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Entries categorized "Trauma"

Post-Roe: What’s Going to Happen to the Children?


By Elayne Savage, PhD


#190 Banning Abortion photo                                  © Can Stock Photo / Kishiv


So many unknowns!

With the safeguards and dignity of Roe being repealed, how many ways will this affect women’s lives and the lives of partners and families?

What will the far-reaching effects be on reproductive health care for everyone?

 • There is concern by medical practitioners about being unable to access medications used for treating ectopic pregnancies and for miscarriage management.

• There has already been denial of treatment for miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, and severe pregnancy complications


• There is concern about accessing contraceptives.

A hospital in Missouri stopped providing Plan B and other emergency contraceptives. Then they realized they over-reacted and changed their mind.

• There is concern by those families trying to conceive using in vitro fertilization. They fear this ruling will complicate or even limit the procedures.

• This piece by Vox covers a range of concerns about possible changes in the way of life of many in America.

• From Forbes: Overturning Roe V. Wade: Here’s How It’ll Impact Reproductive Healthcare — Beyond Abortion

• From Time Magazine:
The Devastating Implications of Overturning Roe Will Go Far Beyond Abortion Patients

• Experts even warn we can expect increased scrutiny and potential criminalization over pregnancy loss. And some fear there will even be a copy-catting of Oklahoma where recently a 19-year-old was arrested after a miscarriage, charged with manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison. There was a miscarriage manslaughter indictment for an Alabama woman as well .


Remembering The Dangerous and Deadly Pre-Roe Years

I clearly remember the pre-Roe years and how scary and dangerous and deadly it was for pregnant women to seek abortion.

AND I have other memories as well: witnessing how dangerous life often was for the children born — unwanted, unloved and uncared for.

I don’t hear many people talking about what will become of these ‘saved’ infants after birth when parents feel they are unable to competently cope with unintended pregnancies and there had been little or no right to choose bringing a child into the world.

Maybe the parent wanted to finish school and get a job so they can support their new family.

Maybe they are not old enough or mature enough or capable enough to responsibly raise and protect a child.


Maybe they were raped or sexually assaulted by a family friend or family member.


Who Will Insure The Safety and Security of These Children?

I know first-hand about unplanned for and unwanted infants being born to parents who are not able to provide a safe environment.

I was a Child Protective Services Social Worker in San Francisco in the years before Roe v. Wade.

I guess I saw just about every type of trauma – rejection, neglect, every possible type of abuse, exploitation and abandonment – you can imagine.

Whenever I hear about parents neglecting, mistreating or abusing
their children I can’t help but wonder if that child was born wanted and welcomed –– or were they were resented and rejected from birth.


Let’s take a look at what goes into providing a safe, secure, loving, protected environment:


#190 Optimal Parent-Child

So what happens to a child who grows up with a lack of acceptance, poor hygiene, deficient medical and dental care? Or the child who lives with emotional/physical/sexual abuse or rage, leading to fear and anxiety instead of security and safety?  

In the over two decades I was a CPS Social Worker I observed so many instances where parents were incapable of being responsible to the well-being of their children.

Instead of acceptance and validation there would be frequent belittling, shaming, scolding and criticizing.

It wasn’t surprising to learn that many of these parents had experienced these same behaviors and negative messages from their caretakers when they were young children themselves.

Sometimes they were lucky to have a grandma or great grandma or auntie to model care-taking and caring. But too often not.

I’ll never forget the times I watched a young teen mother grabbing her toddler’s hand and sort of dragging them along the sidewalk, as if the child were a rag doll.

Or the many times I found piles of dirt and animal feces on the floor where young children were playing. One home was so infested with roaches there were even dozens living in the refrigerator.

I knew about young children hurting or burning themselves when they were left unattended for several hours.

I heard stories from teachers about children being ostracized because they smelled so badly from not bathing or they were wearing unwashed clothes.

I remember one woman teaching her young daughter to crawl under tables in restaurants to steal billfolds from purses on the floor. This little girl was 3 years old!

