*Warning graphic content*
By Heather (Markella) Georgiou RN, MsPH, CHES
Archbishop Elpidophoros declared “respect for the autonomy of women” in regard to abortion this past Friday, January 21, 2022 (https://www.goarch.org/-/march-for-life-2022]. I would like to take this opportunity as an Orthodox Christian healthcare professional to clarify some points on this topic.
Each year in the United States, a weekend in January is set aside to honor the sanctity of
human life. Many individuals and churches have developed beautiful ways of glorifying the fact that each person is made in Gods’ image and likeness, knit together in the womb by our Creator. Usually the Sanctity of Life weekend is an uplifting, holy time where people take courage and make their voices heard on behalf of the unborn, whose voices cannot yet be heard. The Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese used his voice to support the life of the unborn and in the same breath “affirm respect for the autonomy of women” in the context of abortion.
I agree, it is absolutely true that a woman has the legal right to decide how her pregnancy will end. She also has free will to choose abortion. Whether abortion be legal or illegal, a woman is always free to choose that option. All these things are true. While I agree that women have free will and should not be condemned for making the mistake of committing this sin, to not condemn the act of abortion but to affirm respect for the autonomy of women in regard to abortion is a hateful and cruel act towards women. It implies that abortion is a good option, worthy of support.
The reason that many people do not see the evil in supporting the “autonomy of women”
in regard to abortion, is that they are deceived and deluded on a number of points, which
in turn, leads them to believe that abortion is somehow good for women and is worthy of
support, when in fact it is not.
#1 Surgical abortion is a simple medical procedure.
This is a surgical procedure, as with any surgery, there are risks of complications including,
although rare, death of the mother. Other complications may include; infection, fever, pain,
hemorrhage, future inability to become pregnant, future inability to carry pregnancy full term, uterine perforation and damage to other organs.
#2 Medical abortion is a simple procedure where a pregnant person takes a pill and then is no longer pregnant.
Not quite. The medical abortion protocol involves taking a series of pills which cause mild to
severe cramping, heavy bleeding up to two weeks in duration (sometimes longer), passing of large blood clots, passing of the gestational sac, passing of the baby (and yes it is a baby with recognizable head, body, arms, legs) from the vagina which many women see in their underwear or in the toilet bowl. Many women need to seek emergency medical care due to prolonged or heavy bleeding, fever, pain, or psychological trauma from seeing their own baby dead in a pool of blood. This procedure is marketed as an “at home abortion” with the benefit of being done in the privacy of one’s own home. In reality, this amounts to doing a medical procedure autonomously (which means independently or alone) without the help of a trained medical professional to monitor the physical well-being of the woman or to support her emotionally. Additionally, medical abortions are not 100% effective, which means that a percentage of women who undergo this procedure will still need to have a surgical abortion procedure in addition to the one just described.
#3 If it’s not the right time, she can just abort then have a baby another time.
There is no guarantee that a woman will have a pregnancy in the future or that she will carry a pregnancy full term. In my experience, I have encountered many women whose only child was the child they aborted.
#4 It’s not really a baby, it’s just a clump of cells, etc.
First, it is important to understand the timeline involved. When a woman realizes her menstrual cycle is a day or two late and first suspects that she is pregnant, she is roughly 6 weeks pregnant. It is within the next couple of weeks that she makes her “autonomous” decision. Most abortions occur between 8-12 weeks. In the hundreds of obstetric ultrasound exams that I have performed, measuring and imaging the bodies and heartbeats of these tiny babies, I have learned that they are very sweet, content little people with their own activity patterns and behavior. Many times I would be doing an
ultrasound exam, attempting to obtain a measurement that requires the baby to be at a
specific angle. Sometimes after trying to no avail to get a measurement, I would resort to
talking to the baby. “Come on little guy, go ahead and stretch out for me,” I would say aloud.
Boom, the baby would do just as I asked. I quickly hit the button to capture the image and get my measurement. I would tell the mom, “What a cooperative baby you have!” Invariably, she would smile or giggle. Granted, I’m sure it was just a coincidence that the baby moved when I spoke to him. After completing the measurements, I would show the ultrasound screen to the parents so they could see their baby. Again, I would speak to the child, “Say hi to Mom and Dad, little one.” I know it sounds crazy, but more than once, I saw the baby raise his or her little arm up by his or her face as if to wave hello. The parents would gasp, smile and joyfully ask me if I saw what they saw. Of course, I did, and again it was probably coincidence. Coincidence or not, these were special moments these parents shared with their 8-10 week old babies.
Yes, I said 8-10 week old baby. Eight to ten weeks, the age that people say is a “clump of cells”, the age people claim, “it’s not really a baby”, the age when most aborted babies are sucked alive from their mothers’ wombs and dumped in a medical waste bin or sold to “medical research companies.” The fact is that when a woman walks into an abortion clinic, she walks in with two heartbeats, her own and that of her baby (detectable at 18-21 days, weeks before she even suspects she may be pregnant). When she walks out of the abortion clinic, there is only one heartbeat. The baby is gone.
#4 Abortion is just a medical procedure that fixes a “problem”, it has no effect on the spiritual life or the psyche.
Completely false. As Orthodox Christians, we know that the body and soul are intimately
connected and one is not unaffected by the other. After all, this is the concept of fasting, what you do to the body affects the soul and vice versa. Women may believe that having an abortion fixes a “problem” only to find out that it really created other problems.
