If abortion poses a risk to women, then why are some people so offended when others point it out? Why do some even become angry, accusing those who highlight this connection of bullying and vilifying people? Is it really concern over bullying that drives such outrage? Or is the outrage just a front for the opposition to any negative press for abortion?
As some readers may know, Charlotte Dawson, a model and celebrity born in New Zealand but who lived in Australia, was recently found dead in her home in Sydney. Her tragic death was a suicide. Charlotte battled depression and had also endured a very public battle with internet bullies. People are awful beyond words sometimes.
In her autobiography, she revealed that in 1999 she had become pregnant to her (now ex) husband, and Olympic athlete. Not wanting a baby to get in the way of her husband’s Olympic aspirations, she had an abortion. According to her, this triggered her first encounter with depression.
Fast forward to the present day. Fred Nile of the Christian Democratic party in Australia posted a comment on Facebook that highlighted this connection that Charlotte had drawn. He referred to it as “the poignant story” that is “left unmentioned in many obituaries.” I can understand why it is not mentioned in obituaries, since obituaries are not really the place for analysis of what led to a person’s depression. But it’s a connection that, although evidently important to Charlotte, many stories about her battle with depression are leaving out altogether, instead focusing only on her struggles against those who bullied and taunted her online.
Facebook discussions on popular public pages are, of course, a bit of an ugly beast. Pretty much anyone can say anything, and moderating or guiding any discussion there is a bit like herding cats. But one person in particular took considerable umbrage at the fact that Mr Nile dared to make this comment in public. One Angela Williams wrote an open letter to him about it. OK, no big deal. People criticise public figures all the time. But because this person was offended by a comment on Facebook, a news website, followed by others, started running with the headline that Mr Nile’s comment had provoked “outrage” and “disgust.” This is a news story? Apparently it is. So I found and read the open letter, which you can read here.
Having read the letter, I conclude that it’s a sad indictment on many of our media outlets that such an outburst is even newsworthy. But given that this is precisely how shallow many of them are, and given that (apparently) even ill-thought-out tirades masquerading as genuine concern are newsworthy, hopefully my slightly more reserved and dignified open letter to one Angela Williams will be deemed worthy of being read by at least some people too:
I think you know this, but let me say right up front what is going on here: Your outrage is not real. You are not angry about Christians “bullying” Charlotte after she is dead. Indeed, to even momentarily pretend that your tirade was motivated by concern over bullying is an insult to those who care deeply about the awful consequences of bullying and who cope with its aftermath. In light of your own past that you publicly disclosed, you belittle the effects the abuse and bullying that you suffered by equating the concern of Mr Nile and others with such behaviour.
The truth about what is going on here is twofold, and it is tacitly acknowledged by you in your online display of anger. Firstly, you disagree with Mr Nile and with most Christians about the morality of abortion. You think that the push for legal restrictions of the killing of the unborn constitutes a “nefarious agenda to own and use the bodies of Australian women,” because you think this amounts to telling you what you can do with your body. It restricts your freedom, and is therefore an evil campaign. Mr Nile’s post was in support of a cause that you resent, and so you lashed out. This is a terrible oversimplification of the abortion issue.
What do you genuinely think that opponents of abortion have to gain by “controlling” your body? What’s in it for them?
Secondly, you were once part of a religious community, and you suffered abuse without receiving the assistance you needed. Of course this is a terrible thing and I can only imagine what it was like. Do not assume that people like Mr Nile would not sincerely wish that things had been different for you. I do not know you, but I am truly sorry that you endured physical abuse, especially if it was justified to you by those from whom you sought help. But that is, with respect, simply not relevant to whether or not abortion has the potential to seriously harm women. Unfortunately your suffering appears to be writing your story of anger against every concern that is dear to those whom you now hold in contempt. You suffered while you identified with conservative religious people, and so as part of crucifying your former religious self, conservative religious people, along with everything they believe in and stand for, are now the enemy that you must publicly burn, dissociating yourself from them with a vengeance. With respect, you are belittling the seriousness of what you suffered by using it as a nothing more than a cudgel, thinking that it somehow legitimises your anger at people who simply do not share your view on the value of the life of the unborn. As an aside, it was remarkably callous of you to refer in this context to Mr Nile’s late wife Elaine as “your ex-wife.” But I get it. Mr Nile opposes abortion and dares to mention something that appears to challenge your freedom, so he worthy of even the least respect from you, or so it appears. [EDIT: To your credit, after I had commented on it, you removed this comment. Thank you.] How ironic that, in the aftermath of the terrible effects of a public figure being viciously attacked online by her detractors, you should do a thing like this.
