Ellen sobbed. Her voice cracked as she tried to put together a sentence: "I don't think even God could forgive me."
It had been many long years of numbed pain before she broke her silence of her abortion at age eighteen. At least I truly hope she did. Women who have had abortions are in desperate need of healing.
You see, a few decades ago I helped Ellen get her abortion, sort of. I feel bad I didn't say anything back then, that I didn't talk her out of it, and that I supported her. Ellen, our best friend Sue, and I were inseparable during our last two years of high school; except when Ellen was with her boyfriend.
She became pregnant and told Sue and Sue told me. I advised Sue to buy a pregnancy test for her and, when Ellen's suspicions were confirmed, to call the Better Business Bureau and check out the abortion clinic so Ellen would be OK. Since Ellen never told me about her pregnancy, I believed the lie that I ought to respect her choice and her privacy, and say nothing.
Ellen thought she was doing the right thing. She had plans to go to college and start a career then a family. Her boyfriend didn't want to get married. Neither did she. The women at Planned Parenthood told her that her unborn baby was a blob of tissue. Nothing more.
They were wrong. She was wrong. So was I.
My silence was deafening.
In our churches today, you don't often hear women talk about abortions they had. It seems to be the no-no topic. Women are far more likely to say they have depression or anxiety, a rebellious kid, a messed-up marriage, infertility, or a miscarriage. But, abortion? No. It's not a safe topic in Christan circles.
But believe me, there are women sitting in your worship center who have had abortions. Mother's Day is especially tough. So is the day the baby died. They can't share their grief because they don't want to share their secret. Why? One reason is the fear of condemnation from Christian sisters.
So how can you, a woman who cares, help her?
First, let her know you are willing to be her friend. Chances are, she won't tell you about her abortion until she senses she can trust you. When she does, accept her; do not condemn her. God doesn't. " Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1 ).
You need not have had the same experience in order to counsel her, since all of us can identify with the sorrow and shame that accompanies sin. However, if you or someone close to you has had an abortion, you may be especially helpful, as long as you've had healing yourself.
I am privileged to know Tiffany Stuart, a blogger and a wonderful women who often shares her abortion story at Tea with Tiffany. God is using her ministry to educate women about abortion and to bring healing to those who've ended their pregnancies and feel horrible, empty, numb, angry, depressed, and unforgivable. Hers is one of the few Christian voices offering a safe place to heal.
Second, watch for signs that the post-abortion woman has not fully dealt with the abortion. Does she feel angry around babies and children? Nervous? Sorrowful? This sorrow may show up as uncharacteristic silence. Or does she seem obsessed with her career? She may be trying to prove to herself that her choice was worth the sacrifice.
Third, help the post-abortion woman understand forgiveness. She may say or think, "I've asked God to forgive me but I don't feel forgiven. Should I ask for forgiveness again? How do I forgive all the people who were involved in the abortion." Start by asking her if she believes her relationship with the Lord is not right. It is possible she has repented and she is in right relationship but Satan is trying to steal her peace.
If she hasn't repented, then she must confess her sin to God first then to others who will pray for her. "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" ( James 5:16 ). She also needs to confess to key people at the time of the abortion. This could include her parents and her husband if she was married at the time.
Fourth, give her hope. She must come to know that nothing can separate her from God's love. Show her this verse in the Bible: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" ( Romans 8:38-39 ). For homework, direct to memorize this Scripture and think on it.
Fifth, while giving hope, collect data about her circumstances, then and now. Ask, how did you become sexually active? What kind of relationship did you have with the baby's father? How did you find out you were pregnant? Who did you tell? What were their reactions? How did you feel? Discuss the three options she had: parenting, adoption, and abortion. Ask, who and what were the biggest influences on her final decision?
To discover whether she feels resentment toward anyone involved in the abortion, ask her to describe the day of the abortion step by step. The doctor? A nurse? Women in the waiting room? Protesters outside the clinic? She need to confess any sin that's uncovered.
Sixth, she probably had physical, emotional and spiritual changes in the weeks, months, and years after the abortion. Ask her what changes she has seen. If she says she has none, explore whether she is suppressing the truth. It is common for women who had abortions to experience any one or all of the following: depression, anxiety, guilt, anger, and hatred. She may have stopped attending church or, conversely, have immersed herself in every possible church activity looking for relief.
Seventh, the only way the post-abortion woman will get relief is to be reconciled with God, with herself, and with others. We've looked at reconciliation with God: to ask God to forgive her sin against him and to restore her to right relationship. He will do this. Jesus paid her all of her sins -- past, present and future -- at Calvary. She must accept this gift of grace.
Curiously, she doesn't need to forgive herself. No where in Scripture are we commanded to do this. However, she must accept the truth that God has forgiven her. His forgiveness is all that matters.
To be reconciled with others, she need to speak the truth in love to people who had a role. They may have sinned against her, or she against them. These are very difficult conversations and you, as a friend providing counsel, should guide her. She may choose to write a letter or have a meeting with you there to help her.
Does she need to reconcile with the child? Some may disagree with me, but I say no because the Bible forbids communication with the dead. ( See Isaiah 8:19.) If she wants to write a poem, draw or sculpt, or plant a tree, encourage her to do so in remembrance of God's grace to her.
So much more could be said about counseling someone who has had an abortion, and if anyone reading this has had an abortion, may God bless you. He loves you so much. He wants you to return to him. He knows your pain. He wants to heal you.