By Ava Pennington
The Christian community has taken a stand on the issue of abortion. To end a pregnancy is to end a life. Not potential life, but life. We object to abortion. We work to change civil laws that violate God’s moral law. We fight for the plight of the unborn.
The world knows we respect life in the womb. They know we oppose abortion. But do they know we are also fighting for the mother?
More than a million abortions are performed every year in the United States. At least one-third of American women will have had an abortion by age 45.
Before we dismiss this as a problem outside the church, surveys indicate 78 percent of those who have had abortions claim some religious affiliation. One survey indicates that one in five women who aborted their baby identified themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians. Hundreds of thousands of women sit in church each week with a secret that is destroying them. These are women we know and love: our friends, daughters, sisters, wives—maybe even our mothers. The baby in the womb is not the only victim of abortion.
Women with abortion in their history often struggle with Post-Abortion Syndrome. Symptoms include guilt, promiscuity, and suicidal thoughts. Eating disorders, emotional isolation, and alcohol or drug abuse can follow. Crying spells, depression, and nightmares are common experiences.
Yet these women struggle with connecting their past abortion to the symptoms they experience sometimes decades later. They become experts at stuffing the event behind them, convinced that what’s past is past, unrelated to their present circumstances. Even if they are saved and serving in church, they are emotionally stuck, unable to get past the abortion that altered their lives forever.
I Don’t Need Healing
Joann Pollard knows this only too well. For 30 years, she lived with bitterness, promiscuity, and thoughts of suicide. Some days, she cried so hard and for so long that she was unable to go to work. And no matter how much she tried, she couldn’t bear the sound of a vacuum cleaner. Yet she never made the connection between these experiences and her past abortion.
After hearing about the work of her local crisis pregnancy center, Pollard decided to volunteer. However, volunteers with abortion in their past are required to participate in a post-abortion recovery Bible study. Her first thought was, I don’t need healing. Still, she agreed to abide by their requirements.
During the class, Pollard remembers repeatedly thinking, I did that! as they discussed the various symptoms of Post-Abortion Syndrome. She awoke that night sobbing. But she has not had another crying session since she completed the Bible study. Her healing had finally begun.
Pam Durham understands Pollard’s reactions. Durham serves as the abortion recovery director for Care Net Pregnancy Services of the Treasure Coast in Florida. But this isn’t just a job for her. She has walked in the shoes of her clients. Sexually abused and pregnant at the age of 13, Durham had an abortion. Twenty years later she attended an abortion recovery class. “It connected the dots for me, explaining things like random thoughts of suicide,” she says. Durham went on to train as a counselor and then as an abortion recovery facilitator.
Recovery Begins with Forgiveness
Confidential abortion recovery programs provide an opportunity for women to receive the support of facilitators and peers who understand their pain. Many of these facilitators and peer counselors have abortion in their own history and have experienced God’s forgiveness, healing, and restoration. Often, like Pollard, participants don’t believe they need healing, but attend on the advice of a trusted peer or because it’s a prerequisite for volunteering.
Post-abortion recovery classes address biblical principles that apply to all areas of life, not just abortion. Participants discuss topics such as the need for healing, the character of God, post-abortion symptoms, and the importance of forgiving and being forgiven. Forgiveness is an especially significant turning point because of the condemnation they expect from God and other people.
Kim Ketola, author of Cradle My Heart (Kregel, 2012), explains this sense of condemnation: “Many of us have become spiritually confused after abortion, thinking we are being punished by God. . . . In our ignorance and fear, we may picture an angry judge, full of punishments that can never be satisfied.”
Ketola goes on to describe the solution: “The healing mercy of Jesus is measureless. The Bible tells us all sin—not just the big ones—separates us from God, and Jesus came to forgive all sin—not just the little ones.”
Freedom from Secrets
Abortion results in overwhelming guilt for both Christians and unbelievers, whether or not they choose to acknowledge it.
Durham notes, “The church can be so anti-abortion that women are afraid of revealing their secret. They have a strong fear of rejection. Satan takes advantage of their insecurities with thoughts such as, They’ll never love you. They’ll never accept you. You killed your baby. Women are kept in bondage—never able to reach their full potential for Christ.”
