Many good things distinguish Redeeming Grief, Anne’s Lastman’s gripping testament to the dehumanizing havoc wrought by abortion. It is the work of a woman who has devoted over seventeen years of her life to helping thousands of fathers and mothers heal from the wounds of abortion. It is an unsparing analysis of the way abortion destroys not only unborn children but the very fabric of the family. And it is the fruit of conversion: Mrs. Lastman has come to her courageous testament after two abortions of her own, which she was only able to survive, as she says, because of “the mercy of God” and her own “profound rediscovered love for him.”
That contrition should be the foundation of so much of Mrs. Lastman’s testimony puts her in lively company. One thinks of the great English defender of life, Aleck Bourne (1886-1974), who, despite initially agitating for the legalization of abortion, went on to found the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, and Dr. Bernard Nathanson (1926-2011), an abortion doctor for many years in New York, as well as an architect of the American pro-abortion lobby, who became one of the most ardent and heroic of pro-lifers.
In addition to these splendid pro-life converts, Mrs. Lastman’s career evokes that of an even more illustrious figure. “You can depend on this as worthy of full acceptance,” St Paul told St Timothy, “Christ came into the world to save sinners. Of these I myself am the worst. But on that very account I was dealt with mercifully, so that in me, as an extreme case, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, and that I might become an example to those who would later have faith in him and gain everlasting life.”
In her impassioned appeal to those unaware or heedless of the real enormity of abortion, and in her solicitude for those beguiled into conniving in the killing of their own unborn children, many of whose stories are woven into the text of Redeeming Grief, Mrs. Lastman exhibits an altogether compelling, Pauline authority. In this respect, she calls to mind another convert, John Newton (1725-1807), the former slave driver turned abolitionist and hymnologist, who, in repudiating the slave trade, came to personify amazing grace.
Another differentiating virtue of Mrs. Lastman’s approach is that she recognizes that the essence of abortion is a failure to embrace the God-given gift of life. As she writes early in the book, “for every one of the abortive women whom I have counseled there has been a history in which the Word of God has been totally absent.” Consequently, many of these women often kill their babies out of genuine ignorance of the sanctity of life.
Yet they are not the only ones who fail to grasp the source of life’s sanctity. Many pro-lifers preen themselves on making the case for life without making reference to the Lord of Life, as though the all-important relation between the Creator and His creatures had nothing to do with the inviolability of life. Many lose sight of the fact that the guilt suffered by those who betray that inviolability is the voice of conscience, the voice of the Holy Spirit calling the sinner back to the Father of Mercies. Many remain convinced that natural law arguments alone can sway a public opinion ignorant of the God who animates that law. By boldly making God and His love the centerpiece of her study, Mrs. Lastman reminds her readers that it is only by understanding and receiving the love of God that we can understand and protect human love.
Her theological approach also takes into account the full scale of abortion’s evil, something from which many pro-lifers shy away. Indeed, it is striking how few reviewers have accurately described Redeeming Grief. Far from being a “non-judgmental” counselor’s log, as some have suggested, it is a searing indictment of the satanic viciousness of abortion. Above all else, Mrs. Lastman is a truth teller and when she defines her terms she does not shuffle.
Abortion is ultimately not about rights…. It is about hatred, especially spiritual hatred. It is about the hatred Lucifer bears for God and his creation. It is about the cursing of the seed and the crushing of the head. It is about robbing God of children destined for his Kingdom. It is about wickedness wanting tenants for his own accursed kingdom. It is about violence and degradation. It is about dehumanization and death. It is about the mechanization and finally the death of societal conscience possibly leading to the death of society itself.
If Redeeming Grief is full of compassion for those who regret allowing themselves to become agents of this “violence and degradation,” it is never ‘non-judgmental’ compassion, which, she recognizes, would trivialize the grief of those who deplore what they have done in killing their own children. As such, her approach reveals the debt Mrs. Lastman owes to the most perceptive of all pro-lifers, Pope John Paul, II, whose Evangelium Vitae remains the single best book ever written on the topic precisely because it anatomizes so clearly and so charitably the grave inherent sinfulness of abortion.
Still another virtue of the book is that it does not avoid addressing aspects of the culture of death that pro-lifers often sidestep. For Mrs. Lastman, the tragic rejection of Pope Paul VI’s condemnation of contraception, so prophetically set out in Humanae Vitae, lay the groundwork not only of legalized abortion but of all of the moral and spiritual disorders that have come to characterize the pro-abortion ethos. “Humanae Vitae,” she writes, “was the document which came out against the social engineers. It attempted to sound the warning bells about possible future disasters. Very sadly it was a document not embraced either by the Catholic world or society in general. Hence the rampant spread of unbridled sexuality, unholy sexuality, contraception on an unimaginable scale, abortions in unprecedented numbers, overt demands for homosexual acceptance as a ‘normal’ lifestyle leading to demands for same-sex marriage, and the slow and insidious disintegration of the family.”
That contraception, sodomy and abortion are sins that mutilate the family is something one rarely hears even from Catholic pro-lifers. As we all know, in a social order where deploring such sins opens one up to charges of bigotry, silence rules, a silence replete with collusion. It is also a silence which consigns young men and women suffering from post-abortion grief to an isolated grief, which gives rise to the nihilism and self-destructiveness that now characterize so many young people. In taking stock of this “disenfranchised grief,” as she calls it, which has become ubiquitous in the wake of Roe v. Wade, Mrs. Lastman asks a number of very pointed questions.
