“Nobody wants to be here”  
Home > Thema's > Tussen begin en einde > Abortus > “Niemand wil hier zijn”
Vertalingen: Nederlands English 
Henk Baars

Two women in hospital beds. Us standing in the door-opening. The nurse pushes the door a bit to keep us out of sight. The doctor who has performed the operation steps out and we engage in a discussion. One woman appears to be Lebanese, speaking a rare kind of Arabic and a handful of English words. The other woman is a drugs-addict. The doctor had great difficulty finding a suitable artery for the drip. They are awaiting an interpreter, otherwise the process gets stuck.

For the first time in my life I pay a visit to an abortion clinic. Together with other members of the European Advisory Board of Catholics For Choice (CFC), an organisation that started in the USA to assist Catholic women in their struggle for the right to make their own choices. Today was chosen for a field visit in a clinic. Most of us have never been inside such clinic.

From all over Europe and America we have gathered in Stratford-upon-Avon in England, the birthplace of Shakespeare. The symbolism is striking because as no other he has painted the drama of life and death. And that’s what we are here for: human drama. Abortion appears mainly a result of human failure. Failure of contraceptives, including all modern means, human errors. Over-reliance on technology, while “nature is very strong” – as one of the nurses puts it. But equally, it amounts to failure of society as a whole.

When approaching the site one must have the exact directions, because nothing points to the existence of a clinic. Just one of the many grand and stylish Manorhouses in the countryside. But further down the entrance drive a full parking lot comes into view. Some 200,000 abortions take place in the UK annually, and this number is on the rise. In my own country – the Netherlands – this number has remained rather stable around 33,000 per year, among the lowest (relative) numbers worldwide. With the leaders of the clinic and the organisation we discuss these differences and the possible reasons behind the increase in the UK. Nobody seems to have the final answer. Research so far is inconclusive. Does it point to a loosening of family relationships? Or is it because the age at which women consider having babies gets higher? Is there a relation with the higher birth rate among immigrants? Over-reliance on contraceptive technologies? One modern technology is the so-called ‘abortion pill’ for medical termination of early pregnancies. The clinic staff told us that this method causes much discomfort, more or less comparable with a miscarriage. All women are different, one woman is hardly affected while another has pain for two weeks. But in spite of this pill, the number of abortions refuses to go down. A typical ‘Catholic’ anecdote was mentioned to us by the clinic staff, some of whom are Catholics. One day, a woman, aware that the abortion-pill is not 100% fail-safe, said that the pill would not work in her case if God had other intentions with her. That left room for divine intervention, as one of the theologians in our group jokingly observed. As it turns out, this pill is hardly cheaper than surgical abortion, the difference is only GBP 5 or 6. That is because the pill must be complemented with a number of doctor consults.

Time and again the human body appears to be not a predictable engine. That also holds true for conception. The pace of foetus/baby growth differs among women. A pregnancy may appear 6 weeks with one woman, while with another woman the foetus has grown a lot larger in the same period. The nurse shows us how foetuses are measured in the scan room. From the top of the head until exactly the lowest point of the back. Such measurement may lead to the conclusion that some pregnancies may no longer be terminated under British law. The limit is 23 weeks and 5 days. Real desperate women sometimes search internet for countries in which they may still be serviced, but the clinic staff will not enlighten them. In three European countries, abortion is illegal in almost any situation: Poland, Malta and Ireland.

The main focus of our discussion with the staff is the complexity around termination of late-gestation pregnancies. The heart activity of the foetus needs to be stopped first with an injection. Subsequently, the foetus must be surgically removed with minimum damage to the woman. It is possible that the foetus needs to be cut up.

How do women cope with such drastic and emotional events? Some retain a copy of the scan. Some even take home the foetus – but they are strongly advised to return it to the clinic for cremation (the standard procedure) if they don’t know how to dispose of it. Some even arrange a funeral with a (pro-choice) pastor. I press on with questions about possible rituals. In an adjacent room appears to stand a beautifully shaped sculpture of a fruit in a womb. It has been made by a woman. A rare object. In reaction to my question, the staff produces this sculpture. If that is all, I suspect that not much exists in the field of rituals around abortion. We may be fundamentally unable to give (symbolic?) shape to the rupture caused by human failure in these situations. It appears to be not really accepted as part of life itself, as long as man exists. The client’s perspective is the norm. One has to ask her about it, as indeed is always done. The staff notices that nobody is happy to be here. Women and increasingly their partners coming along with them are always in a crisis situation. We see heads bent down, tears, a sober silence broken only by a TV serving as kind of wallpaper. “Nobody wants to be here”.

