A former writer for FamilyLife, Mary never tires of telling how God changes lives and legacies. She also enjoys leading workshops about faith and grandparenting. She has written several books and is the author of One-of-a-Kind Grandparent Connection: Building a Legacy with Your Grandchild. Mary and her husband, Jim, are members of Perryville Second Baptist Church.
Editor’s Note: We want you to be aware that this story is significantly longer than most articles published in the ABN. However, we believe that the content and the subject matter is of such importance that we encourage you to take the extra time and read it through to the end.
Melinda Chisum was sixteen years old when she discovered she was pregnant. Growing up in a very poor family, there often wasn’t enough food in her house. And for most of her childhood, there was no running water. Daily rituals of fighting and screaming were commonplace. “I couldn’t imagine bringing a child into that,” she says.
Choosing not to confide in her parents, she was scared and felt backed into a corner. When the nurse at the health department gave her the positive results of her pregnancy test, she also gave her a number for the abortion clinic. Melinda didn’t want to believe she was pregnant. That’s why she went to her family doctor for a second opinion.
The nurse there also provided the number to an abortion clinic. So Melinda thought terminating the pregnancy must be her only real option. And like millions of women, she told herself, “It’s legal. It must be okay.”
A few days later she walked into an abortion clinic. She was alone. Afraid. Someone held her hand and said it would be over soon. But it wasn’t. Melinda says, “It was very painful. That night in my bed, the realization hit me that I had killed my baby. I cried all night and for many, many more to come.”
She told herself she had done nothing wrong, that abortion was her only choice, and it was her right to decide about her own body. And for the next twenty-two years, she says she “pushed it all under the rug.”
Melinda’s story is not unique. It may be yours or that of a young woman who sits next to you at church each Sunday. It’s a story of a troubling secret: a past abortion that has caused profound, unspoken pain.
If this is your story, Melinda and others want you to know everyone has past regrets and you can have a bright tomorrow. If this is the story of your friend, this article could help you understand her inner turmoil.
It’s been said that one in four women in the United States will have an abortion by age forty-five, and that many of them suffer in silence. My friend Laurie Kopf says, “I will never regret anything as much as my decision to go through with the abortion. Every detail of that day is forever engraved on my brain.”
Her decision to have an abortion left her with a feeling of emptiness and deep shame. As soon as the procedure was complete, Laurie had regrets. “It left me feeling like I was a terrible, sinful offender who never deserved to be forgiven,” she says. “I felt if anyone knew, especially in the Christian community, they would think I was a horrible person.”
Author Sydna Massé writes that years ago, while enjoying a meal at a pregnancy center fundraising event, a woman near her remarked, “I don’t know how anyone who claims to know Christ could ever abort.” The woman did not know Sydna had an abortion when she was a Christian.
Turning to the stranger, Sydna gently replied, “… Only 38 percent report they have no faith background.” The woman looked at her in disbelief.
How to Find Healing
How can those in the Church who experienced abortion and its effects find healing? I asked several friends where they found help. Here is some of what they said.
1. Accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness.
Renea was ashamed of her abortion and didn’t want to read a book or article on the topic. Why? “Because,” she says, “I was sure people would know what I had done.”
So instead, she began to study the book of John in the Bible. She read in chapter 8 about a woman who had been caught in adultery. The scribes and Pharisees brought her before Jesus and said, “Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (v. 5).
No one expected Jesus’ reply. He simply bent down and wrote something on the ground with His finger. Perhaps He jotted down some of the sins of the very scribes and Pharisees who were accusing the woman.
Next, He stood and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). And then He bent down to write some more.
One by one, each of the scribes and Pharisees went away. Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, perhaps with a compassionate gaze that pierced her soul, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, Lord,” she replied.
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (vv. 10–11).
As Renea studied the book of John, she was encouraged by Jesus’ unconditional love for people and His offer of forgiveness for any sin. “It made me hopeful that He might still love me.”
“It was a long process,” she said, “but I finally realized I was not only forgiven, but God wasn’t holding my abortion against me.”
2. Remember that turning to alcohol or drugs for relief is never the answer.
Many women long for relief from haunting memories or guilt from an abortion. It is not uncommon for them to turn to alcohol or drugs. A study by the Elliot Institute found women who aborted their first pregnancy were almost four times more likely to have subsequent drug or alcohol abuse than women who never had an abortion.
A 2010 study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry compared women who had an abortion with those who had not. It found the women who had an abortion also had a 261 percent increased risk for alcohol abuse and a 280 percent increased risk for any substance use disorder.
In her book Her Choice to Heal, Sydna Massé says abortion is something most women are driven to out of desperation. She attended a Christian college when she became pregnant, and she thought having a child out of wedlock would mean the end of her future.
During an interview with FamilyLife Today, Sydna said, “I never thought . . . of going through an abortion as standing in front of me for the rest of my life, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically.” Shaken and angry at her boyfriend after her abortion, she began a daily habit of getting high on marijuana or alcohol to drown out the memories.
