We talked to a counselor about what’s really at the heart of the matter.
Lena Dunham attends the 2016 CFDA Fashion Awards at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, 2016. DPA Picture Alliance | Alamy
On a recent podcast, Lena Dunham sparked controversy by expressing her desire to experience an abortion. In her show Women of the Hour, she told her listeners that, after being approached and asked to tell her abortion story, she admitted she had never experienced an abortion, but said: “Now I can say I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.”
Later that day, Dunham apologized for the distasteful comment after receiving backlash on social media: “I would never, ever intentionally trivialize the emotional and physical challenges of terminating a pregnancy. My only goal is to increase awareness and decrease stigma. I take reproductive choice in America more seriously than I take literally anything else.”
Lena Dunham is not wrong in her assessment of abortion as emotionally and physically challenging to women. But there is a deeper issue that Dunham failed to acknowledge. The healing process post-abortion is often neglected or not discussed at all. What is needed in the conversation about abortion is not just whether the woman has a right to, but a positive and compassionate way to understand the reasons why a woman chooses to make this choice in the first place.
We asked Dr. Gregory Popcak, the director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute and a nationally recognized expert in counseling, for his take on Dunham’s comments. “It’s important to realize that no one wakes up in the morning saying, ‘it would be fun to get an abortion today.’ We need to recognize that the choice for an abortion is motivated by pain or pressure—not a genuine desire to terminate a life,” Popcak said. “If we’re really going to be able to help a post-abortive person, we have to really respect and approach their pain delicately.”
Popcak emphasized acknowledging that the process and experience of an abortion is not something that most women would choose. “We have to honor the pain at the heart of that that is driving those defense mechanisms.”
|Come to them and say, ‘I’m a safe person you can talk about that pain with—whenever you’re ready and when you want to.’|
Dunham desires connection with fellow women—to be able to support them. If you know someone who has experienced an abortion, there are ways to help them heal without agreeing with their decision. And one can show empathy for women who have experienced an abortion without experiencing one themselves.
“Of course abortion is wrong, and we can acknowledge and admit that,” Popcak said. “But I genuinely believe that anyone who would choose to pursue an abortion was in a heck of a lot of pain when they did it. So come to them and say, ‘I’m a safe person you can talk about that pain with—whenever you’re ready and when you want to.’”
When we are able to communicate that message, we open up an opportunity for genuine conversation with someone who has experienced an abortion.
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