A review of Giving Sorrow Words. By Melinda Tankard Reist.

Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000.

In any cultural battle, truth, or the lack of it, will strongly determine the outcome. In the battle over abortion, truth has largely been hidden. Simple truths, like abortion kills human beings, babies have no choice in the matter, and women grieve deeply over their abortions, are not being heard. This last suppressed truth – women’s grief – is the subject of this powerful new book. At last, the truth is being told. And we need to listen carefully.

Canberra writer Melinda Tankard Reist has performed an invaluable service to the Australian community in general, and to women in particular, in marshalling the damning evidence found in this book. The evidence is not in the form of mere statistics or arguments. The evidence is more compelling – it is the actual words of women who have been hurt, and hurt deeply, by their abortions. These testimonies make a mockery of the many lies and half-truths heard so often in the abortion debate.

The editor of these stories admits that she was surprised by the responses. Not surprised at the grief expressed, but surprised at the number of responses.  Several small ads in women’s magazines and several letters to newspaper editors resulted in some 250 women sharing with Melinda their most private and painful stories. This book is a collection of some of those stories. Eighteen full accounts are recorded, as well as the experiences of over 200 other women. The result is a book which should move any reader to tears, and to anger. Tears, at how profoundly women have suffered – physically, emotionally and psychologically – and anger, at how much deception and cover up surrounds the abortion industry and its supporters.

Consider but a few stories. Elizabeth, who had an abortion in 1973, still grieves today:

“The aftermath was a numbness I hadn’t anticipated. I was numb, hollow, dead, and so very heavy with sorrow. The feelings didn’t ‘go with time’ as my delighted mother assured me they would. I grew morose, bitter, very sad, so heavy with sadness, I can’t describe it. I became very different – cheap – I’d sleep with almost anyone. I drank heavily. I didn’t care what happened to me and I tried several times to commit suicide. For ten years this went on. I cried every day, I stayed as drunk as I could for as long as I could, and I hated myself and everyone else. I used to dream about the child I’d lost … I wanted my child. I loved it, cherished it, yearned for its birth, missed it when it was taken from me, and to this day, twenty-six years later, feel the tragic heaviness of loss. My only consolation is that one day when I die our souls may reunite.”

Jane from Melbourne had an abortion when she was 19:

“I still get emotional when I see young children, especially young babies. I look at them and think, ‘I killed one of you’ … I’ve always wish I kept it. Would it be a boy or a girl, what would I call her/him, would he/she look like me? I even recorded the day my baby was due to be born on my calendar. I wish I had done what I wanted to do about my pregnancy, not what everyone else wanted me to do. After all it was inside me, it was part of me. And now I have to live with this guilt for the rest of my life.”

These and other stories should forever put to rest the lie that abortion is a simple procedure, much like having one’s tonsils removed. And it should put to rest the lie that women can deny their deepest emotional and maternal instincts, and pretend that what they have done has no consequences or impact.

Other issues emerge from these moving stories. One is the lack of information given to most women when counselled into an abortion. The lack of full disclosure, the misleading information about ‘blobs of tissue’ and the like, amount to little more than coercion. Women are just not being offered genuine choice.

Another common feature of these stories is that many of the women really wanted the baby, but those around them – parents, partners, bosses, abortion counsellors, etc. – in effect coerced them into having the abortion. As Melinda Tankard Reist notes, “We hear a lot about ‘unwanted pregnancy’ but nothing about ‘unwanted abortion’.” Whether peer pressure or financial constraint, there are many reasons given as to why a woman should choose an abortion. But where are the voices which say, ‘keep the child’?

For all the feminist’s rhetoric about a ‘women’s right to choose’, for many women having an abortion, choice was largely absent, at least their own choice. Other people’s choices were instead made paramount. As Germaine Greer, quoted by Melinda Tankard Reist, has put it: “Abortion is the last in a long list of non-choices”.

What will help in the attempt to provide women with genuine choice is truth. This book offers truth in the abortion debate which is seldom heard elsewhere. Melinda Tankard Reist is to be congratulated for making this truth known. And the courageous women who have shared their very personal and very private lives with us need also to be thanked. Their stories may well save many lives in the future.

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