restore the heart

Healing the Communal Trauma of Abortion through a Restorative Justice System
Image by Tingey Injury Law Firm

THE PROBLEM

Abortion kills more than 2,200 children in the US every day. [1] This legal lethal act violates human rights, traumatizes families, and brings violence to our communities. In our efforts to abolish abortion and build a world where each and every human being is respected and protected from conception until natural death, we must address how a pro-life system of justice should respond once abortion becomes illegal.

OUR PROPOSED SOLUTION

We should always approach those whom have had abortions with compassion. This compassion does not prohibit us from protecting the most defenseless of all: the preborn. We propose a restorative model of justice which recognizes the inherent and immutable dignity of each and every human being, born and preborn. The goals of a justice system which respects the dignity of all should
be as follows:

  • Recognize and acknowledge legitimate grievance

  • Make amends for or reconstruct loss or damage wherever possible

  • Reduce recidivism

  • Be reasonably uniform

  • Establish trust in the legal system and in the given community

  • Protect the lives and safety of the community

 

Functionally, these goals of a human-centered justice system are met within a Restorative Justice model. This approach distinguishes itself from our current Retributive Justice system, which
emphasizes punishment and a balance of harms. The aim of this Restorative Justice model is to make amends for wrongdoing and heal the rift that abortion creates in community.

A restorative model:

  • Involves all who have been touched by the harm: the offender, the victim and their family, the community who may have coerced the offender, and others.

  • Asks how and why the offender violated the victim and addresses the impact the violation had on all involved. 

  • Focuses on how all parties were impacted by social structures and institutions.

  • Organizes communities to repair systemic injustices, address and overcome prejudices and implicit bias, and make restitution.

Image by Joshua Reddekopp
Image by Wesley Tingey

HOW TO ACHIEVE THIS SOLUTION

We propose that restorative models of justice be included in legislation relating to abortion. The restoration process after the violation of a 20-week abortion limitation, for example, could include access to post-abortion healing as well as education on nonviolent alternatives to abortion, on available life-affirming resources, and on countering ableism and dehumanization. It is crucial to integrate Restorative Justice solutions that respect the inherent dignity and account for the culpability of all. Retributive systems which bring justice only to abortionists lack an understanding of harm, trauma, healing, and the intrinsic human dignity of everyone involved. A Restorative Justice model requires the participation of all of the different individuals and institutions involved in and/or impacted by the abortion. 

Major changes should include: 

  • Crimes relating to abortion may belong in a family court or other setting outside of the traditional criminal justice system 

  • The judge would exist more as a counselor and less as an arbiter of punishment

  • The involvement of the pregnant person, partner, families, abortionist, clinic staff, and community in: 

    • understanding the complex situations that precipitated the abortion decision. 

    • tackling the root of why this violence was perpetrated, and address those social ills

    • acknowledging the harm done 

    • connecting them to post-abortion healing and care 

  • The victim’s voice is heard and their concerns are weighed on the question of restitution

 

The offender would be required to go through an authentic process of reconciliation and rebuilding trust, involving: 

  • an authentic apology for the wrongdoing

  • admitting why the harm was wrong and hurtful

  • an amendment of change to behavior

  • making restitution

  • asking for forgiveness [2]

WHY WE MUST ACHIEVE THIS SOLUTION

Human dignity should be the center of all moral action and public policy, whether we come to this understanding of our intrinsic, inherent worth through religious belief or secular philosophy. In upholding the inherent moral worth of the preborn child, we must be certain not to violate the shared intrinsic dignity of those who have participated in abortions. In our current retributive model of justice we see countless examples of inhumane and dehumanizing conditions that should be considered as unacceptable outright in a pro-life culture. The difference between the current Retributive Justice system and our proposed Restorative Justice model is not one of degree of punishment, but rather is a qualitative distinction: the foundational principle of human dignity at the core of Restorative Justice necessitates a whole paradigm shift away from the question of punishment, and towards the task of creating authentic, human-centered restoration.  

 

Many people who have participated in abortions have suffered severe adverse mental health outcomes. Suffering the traumatic stress of having participated in the violent act of abortion means having to cope with the grief of the loss of one’s child and the guilt over one’s personal responsibility in the matter. The impact of the abortion on those who have procured one is evident in the harmful after-effects and coping mechanisms: workaholism, depression, drug abuse, suicidality, eating disorders, and reproductive retraumatization. [3] Additionally, those who have participated in violence can often seek to justify it ex post facto by convincing others that it is good and right to have done or to do that violence; the consequence of which is that those who have had abortions may try to convince others that it is a morally acceptable decision. It is therefore imperative that everyone who has participated in an abortion is equipped with ample life-affirming trauma-informed resources so that we may stop the cycle of violence in its tracks. Because our current justice system — based on a retributive model — fails to address the systemic issues and individual traumas that contribute to the impetus of a crime, people convicted of past crimes recommit and re-enter the criminal justice system time and time again. If we want to end abortion, we must heal the cycle of trauma and address the underlying reasons why people see this act of violence as a solution. Restorative Justice is the answer.

 

If the pro-life movement embraces and champions this Restorative Justice model after abortion, it will not only be a living testament to our foundational principles of our shared human dignity, but will also demonstrate a central, necessary compassion in the effort to abolish abortion. A Restorative Justice system is pro-life and pro-woman. It is a model which demonstrates that we don’t have to choose between mother and child: we can “love them both.”

 

 

Notes

1. Guttmacher Institute report, September 2019.

2. Of course, there is no requirement that the victim must accept the apology or offer forgiveness; but this is a crucial step for the offender in an attempt to rebuild relationships and heal the community. 

3. Dr. Theresa Burke, Rachel’s Vineyard.

Image by Jr Korpa
 
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