Hallmark may be introducing chemo and coming-out cards, but a group called Exhale seems to have cornered the market on this one. Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that Exhale, a deeply well intentioned nonprofit that runs a post-abortion talk line based in Oakland, Calif., recently added a new service to its Web site: electronic greeting cards to send to women who have had abortions.
It would be a great idea, if it didn't have the potential to alienate the very women it's meant to support.
Like most electronic greeting cards, the Exhale series have that oh-so-tender, even cheesy, aesthetic -- which will no doubt offend some people who don't like getting ersatz e-greetings about a very personal, potentially upsetting experience.
It's not as if Exhale hasn't tried to do its best to express its message of nonpartisan support for women no matter what their beliefs or feelings. The five cards are designed to suit a range of emotions depending on what the woman is (presumably) feeling. The problem is that only one hits a purely neutral tone: "I want you to know that I care -- about you and how you are feeling. My thoughts are with you." All the others are more presumptuous about the women's state of mind and, indirectly, the nature of an abortion. For the woman who is neither guilt-stricken nor alienated from her spiritual faith over terminating her pregnancy, the card with the motto "Healing is possible. May you find peace after your abortion" in romantic spindly italics against a rocky mountain paradise might feel like a sharp slap in the face. By the same token, the card reading: "I think you're strong, smart thoughtful and caring. I believe in you and your ability to make the best decision. I think you did the right thing" might strike a woman who feels more ambivalent or regretful as yet another unnecessary opinion from the peanut gallery. And the one that offers outright condolences beginning: "There are no words to express my sympathy for your loss ..." comes dangerously close to suggesting that the aborted fetus is actually a dead baby.
The problem with all these well-meant sentiments is that because abortion gives rise to such a multiplicity of emotions, it's dangerous to assume a greeting card can ever accurately predict what a given woman is feeling. My response to many of these cards would be cringing annoyance -- not appreciation. "As you grieve, remember that you are loved." Please.
Perhaps anticipating that the cards might be seen as tools as of guilt inducement rather than emotional support, Exhale executive director Aspen Baker told the AP she hoped "the people who send them take the time to think not only about the message they want to send, but about what is best for the person receiving it and what they need to hear." But therein lies the rub. With such a complicated topic, where even friends might conceal their true feelings from one another, the idea seems like a recipe for an epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease.
The very reasons that everything is right about the idea of a post-abortion talk line -- women come to it themselves, and define the terms of the conversation -- are the same reasons that post-abortion e-greetings are inherently flawed. As the Web site's description of the talk line puts it: "There is no 'right' way to feel after an abortion. We also know that feelings of happiness, sadness, empowerment, anxiety, grief, relief or guilt are common." Where the talk line invites women to articulate their own feelings, the e-card lets others to do it for them.
Whatever the e-cards' shortcomings, the women at Exhale couldn't have known what they were getting themselves into. Antiabortionist bloggers are having a field day, especially inveighing against the statement: "You did the right thing." Ironically, even the religious cards offend them -- for totally different reasons than they offend me -- because one indirectly refers to the abortion as a "transition." If you're interested in the onslaught of ugliness, click at your own peril. Sometimes these people make Attila the Hun look like a gentle, misunderstood soul.