Many women do experience a sense of relief after abortion. For many, as the relief fades it is replaced with a plethora of feelings from grief, to anger, loss, sadness, guilt, sometimes even despair. Many women experience either immediate or delayed depression, anxiety, eating disorders, insomnia, anniversary grief (annual intense grief on the day of the abortion and/or the day that would have been the baby’s due date/birthday.) Some women who do go on to have children experience difficulty bonding with the new baby or intense fear that something bad may happen to the living child.
The spiritual bond the woman shared with her baby was violently severed by death, the
consequences of which may manifest in many ways and in many aspects of her life. For many women, the sad reality is that these problems go unresolved because their shame is too great to allow them to speak about it. They repress the feelings they have and carry this heavy emotional burden their whole lives without being able to tell anyone. A sad, secret wound exists on their heart and soul. Conversely, some women may confess this sin to their spiritual Father. Since this is and always has been viewed by the Orthodox Church as murder, it would be well within a spiritual Fathers’ ability to advise a woman who has committed this sin to abstain from receiving Holy Communion for a time.
How is it acceptable to knowingly support and “respect” the autonomy of a woman to commit an act of sin that would prevent her from approaching the chalice of Holy and Life-Giving Mysteries? How is that good for a woman? How is that loving? For me, this is a litmus test. If it can obstruct me from the holiest communion with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it is not good for me. Abortion is death. Abortion is not good for women, abortion hurts women.
#5 Abortion is reproductive healthcare.
No, it isn’t. This is a false rebranding of the ancient practices described in the Old Testament of destroying sons and daughters. (Ez 16: 15-22) Healthcare cares for health, promotes health and supports life. Abortion results in a bloody death for the child and potential physical and psychological harm to the mother. “Reproductive healthcare” is a term straight from the Father of Lies.
#6 “Autonomy” of women does not hurt men.
False. Men do experience negative emotional and psychological consequences related to their babies being aborted. While the physical risks are not the same for men, many of the spiritual, emotional, and psychological risks are. Many times the mother and father of the aborted baby suffer relationship problems after the procedure, oftentimes with the relationship ending on bad terms. Abortion hurts men and it hurts relationships that God intended for men and women.
#7 Women should make decisions about their pregnancy autonomously.
This may seem obvious, but God did not create women to become pregnant autonomously (ie. independent of anyone else, by themselves, on their own). Neither should women have to decide to abort their pregnancy autonomously or by themselves. No, rather it is quite the opposite. The woman should be surrounded with love and support, care and concern, compassion and prayer.
In fact, the more difficult the situation, (ie, unsupportive father of the baby, difficult financial situation, pregnant from rape, etc.) the more she needs a support system to help her through the difficult time. She needs the opposite of autonomous, if she is in a situation that is leading her to consider abortion, she is vulnerable and needs the love and support of others. Women don’t choose abortion because they like killing their babies, they do it because they think they have to, they think there is no other way, they believe the lies of the enemy of life, the one who came to kill and destroy. While I agree that women have free will and should not be condemned for making the mistake of committing this sin, to not condemn the act of abortion, is a hateful and cruel act towards women.
Archbishop Elpidophoros’ pandering statement regarding autonomy in regards to abortion
hurts women. There is nothing loving or compassionate about it. There is nothing Orthodox
about it. It hurt me as a woman to think about the blasphemous implication he made about our most Holy Panagia. It is true that a woman living in the first century could have chosen to have an abortion, as abortion did exist at that time. However, I fully reject the Archbishop’s implication and I affirm that the Most Holy Mother of God was not at all autonomous, self-willed, or independent. She relied fully on God, she put all her hope in the Lord, she did not rely on herself. She had the support of the Lord, of the angels and of the archangels, of a Holy and God-fearing man, of her older cousin who was also with child and others.
The women of our day can still choose abortion and they still need support, that hasn’t
changed. With the help of the Theotokos, may we be to the women of our day, as the angels were to the young Mother of God; encouraging her, supporting her, loving her. May these women not be condemned to be autonomous, alone, with no one to depend on. May they be surrounded by a loving support system so that of their free will, they can choose life for their babies.
How can we help make this a reality?
This quote from an article posted on Jan 6, 2021on the website orthochristian.com sheds
some light on the matter: “Anyone can help their parish maintain an atmosphere of love and support for parishioners who become pregnant. It’s no secret that women in Christian communities who become pregnant outside of wedlock (and their partners) often fear shame, condemnation, or rejection, and face a greater temptation to use abortion to cover up their sin, thereby committing a far worse sin. To eliminate the risk of abortions being obtained by Orthodox women, OCLife (https://www.oclife.org ) offers its assistance through raising awareness of the free services offered by pregnancy resource centers and forming a supportive network prepared to provide material, emotional, and spiritual support for any parishioner in an out-of-wedlock or crisis pregnancy.” https://orthochristian.com/136587.html
Pregnancy resource centers are non-profit organizations that do not provide or refer for
abortions but offer non-judgmental assistance and support to women experiencing unplanned pregnancies. Many women have chosen to continue their pregnancies with the help and support of these centers. In addition, many of these centers also offer support groups or individual support for women experiencing the emotional impact of having had an abortion, this is sometimes called post-abortive stress recovery. Many women have found healing after abortion through these resources. Additionally, some centers help with abortion pill reversal, reversing a medical abortion if a mother changes her mind after taking the abortion pill. All of these are loving compassionate acts towards women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.
Instead of condemning women to be autonomous, perhaps we can learn more about how to help them in a time of need. God is love, He came to give us life, abundant life. May God help us and strengthen us to love our neighbor who is considering abortion and to affirm what is good and true in our Lords’ eyes.
Heather Georgiou RN, MsPH, CHES