One particular memory haunts me the most: One day I showed up for a scheduled appointment and the mother had just instructed her daughters aged 7 and 9 to walk their dog two miles to the vet –– to have him euthanized. She decided she didn't want the responsibility of this pet any longer.

She insisted the children take him there but she refused to accompany them – they were on their own. I just couldn’t stand by and watch this play out so I went with them.

Thinking about that day decades ago still makes me want to cry.


#190 Belittling drawing                                 © Can Stock Photo / studiostoks


The Long, Long, Long-Term Traumatizing Effects of Abuse and Neglect

Child Abuse and Neglect is defined as "an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm” or “results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation."

More about definitions –– from the Child Welfare Information Gateway

The list of possible long-term effects of abuse and neglect is pretty much endless:  there are hundreds of facets and sub-facets of challenges with self-esteem and low self-confidence, fear, anxiety, depression, shame, anger, self-rejection, self-sabotage, taking things too personally and ability to trust in work and personal relationships.

It was my work in CPS that led me to realized the overlay of all abuse and neglect is rejection – and how fear of rejection continues throughout their lives and how trusting becomes a life-long struggle.

In Don’t Take It Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection I write: “Fear and anxiety are constant companions to abused children. They live on edge, just waiting for the abuse to come again. It’s not a matter of if it comes, but when it comes . . . . this ever-present anxiety . . . becomes a part of their identity and follows them into adult relationships.”

More on the long-term effects of abuse and neglect:

A Spanking or Beating or Whipping or Whuppin? –

The Child Abuse Reporting Act came into effect in 1963 requiring only physicians to report abuse. In 1980 the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act expanded the definition of mandated reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect. There are 16 categories. This list of reporters keeps growing and has now grown to 48 in some states!

A good example of a complete list of mandated reporters is provided in the California Penal Code (PC) section 11165.7.


Too often I knew about tweens and teens who became desperate to escape the abuse or neglect at home. So they became runaways and lived on the streets. Sometimes they were trafficked. Often the young girls became pregnant.


When Removing a Child is the Only Way to Keep Them Safe

I hated having to go to Juvenile Court when a child was endangered to testify about their unhealthy or unsafe or life-threatening living situation.


Sometimes the only way to be sure we were protecting a child was by removing the child from the family home and, if there was no reliable, willing relative, placing the child in foster care.

The hope was to provide a safe place for the child while social workers and community resources were working with the family to insure the child could return to their family and be safe and secure. Sometimes this meant providing parenting education, sometimes providing housekeeping assistance, sometimes attending to stress and overwhelm or sometimes an appropriate recovery program.

But it didn’t always work the way we hoped.

When caretakers could not provide a safe environment for their children, the children were often placed in foster care homes and eventually long-term foster care.


When I was a Long-term Placement Social Worker and was visiting residential facilities, sometimes I came across some of the same children I had removed years before!


Now they were teens and still stuck in the system because it still wasn't safe for them to return home.

Can you imagine how heartbreaking it was meeting these kids again all those years later?


Does Saving Fetuses Really Mean We Are Saving Children?

So back to my question: Now with safe abortion being repealed as an option what’s going to happen to the children?

When mothers, who for their own good reasons do not want to bring a child into this world at this time, are not given a choice, how can we guarantee these babies will be born into safe, secure, loving, protected environments, with appropriate health care and sufficient nutrition?

How can we be sure these babies will not be rejected or neglected or abused or exploited or abandoned?

And then there is the resentment that  grows and grows. Back in the pre-Roe days when delivering a baby was the only allowable choice, there may not have been obvious neglect or abuse of unwanted children, however there was often resentment permeating lives of families I knew.

I saw many children raised by resentful parents. This was especially true if they were conceived from a rape or incest. Or when the birth of that child interfered with educational or professional dreams.

And too often I saw the stresses of expecting a new baby leading to domestic violence, putting both the mother and the fetus in danger. I saw existing children suffering in already severely stressed families when arrival of the newborn caused extra emotional and financial pressure on family members.

And the present system for protecting at-risk children is already severely overburdened. If they have to be removed from the home to protect them and there are no capable available relatives, where are they going to go?