Ginny Carmichael can attest to the power of that secret. She was afraid to tell her soon-to-be husband about the abortion in her past. “I expected that because he was a Christian, he would be appalled and judgmental. I thought he would leave, but he didn’t.”
Carmichael also loved being involved in church, but felt she was never a good enough Christian because of her past abortion. “I thought I was alone, but the one thing that struck me the most is how many Christians have been impacted by abortion. I always thought these are the people fighting against abortion . . . but abortion has touched their lives, either themselves or someone close to them.”
“Those who are rightly outraged about the loss of life that happens with each abortion may not be sensitive to the pain experienced by those who learned the truth too late,” Ketola writes, “or the double pain known to millions of Christian women of having denied what we knew to be true when we chose abortion against our own religious beliefs.”
A Call to Action
“Love the person, hate the sin” has become a cliché within Christian circles. Yet it describes our need to stand for life even as we reach out to offer healing and freedom to people shackled by the pain of abortion.
Carmichael notes, “Abortion recovery is about helping individuals, but it’s also about serving the church. We’re for restoration—restoring people who have been hurt by abortion back to a proper relationship with God. By working alongside churches, we can help people become more productive Christians.”
How You Can Help
Pray for women who have had abortions or are facing the possibility of abortion. Prayer is our powerful first resort, not our last!
Take an uncompromising stand for the sanctity of life, but always accompany it with grace, mercy, and acceptance for those who have been wounded by abortion.
Pay attention to hurting individuals who come into your life. Love them and listen without judgment or condemnation. Let them know how much you appreciate their willingness to be vulnerable.
If someone confides in you, suggest she contact a local crisis pregnancy center for help. Offer to accompany her, but don’t exert pressure.
Don’t try to shield others from the pain that comes from taking responsibility for their abortion. Every person has to be willing to accept the fact of sin—whatever form it takes—in order to confess it and be free.
Tell your minister or women’s ministry leader about post-abortion recovery programs. Don’t assume they know about these resources.
If possible, include testimonies in your church’s programs to show others the forgiveness and healing God brings.
Support local crisis pregnancy centers financially and by volunteering.
Encourage your women’s ministry to adopt a local crisis pregnancy center with donations of supplies, baby clothes, or gas cards.
When an abortion occurs, we lose a life. If Christians respond with compassion to the mother, we may gain a life: the eternal life of a woman who personally experiences God’s grace, forgiveness, and restoration.
Surrendering the secret of abortion is painful, but it is a critical journey. As Pollard says, “It’s like peeling an onion. It makes you cry, but when you get to the heart, it’s the sweetest part.”
Ava Pennington is a freelance writer in Stuart, Florida.
Post-Abortion Help and Healing
Cradle My Heart: Finding God’s Love After Abortion
by Kim Ketola
(Kregel Publications, 2012)
Forgiven and Set Free: A Post-Abortion Bible Study for Women
by Linda Cochrane
(Baker Books, 1996)
Healing a Father’s Heart: A Post-Abortion Bible Study for Men
by Linda Cochrane and Kathy Jones
(Baker Books, 1996)
Surrendering the Secret: Healing the Heartbreak of Abortion
a Bible study by Pat Layton
(Lifeway Press, 2008)
Post-Abortion Recovery Resources
Abortion Recovery InterNational (ARIN): a Christian affiliate association of peer counselors, licensed professionals, and pastoral leaders
Abortion Recovery InterNational’s CARE Directory & CARE Line: an international network of abortion recovery centers
www.abortionrecovery.org or 1-866-4-MY RECOVERY (469-7326)
National Helpline for Abortion Recovery—to locate abortion recovery programs
www.nationalhelpline.org or 1-866-482-LIFE (5433)
Post Abortion Peer Counseling and Education (PACE)—outreach of Care Net pregnancy centers
Rachel’s Vineyard—weekend retreats for individuals and couples
www.rachelsvineyard.org or 1-877-HOPE-4-ME (467-3463)
Word of Hope—comfort for women suffering from a past abortion
www.word-of-hope.org or 1-888-217-8679
Missing Arrows: A Bible Study About Lost Fatherhood by Warren Williams
(free download available at website)