Like the quick-fix of an abortion, she found substance abuse did not provide long-term relief. It only increased her problems.
If you are medicating yourself with drugs or alcohol, please get help. In addition to the spiritual consequences, there is much medical evidence of the devastating physical effects of addiction.
3. Allow God to remove your shame.
What exactly is shame? Proverbs 31 blogger Vicky Courtney says it is not the same as guilt. Guilt says, “What you did was bad.” However shame says, “What you did was bad, so therefore, you are a bad person . . . a failure.”
In her blog post, Shame on Me, Again, Vicky explains that guilt is connected to behavior, while shame is linked to identity. Guilt draws us toward God, but shame sends us far from Him.
Today, as a follower of Jesus Christ, she knows her identity is not in what she does or doesn’t do. Rather it is in who she is as a child of God. And like many women, there are times when she has to remind herself that Christ’s death on the cross completely covered her guilt and shame from her abortion, once and for all.
“When the old shame tapes began to play,” Vicky said, “I hit the ‘eject button and boldly declared…‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8:1).”
“Over and over, I proclaimed it,” she says, “until, once again, I believed it. I showed shame the door. And you can, too.”
4. Allow yourself to grieve.
Teri Reisser has been counseling post-abortive women since 1984. She says relief is the most common reaction immediately following an abortion. Why? Because the initial crisis of an unwanted pregnancy is gone. But as time goes by, the post-abortive woman is often left with an inward question. How could she allow herself to grieve the loss of her child when she herself made the decision to have the abortion?
If you are asking yourself this question, grieving could allow you to cross the bridge of healing. Here are several ways you could do this (from Healing the Hurt):
- Name your baby.
- Write out your feelings for your child.
- Have a quiet, private memorial service.
Also, you may want to learn about The National Memorial for the Unborn. Located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, it is dedicated to remembering children lost from abortion and miscarriage.
The main thing about grief is you will never completely get over your loss, but you can get through it with God’s help. And remember, everyone grieves in their own way.
“Sometimes,” Sydna says, “talking with a close friend, minister, or counselor and sharing your feelings about your lost child is comforting.” But if another post-abortive woman is still in the denial phase of her own abortion, “she could easily discredit your feelings in order to fortify her own wall.”
5. Go through a Bible study written for women who have had an abortion.
Twenty-two years after her abortion, Melinda Chisum finally found healing. At the time, her friends in church assumed she had it all together because she was a Sunday school teacher and a member of her church choir.
No one knew she had an abortion when she was sixteen years old. And few knew of her daily struggles with anxiety attacks, outbursts of anger, and deep depression that had devastating effects on her entire family. It took decades, but Melinda finally linked her emotional eruptions with buried guilt and shame from her abortion.
“I made that connection while a person was giving their testimony at a women’s retreat,” she says. Later the woman helped Melinda understand her recurring anger and depression were related to not accepting God’s forgiveness for her abortion.
So Melinda went through an intense Bible study for post-abortive women, Forgiven and Set Free. It changed her life. While going through the study, she realized beneath all of her activities had been an underlying desire to somehow compensate for her lost child.
Yes, she had made a terrible mistake when she was a teenager. And it was true: She could never redo the past. But through the study, she realized she could enjoy the present and future. How? By giving all of her regrets and pain and self-condemnation to Jesus Christ.
Andrea had a similar experience. She says she despised herself after her abortion. But she found help when she went through a booklet her local crisis center gives to post-abortion women. “As the mound of Scriptures began to accumulate,” she says, “it grew bigger than my own pile of lies, thoughts, and wrong feelings.”
Like Melinda, she exchanged her failures in life, including her sin of abortion, for Christ’s offer of total forgiveness. She chose to believe what Scripture said over her self-condemning thoughts and feelings.
Now the wife of a pastor, Andrea says God loves to take the broken places in our lives and transform them into something good. “The gospel has set me free,” she says, “knowing and believing my past is totally paid for, that Jesus is transforming me every day, and that is His specialty.”
6. Prayerfully consider if you should talk to significant people in your life about your abortion.
In her book Her Choice to Heal, Sydna Massé says most post-abortive women have significant people in their lives who do not know they had an abortion. While there may be good reasons for this, the reason may be fear.
Teri Reisser writes in her book A Solitary Sorrow that a woman should ask herself three questions before deciding to tell someone about her abortion:
- What is my motive for telling this person?
- What benefit will result from this person hearing what I have experienced?
- What kind of response am I likely to receive from this person?
Several years ago, Laurie made the difficult decision to tell family members her secret.
She and her husband, Rob, had been interviewed on FamilyLife Today about the restoration of their marriage. On day three of the interview, Laurie told about her abortion. Knowing the radio interview would air nationally, she realized she had to tell her almost grown children about her deepest regret. The child she aborted was her oldest son’s only blood sibling.
She will always remember their difficult talk. Through tears, she asked her son if he could ever forgive her. “As he hugged me,” Laurie says, “I will never forget his precious, loving, healing words as he said ‘Always, Mom, always!’”
