“I just can’t imagine how any woman could abort her own child. Hasn’t she seen the pictures of how a child develops in the womb? I don’t know how anyone can deny there is a baby growing, even in the early stages of development. How could she do it?” The middle-aged woman told me that she didn’t want to sound judgmental, but she really didn’t understand why women abort. She came into the Pregnancy Care Centre office with her hands filled with bags of nearly new baby clothes that her little grandson had quickly grown out of. She was excited about being a first-time grandmother and showed us his pictures.
She looked up from the baby photos and noticed that we didn’t display pictures of any children in the office. We’ve learned that a woman in an unexpected pregnancy is often frightened and overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for a baby, I told her. We intentionally keep baby pictures, and baby donations out of her view in order to reduce her anxiety and to create a safe environment for her to talk and to learn more about her pregnancy options. We listen to find out about her greatest fears, and help her to see she has alternatives that will offer a good future for her and her child. As we extend support and discuss the options of parenting or placing a child for adoption, she will often calm down and see that her life is not over. She can quite naturally discover a desire to nurture and protect her baby.
This grandmother couldn’t imagine the panic a woman goes through when she faces an unexpected pregnancy. I think it would have improved her understanding if she had been an invisible observer in one of our client sessions.
Sometime after she left, a young woman came for a pregnancy test appointment. It wasn’t only the test she wanted. She wanted someone to talk to. In fact she repeated the test at home several times before coming to our office. She never thought she would get pregnant. She was hoping that the home tests were wrong, and the two telling test lines wouldn’t show up again. She wanted to talk with someone confidentially to unravel the conflicting voices in her head that kept her tossing and turning at night. She couldn’t be pregnant and she wanted to know what she needed to do to get her life back to normal. Abortion seemed to be her only way out.
She told me about her situation. She was completing her second year of university with plans to become a professional in her field after three more years of study. Her boyfriend also had several years of school before he was to graduate. They were thinking of getting married but only once they finished school, had jobs and had money for a house. Both were living at home with their parents. She told me she was a Christian who regularly attended a church and had put her trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. I know and hold the church she attended in high regard.
I asked what she believed about abortion. She believed abortion is wrong. In high school, she had participated in a pro-life club that held up curbside signs calling for an end to abortion. Even though she believed abortion was wrong, given her particular situation she believed she couldn’t have a baby – that God wouldn’t want her to have a child now. Fears of bringing shame on her family and on her church were the key factors influencing her to think that her abortion was necessary. She was aware she had crossed God’s boundaries by being sexually active before marriage. She was willing to bear any personal pain that might come with an abortion – physical, emotional or spiritual, she just didn’t want her church and family to suffer from her bad choices. She convinced herself that abortion, in her case, was a self-denying act. Even with her Christian background, at that moment, she could not feel her feet sliding down a slippery slope. She did not see that trying to cover her sexual sin by having an abortion, could bring even greater harm to herself and the end of life to her child who God entrusted to her care.
“How is your faith helping you during this difficult time?” She sobbed and reached for a tissue.
“My life is over. How can I keep going to school and ever hope to be successful in life? I can’t even remember to make lunch without my mom’s help; how can I take care of a baby? I’m too young. We’re not ready to be married. What if my parents found out I was pregnant? They would kill me. And they have already paid my tuition. If I show up obviously pregnant at my church my parents will have to step down from their leadership positions. Everyone will talk about us. I can’t pray to God anymore. I hate this. I’m sinful by being pregnant and I’m sinful if I abort, so what’s the difference? I have other friends who had abortions and they got over it. It will probably be hard on me emotionally but I really have no choice. And adoption? I could never do that. If I am going to go through the pregnancy I am not going to give my baby away to people I don’t know. A baby should be raised by her own mother and father. If I can’t be a good mother, abortion is best so the child doesn’t have to suffer a terrible life. I don’t want to, but you see I really have no other choice.”
Were her arguments logical? Were they based on truth? No. But temptation to take the easy way out never is. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul speaks about how our rebellious nature pulls us away from God’s protective and life-giving boundaries. In our daily struggle to stay within those boundaries, it’s not that we do not know what the right action is. Instead, when we see the wrong action as being easier and more attractive, that’s when we fall. Using an illustration from the Puritan writer Thomas Brooks, this young woman couldn’t see the hook behind the abortion bait. She had no idea of the physical, emotional and spiritual harm that would result from aborting her child. She couldn’t see that abortion would change her forever. However, in the end, this young Christian woman was open to hearing counsel from the Bible, chose to give birth to her child, and discovered support from her family and her church.
