Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The Truth of Abortion in Deep Blue Cities

New bereavement policies in Boston and Portland acknowledge the death and grief the act entails, if only accidentally.

While conservatives might be skeptical of the city of Boston’s new parental-leave policy, which provides up to twelve weeks of paid leave after a miscarriage or voluntary abortion, some of us in the pro-life community are grateful that Boston’s political leaders are acknowledging that the loss and the grief that accompany abortion and miscarriage are real and long-lasting.

Introduced by City Councilors Lydia Edwards and (now Mayor) Michelle Wu, the new Boston policy expands the city’s leave policy for anyone facing a loss of pregnancy for whatever reason, including miscarriage or abortion. According to Wu: “Our city must be a place of compassion where every person has the time off they need for their emotional, economic and mental health.”

Mindful of gender equity, the new policy on family leave following abortion applies to both men and women experiencing pregnancy loss. If both parents work for the city of Boston, each is entitled to a twelve-week leave period, which can be taken concurrently, sequentially, or in any combination the couple prefers.

Boston is not the first city to offer a policy that acknowledges the grief associated with pregnancy loss. Last October, the city of Portland amended its bereavement-leave policy to allow city employees to take paid time off following any kind of pregnancy loss, including abortion “irrespective of whether [it was] deemed medically necessary.” Portland was first in the nation to provide bereavement leave for its employees after abortion, and its policy prompted the pro-life advocacy group LiveAction to publish an article on its website with the title: “Portland’s Abortion Bereavement Leave for Employees Begs the Question: Who died?”  

Indeed, the pro-choice community has spent 50 years assuring us that having an abortion didn’t affect women, and that most were thankful for their right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Without explicitly acknowledging that “pregnancy loss” means the death of an unborn child, the new bereavement policies expose the hypocrisy of the pro-choice position by implicitly admitting that a child has died.

It is encouraging to know that, in spite of their hypocrisy, even pro-choice activists are finally acknowledging that abortion is accompanied by grief and loss. Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that “a policy like this is a really important step forward in providing that kind of support to employees and in recognition of the fact that we aren’t just robots.”

The other side of the divide understands the importance of this policy all too well. Life Perspectives, an organization that seeks to “bring to light the widespread need for help that is faced by the millions of women and men impacted by reproductive loss,” has worked for over three decades to change the way that people think and talk about abortion. Based in San Diego, Life Perspectives has been dedicated to “creating a world where there is a well-known safe place for those impacted by abortion and miscarriage to receive the support they need.” 

At its affiliate site AbortionChangesYou, anonymous users post stories of pain after losing their unborn children through abortion. The stories are difficult to read, especially from men who felt powerless to stop the abortion of their unborn children, or women who feel both guilt and grief. 

The horrors of abortion and its aftermath have been known for decades, but have often gone undiscussed. In Necessity and Sorrow: Life and Death in an Abortion Hospital, a long-out-of-print 1976 book by Magda Denes, is an honest portrayal of the brutality of the abortion industry and its casualties. To her credit, Denes—a pro-choice psychiatrist who herself had an abortion—seemed shocked at the horrific conditions she observed in the several months she spent observing an abortion clinic in New York City. 

Denes interviewed young women in the process of abortion and chronicled their sorrow.  In one chapter called “The Saline Floor,” she described the floor of the clinic reserved for late-term abortions. She shared heartbreaking stories of young women, parents, and boyfriends, many of whom traveled from small towns throughout the country. Although the stories of the women are indeed heartbreaking, the true tragedy emerges when Denes witnesses the actual abortion procedure. She writes:  

I was drawn to the unit, irresistible by my reactions of disbelief, sorrow, horror, compassion, guilt. The place depresses me yet I hang around after working hours. When I leave, I behave outside with the expansiveness of one who has just escaped a disaster. I have bad dreams. My sense of complicity in something nameless grows and festers. I consider giving up the research. 

Denes eventually overcame her fear and guilt over her own abortion and continued to document the real victims of abortion tourism. She described what she saw in the operating room following an abortion:

I remove with one hand the lid of a bucket.… I look inside the bucket in front of me. There is a small naked person in there floating in a bloody liquid—plainly the tragic victim of a drowning accident. But then perhaps this was no accident because the body is purple with bruises and the face has the agonized tautness of one forced to die too son. Death overtakes me in a rush of madness.

Death overtakes all of those whose lives have been touched by abortion. It is gratifying to know that the governments of Boston and Portland have finally acknowledged as much. It’s hard to understand why it took them so long.

Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH.  She is author of The Politics of Envy (Crisis Books).