Angela, let us not pretend you are worried that the observation made by Mr Nile (actually, the observation was made by Charlotte Dawson) is factually mistaken. You don’t state that it is, and as you may be aware, there is credible evidence that what Charlotte said is true: There is a link between abortion and mental health, and as Mr Nile observes, it is a side of stories like this that is generally overlooked. You are welcome to read more about this yourself (this is a link to some of that research, published in the British Journal of Psychology). In brief:
Women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81% increased risk of mental health problems, and nearly 10% of the incidence of mental health problems was shown to be attributable to abortion. The strongest subgroup estimates of increased risk occurred when abortion was compared with term pregnancy and when the outcomes pertained to substance use and suicidal behaviour.
Could it really be true that if a link like this exists, a link with potentially tragic consequences, you think that people should remain quiet about it? That the deaths of those affected should not prompt a public conversation about the harm done?
Should we overlook a potentially serious and long-term harm done to the mental health of women so that you can feel more in control of your body and free of the “nefarious” agenda of those who want to do something about it?
Charlotte Dawson claimed that her own experience of having her child aborted for the sake of her husband’s career triggered the onset of depression. Nobody forced her to say this. It was voluntarily disclosed, and evidently made a serious impact on her. It is, as Mr Nile observed, poignant. It is tragic at many levels. You might think that she was wrong about this, but you never say so. To suggest that for Mr Nile to highlight this connection amounts to perpetuating “bullying” is to trivialise Charlotte’s feelings about what she went through. This is the way that she saw things connected. It is remarkable to me that anyone would think that Mr Nile’s fairly mildly stated observation amounts to opportunism or irresponsibility. There are people with an on-going concern about bullying. They often speak out about it and draw attention to it. They do this because they think that bullying hurts people. They even have the audacity to “use” Charlotte’s tragic death as the opportunity to draw more attention to the issue of bullying, to tell more people about how harmful it is, and to call for action to see bullying reduced. Is this irresponsible? Is this an untimely or opportunistic attempt to get on their bullying hobby-horse – the hobby-horse of trying to control people who want the freedom to engage in bullying?
Nobody, I suspect, thinks that this is untimely or inappropriate. I certainly do not. This is because people in general, including you (and I), do not approve of bullying. It is hideous. It has the power to destroy people. You, however, have taken umbrage at Mr Nile for doing exactly the same thing, but instead of talking about the link between bullying and depression, he has highlighted Charlotte’s own claims about the connection between abortion and depression. He believes that abortion, in addition to taking the life of the unborn, has the potential to hurt, even destroy, women. And this is a bridge too far for you. It dares to take aim at something that you believe in the right to. But what if the research that indicates this connection – and indeed Charlotte’s own experience of precisely this connection – is correct? If this is the case, then the very real and serious harm that may be done here is only made more dangerous to women by what you and others are doing here: Publicly flaying anybody who dares to mention the connection.
The possibility that abortion hurts women is like a taboo among the advocates of abortion rights, but choosing to belittle those who raise the concern is no more noble or loving towards woman than it would be if you were to try to silence those who raise the concern of the very real and damaging effects of bullying on people’s mental health.
The reality is that the mental consequences for women who have an abortion are not the main reason why some people oppose it. They do not pretend otherwise.
Abortion is deemed by many – including me – to be wrong because it unjustly takes a human life. That is ultimately why abortion is wrong.
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