Not all the situations we know have positive endings, even within the church community. Women who attended our post-abortion Bible study have told us their church leaders encouraged abortion with the assurance that God understands and would forgive them. A woman with several children was upset at being pregnant at the time when her husband was out of work. She sought help from the parish nurse on Sunday at church. After sharing her difficulties, she quietly received some phone numbers for abortion clinics written on a piece of paper. Other family members, also church members, agreed a child would be too much of a burden for her. She listened to them and aborted her unborn child. She spent years grieving her loss, going through times of being unable to properly care for her other children and relate to her husband. She still struggles with anger against everyone who encouraged her to abort and failed to offer support or even suggest that she might regret her decision.
Other women have felt pressure to have abortions from social workers or doctors due to their past history of depression, or due to concern for the health abnormalities of their unborn children. A woman of the Muslim faith was grateful for our support when, against medical advice, she gave birth to a child who she had been told would suffer from Down syndrome. She shook her head in disbelief that a health professional would not want her beautiful daughter in this world. She was grateful that she found others who would support her as she prepared to parent her child, regardless of ability, and even with her limited resources as a refugee. Her daughter was born without health problems. She encouraged us to tell her story to anyone else feeling pressure from professionals to abort, that they might take courage and not be fearful.
Women from many religious backgrounds hold the conviction that life is sacred. Even for those who don’t claim to have any faith, many will say that life should be protected. However, the test of belief is revealed in the choices that are made. Believing that abortion is wrong is easy to say when it doesn’t involve personal shame, an educational or career setback, disapproval from loved ones, or the responsibility of a raising a child. For a young woman and her partner, an unexpected pregnancy is often the first significant test of whether they will live according to their personal values as adults. Yes, embracing the life of a child involves personal sacrifice. Living according to your convictions can be costly.
Boyfriends often pressure their girlfriends to abort. I can think of several sessions with young men who reminded their girlfriends of their agreement to abort if there was ever a pregnancy. The young woman, even if she believes abortion is a good choice, will often have second thoughts about that when she finds out she is pregnant. Boyfriends can envision a short-term sadness for the woman but they believe that abortion will give both of them longer term gains. “You’ll get over it. I’ll be there to support you” is a common response.
Post-abortive men and women tell us differently. One young couple I know has grieved for years. The girlfriend had long term medical complications after her abortion. The young man repentant, yet grieving, has a hard time looking to the future. Another young man sought professional counseling for depression some ten years after he bought a plane ticket to help his girlfriend travel to have an abortion. These people tell us the abortion gave some short-term relief from their complicated situations, but resulted in long-term emotional pain. As the years went on, there were regrets they were powerless to change. Many have confirmed that the memory of their abortion replayed over and over in their head was worse than the actual abortion experience.
The grandmother at a loss to understand the reasons why women abort would likely have been shocked to hear that not only boyfriends, but many parents, are involved in facilitating their daughter’s abortion.A woman in her mid-twenties decided that she wanted to parent her baby. Her parents were appalled. Even though she had completed her studies and was working, they would have no part of such a shameful choice. While she lived in their house she would need to live by their rules. News of the unexpected grandchild would bring shame on the family in their home country and they wanted to spare their daughter suffering as a single mom. Her mother made the abortion appointment. They sat in an abortion clinic that was full of other young women sitting with their moms as well. Dad sat in the car in the parking lot. The young woman sent text messages back and forth to one of the support workers in our office. She didn’t want to go against her parent’s wishes, yet she didn’t want to take away the life of her child. Thankfully she didn’t sign for the abortion that day, and didn’t show up for the rescheduled appointment a week later. Her baby was born healthy and the little girl lives with her mom in her grandparent’s home. The young woman tells us that that her parents have adjusted well to the changes and are finding delight in their granddaughter.
For me it is no longer very difficult to answer the question “how could she?” Understanding the issues around unplanned pregnancy, the nature of our sinful hearts, and the societal pressures young women face, increase my desire to extend help to them. We hope and pray that those who are convicted that each life is precious will be ready to extend love and grace and make sacrifices to let “her” know that she is not alone.
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