So. I'm wandering past the TV the other day and a very busy looking commercial caught my eye. In it, two identical men were whirling around, Matrix style, appearing to be fighting each other. Every punch thrown by the one guy was countered immediately by the other one. I quickly figured out it was one person fighting himself and the reason they were so evenly matched was because the 'two' fighters knew the exact punch that was coming beforehand. Neither fighter 'won' but eventually the two stopped fighting and they merged back into one person again. The tagline for the commercial was "Moral Injury" and the text referenced a mental health website for assistance. This commercial caught my attention for two reasons: one, it was a brilliant use of simple imagery to convey a complex idea and two, it touched upon a infrequently discussed issue in the abortion healing arena that has been bothering me for some time now: how do we better acknowledge, accept and help heal the morally injured post-abortive woman and man?
It wasn't clear that the man in the commercial was a veteran. But, the term "moral injury" in modern vernacular tends to point to the phenomenon soldiers face when they are forced to countermand their prevailing moral code through action or inaction because of an order given by an authority or oath they've sworn to uphold. The injury produces a schism in the psyche of the individual that is traumatic; deep seated feelings of shame, guilt and self-doubt take over the ability to function effectively.
Now, imagine a little girl growing up believing in the parable of the good Samaritan taught to her at church: one who goes out of their way to help another person in dire need. She's seen it modelled countless times by family members and her community and she understands it is the 'right thing to do.' That same little girl later becomes an army medic and is tasked with taking care of the wounded in her platoon. One day, she finds herself in a far away village in Afghanistan working to patch up a wounded soldier hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) when she notices a young child severely injured by the same IED. She is told by her commanding officer that she cannot "waste" medical supplies on civilians and must leave the young child to her fate.
Imagine now that the medic is home and utilizing her skill set by working a civilian job in a local hospital ER. Her triggers become injured children whom she can hear crying in adjacent rooms but isn't assigned to help. What does she do with the memory of the child in Afghanistan and the pain in her soul that accompanies the memory every time she is triggered? She is torn because, like a good soldier, she clearly followed orders but in her heart she knows she's gone against the original moral code instilled in her by her family and church. She begins to fight with herself and the "woulda, coulda, shoulda's" tear at her both at work and at home to the point where anxiety, depression and possibly suicidal thoughts enter in. She did not answer her Lord and Saviors call to act on behalf of the Afghan child because of a countervailing military order for inaction.
Anyone reading this could understand her dilemma and the impossibility of her choices on the battlefield. Many in her inner circle might sit with her and help her 'come to terms' with her difficult choices by helping her to reconcile what could have happened in an ideal world versus what really happened in the heat of battle. Eventually she may be able to sort out a path toward healing that allows her to hold both scenarios in her head and heart in a balancing act that does not threaten her own existence but allows her to carry out her new mission as a civilian. Only those without compassion would tell her simply, "get over it! that's in the past!" Because of effective ad campaigns like the one described earlier, so many more of us are now educated about the effects of past trauma on service members and the deadly consequences, including self-injury, for those who do not receive mental health support.
Moral Injury does not just occur on the battlefield even though that is where it is best known and understood. It is a concept that has been recently recognized in health care professionals as occurring during the early months of the pandemic. As you may recall, health care interventions had to be severely rationed because of limited supplies in high density population areas. One such example was the rationing of ventilators in New York City. Some younger patients received life-saving ventilators while other slightly older patients did not. Trust me; there were human beings behind those rationing decisions who are now suffering from moral injury. In fact, health care providers who have to triage or prioritize life-saving interventions on a regular basis suffer frequently from this rarely discussed phenomenon. Most nurses and doctors, like soldiers, tend to hide their psychological wounds and "push through." Of course, that doesn't mean that the lasting effects of the injuries aren't present even though they are unaccounted for. And unfortunately, many in the general public had little compassion for those in the health care field with the rationale being, "that's what they get paid for."
Over the next couple of blogs, I will be exploring the concept of moral injury as it relates to the woman and man involved in an abortion decision. I will share examples of the influencing factors that go into the "choice" to abort using testimonies and how that "choice" lines up with an act that the United States government says is legal but ultimately goes against most American's Judeo-Christian ethic of, "Thou Shalt Not Kill." I will discus what happens at a persons moral center before and after abortion, again utilizing lived experiences, and the manifestations of the injuries sustained; many of which stay hidden in plain sight for decades in both women and men. My purpose for all of this will be to help educate some who are unaware of the psychological harm done by abortion and to help heal individuals who are suffering acutely from their moral injury. Consider this part one of a series devoted to helping heal the nation by making abortion