Are the drugs, promiscuity, recklessness their cry to be loved, welcomed, valued, nurtured, guided and directed? Are the dangerous paths embarked upon a rebellion against their perceived lack of value? Are the young consciously atoning for the unjust deaths of millions of their siblings?
Throughout the book, Mrs. Lastman makes clear that unless we acknowledge the intrinsic sinfulness of abortion and other related evils there can be no hope of our coherently combating the culture of death.
Often it has been said to me during counseling sessions: “Now I understand what sin is and what sin does.” Until this time the sense of sin had not been an issue. “Sin” was what religious fanatics spoke about…. As I listen to these and other similar words I am filled with hope, as I see that the spirit’s travail for this loss can be the energizer for future hope.
Here, Mrs. Lastman echoes a memorable passage from a sermon by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who knew from the confessional how necessary the sense of sin is to those seeking to disenthrall themselves from the trammels of evil.
True contrition, that is perfect sorrow for sin, is when we are sorry, and sorry for God’s sake. Now people think it is hard to have so pure a sorrow, that to be sorry because we are in danger to be damned may be easy … but to be sorry for God’s sake and not our own—which is contrition—is a thing for saints or the devout and not for ordinary men or loth and lingering sinners. But easy or hard, remember, brethren, this, and root and rivet it into your hearts, that sorrow for sin is a gift of God and that if you ask for it, it will be given. Do not enquire if you have got it; ask for it, beg and pray for it, with tears, with inward tears at least, and strong cries of the heart beseech God to give it to you. Summon your last strength for that. You will have it; you will get it in time enough. God knows our need. God knows our need. I repeat it a third time. God knows our need.
In encouraging those suffering from post-abortion grief to see for themselves the sinfulness of abortion, Mrs. Lastman shows true solicitude for the survivors of abortion, not the false solicitude of those who give out that by glossing over this sinfulness they are somehow doing the sinner a favor. Penance, after all, enables the sinner to come to terms with his post-abortion grief and reconciles him to God, while impenitence aggravates his grief and estranges him from God.
Then, again, Mrs. Lastman shows how an impenitent age attempts to defy its guilt by authorizing the State to have the final say in matters of birth, marriage, family, and death, an unholy compact which has set off a tourbillion of deviance.
A nation which legally mandates that its future citizens may be murdered, has also covenanted itself with death because it has attempted to wrest sovereignty over life and death from God, and placed it in the hands of Caesar… Having done this, it cannot then hope to justly govern its people. Those who have forced the legalisation of abortion cannot then rest because what has been enacted must be protected, and so further abominations must be deemed necessary in order to justify the original act. Thus late term abortions, infanticide, patricide, matricide, euthanasia, same-sex addictions, demands for deconstruction of marriage and demands for same-sex marriage must follow. Beginning with the killing of weakest infants slowly the moral order must collapse.
Particularly odious proof of the collapse of the moral order in England came recently when the Director of Public Prosecutions released a statement on the Crown Prosecution Service’s failure to prosecute two doctors exposed by the Daily Telegraph for carrying out abortions based on gender. In his statement, the Director, Keir Starmer said that “there may be circumstances, in which termination of pregnancy on grounds of fetal sex would be lawful….” Unconscionable bureaucrats like Starmer may never regret condemning babies to the abattoir, but for those capable of contrition Mrs. Lastman has a vital message:
Human beings were not designed to abort children. They were designed to fulfill a desire to give birth; therefore, the damage which abortion does cannot be repaired by psychological or psychiatric measures (although these measures can help) but by God Himself. Only He can repair the damage to the sacred sanctuary where He encounters the creature of His desire. The healing of abortion grief comes when there is an encounter between the sinner and God. When this reconciliation is facilitated then solidarity with God and neighbor (including the aborted infant) is reestablished and reintegration into the human and heavenly family is achieved.
The alternative to acknowledging and repenting of the sin of abortion, as Mrs. Lastman shows, is set out by the author of Evangelium Vitae with great cautionary dispatch: “If it becomes licit to take a human life when it is weakest, wholly dependent on its mother, on its parents, on the strength of human consciences, then what dies is not only an innocent human being but also human conscience itself. And who knows how widely and quickly the cancer of this destruction of conscience will spread.” At any rate, Lastman is surely right when she says that at the root of the culture of death is “a death of desire to know our creator God,” a death for which our absentee Catholic episcopacy must bear grave responsibility.
Having shared with her readers the fundamental threat that abortion poses to the very survival of our civilized humanity, as well as the lives of unborn children, Mrs. Lastman insists that it is precisely in our war with the pro-abortion establishment that our most valiant pro-lifers will emerge.
Perhaps the greatest and strongest warriors against the enemy of life, abortion, and against abortion providers, will be those individuals who have submitted themselves to the procedure and allowed their baby to be destroyed. Men and women who have experienced an abortion and who know the pain, loss, loneliness, regret, guilt, shame, will slowly surface. With a loud voice they will condemn governments, abortionists, societies and individuals who have lied to them, when told their baby was not a baby and there would be no after effects.
This rousingly hopeful passage will give readers some sense of why Redeeming Grief is such a special book and why Anne Lastman is a pro-lifer to celebrate and applaud.