Abortion, Depression and the Demise of Charlotte Dawson

Posted: 6 April 2014

Charlotte DawsonSadly, Australia recently lost a well-known television personality to suicide. Charlotte Dawson was only 47 years old when she was found dead in her waterside apartment. Being a media personality, the story was given much coverage with an outpouring of grief from people across the entertainment industry. At her memorial service one of her closest friends said farewell to “one of the most beautiful and generous, sharp and witty, sparkling and effervescent, honest and uncompromising people ever put on the planet.”

Unfortunately I learnt more about Charlotte Dawson through death rather than through life. Hers was a life that seemed so full of promise and possibility but in the end it was all too much for one person to bear. Charlotte left her home of New Zealand on the cusp of adulthood and spent ten years modelling in Europe and the USA before relocating to Australia. She worked in the fashion scene and eventually moved over to television making appearances on a range of shows including as a judge on Australia’s Next Top Model. It was the kind of life that fuels the sales of every gossip magazine around the world.

In 2012 Charlotte was admitted to hospital after trying to commit suicide. This incident stemmed from her being the target of a particularly sickening and very public hate campaign waged against her over Twitter. When she did actually succeed in taking her life this year, the mainstream media blamed her death completely on the depression resulting from the social media bullying. However, her battle with depression was nothing new and while the cyber bullying was the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ in 2012, Charlotte herself identified an incident 15 years earlier which she claimed was “my first experience with depression”.

In 1999 as an in-love 33 year old, Charlotte married Australian Olympic swimmer Scott Miller and just months later was excited to learn that she was pregnant. The timing of the due date though was set to clash with the upcoming Sydney Olympics when her husband might be representing his country. Although Charlotte wanted the baby pressure was put on her to abort the child. She began to feel she was greedy for wanting the baby and that the fair thing to do was to compromise and terminate the pregnancy. Eventually she went to the abortion clinic; initially with her husband but he didn’t feel comfortable there and he left her alone to go through the procedure. Once Charlotte arrived home the gravity of what had happened settled upon her and she realised that “something had changed”. She became in her own words “a depressed mess…single, damaged and miserable”.

The following year Charlotte’s marriage ended. Her husband was found to be cheating on her and mixed up with drugs. He never even made the Olympic team, the focus of which had led him to sacrifice his own child. Charlotte lived the next 15 years in a series of transitory relationships including dating a man 24 years her junior. Her public career moved forward but her inner life was never the same again.

Charlotte Dawson’s life and death may have been news but her story is not uncommon. Her socialite and celebrity friends mourned her in death but how many of them really listened to her story of love and then of loss? How many would dare to be as forthright as Charlotte and speak about the tragedy of her post-abortion depression? In the days following her death, one politician made reference to the sadness of her abortion and subsequent depression but he was criticised as being controversial and disrespectful.

We live in a society that is sick, truly unwell. We defend the ‘right’ of parents to take the life of their unborn babies, telling ourselves that there will be no consequences; that we can kill one day and live happily the next. Studies that show an increased level of depression amongst women after an abortion are quickly dismissed as ‘anti-abortion’. Acknowledgement of any type of post-abortion suffering continues to be ignored by both the American Psychological and Psychiatric Associations, whereas ‘caffeine withdrawal disorder’ and ‘internet gaming syndrome’ receive a mention in their famed diagnostic manual.

We live in what we can accurately call a ‘culture of death’. Contraception and abortion are the acceptable norms of our era and we fail to grasp why depression and suicide continue to rise. Death breeds death. It is easy to lay blame on Charlotte herself, on those who pressured Charlotte to have that abortion, on her husband who put his pursuit of glory ahead of the needs of his wife and child, or, on the countless celebrities who live and promote a life so contrary to anything reminiscent of genuine love. But tragically all these people are as broken as each other.

There is hope though, and that hope, perhaps ironically, lies deep within human brokenness. It is the ever present truth that life is good, always good. Life is not always easy, but life is a joyful gift in all its forms. The culture of death with its guilt and anger and hatred is the opposite of what a human being wants. We often make mistakes in where we think true joy will be found, but it is always in the same place. Life, always life.