Published in Washington, D.C.     5am -- April 14, 1999

Colorado activist connects abortion, criminal behavior

By Jennifer Kabbany
Jail and abortion are two concepts that are rarely linked in the public mind, but Colorado Springs activist Sydna Masse says they are evil twins.
After interviews with hundreds of female inmates, she believes abortion can cause guilt-ridden women to commit crimes that land them in jail.
     The thought first occurred to her in 1994, she says, when she was visiting a friend in jail. "I've had two, you know," she says the inmate, Jennifer Reali, told her.
     "Two what?"
     "Two abortions, Sydna. No one is ministering to us here. ... I believe that easily 60 [percent] to 80 percent of this prison's population have had abortions."
     The two women had met because Reali had killed Mrs. Masse's neighbor. In an effort to forgive and forget, Mrs. Masse had written a letter to Reali, who was serving a life sentence. The two began a pen-pal friendship and eventually met face to face.
     Driving home that day, Mrs. Masse pondered whether abortion could play a part in a women's decision to commit crimes. Soon after that encounter, Mrs. Masse founded Ramah International, a Christian ministry that counsels female inmates who've had abortions.
     "I don't think abortion and future crime is mysterious or something trying to be kept under the carpet," she says. "Abortion is just a piece of the puzzle, but it's a strong piece. We know it's a common thread. If you can commit murder once, you can do it again."
     Most of her information is anecdotal, as no surveys correlating abortion and female inmates are known to have been done. But Myfawny Sanders, director of the Women's Pregnancy Center in Peoria, Ill., says she has never met a woman in prison who doesn't blame her incarceration partly on past abortions.
     Mrs. Sanders, who works mainly with women with drug problems, says that because of "the emotional pain caused by [their past] abortions, these girls took any measure necessary to get their drug of choice," then ended up in jail.
     She has counseled hundreds of women through a 16-week, post-abortion support group at Logan Correction Center in Lincoln, Ill. "The prison officials asked us to do the program," she says. "I think they felt there was a need, and we've been welcomed with open arms."
     Looking for ways to diffuse violence in women, some prisons allow Bible studies. For instance, the Florence Crane and Camp Branch Correctional Facilities in Coldwater, Mich., offer 10-week post-abortion Bible studies for female inmates.
     Counselor Laurie Velker says a nonscientific survey she conducted among female inmates in Michigan prisons revealed that "their anger was increased as a result of their abortion. They said they could see an increase in violent behavior after their abortions."
     Mrs. Velker, who has counseled women in Michigan jails who have had abortions, argues that abortion can affect a woman enough to twist her rational reasoning.
     Ten years of research in Canada found a strong correlation between child abuse and abortion. In a report titled "Induced Abortion and its Relationship to Child Abuse and Neglect," Dr. Philip Ney of Victoria, British Columbia, reports that:
  • British Columbia and Ontario, the provinces with the highest abortion rates, had the highest rate of child abuse.
  • The provinces of Prince Edward Island and New Brunwick had the lowest rates of abortion and child abuse.

     "If that instinctual restraint against killing or neglect of one's young is pushed aside once, it's much more easy to do it again," Dr. Ney said.
     However, in 1989, the American Psychological Association stated that post-abortion syndrome does not exist. The National Academy of Sciences had come to a similar conclusion in 1975.
     In 1992, the magazine Professional Psychology said an eight-year study showed past abortions play a "negligible" role in women's well-being.
     Vicki Saporta, executive director for the National Abortion Federation, says significant negative reactions after abortion are rare.
     "Women who exhibit self-destructive behavior are influenced by many other variables which have a greater impact on [their behavior] than whether or not they had an abortion," she says.
     "A lot of groups are trying to put out misinformation to dissuade women [from] making an informed decision, but [conclusions] should be based on credible scientific information."
     But Dr. Philip Mango, a Catholic psychotherapist with 30 years experience in individual and marital therapy, says "any honest clinician or researcher will come to the conclusion that large numbers of women who have had abortions, whether they believe in God or not, develop self-destructive behaviors."
     In some cases, he says, this self-destructive behavior could eventually lead a women to prison.
     "I wouldn't say abortion is the cause of [illegal] behavior," he says, "but it can be a major influence.
     "Women may not see the connection between their behavior and their abortions until they are allowed to speak about their experience in a compassionate environment."
     Mrs. Masse says she that is one of those women, and that her 1981 abortion led to destructive behavior. Soon after, she found herself smoking marijuana every day and sleeping with strangers she met at bars. This new behavior she attributes to the abortion, although she didn't realize it at the time.
     "It was a traumatic experience to say the least," Mrs. Masse says. "I remember my body battling with my mind. I knew I would regret this for the rest of my life.
     "I had done the worst thing, not as a Christian, but as a mother," Mrs. Masse says. "I was angry, and it took me years to say it had anything to do with the abortion."
     While Mrs. Masse, Mrs. Velker and Mrs. Sanders all talk freely about the women they counsel, some jails don't care to broach the subject.
     Larry Todd, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, declined to comment about the female inmates in its massive system. Officials at Broward Correctional Institution in Florida didn't respond to repeated written and verbal requests.
     "That's a sensitive subject, and you can't force people to talk about it," Mr. Todd says, adding that medical records are not public.
     Mrs. Masse scoffs at such excuses.
     "They ask you when you first go into jail how many times you've been pregnant and how many of those pregnancies were live births," she says. "[Prisons] have the information, and I don't know why they won't discuss it."

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