Next, Laurie told all of her children about her abortion. Then her siblings and mother. Once her secret was out, the healing process for Laurie began. She says, “The fact that my abortion is no longer a secret from my family lifted a heavy burden I had carried alone for many, many years.”
Renea also carried an unspoken burden for years. She did not tell her husband about her abortion until they began talking about having children. “I was terrified for him to know,” she says, “but he was very loving and forgiving.”
Years later, after having three children, she did not feel like her family was complete. She wanted more kids, but her husband did not. Angry with him about this, she took the matter to God in prayer. That’s when she realized she was missing the child she had aborted when she was twenty-five years old.
“I grieved all over again,” she says, “but was able to talk it through with my husband, seek his and God’s forgiveness for my anger, and finally have peace.”
Twenty-two years after her abortion, Melinda decided it was time to reveal her own secret and told her mother. Fearing how she would receive the news, Melinda was surprised by her mother’s reaction. She had also had an abortion.
“We cried together for the loss of our babies,” she says, “knowing the devil had used us both to repeat a vicious cycle.”
If you find your secret of abortion is eroding some of your relationships, then it could be time to prayerfully consider whether you should talk about it. You may want to talk to your pastor or seek Christ-centered professional counsel to help you decide.
7. If needed, seek professional one-on-one counseling.
Janice Trice is married to the father of the child she aborted. “I was angry with him for twenty years,” she says, “until the underlying hostilities could no longer be contained.”
Finally, Janice told her husband, Bruce, she wanted him to leave. Fortunately, they sought professional help. And that was the first time Janice spoke about her abortion to someone besides her husband. Through counseling, she realized how much her abortion had affected Bruce, too. She had not been the only one suffering in silence.
Bruce says the counseling helped Janice and him deal with a long pattern of anger, resentment, and frustration that all began when he forced Janice to have an abortion. “We landed in the office of a Christian counselor for eighteen months,” he says, “which literally saved our marriage.”
Now married for more than thirty years, the Trices are not just surviving a mundane marriage. Instead, they are thriving together, enjoying life. They are grateful they took the time and effort to seek professional help.
8. Cling to the belief that you will see your lost child one day.
Although Christians have differing opinions about the eternal destiny of unborn babies, many believe they are in heaven. Laurie says part of her healing process came from the belief she will see “this child” one day.
“I hope I will be able to wrap my arms around this child, and ask for their forgiveness,” she says. “Then my healing will be complete.”
The words of 2 Samuel 12:15–23 seems to confirm what Laurie believes. Verse 15 says , “…The LORD afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick.” Although David fasted and prayed for the child, “On the seventh day the child died.” (vs. 18)
David had been so distraught about his newborn child that his servants were afraid to tell him of the baby’s death. But when David saw his servants whispering, he asked, “Is the child dead?”
They answered, “He is dead.” Surprisingly, David washed and went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.
Later his servants asked David how he could fast and weep for his child while the baby was alive but arise and eat food after his death.
Having confidence that he would see his child again, David said in 2 Samuel 12:22–23, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
Giving Hope and Encouragement
No matter when a parent loses a child, it is hard. And it is especially difficult for many men and women to talk about their children lost to abortions.
Then why do people like Janice and Bruce, Sydna, Renea, Melinda, and Laurie peel back deep hurt from their abortions? To encourage others that they are not alone.
Today the Trices are volunteer mentors for the interactive Bible study Surrendering the Secret.
And Sydna? From 1991–1998, she was the manager of Focus on the Family’s Crisis Pregnancy Ministries. Today she is the founder and president of Ramah International, a post-abortion outreach and training organization.
Because of her abortion, Renea has special empathy for those who suffer because of bad choices. “I can more easily share about God’s love, grace, and forgiveness,” she says, “as someone who has received more of those things than I deserve!”
And Melinda has watched God use her life. In 2003, she completed the Bible study Forgiven and Set Free. Afterward, she longed to help hurting women. And so in 2007, she and Marilyn Crawford opened Abundant Life Pregnancy Resource Center in Morrilton, Arkansas.
For Pastors and Others
If you are a pastor or women’s ministry leader, prayerfully consider if the time has come for your church to teach not only on the value of pre-born life, but also on the value of post-abortive mothers and dads. When you talk about Jesus Christ dying on the cross for our sins, remind your congregation that “all sins” includes abortion.
Also, could it be time to ask one of the women in your church to begin a Bible study for post-abortive women? What about asking one of the men to begin a similar study for post-abortive men?
Or you may want to go by your local crisis pregnancy center and ask its director how your church could help with post-abortion outreach.
Regardless of our walks in life, it is time for us to come together and open our eyes. There are hurting post-abortive men and women all around us. May we point those who long for relief from years of silent pain to the hope of Jesus Christ.
We can all be encouraged that God’s specialty is using broken people. As Laurie says, “It seems He even searches them out.”
© 2018, 2021. Used with permission.