Prochoice? Prolife? Abortion has been caught in the political tug of war in the United States for decades. Legal questions have their place most certainly, but one of the most powerful journeys I have taken since being introduced to the work of Bert Hellinger has been with regard to another way of thinking about issues that are among the most polarizing. When we really look at everyone involved in abortion, it is clear that the political level of discussion cheats everyone out of being able to access all possibility, all potential. Trapped in the dichotomous discussion of prochoice or prolife, the essential truths slip away.
The ending of a life is on a certain level beyond. On the one hand, the physical functioning of a person can be shut down, but once introduced the energy of being cannot simply be snuffed out. We have rituals for coping with the departure from our life of people who die as adults or even as children, however their death comes. We have rituals to attempt to hold the dual sense of absence and presence, of what is and what was. We tend to know how to support one another in these difficult times, and we know that we may have to seek special emotional assistance if the person who died was close to us. Abortion is a matter of life and death with little in place to help us face it, as individuals, as a community.
It is interesting that abortion is often felt as a personal experience when in fact it involves many people. The loss is a loss for everyone, most obviously for the child, but also for the parents, grandparents who have lost a grandchild, for ancestors who have lost a descendant. When we hold this image, the landscape of the question becomes immediately wide, not just two points on some conversational spectrum. Grief, guilt, anger, all thunder beneath the surface of what is officially known. When left unchecked, the impact on the system is powerful, the ripples reaching out in all directions.
Bert Hellinger has talked about the rarely considered effects on the surviving children, for example. The living child was allowed to be born based on timing: circumstances have improved, the mother is more mature, whatever. This child gets to live; his or her sibling did not. The living child is naturally drawn to the sphere of the sibling, while being completely dependent on a mother who is not trusted. It is the draw of secrets, of the deep subliminal knowledge that all members of the system have. The tangle of reactions and feelings, of behaviors and repercussions, will take years, or maybe forever, to unknot.
Is there a way to work with abortion that brings peace to the family? The place to start is to envision the entire family, everyone with the same right to belong, everyone acknowledged. Sounds simple, but this is not a portrait we often allow ourselves to see, let alone encourage others to. People are left out for many reasons, deemed by the group to be unworthy somehow; aborted children rarely even get this level of consideration. They are pushed out of consciousness, usually immediately. Sometimes they fall into the untenable prison of parental guilt where they are still not visible ‒ except as projections of regret, itself an illusion. But calling forth this portrait, with every member present, in and of itself brings a level of calm to the system. The presence of absence brought to awareness.
I ended this person’s life. This is a powerful statement. As frightening as it is to give words to, the statement is actually freeing. It allows all levels of being to come back into alignment. The tension required to reject the truth is enormous, so admission is a vast opening. The realignment strengthens the speaker’s ground, allows her to come back into some amount of integrity. More important, the listener, the child, breathes a sigh of relief. The admission is acknowledgment. Negation is the greatest violence.
Resolution follows from this essential first step. And resolution includes the fact that there is no “resolution” per se. Along with the admission of responsibility, there must be the acknowledgment that there is no fix, no way to balance the loss – no ritual, no planting of flowers, no form of self-punishment, no prayer, nothing that undoes this decisive action. Bringing that to awareness is also a relief. After all, it is already known in the deepest pockets of our being. Again, more important, for the child, we can imagine that this extension of admission is good; it is an extension of the acknowledgment of his or her existence.
For the living children, we can imagine that if the mother carries the full weight, they get to be truly innocent, truly free to live. She carries it all, she looks with a steady gaze, she grieves; they no longer have to. Oddly, she also becomes more trustworthy for them. She is taking care now of all of her children.
Beyond this full engagement with responsibility, the ways in which something good is done is within the purview of the mother. The first steps are clear and common to anyone who has had an abortion, they are the steps taken toward love and with love; the steps that follow are private, quiet, humble, far from the public eye.
With this adjustment in our seeing, a widening of our view to encompass even those who remind us of the frailty and imperfection of humanity, prochoice and prolife become aspects of the same sphere. Imagine if the two phrases came from the same mouths, spoken with ease and in harmony. How might we care for all those at the age to bear children? How might we care for all children? Within this sphere of prolife-prochoice, all would be protected, celebrated, and supported.