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Mixed Messages and Mourning: Fetal Remains and the Post-Abortive Woman

Mixed Messages and Mourning: Fetal Remains and the Post-Abortive Woman

Op-ed by Cassi Cox

“She delivered her baby after two attempts to kill it and was upset the clinic took the dead baby. They probably wanted the corpse to sell the organs and parts…”

My eyes widened as I read, then re-read the comment on a public forum. A woman had aborted her child, unexpectedly delivering the dead baby at home and then returned to the abortion facility, per their instructions. Jane was arrested for screaming when the clinic took her baby's remains and refused to release them back to her. She wanted her child’s remains in order to have the baby cremated.

My eyes move from the screen to the small shelf nestled next to my bookshelf. Sitting inconspicuously there is a tiny engraved box that holds the remains of my daughter, June. Cremated after dying at just 15 weeks development in a late missed miscarriage, I cannot help but feel a kinship with this broken-hearted woman who was robbed of the opportunity to pursue closure.

You never fully recover from the death of a child, regardless of when or where that death happens...or how.

I take a deep breath and keep reading...

“There is not a woman in the world that does not understand that abortion kills their baby. That is why they take the pill, to kill the baby. That is why they go to the abortionist, to kill the baby. The time for loving support is before the woman chooses to kill her baby, after she kills her baby she is that baby’s murderer!”

And just like that, I am transported back in time. Back to a time where I’m a mom of three instead of five, and I have just been told that my fourth child- the one living in my womb- the one I thought would be my last- is dead.

I was always devoutly pro-life. I sat by the side of the road when I was 16 with signs. In high school debate I was assigned the pro-choice position. I won the debate...and then I stood before the class and refuted every point I had used to win the debate. I knew all about prenatal development and my husband and I had seen plenty of ultrasounds with our older children.

Yet, when we chose to have my labor induced instead of a D & E when my body wasn’t delivering June naturally and I was at risk for sepsis, we were terrified. I knew I needed to hold her and see her, but what would she look like? She’d only developed to 15 weeks, after all. She’d just be this tiny little blob. Little more than a mass. She wouldn’t LOOK like the daughter we had pictured in our heads, and would it be more traumatic to see and hold this bloody, messy blob that we knew to be our daughter rather than preserving this picture of a perfect little baby in our minds?

We knew she was a person. A valuable person that we intended to honor and love, whose life had meaning and yet the talking points had gotten to us. They were unfounded worries, of course. When June was born she was the perfect, tiny little baby we had imagined. She was discolored, but she had the most adorable little nose. Two big eyes, ears, long, perfect fingers and even fingernails. She fit comfortably into my hand.

Thirty years ago, pro-life activism centered around education. Ultrasounds were less accessible and the internet was not making information about prenatal development or abortion procedures as readily available as the are today. Because of that, most of the people who tried to end abortion did so by providing women with this information. They wanted to help women see that the unborn are, in fact, tiny humans and that abortion ends that human life. Add to that the reality that abortion is-and especially back then was-a barbaric way to end a life, and the educational approach could be effective.

It’s hard today for people to grasp that education doesn’t always solve the reasons why women pursue abortions, nor does it change how our culture frames abortion. While the “clump of cells” narrative still exists, that is not the common justification for abortion from those who are the arguing in favor of it at the highest levels of society. Abortion doctors and advocates generally agree that the unborn are human, they just disagree that the unborn have rights that supersede the needs of women. Abortion, then, is framed not as killing but as merciful prevention. It’s treated as an almost inverse of euthanasia.

Advocates of euthanasia argue that the ending of a human’s life is for the greatest good- that this human continuing to exist would lead to more harm than good. This is the argument that is most common with abortion advocates today-that the unborn human’s life continuing will cause more harm than good, and so it is better to end it now.

This is the narrative that is being fed to young people from the moment they begin to encounter reproductive marketing at all. It is in social media marketing, in our shows, movies, and books and in our educational systems. Because abortion providers are touted as “sexual and reproductive experts,” this is where women turn when they need any support related to sexual health. This is where they go when they experience unplanned pregnancy, and in their vulnerable states, are told that it is better for everyone- including their unborn baby, for them to choose abortion. Their support people, who have been spoon fed this narrative, may also be affirming this; that abortion is a compassionate choice for everyone involved.

The truth of abortion is likely not discussed. The reality of parental bonding is likely not discussed. When she faces grief and mourning, she is often told that these are a result of pre-existing mental health conditions, and the impact of the abortion on her is dismissed.

In an abortion, something about the pregnancy was unexpected. Either the pregnancy itself was unexpected or an unexpected diagnosis or change of circumstances came about that led to the woman seeking intervention in the first place. Because she has so much more access to information than she would have had 30 years ago, it is much more likely that she knows she is carrying a tiny little human within her. She may even have begun to bond to that little one. None of that changes her circumstances. None of that provides her with the support and intervention she needs to move forward. What she needs is the combination of access to honest information, compassionate support and intervention as well as a new narrative.

However, unlike those commenters online, I am not surprised that she wants to grieve, mourn and cremate (or bury) her little one after the abortion. After all, she DOES have access to the information. She knows that she carried a little human within her and that human is now dead. And even though she has been convinced that this was what NEEDED to happen, and it was what was best for everyone, including that little one, it’s still sad. It still breaks her heart.

She can be wrong about it being necessary and heartbroken about the loss all at the same time.

We can all be both wrong and heartbroken.

The above article was written by Cassi Cox, the Center Director at Living Alternatives Pregnancy Resource Center in Shelbyville and Lincoln, IL.

If you or someone you care about is in need of legal or emotional support

regarding the issue of improper handling of fetal remains,

please contact us and allow us to offer judgment free help at no cost to you.*

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