When Adoption is Accompanied By Overwhelming Feelings of Rejection and Abandonment

Yes, I am aware adoption could be a choice. 

And there certainly would be a bunch of money to be made for folks in the adoption business.

Sometimes I even find myself wondering if adoption might be a 'follow the money' reason for some people to encourage births of unplanned for and unwanted children.

Have you heard how some state legislators are trying to limit abortion from the moment of conception?  And by the way, considering banning most or all forms of contraception?

Would this mean more full-term pregnancies and more babies available for adoption?

Let's try to be aware that there are many emotional considerations regarding adoption. Considerations which would need to be carefully considered in each situation.

For example, the feelings Andrea Ross expresses so well in Huff Post:  'I Was Adopted Before Roe v. Wade. I Wish My Mother Had Been Given A Choice' 

She points out:  "Psychology research shows that women who relinquish their children frequently exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. And children who have been relinquished frequently develop relinquishment trauma ― a kind of trauma that 'changes an individual’s brain chemistry and functioning ... and can elevate adrenaline and cortisol and lower serotonin resulting in adoptees feeling hypervigilant, anxious, and depressed.' "

Because my work as a therapist focuses on perceived experiences of rejection, I have heard hundreds of stories over the decades from teen and adult clients who, although they love their adoptive parents, have struggled mightily with feeling abandoned by their birth parent(s).

And stories from the other side too: The lasting guilt often felt at giving up a child.


Will We Be Going Backwards?

First-hand stories have been emerging about the precarious and desperate and dangerous times before Roe. The most common methods used to terminate pregnancies were intentionally falling down stairs or ingesting poisons or using coat hangers to try to induce an abortion.

Sure, relatively safe abortions were available if you had the right word-of-mouth connections and could afford to pay, but most of us are aware there were way too many botched back-alley needless deaths.


Will women and their families be facing this anguish again as more and more states are in the process of deciding we have to go backwards to that dark place.

On a personal level I feel that with the Supreme Court ruling my sense of privacy and security have been tampered with.

That my personal freedom has been violated.

And that, as a woman, I don’t count as a human being on this planet.


The Connection Between Childhood Maltreatment, Delinquency and Criminality

One more important thought: Clearly lots children who are traumatized develop the resilience and opportunities to become productive and accomplished adults.

However, studies show :

– The pain of having experienced parental rejection during childhood frequently extends into adulthood;

– Those who suffered parental rejection in childhood tend to develop difficulties forming trusting relationships in adulthood;

– Neurological studies suggest that parental rejection activates the same part of the brain as does physical pain.

Studies also show a connection between childhood rejection, abuse and neglect and juvenile or adult incarceration.

Keep in mind we cannot assume that most abused children will become law-violating teens and adults. We do know, however, that many incarcerated juveniles and adults have a history of being abused and rejected.

And as many of you know from my blogs and speaking programs that I see rejection as the overlay of all types abuse and neglect. Rejection leads to self-rejection, a type of shame – affecting self-esteem, self-assurance, self-respect, self-confidence, self-regard and self-adequacy.

Several years ago I was presenting skill-building workshops within the walls of San Quentin State Prison. The series was based on what I know best: how to not take rejection and disappointment so personally.

This voluntary Success Programs’ skill-building course was presented to highly motivated medium security inmates. Most of them were in for non-violent crimes — such as stealing to support their addictions.

My book ‘Don’t Take It Personally!’ was popular reading from the prison library and I could tell they ‘got’ the message of the book and workshops when several of the men one by one came up after class and confided:

“If I had understood about my early rejection and why I take things so personally, the pressure wouldn’t have led me to need the drugs and to go out and steal for them.”

So my question is: with these recent moves in many states to criminalize abortion and take away choice, what can we do to guarantee unwanted babies will not grow up to be rejected and mistreated and possibly down the road even be charged with a criminal offense themselves?

Some of you may recognize parts of this blog from one I wrote a few years ago. With the recent repeal of Roe I really needed to express these concerns again.     

Let’s continue this conversation. Your thoughts?


© Elayne Savage, PhD

Until next month,



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