Do the staff actually want to be here? We have a fundamental discussion with staff members about the combination of being Catholic and working in an abortion clinic. One important element for coping is the daily debriefing. At the end of every day the staff gathers to talk about their experiences. This is sometimes an emotional experience, all human suffering and failure pass in an intensive way. “You must get rid of this out of your systems before you go home”, as one staff member puts it.

How can belief play a role here?

“I am a Catholic ŕ la carte” says one staff member. This is protested from our circle. It is rather “them” – the Catholic hierarchy of pope and bishops – who practice Catholicism ŕ la carte. It is them who are not able to incorporate this failing human life in a whole and respectful way. This view comes as a surprise to the staff.

Another issue for the staff is how to speak about work in their social environment. Every staff member has found his or her way. It has led to loss of friends. One man says that his 16-year old daughter has requested him not to speak about his work in her Catholic school. I think that this is not much different in the Netherlands. In situations where women face the most difficult decisions of their life, they are assisted by workers who tell only a select circle about their work and experiences. In situations where very young women (sometimes aged 12, 13 or 14) often for the first time are treated as adults and enabled to take morally responsible decisions, this process has to be conducted in secrecy. Even in the religious communities to which the persons concerned belong. The Anglican Church appears to be not much more accommodating than the Roman Catholic Church in this respect. The Anglican Church in the UK is also split in pro and contra. Much pain is caused by the cold shoulder by other people towards this aspect of life. In some parishes there may be a good and understanding pastor, but when this position changes one never knows where the successor will stand in this matter.

A number of questions left

I remain left with a number of questions after this experimental visit that for me has been a spiritual experience: an encounter between pro-choice Catholics from very differing countries with Catholic staff members of an abortion clinic.

Life can be quite disappointing at times. Where is religiosity at the occasion of the deepest crisis in our so very human life? At least not at the supreme moment, so tells me the staff. Perhaps afterwards, like the apparition of JHWH in the murmur of the wind in 1 Kings,19. All energy at the supreme moment is needed to stay on top. Is that perhaps the deepest form of religiosity? Is not standing by people in such situations uniquely Christian and Catholic in the broadest sense? I am inclined to answer this question affirmatively.

Can a person rely on herself when confronted with an irrevocable decision? Does it involve taking (human) life or is it more like pruning a branch in order to enhance the life of the tree? The pro-life movement and some churches demonstrate fundamental uncertainty through their seeming clarity on this issue. Why otherwise would they scream so loudly?

Which thoughts, which authority should be leading in the middle of a crisis will never be absolutely clear. Catholics often mention conscience as the ultimate source for moral direction. But we know that that authority is also being disputed. It cannot be fully trusted and can at best serve as a basis for, for example, counselling. It is unavoidable that bad decisions are also being taken during someone’s lifetime. There may be tragedy in actions while they are perceived as good. Accepting responsibility for healing if things have gone wrong is an act of faith. That act is only possible by accepting the pain, becoming the pain. Every pain is different. Do we actually have a phenomenology of pain? Another factor for a decision is in that case the experience with pain. Pain occurs when distancing is no longer possible, when one becomes one with the pain, when hanging at the cross and nevertheless being in charge of ones own destiny.

From this can be derived the rights of each unique human being at every occasion and in every situation.

Henk Baars, Department Manager, Stek, The Hague, Netherlands and Member of European Advisory Board, Catholics For Choice.
Translated by Frans Baneke, Director World Population Foundation, Utrecht, Netherlands.

Reactie plaatsen


  • Alle reacties worden vóór publicatie door de redactie beoordeeld. Wij behouden ons het recht voor reacties te weigeren of in te korten zonder opgaaf van redenen.
  • Een inzending mag maximaal 1000 tekens bevatten en moet goed leesbaar zijn.
  • Lees andere inzendingen zodat u in uw reactie niet in herhaling vervalt maar nieuwe argumenten geeft. De reactie moet inhoudelijk zijn en iets waardevols toevoegen aan het artikel. Dus bijvoorbeeld geen agressief taalgebruik.
Uw reactie  
Gebruik maximaal 1000 tekens. U hebt nog 1000 tekens tekens.

Terug naar "“Niemand wil hier zijn”" | Naar boven