New Explanation for Bobbitt Mutilation Points to Abortion
Elliot Institute Report Looks Back on Third Anniversary of Cutting Incident
Springfield, IL, June 21, 1996—Three years ago, Americans were shocked, and gruesomely amused, by Lorena Bobbitt’s midnight attack on her husband’s genitals. But most of all, people were puzzled. It was easy to understand how a psychologically fragile woman might strike back at an abusive husband. But why did she wait to attack him on that particular night? Why did she confine her attack to his penis? Why did she take the severed organ with her? And why did she pause when fleeing the house to steal their houseguest’s Game Boy?
A new analysis of the case published by the Elliot Institute offers intriguing answers to these questions—answers which touch on an even more controversial issue, abortion.
According to Dr. David Reardon, author of the Elliot Institute report, “All the evidence presented at Lorena’s trial supports the view that her psychiatric symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were precipitated by a coerced abortion three days before their first wedding anniversary. Lorena pleaded to keep her child and gave in to the abortion only because she was pressured into it by John. Like other women before her, Lorena experienced the unwanted abortion as an attack on both her maternity and her sexuality. That is the key to understanding her subsequent attack on John.”
Dr. Reardon, a well-known expert on the abortion experiences of women, believes guilt, shame, and resentment over the abortion fueled the rapid rise in violence and sexual abuse in the Bobbitt household. This atmosphere of violence culminated in Lorena’s cutting off of John’s penis on almost exactly the third anniversary of the abortion.
“The timing of the cutting incident was not coincidental,” says Reardon. “Between 30 and 40 percent of women who report post-abortion problems experience more intense symptoms around the anniversary date of the abortion. For these women, the anniversary date of an abortion is a connector back to unresolved grief, which can exhibit itself in the guise of psychosomatic illnesses, increased depression, and uncontrollable fits of rage, all of which Lorena experienced.”
Lorena’s abortion was on June 15, 1990. On June 18, 1993, she went to her doctor complaining of hyperventilation, cramping, and anxiety attacks. Reardon says these symptoms are all typical of a post-abortion anniversary reaction. The cutting incident occurred five days later, only minutes after she experienced flashbacks to the abortion, another common post-abortion reaction.
Reardon has been the lead researcher on several national studies of the emotional aftereffects of abortion and has written numerous books and articles on this subject. He assisted Lorena Bobbitt’s defense team in identifying the anniversary reaction which occurred at the time of the attack and also helped her attorneys to procure the aid of a post-abortion therapist prior to the trial.
While Reardon did not have access to any privileged communications in the preparation of his report, he claims that all of the relevant facts to support his analysis can be found in the court transcripts which included testimony of expert witnesses. When these facts are combined with known patterns of post-abortion reactions, he says, it is clear that Lorena’s abortion trauma profoundly magnified the couple’s problems and influenced everything she did on the night of the attack.
According to Lorena’s sworn testimony, she became sexually cold toward John immediately after the abortion. It was then, she claimed, that John began to sexually force himself upon her. According to the testimony of Dr. Susan Fiester, it was also at this time that Lorena became severely depressed, experienced intense feelings of guilt, and began to exhibit suicidal and self-destructive tendencies. It was at this time that the couple began to experience more frequent and violent altercations.
According to a study cited in Reardon’s Bobbitt analysis, nearly 60% of women who experience post-abortion problems report that after their abortions, they lost their tempers more easily and became more violent when angry. If both the woman and her partner were involved in the abortion, mutual feelings of guilt and antagonism may magnify hostilities even more. “This problem,” Reardon says, “can make the resolution of spousal abuse very difficult. Women may refuse to leave violent relationships because intense feelings of guilt and lowered self-esteem may make them more prone to self-destructive behavior. They may continue to expose themselves to the risk of violence because they feel they deserve to be punished.”
According to the Elliot Institute’s report, Lorena’s traumatic abortion is implicated in the cutting incident not only by the timing of the attack, but also by the manner in which she attacked John. “Lorena felt as though her abortion had left her sexually mutilated,” Reardon says, “and she blamed John for making her have it. That she chose to attack John’s sexuality, not his life, indicates that Lorena was subconsciously choosing to retaliate in kind—‘an eye for an eye,’ so to speak.”
The fact that Lorena carried off the severed penis may also be significant. “Lorena desperately wanted to have a replacement baby. The grief and shame surrounding her ‘missing child’ were at the heart of her psychological problems,” says Reardon. “In the moments when she fled the house, she was highly upset and disoriented. Subconsciously, the severed penis may have symbolized her missing child; it embodied her desire to have her child.”
Reardon supports this theory by pointing out that when Lorena fled from the house that night she also grabbed their houseguest’s Game Boy. He believes this bizarre act had psychological significance. According to his written analysis of the case, “In her hands she clutched both a phallic symbol and a child’s toy, which even by its very name—Game Boy—symbolized the missing ‘Little Boy’ she so desperately wanted. When fleeing the house, then, she was, on some subconscious level, simply trying to take ‘her baby’ with her.”
Reardon blames the disintegration of the Bobbitt’s marriage on Lorena’s abortionist. He claims that Lorena had at least eight well-known risk factors which indicated that she was likely to suffer severe psychological maladjustment after the abortion. “Any competent physician would have refused to do the abortion on Lorena, no matter how much John wanted it. It was clearly not in her best interests and was predictably likely to cause extensive harm to both her and her marriage.”
Blaming abortionists for post-abortion problems is one of Reardon’s preoccupations. In his recently published book Making Abortion Rare: A Healing Strategy for a Divided Nation, Reardon outlines a strategy for (1) increasing public awareness of post-abortion injuries; (2) reducing judgmentalism and encouraging emotional healing for women and men who suffer from post-abortion grief; and (3) increasing the rights of women to sue abortionists for the psychological problems which occur after abortion. He believes that abortion is so psychologically damaging that tougher liability standards will drive abortion clinics out of business.
Not all psychiatrists agree that abortion can cause psychological trauma. As recently as 1992, Dr. Nada Stotland published a commentary in which she flatly insisted that post-abortion trauma “does not exist.” [“The Myth of Abortion Trauma Syndrome,” JAMA, Oct. 21, 1992]
Reardon points out, however, that the studies Stotland cites to support her views actually contradict her conclusions. For example, Stotland cites a study by Bryan Lask which found that 32 percent of the patients interviewed had “unfavorable” psychological outcomes to their abortion. A second study she cited as proving that “the majority” of women experience relief after their abortion found that 49 percent reported one or more maladjustment’s within three months of their abortions.
While no major psychiatric organization has endorsed diagnostic criteria for post-abortion problems, individual therapists have been treating women for abortion related PTSD for more than twelve years. According to one pioneer in this field, Dr. Vincent Rue, co-director of the Institute for Pregnancy Loss, post-abortion trauma is far more widespread than is generally recognized.
“From the evidence accumulated in the course of her trial,” Dr. Rue stated, “it is very likely that Lorena Bobbitt’s actions were a direct result of both her traumatic coerced abortion experience and her longstanding abusive relationship with her husband. Her abortion experience could certainly be characterized as a severely traumatizing extension of the spousal abuse she encountered in her marriage.”
A complete copy of Reardon’s 14,000 word analysis of the Bobbitt case is available for $10 by writing the Elliot Institute, PO Box 7348, Springfield, IL 62791-7348.