When I was eighteen, I found out I was pregnant. My boyfriend said he’d kick me out of our apartment if I didn’t have an abortion, and my employer agreed that this was the only logical option. She even offered to make the arrangements. My experience at the abortion clinic was painful and humiliating. I cried that day . . . and the next. Then I cried alone because my boyfriend and I broke up.
Although I hadn’t felt this way before, it was clear to me afterwards that abortion had ended the life of my child. I felt guilty and had a sense that I deserved to be punished—in fact, I desired punishment. As a result, I sank into depression and self-destructive behavior.
My experience brought me to church, but I wasn’t sure that Jesus could forgive me. I often found myself thinking that if people in the nearby pews knew what I had done, they wouldn’t shake my hand—and certainly wouldn’t sit next to me.
The worse I felt, the more I tried to do penance by volunteering at a pregnancy center. Eventually, the director found out about my abortion and encouraged me to attend a healing workshop. This helped me not only to grieve the loss of my child, but also to identify my unhealthy behaviors. It took me several more years to finish my journey to wholeness, but things progressively improved as I learned to act on the truth of God’s mercy and redemptive grace.
One in Three. Today, I spend much of my time helping other people whose lives have been touched by abortion. I also work with young people to help them develop critical thinking skills, value life, and make choices they will not regret.
I have found that how we live our lives and how we treat people are much more important than what we say. Of course, it’s important to be informed and clear about the issues (the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference is a good resource: www.usccb.org). But if we want our conversations to be productive rather than polarizing, we need to give some thought to how we communicate.
Abortion isn’t just an abstraction or a subject for idle philosophizing. For all too many people, it is intensely personal—a raw and painful topic.
At current abortion rates, it is estimated that one in three women in the United States will have had an abortion by age forty-five. But it isn’t just these women who are affected: The list includes spouses, partners, children, other family members, and friends (see “You Are Not Alone” on page 64). In fact, it is becoming rare not to know someone who has had an abortion.
This is one reason why it is so difficult to engage in a reasoned discussion of the subject. Often, even without our knowing it, people may be interpreting our words and actions through a screen of painful personal experiences. If we want to change hearts and minds and model the love and mercy of Christ, then their experiences must be considered.
Do They Need to Grieve? When the topic of abortion comes up, bear in mind that the person you are speaking to may have been impacted by abortion. If so, their first need is for healing. This is why it helps to understand something about reproductive grief.
It’s normal to grieve after any pregnancy loss, whether it is caused by miscarriage, stillbirth, adoption, infertility, or abortion. Most of us know someone who has suffered the loss of a child through miscarriage. The loss suffered in an abortion is similar, except for two important distinguishing factors: First, the loss is chosen, often after succumbing to pressure from others; second, the abortion is typically kept a secret.
Talking is an important part of grieving a loss like this. But people who are carrying the burden of a past abortion—either their own or someone else’s—often feel that they’re the only ones having a difficult reaction. Their sense of isolation keeps them from reaching out to others.
Sometimes they encounter pro-life people who condemn them, and pro-choice people who deny their feelings. Finding no safe place to deal with their troubling emotions, they may choose to repress or numb them in order to cope. And even when they want to talk about their experiences, well-meaning family and friends often urge them to simply move on with their lives and “forget about it.” Thus, abortion can cause emotional scars with lifelong effects.
So be alert to this need for healing. And if you discover that you are indeed speaking with someone who has been impacted by abortion, offer to connect them with healing resources and to support them through the process.
And As You Speak . . . Pray. Immerse every encounter and conversation in prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, to open hearts, and to communicate his truth, love, and grace through you.
Respect. Exemplify Jesus’ love by showing genuine care and concern for the people you talk to, regardless of their stand on abortion. Keep in mind that most people who support abortion are concerned about women who live in difficult situations and about babies whom they fear will be neglected. They, too, feel uncomfortable with the high rate of abortions and wish there were better solutions for women experiencing unexpected pregnancies.
Believe it or not, we share a lot of common ground with many of those who label themselves “pro-choice.” An attitude of respect enables us to work on practical solutions together. And by seeking to build a genuine connection, we affirm their intrinsic value and worth.
Listen. Give people some space. Patiently listen to their opinions and concerns. We can learn a lot when we stay silent, quiet our minds, and truly listen. Also, some people need time to process their thoughts and feelings. By listening to them attentively, we make it easier for them to work things through and to arrive at greater clarity.
In all these ways, we help build a culture of life. By communicating sensitively and compassionately, we can be a source of healing and understanding. We can bring the love of Jesus to the world.
Michaelene Fredenburg is the creator of the Abortion Changes You® Outreach (see page 64). She is also president of Life Perspectives, which helps students and adults to pursue healthy relationships, value human life, and positively impact their world: www.LifePerspectives.net.