a ‘thou shalt not" sermon. Abortion is an evil, it’s destroying a human life, thou shalt not. Ah.. and that’s true. But the balance of that is that God’s mercy is so great and loving, and embracing to those who get caught in this trap. We need to understand the diabolical aspects that trap people in this, and keep people from healing. We need as a Church to really emphasize more and more an outreach in post-abortion healing. We have programs like Project Rachel, still a little known part of the Church activity. My advice and my advocacy is that we need to make post-abortion healing a very high priority within the Church. We have to defuse this notion that we are only "fetus-lovers" and don’t care about women. We care about the women, we care about them before abortions, and we care about them afterwards. And they are never separated from us in our hearts and in our desire to help them find healing. We have to build up a sense of hope and understanding that there is healing. You do not have to be afraid. And it is a scary thing to go through, and many don’t want to deal with it, don’t want to confront it. But we've got to bring forward the women and men who have been through the process and let them share their joy. There is so much joy after mourning and through the healing and coming back into the Church, and receiving the Sacraments with joy, and being free of the secret.

And so there is a tremendous opportunity and I think it is a great evangelization opportunity for the Church. So many women and men who have been involved in abortions. Once they find healing that peace that they have been seeking…it can be infectious and it is also life transforming. They have been into the pit, they have seen evil, they have stared evil in the face. And they don’t want any part of it in the future. We talk about the need for spiritual revival in this country. Ironically I think that God has allowed this evil of abortion to be the tilling of the soil, the breaking of souls that will bring about the healing. One of the Psalms we read says a broken and humble, contrite heart the Lord will not despise. And this is what abortion does to people, it breaks them, it humbles them. The greatest threat in all sin of course is having excuses. And as people realize I am going to throw aside my excuses and cling to the Cross, that is where they find the healing and the life transforming power of Christ.

P: Can you tell us briefly about the publications you have written and how people might be able to obtain your books?

R: O.k. The one that talks about the strategic aspect of this -- how post-abortion issues can really change the whole debate -- is called Making Abortion Rare: A healing strategy for a divided nation. My argument is three pronged: pastorally, through education, and through political processI kind of took Clinton’s words and said this is how we really can make abortion rare. And I mean very, very rare.

And then the other book which reflects the pastoral aspect of that is called the Jericho Plan. That is a book specifically designed for people who want to promote post-abortion healing, and especially for pastors as to how they can preach on abortion in a way that invites healing and draws people in to things like Project Rachel and post-abortion healing programs. We are not expecting every priest or pastor to become an expert in post-abortion counseling but they are really the spigot which will open up the floodgates to healing. Because as they preach from the pulpit a message of healing and understanding, and help their church members realize how you can help people in your family who need post-abortion healing. And your obligation to do that. And how we can all be compassionate and how we need to wear our compassion on our sleeve. By doing that we can change our church communities to be an environment that is real conducive towards post-abortion healing. And as you have mentioned before, the role of the Church is really very important. It’s our most powerful avenue towards opening the floodgates for post-abortion healing.

P: Well it is quite evident that our mission at Priests for Life, and the work that you just described are logically and pastorally and spiritually very, very much intertwined. We look forward to continuing our cooperation with you and spreading this message to every level of the Church -- that yes indeed we love the woman as much as the child. You can’t love one without loving the other; you can’t hurt one without hurting the other.

I want to thank you for promoting this message so vigorously, so effectively, and backed up by so much research. Why don’t we pray for the women who are hurting right now from abortion, and for the ministers of the Gospel that they may reach these women with the compassion and healing of Christ. Lord we thank you for dying on the Cross and shedding your blood, for by your stripes we are healed. Bless your Church. Bless your Church that suffers and bless your Church that heals. Bless the work of Dr. David Reardon and his associates, bless the work of Priests for Life, and help us together with the entire Church to advance this message of compassion and to bring in the day of life and of love, the culture of life, the kingdom of love, which you yourself have willed. For you are Lord, forever and ever. Amen.

R: Amen.

P: Thanks so much for the work you do, and thanks so much for being with us on the show.

R: Thank you Father.

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