November 24, 2017

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP: Homily for the Memorial Mass for the Unborn

PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“I pull a Kleenex from its box and hand it to Stevie Nicks. She wipes a tear as it slides down her cheek. She cries… when she speaks of the babies she might have had.”[1]

Thus begins a 1992 interview given by the 5-foot-1 ‘Queen of Rock’n’roll’, Stevie Nicks, to Vox Magazine’s Spencer Bright. Known for her unique voice, her flowing clothes, her mystical visual style, and the symbolism in her lyrics, as a member of Fleetwood Mac and as a solo artist she has produced over 40 top-50 hits and sold over 140 million records.

In the interview Nicks spoke frankly of her abortions, tearfully admitting that “to give up four babies is to give up a lot that would be here now. So that really bothers me, a lot, and really breaks my heart. But, they’re gone.” More recently, Nicks has admitted that one of her most popular songs, Sara, refers to the name she gave one of her unborn, aborted children.[2] Though this is not all the song is about, Sara is a poignant look at the acute sorrow Nicks—and many other women today—feel after choosing to end the life of their child.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP kneels and prays before 77 candles on the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, on August 30. The candles represented the average number of unborn children lost to abortion each day in NSW. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Not long after Sara was released in 1979, Nicks spiralled out of control, losing herself to hard drugs and heavy alcohol, not to mention a string of volatile and upsetting relationships, ending with her checking herself into a rehab centre in 1986. It’s an all-too-common story. In 2010 the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry published research that found that women who aborted were more than three times more likely to abuse drugs, more likely to have mood and anxiety issues, and more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions.[3] This supported research provided two years earlier by Kaeleen Dingle from the University of Queensland, who tracked 1,122 women from birth till their 21st birthday, concluding that women who had had an abortion were more than three times more likely to use hard drugs, twice as likely to be binge drinkers, and nearly twice as likely to suffer depression.[4]

I could go on quoting similar research, but the results are much the same. While the intentional killing of each unborn child is an individual travesty, the cause and effect between abortion and trauma is complex, as is personal moral responsibility. But we should be in no doubt that the tragedy of abortion affects more than the child who dies. Some have said that some part of the mother dies as well. And of the father. And of the medical profession that enables it. And of the society that condones it …

This conclusion runs directly contrary to the slogans and simplistic thinking promoted in our community with respect to this issue – and so many others. One approach has been to pretend that abortion is safe and easy, the most natural thing in the world, commonplace and inconsequential. The other is to treat it as a uniquely malicious act, in which the most innocent person on earth is annihilated by being shredded alive.

The first is a lie because, as Stevie Nicks and millions of other women will testify, the wound runs deep and pretending away the moral gravity or silencing the suffering women is no help. But the second response is also wrong, since the tendency to seek the quick fix and to resort to violence runs deep in all of us as Jesus makes clear in our Gospel passage tonight when He talks about whited sepulchres and violent hearts (Mt 23:27-32). And the effects are, as I’ve already suggested, more far-reaching than might first appear. While we take comfort in God’s promise that He will never forget his children and confidently entrust the deceased unborn to His all-merciful hands, we recognize that there is no such comfort for many who are left behind, who like Rachel “weep because her children are no more” (Jer 31:15; Mt 2:18). The same pressures that drive a woman to such desperate straits – coercion, abandonment, despair, depression, ideology – all these are still there after the abortion, eating away at her heart but with a new grief and guilt added. And for all-too-many it’s a vicious cycle, with multiple abortions and other kinds of self-destruction along the way…

Archbishop Fisher described the Catholic school students at the event – a fixture of Catholic Schools’ annual Life Week – as a great hope for the future. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Which means the Church must be there before abortion occurs, offering an alternative, offering any woman who feels threatened by her pregnancy every comfort and support. We have to make sure women have a real alternative, not just in theory, but through praying for and walking with those mothers brave enough to risk a choice for life and through working to build a culture of life and love in which killing the little ones is unthinkable rather than commonplace.

If there is an important role for the Christian community in preventing abortion, there is likewise a place for us even after the fact. When there’s nobody else to turn to, when no-one will validate her pain, a woman who has suffered the trauma of abortion must be comfortable turning to us. She must know that we are there for her, with nothing but sympathy, and ashamed of our community that so let her down. We must make ourselves the sort of people to whom a grieving woman might turn without fear of judgement, rather than turning to drugs and alcohol that will only exacerbate her problem…

PTSD after abortion is one of the most underdiagnosed, unaddressed, untreated fields of contemporary mental health care;[5] post-abortion guilt is probably one of the most underconfessed, uncounselled, unabsolved areas of contemporary pastoral care. There is a place for us to offer comfort and hope as an antidote to that yearning sorrow expressed in Stevie Nicks’ Sara:

All I ever wanted
was to know that you were dreaming
There’s a heartbeat and it never really died…

NOTES

[1] Spencer Bright, “Come Into My Parlour: Interview with Stevie Nicks”, Vox Magazine, February 2017 1992

[2] Rob Tannenbaum, “Stevie Nicks Admits Past Pregnancy With Don Henley and More About Her Wild History”, Billboard, 26 September 2014 http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/6266329/stevie-nicks-interview-on-don-henley-fleetwood-mac-24-karat-gold-album; Ben Johnson, “Stevie Nicks confirms she wrote song about baby she aborted with Don Henley”, LifeSite News, 29 September 2014, https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/stevie-nicks-confirms-she-wrote-hit-song-about-baby-she-aborted-with-don-he

[3] N.P. Mota et al., “Associations Between Abortion, Mental Disorders and Suicidal Behavior in a Nationally Representative Sample,” The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 55(4) (2010), 239-47; “Abortion Risks: A list of major psychological complications related to abortion”, http://afterabortion.org/2011/abortion-risks-a-list-of-major-psychological-complications-related-to-abortion/

[4] Dingle et al., “Pregnancy loss and psychiatric disorders in young women: an Australian birth cohort study’, The British Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 193 (2008), 452-454

[5] V. M. Rue et al., “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women”, Medical Science Monitor, Vol. 10 (2004), SR5-16

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