Thoughts for Today Jan. 9, 2017

Lena Dunham and her shaming of post-abortion women

You have to give Lena Dunham credit: she knows how to provoke a national discussion. Her latest foray into things that deserve more careful consideration than she gives them was her recent thoughtless commentary on women who have had abortions. “Now I can say that I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.” the activist/actress noted. According to Dunham’s logic, a woman should feel perfectly fine about her abortion procedure –  it’s not really any different from, say, having a tooth pulled. Ironically, instead of helping women come to terms with their actions (her stated intent), Dunham’s statement further stigmatizes women who truly suffer after an abortion experience, essentially silencing them – because who would seek help for – or even bother to discuss — something with no stigma?

Dunham claimed that her comments were meant to take away the “stigma” surrounding abortion, yet her remarks did nothing more than to increase the stigma – and cause triggering pain — for women who have had the procedure and desperately wish they hadn’t. And there’s more than a fair number of Lena Dunhams out there telling post-abortive women that they should NOT feel guilty, sad, depressed or –most of all—regretful.

Just a few days before Dunham’s remarks were made, a new “longitudinal” study was released by the Journal of the American Medical Association’s publication Psychiatry that concluded that women who have had abortions are, five years later, perfectly fine and not suffering any emotional or psychological trauma. Yet, as those who have for decades worked in the field of post-abortion trauma have often noted, women don’t generally begin to come to terms with their abortion experiences for 10-20 years following the procedure, not a mere five years later. (As one expert said to me, “Since when is five years a longitudinal study?”) And when they do come to terms with it, what they report is heartbreaking: anxiety, regret, depression, suicidal ideation, and physical complications ranging from infertility to an increased risk of breast cancer.

So as much as Dunham might have hoped to help women who have had abortions, she in fact did just the opposite. By minimizing the real emotional, spiritual, and physical ramifications of aborting one’s child, Dunham forces into the shadows those who might otherwise have sought help, shaming them into silence.

Let’s hope she’ll one day say not that she wished she’d had an abortion, but rather that she regrets ever saying that she did. And perhaps also offering an apology to women who have had them couldn’t hurt, either.

Mary Hallan FioRito

Cardinal Francis George Visiting Fellow