Carolyn’s heart raced as she looked at the pregnancy test. She could picture the disappointment on the face of her mom—who had worked three jobs to feed her brood of six—if she learned about a baby on the way. Mom had always warned, “Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Don’t let yourself get pregnant at nineteen, then marry someone you’ll divorce.”
My credit card is maxed out, Carolyn thought. How can I take care of a baby when I can’t even take care of myself? . . . The baby’s father doesn’t have a job. . . . I’m supposed to go to college.
“I Can’t Be a Mom.” Carolyn couldn’t imagine telling her mother, and she didn’t tell her friends, either. She knew people who seemed to just move on after having an abortion, but they never talked about it. So she drove to a Planned Parenthood facility hoping to meet someone who would understand her fears. She told the woman at the front desk, “I can’t be a mom,” and the woman gave her a pamphlet on abortion. No one asked, “How are you doing?” or “What do you need?” Carolyn left quickly.
Next, she visited a pregnancy help center. The volunteer talked to her about adoption and parenting classes should she decide to have the baby, but she didn’t seem to understand when Carolyn tried to explain how important it was for her to start college. In the end, she felt that her only option was to go through with an abortion.
A few years later, Carolyn became pregnant again, this time with the man who would become her husband. She thought back to the pregnancy that she never talked about. It still hurt so much.
A Common Experience. Carolyn’s experience is not unique. Four generations after Roe vs. Wade, abortion has become almost commonplace. Supported and encouraged by friends and family who are concerned about their future, women convince themselves that it’s a responsible choice. And because the trauma, shame, and grief that follow abortion are not openly discussed, they suppress their feelings and often become emotionally numb. They may also turn to substance abuse and other destructive coping strategies.
Like the inner wounds of abuse and other forms of complex trauma, there are emotional and psychological scars following an abortion. As a consequence, nine out of ten people who experience grief after an abortion don’t know where to turn for help.
But things are beginning to change. Pregnancy centers across the country are joining a “healing network” that provides training and resources that will enable them to include “abortion recovery” in their services.
The organization behind this healing network, Support After Abortion (SAA), originally set out to be a middleman between clients who needed healing and pregnancy resource centers that offered it. They discovered, however, that the number of people desperate for support far exceeded the capacity to provide it. So they started offering their own abortion recovery services: a twenty-four-hour helpline and supportive small groups.
A Culture of Compassion. Catholic dioceses in four states have invited Support After Abortion to offer recovery services to their pregnancy centers and to help raise awareness about the need for post-abortion healing. “The data overwhelmingly points to the emotional, psychological, and spiritual tsunami of destruction that abortion has left in its wake,” says Fr. Shawn Monahan, OMV, of the Diocese of Venice, Florida. “If we are to stem the tide of abortion, it is essential to heal those impacted by it. We must respond to a culture of death with a culture of compassion.”
Fr. Shawn says that the work of SAA’s healing network to increase capacity for abortion recovery is like the “new wine” that stretches out wineskins. It creates more space to accommodate more people in need. It also creates more space for people to contribute to the cause of healing.
This is the path God had for Carolyn, but first she went through a deep process of healing herself. It started with heart-wrenching guilt that arose when she gave birth for the first time. “When the nurse handed my newborn son to me,” she recalls, “I suddenly felt so ashamed that I couldn’t even look at him.” Deep down, Carolyn was carrying the weight of what she had done. How could God forgive me? she wondered.
Carolyn knew she needed support, so the next year, she started going to church. But it wasn’t until she sought healing from the experience of her abortion that her relationship with God was able to flourish and deepen. It was that healing, coupled with her growing closeness to the Lord, that motivated Carolyn to find work in pregnancy resource centers. When she heard about the mission of SAA, she knew the organization could make a big difference and ultimately went to work for them.
A New Movement of Healing. Support After Abortion offers a range of services for people seeking healing: conversations through text messages, individual counseling sessions, group sessions, and virtual sessions.
SAA has even designed programs for people who aren’t ready for a spiritual component, which will help them reach a much larger number of women. SAA staff members recognize that God is present as they lead support groups, whether or not they speak his name. “We know he’s there,” Carolyn explains.
When women experience someone compassionately accompanying them and paying attention to their pain, they realize they aren’t alone. Unconstrained by denial, social stigma, or fear, they finally begin the journey toward healing—a journey that dramatically reduces the likelihood that they will have another abortion in the future. Now that SAA has begun offering these nonfaith-based healing programs, they are expecting to be able to reach a much larger number of women—especially those suffering acutely just days or weeks after their abortions.
This goal of reducing the number of repeat abortions animates everyone involved in Support After Abortion. Research has shown that the most effective abortion preventative, after an ultrasound, is healing from a prior experience of abortion. Since half of abortions each year in the US are by women who have had a previous abortion, SAA hopes that their emphasis on healing and recovery could eventually end the demand for abortion altogether.
The frontier is wide, and the need for collaboration is great. Yet abortion recovery is quickly becoming a “new movement” in the broader pro-life cause that just might turn the tide.
Kathryn Elliott, a frequent contributor to The Word Among Us, lives in Indianapolis. To learn more about Support After Abortion, visit supportafterabortion.com.
God offers hope and healing after abortion . . .
Support After Abortion’s nationally commissioned research shows that 70 percent of women seeking healing after an abortion are not looking for faith-based resources. This startling statistic prompted The Word Among Us Partners to connect with SAA to fill this need. In this collaboration, Partners revised faith-based after-abortion prayer booklets and created a new stepping-stone to faith booklet series. The Support After Abortion: Keys to Hope and Healing booklets are an opportunity to connect with women and men who desire healing but may not be ready to hear that they are loved and forgiven by God. Partners currently publishes and distributes these free booklets to tens of thousands of people across the US, but many more need our help.
To help Partners support women facing unplanned pregnancies and promote healing for everyone who has experienced an abortion, make a tax-deductible donation online at our secure website, waupartners.org.
Or donate by calling 1-888-633-1084 or by mailing a check to
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The Word Among Us Partners
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Frederick, MD 21704-5234
Box 1107, Station F
Toronto, Ontario M4Y 2T8
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