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Acknowledge the hidden grief of abortion

By Alison Campbell Rate - posted Thursday, 4 September 2008

Grief Awareness Week was celebrated around Australia during the month of August. We don’t automatically think of celebrating grief. Given the choice, most of us would do anything to avoid it. The pain of losing someone you love is, as I heard one bereaved mother put it, like the elephant’s foot on your chest. Heavy, unyielding, suffocating.

Grief is an experience which, like all other tough times, provides opportunities for personal growth and increases our empathy for others in like situations. Generally we recognise this after the first fierce flame of anguish has died down and we have regained some equilibrium.

The things that can help us on this journey from crippling pain to personal growth are family and community support for our grief, acknowledgement that what we feel is real and normal, the outwards signs and symbols that mark the passing of the loved one we mourn and the memories we carry forwards into the rest of life. Where these elements are in place, it is easier to make the journey towards resolution.


But what about where there is no family or community support for your grief, no acknowledgement that the pain you feel is real and normal, no outward rituals to mark your loss, and no memories of your loved one to take with you into the rest of your life?

Grief Awareness Week 2008 comes at a time when the Victorian Parliament is considering the bill to legalise abortion.

Abortion related grief is a victim of the politicisation of the abortion issue. The drive to legislate for legal abortion on demand has for decades ridden roughshod over the experiences of women who grieve the loss of aborted children. Their grief is not acknowledged, is often belittled as stemming from pre-existing problems and they are left unsupported and alone to “get on with it”. The abortion industry relies on maintaining this stunning silence.

With, on average, one in three Australian women having an abortion in their lifetime, the potential numbers of women - and men - suffering the effects of disenfranchised grief are enormous. They carry these wounds into their future relationships, marriages, and parenting experiences.

What is it like for them? “Sally” told of uncontrollable weeping, nightmares about babies crying, avoidance of friends with babies and, later, an obsession with baby shops. Her partner, who urged her to have the abortion for the good of their relationship, abandoned her two weeks later - another grief to bear.

“Liz” told of feelings of extreme rage towards her mother and boyfriend who had both urged her to have the abortion so she could “get back to normal”. She feels she will never be “normal” again. Her VCE year is in tatters. All her thoughts are for the baby she wishes she still had. Her thoughts have been suicidal.


“Tony” told of the baby he and his then girlfriend aborted over 20 years ago. He is now the father of other children and the thought of his first child haunts him daily.

“Ross” told of how he and his wife, desperate to have a child, conceived triplets by IVF, panicked at how they would cope and were offered a “selective reduction” of the fetuses by their doctor. Appalled at the thought of choosing which would live and which would die, this conflicted, panic stricken, under-supported couple had all three babies aborted. Their grief is boundless.

These are just a few examples out of many clients we have seen at Open Doors since 1984. They may come weeks, months, even years after the abortion. They often express a belief that they are not worthy of help because they chose the abortion. They relate how the depth of their grief took them by surprise; they were unprepared by the abortion provider that this may be their experience. They couldn’t talk to anyone about how they were feeling. No one was aware of the pain and loss they were living with daily. They just wanted to talk about their child.

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About the Author

Alison Campbell Rate is the Executive Director (Hon) of Open Doors Counselling and Educational Services, Ringwood, Victoria. Open Doors provides specialist counselling services for crisis pregnancy and pregnancy loss, as well as value-based sexuality education resources for primary and secondary schools. Email:

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