55% of Pro-Choice Women Struggle After Abortion. Here’s How One Mother Found Healing.
Although contemporary feminist messaging considers abortion part of women’s “liberation,” a majority of women who identify as pro-choice suffered from worse mental health after an abortion, a new survey has found.
In all, 55% of women who lost a child through abortion and describe their views as “pro-choice” struggled after their abortion, according to statistics gleaned from national surveys conducted by Support After Abortion (SAA) and furnished to The Washington Stand. Only 19% of post-abortive women who supported abortion-on-demand actually sought help, but one-in-three said they would have benefited from talking to someone about their emotions.
The survey data show that abortion is more common than widely recognized. One of the women who regrets her abortion is Karin Barbito, whose teenage abortion led to years of torment, substance abuse, homelessness, and bouts of incarceration.
“I can’t say I was pro-life or pro-choice” when she chose to have an abortion in her freshman year of college, Barbito told The Washington Stand. “All I knew was I was pro-me.”
“I got pregnant the first time I had sex with this boy,” said Barbito, who is now special projects manager at Support After Abortion. “I didn’t have a relationship with God at the time,” so she quickly opted to have an abortion to protect her love affair with the young man.
“I found out on a Wednesday. I had my abortion on Friday, and I was back in class on Monday. I thought that was it: Problem solved.”
Ultimately, that relationship unraveled anyway, in part because they did not address the abortion. Their mutual decision became “a huge elephant in the room that was never talked about, and it created distance between us.” She’s since learned “that’s really common after abortion.”
She later married another man, but the regret of the abortion washed over her anew as she found herself unable to conceive a child. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I ruined the only chance I had to ever become a mom!’”
They attempted to adopt, but after driving several states away, the birth mother changed her mind.
“At that point, I kind of checked out,” Barbito told TWS. “I knew what I had done, and I knew that my life was not going to be how I planned it to be and wanted it to be, because all I ever wanted to be was a mom.”
The loss of her dream inflicted unbearable emotional pain. “I tortured myself for years after that adoption fell through. I was just waiting for menopause, so all hope could be taken off the table,” Barbito shared. “If I was busy at work, I was OK, but once I got home and there was no chatter in my head any more, I couldn’t cope” with “all of those self-defeating thoughts about what I had done, and the shame and the regret, and the negative future that I thought was before me.”
“I began to drink, and I drank a lot,” she said, and her relationship with her husband deteriorated into divorce.
She soon began a relationship with a drug addict, who introduced her to his drug of choice.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday. I felt like I had been tense my whole life, and when I took that first hit, I felt like gravity no longer existed — the deepest high that you could ever have,” she said. From her first experience, “I was off and running. I had a new lover now.”
Data show post-abortion substance abuse is all-too common. After adjusting for other factors, a team of Canadian psychologists found post-abortive women had a 142% higher risk of becoming addicted to alcohol, and 280% greater likelihood of drug dependence attributable to the abortion experience.
Drugs soon consumed her life. “When I was a drug addict, I lost everything,” Barbito shared with TWS. “As my life started spiraling out of control, I lost my job, I lost my home. I had a nice car, but I kept trading down on my cars, so I’d have money.”
She eventually found herself homeless and so desperate for shelter that she would seek ways to get incarcerated to assure she received food and shelter.
Barbito got sober in 2002, earned her college degree, and worked for numerous helping ministries and healing outreaches. She eventually applied for a job at a pregnancy resource center. When her soon-to-be boss learned that Barbito had experienced an abortion, the woman required she receive abortion healing as a condition of employment. Barbito believed she did not need the assistance.
“I said, ‘I’m good.’ I’d been in recovery for 15 years at that point,” Barbito said before entering the program. “Man, I had no idea how not-OK I was.”
“I can without a doubt say if I got connected to healing [sooner after her abortion], I would not have become an alcoholic or drug addict. I did that strictly to cope with my pain,” Barbito declared.
That healing, coupled with her recovery experience of reviewing Bible verses she found impactful every day, renewed her self-image. “I’ve learned today that emotional pain is very temporary, where God provides transformation for a lifetime,” she said. “I can never go back and be that person who I was before. That’s not who I am today.”
But she still struggled one day of the year, even — or especially — around her fellow believers. “I never wanted to go to church on Mother’s Day, because I’m the only woman in the world who’s not standing up,” she said. What felt like exclusion from the holiday “did result in a whole lot of anger,” long after her alcohol and drug rehabilitation were through.
In time, healing through post-abortion counseling helped her overcome the falsehood at the heart of her pain. “The lie that I believed for decades was that I was never going to be a mom. And I’m here today to tell you that I am a mom,” Barbito told TWS. “There are people sitting in that [congregation] who are dying, because they aborted their baby or lost their baby through miscarriage or stillbirth, or maybe they placed [their child] for adoption because they didn’t have the means to raise her.”
Barbito now offers her own testimony, and the psychological principles of loving post-abortive counseling, to anyone who has experienced loss. She began working with the group that became Support After Abortion six-and-a-half years ago and co-authored the healing resource “Unravel the Roots” with Lisa Rowe and Melinda Means.
Barbito has a simple message for anyone who has experienced abortion loss: “Don’t wait,” she said. “Don’t wait the decades that I waited. Don’t learn to cope in unhealthy ways.”
“We’re not going to judge you. We’re going to listen to you. We’re going to help you sort through your emotions and grieve your loss,” including “the loss of the pregnancy, the loss of the child, the loss of the potential, the loss of the relationship. And we want to help you find closure,” Barbito told TWS. After her father’s death, her family left the service “sad, but we also knew we had to come to terms with a new normal,” she said. “It’s the same thing for a woman, or a man, who’s part of an abortion.”
Unfortunately, she said, the demand for supportive counseling after abortion remains high, while supply remains low. In addition to 55% of women, 78% of men who favored abortion-on-demand reported struggling, emotionally or psychologically, after an abortion loss. The government does not require abortionists to report all abortions, but current statistics show as many as “one in seven men may be coping with negative impacts from abortion,” the group found.
SAA’s survey discovered that “only 18% of men and women knew where to go to get help after an abortion if they were struggling,” Barbito told TWS. “What if 100% knew where to go? We would not have the means to be able to serve them all.”
- After Abortion Line: 1-844-289-HOPE (4673)
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.