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A grieving father holds his son after a late term abortion

by | Jun 5, 2024

By Theresa and Kevin Burke

Fear and pressure lead many parents to abort disabled children

Kevin was 48 years old, married for more than 20 years, and the father of two teenage boys. His life would forever change when his wife informed him of an unexpected pregnancy. Kevin shares, “At first it was a shock, but soon I was bragging about becoming a new father at my advanced age.”

At a prenatal appointment later in the pregnancy, the doctor noticed they had never taken the test for Down syndrome. After testing, their son was diagnosed with the chromosomal disorder. The doctor suggested abortion.

Tragically, this doctor then proceeded to further exploit the natural vulnerability and anxiety the couple was experiencing by suggesting they needed to make a decision that very day, as the cutoff for legal abortion was imminent.

Kevin reveals what happened next:

“My wife left the decision to me, and I made the choice to abort our child. As my wife lay on a hospital bed, I sat beside her, holding her hand. Then [the doctor] inserted a long needle into my wife’s huge belly, giving our baby a shot that would stop his heart. Once they were sure he had died, they induced labor, and my wife gave birth to our dead son.”

The nurse asked Kevin if he wanted to hold his deceased child, a fully formed baby boy. He was in shock and overwhelmed with grief: “I cried all night in torment.”

A nurse then advised them that, given the baby’s gestational age, they needed to name their son, and arrange for a burial.

They were given a white cardboard box to hold their baby and told to make arrangements with a neighborhood funeral home.

“That’s when the lying began,” Kevin says. “I could not tell anyone what I had done. Not my parents or siblings, not my friends. Not even my sons.”

Complicated grief

Every year thousands of parents will undergo routine tests and receive what is called a “poor prenatal diagnosis.”  This means their baby is afflicted with a chromosomal abnormality or serious defect in a vital organ.

Research indicates that couples who are offered encouragement, support and resources when facing a poor prenatal diagnosis often decide against abortion.

Tragically, most couples are pressured by doctors, therapists, friends, and family to “terminate” the pregnancy. They are given the grim prospect of a child born prematurely who will die in the womb, or shortly after birth. In the case of conditions like Down syndrome, parents are only told of the possible medical challenges, and not the blessings such children can bring.

Healthcare professionals may also suggest abortion as the most compassionate choice, to prevent unnecessary suffering for the baby. Parents might come to see abortion as the best solution. But in reality, it is best for no one.

Research confirms that women experience fetal disability abortions as a physical and emotional trauma, and remain in deep emotional pain years after the procedure.

But men can also experience the abortion as a traumatic experience of loss, especially when they are present during chemical abortion, and later-term abortion procedures.

Like many men after abortion, Kevin tried to bury the pain and move on with his life. But he and his wife were deeply wounded by their experience, and the inability to heal individually, and as a couple, put great strain on their marriage.

Kevin shares, “I never even asked my wife how she was because I couldn’t bear her pain on top of the crushing weight of my own.”

Women and men who feel some degree of pressure to abort, or experience ambivalence about their decision, are at high risk for symptoms of emotional trauma. Without a healing process for this complicated grief, the symptoms they suffer in the aftermath will surely impact marital intimacy, communication, and trust, as well as a couple’s relationship with their living children.

Kevin shares the impact of the emotional and spiritual shockwaves that emanated from their abortion experience:

“We remained a family for a few years but as we realized that our guilt had erased our love, we divorced. I felt God was punishing me for what I had done, and I accepted this punishment for many years.”

It would be 10 years before Kevin was able to begin the journey toward healing. He shares, “I tried praying on my own and then, tearfully, prayed with a pastor. I did not feel forgiven.”

This struggle to forgive oneself is common after abortion. It is connected to the need for an integrated process of emotional and spiritual healing, that provides a safe passage through the feelings associated with the abortion. Participants learn to share the truth of their experience and dismantle the secrets and lies that prevent a full recovery.

Kevin was able to find healing on a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. He reveals, “For the first time, I was in the company of others who knew how I felt. I could finally let go of this secret. That weekend changed my life, and I will be forever thankful.”

Kevin came away from his healing experience convinced that more has to be done to help couples facing a poor prenatal diagnosis. He became part of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, an organization that offers support and training for those called to publicly share their stories of abortion regret and healing.

At a recent Silent No More gathering, Kevin publicly shared these moving words: “I held my son. I know his face and the contours of his body. I will never forget you, my child, and for your sake, I will be Silent No More.”

Couples facing a poor prenatal diagnosis may find life-affirming help with Prenatal Partners for Life and Perinatal Hospice and Palliative Care.

Editor’s note: Theresa Burke, Ph.D., and Kevin Burke, MSS, are pastoral associates of Priests for Life and founders of Rachel’s Vineyard. Support and assistance for parents receiving a prenatal diagnosis are available at PreNatalDiagnosis.org and at Be Not Afraid. This article is a Pregnancy Help News original and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Abortion