Yvonne Florczak-Seeman is a busy wife and mother raising four children in the Catholic faith. She volunteers at her parish and in the community and, by all accounts, is just like many women trying to provide the best for her family.
“I’m normal,” said Florczak-Seeman. “I just don’t look like ‘that’ woman the one who had five abortions.”
This heartbreaking part of Florczak-Seeman’s past shocks some people with whom she has shared her story. Others, she says, judge her quickly and harshly. Nonetheless, she keeps sharing her personal journey so that people will understand what abortion has really done to women in the last 40 years.
“Abortion destroys a woman inside out,” Florczak-Seeman said. “It affects her emotionally, physically, psychologically and spiritually.”
She said that in high school she was a straight-A student and had everything going for her that is until her first abortion at age 16 changed her life forever. A pattern of destructive behavior and dysfunctional relationships continued for the next four years. She had four more abortions by age 20 and used alcohol and drugs to numb her pain.
“I was suicidal. Everything I loved to do didn’t mean anything. I didn’t understand the void in my life,” she said.
Florczak-Seeman said it was only because of divine intervention that she didn’t end her own life. Instead, she asked God’s forgiveness and pledged to be an advocate on behalf of the five children she had aborted.
“God met me face to face,” she said. “And as messed up as I was, he made me whole and brought me back home.”
This January marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in all 50 states. Prior to 1973, abortion was prohibited in many states and limited in others.
Roe v. Wade was based on a legal “right of privacy,” which the justices claimed was implicitly found in the U.S. Constitution.
“Legally, logically, Roe should have never been issued. It misconstrued the way the Supreme Court is supposed to go about defining constitutional rights,” explained Helen Alvaré, an associate professor of law at George Mason University in Virginia.
Alvaré has spent her career promoting the sanctity of life and marriage. She worked for the U.S. bishops’ conference at its general counsel and pro-life offices, and has assisted the Holy See on pro-life and women’s issues. She believes that the pro-abortion agenda has hurt the women’s movement. Four decades later, abortion remains a divisive political issue.
“The question of ‘where do you stand on Roe v. Wade?’ has become this huge question,” Alvaré said. “It not only determines whether a particular person is nominated to the federal court, but it also is a big factor in who to vote for.”
On the same day that the court handed down the decision on Roe v. Wade, justices also gave the opinion on a companion case, Doe v. Bolton. That second decision overturned many of Georgia’s restrictions on abortion and stated that a woman may obtain an abortion after viability if her “health” was at risk. The decision broadened the definition of women’s health to include a wide range of categories physical, emotional, familial, psychological and age effectively legalizing abortion throughout pregnancy.
“They turned to abortion as the answer,” said Alvaré, “Any abortion, any reason, any time. From their perspective, this became the baseline.”
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, states would regain the power to implement greater restrictions on abortion, which would no longer be considered a fundamental right.
“Everybody knows from genetic science and ultrasound technology, and has for quite a while now, that what is in the mother’s womb is a human child,” said Alvaré. “Chillingly, that’s not the issue. The issue before the Supreme Court is whether there are five justices who think that the federal constitution simply doesn’t speak on abortion.”
According to the National Right to Life Committee, more than 55 million babies have been aborted in the 40 years since Roe v. Wade. That’s more than six times the population of New York City.
Norma McCorvey, who was Jane Roe, the plaintiff in the case, never actually had an abortion. Years later she became a pro-life advocate and converted to Catholicism. In a pro-life commercial produced by Virtue Media, McCorvey states, “Upon knowing God, I realized that my case which legalized abortion was the biggest mistake of my life.”
This feeling of regret and heartbreak is shared by countless women who believed “choice” was somehow going to solve their problems.
“Roe v. Wade was going to set everybody free,” said Vicki Thorn, executive director of Project Rachel, a Catholic post-abortive healing ministry that receives assistance from the Knights of Columbus. “We as women had the ‘right to choose.’ We could be in the workplace without this complication of a pregnancy.”
Inspired by a close friend who had an abortion, Thorn started Project Rachel in 1984 in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Today, it is a nationwide outreach, offering counseling to both women and men. According to Thorn, women often try to cover up the scars left by abortion.
“After the fact, there’s a great deal of grief, a lot of shame, even though this was supposed to solve the problem. There’s all this emotional baggage that happens,” she said.
According to the Elliot Institute, a nonprofit organization that researches the impact of abortion, post-abortive women are up to six times more likely to commit suicide in the year following their abortion than women who gave birth. Elliot Institute Studies also show post-abortive women are 65 percent more likely to be at risk for long-term, clinical depression.
“There are multitudes of unseen consequences that are emotional, spiritual and physical,” said Thorn. “Roe v. Wade is something that really put women into bondage under the guise of freedom. The reality is that women have been really hurt by that choice. This is not the best we can offer each other.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
After four decades of abortion on demand, many in the pro-life community have voiced their frustration and disappointment, wondering if the effort to save the unborn is an impossible mission. Shawn Carney, the 30-year-old national campaign director of 40 Days for Life, believes there is hope. “There has never been more enthusiasm for helping women at a local level,” said Carney, who is a father of four and a member of Fredericksburg (Va.) Council 4034. “We have to restore the basic view of human life, because if we do not have a right to life in our country, then the other arguments are meaningless.”
Carney said that one way to save lives is to pray in front of the very places where abortions take place. Eleven national 40 Days for Life campaigns have been conducted since 2007, focusing on prayer, fasting, community outreach and peaceful vigils at local abortion facilities. The campaigns coincide with Lent and with Respect Life Month, in October.
In the last five years, Carney said, 40 Days for Life has resulted in 75 abortion workers having conversions and quitting their jobs, and more than 6,700 babies across the country being spared from abortion.
“Culturally, [abortion] has ingrained itself in our communities as normal, as something good and necessary,” he explained. “The challenge for us as Catholics and Christians is to show that abortion is never needed and is not a good. That can only be swayed or changed at the local level, which is why we’ve used a peaceful way to change hearts and minds.”
Polls in recent years have shown more Americans identify themselves as pro-life. Last May, Gallup released a poll that showed 50 percent of Americans call themselves pro-life, compared to 41 percent pro-choice, a record low. A Knights of Columbus-Marist poll, also released last year, showed 79 percent of Americans would not allow abortion after the first three months of pregnancy.
“Still today, it is the most divisive and controversial issue in our society,” Carney said. “Despite legalizing abortion, it shows we ultimately don’t accept it.”
Florczak-Seeman has spent the last 15 years telling her story. She became a sidewalk counselor at abortion facilities and started a ministry for post-abortive mothers and fathers. In 2000, she converted to Catholicism. She stresses that the pro-life movement needs to continue reaching out in love and compassion to post-abortive women and men, and let them know about Jesus’ love and mercy.
“There is nothing too broken for him,” she said. “I wasn’t broken I was smashed. He was able to put all the pieces together. So, there’s hope.”
Florczak-Seeman believes that the testimony of women who have been left scarred by abortion will ultimately lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. “I believe that God will raise an army of women just like myself who will find their voices and settle this debate once and for all.”
CAROLEE MCGRATH, a freelance writer and mother of five, writes from Massachusetts.