Post-Abortion

When Life Matters Worldwide's President, Tom Lothamer, speaks in churches, he makes a point of sharing the forgiveness that can be found in Christ after an abortion. He doesn't know who's listening. Perhaps someone with a guilty conscience, or someone contemplating abortion.

Walk in the light

People don’t make it an aim in life to kill their own children. In fact, when such a thing happens accidentally, it’s a great tragedy. 

As the pro-choice side puts it, “No one wants to have an abortion.” Yet there are an estimated 50 million abortions a year worldwide. How is it that so many of us arrive at that choice?

Many explanations are given, but Jesus said evil comes from our hearts (Mark 7:20-23). Abortion is a grave spiritual matter.

We come to the brink of abortion by following the “counsel of the ungodly:”

It’s your life; no one can tell you what to do.

You don’t owe God anything.

Nothing bad will happen to you.

God doesn’t hear you, or see what you do.

God can’t (or won’t) help you.

God doesn’t know what your life is like.

There is no God.*

So, while a person may not set out to get there, he or she may wind up in a situation where abortion “makes sense” . . . is “the only thing to do” . . . seems as though “it will save me from a lot of other problems.”

How do we avoid abortion? By tracking closely after God (Psalm 17:5, 23:3). The person intent on walking in “paths of righteousness” -- following hard after God, familiarizing herself with His ways, conforming to His patterns -- will be spared horrible choices.

What if you’ve had an abortion? The good news is Jesus died for people who follow ungodly advice, and even for those who give it (Romans 5:6-8).

While we were still unrepentant sinners, He paid the penalty for sin. In Him, we have eternal life and freedom from sin. This promise includes people who’ve had abortions.

Since abortion begins in the heart, its remedy begins there, too. Psalm 32 recommends quick and thorough confession. Because he knew firsthand the shame of guilt and the joy of forgiveness, David advises everyone to be open with God about sin.

If you’re thinking about having an abortion, ask God to show you another way (1 Corinthians 10:13). Your local church or pregnancy care center can help, too, with good counsel and support.

*Psalm 1:1; 2:3; 3:2; 10:6, 11, 13; 12:4; 14:1; 22:8; 42:3, 10; 53:1; 59:7; 64:5; 71:11; 73:11; 78:19; 79:10; 94:7; 115:2.

This text originally appeared on our bulletin insert for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday 2009. It sold out, but is worth revisiting here on the blog.

Murder mystery

In Genesis 9:5-6, God made killers accountable for the human blood they shed --

Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. 
And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man.

Our new Brother's Keeper video demonstrates the importance of accounting for every life:

Brother's Keeper from Life Matters Worldwide on Vimeo. Available in HD on our Sanctity of Human Life Sunday Slideshow DVD -- free!

As our bulletin insert for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday 2016 points out, God's law differentiated between manslaughter and murder. According to Numbers 35, a person would be charged with murder if he used a weapon against his victim, was known to hate the victim, struck him in enmity, or ambushed him. If the victim was a friend and the killing unplanned, it could be considered manslaughter.

People guilty of murder were handed over to the victim's avenger. Manslayers, on the other hand, could reside in a city of refuge without fear. Thus each death was examined and acknowledged.

But what about when the person responsible for a violent death was unknown? We've prepared a study of Deuteronomy 21:1-9 that shows how God said murder mysteries should be resolved. You're welcome to download The Case of the Unknown Killer for your Sunday school class or Bible study group.

Mari Bowers of Compassion Pregnancy Centers of NE Indiana tells about a recent phone call from a client. Months ago, she'd been turned from abortion by a caring volunteer's counsel and the center's practical support. She'd given birth, but nonetheless struggles with guilt. Whenever she looks at her baby, she feels sad about having seriously considered abortion. Now she wanted to know if the center had a program to help her with this problem.

Does a request like this pose a challenge for PCCs? Should they create new ministries to meet this need, or invite women to join post-abortion support groups already in place? Is this a common feeling among other women who've considered abortion, or something unique to this woman? 

I can only speculate about what's going on in her mind. Apparently the temptation had been more than fleeting. Mari said this client had returned repeatedly to the center over the course of five or six weeks. The idea of abortion had taken root and was difficult to dislodge, yet something prevented her from that irrevocable mistake. Was it God? And is the source of her current discomfort also God at work?

What would you say to her? My advice might focus on discerning true from false guilt. And on the freedom we have to air any emotion with God. 

As a convicter of sin, the Holy Spirit is reliable and accurate. The believer can ask God to show definitively whether there is actual guilt attached to guilty feelings, and what the nature of any sin is. Sin must be identifiable, otherwise how can it be confessed and rooted out? 

This presupposes that the inquirer belongs to God, has the Holy Spirit resident in her. Religion won't help. The gospel must be declared as the only remedy for sin. If a person wants to be delivered from sin and declared righteous before God, she must "confess with [her] mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in [her] heart that God has raised Him from the dead." (Romans 10:9)

Further, if she confesses her sins, "He is faithful and just to forgive [her] sins and to cleanse [her] from all unrighteousness." (I John 1:9) God is reliable and faithful; no one loves the sinner more. It is safe to go to Him with any sin. I would introduce her to Psalm 103.

But is it wrong to consider abortion? I've known deeply pro-life married women who regret abortion is legal because the thought crossed their minds regarding an untimely pregnancy. Yes, abortion is a blot on all our consciences as Americans, but one might as well ask, "Is it wrong to be tempted?" 

I don't believe the Bible teaches that being tempted is sinful, but it does tell us our thoughts are significant. Perhaps what this woman needs to confess is a thought-life, belief-system, or world-view that runs counter to God's ways. She might need to figure out which patterns must change in order for her thoughts to be aligned with His.

Then there are behaviors and attitudes related to thoughts of abortion that could require confession: sexual sins, idolization of a lover, lying or hypocrisy, covetousness or greed, pride, denial of God, other acts of carelessness with life. 

Most people don't set out to kill, but their choices put them in the way of doing it. They might drink and drive, associate with criminals, participate in petty crimes that get out of hand . . . or engage in promiscuous sex leading to the possibility of abortion. Without a doubt, sexual sin puts people in danger of abortion.

God is clearly at work in this woman's heart. A person does not convict herself of sin (John 16:8). The average person excuses and justifies her own sin. But the Tempter is also our accuser. His lies can only be overcome by the application of God's truth (Matt. 4:1-11).

We don't know this woman's name, but we can pray for her tender soul. We hope she learns to rejoice that God helped her escape a sin that would have bound her in a dungeon of shame, darkness, and despair. He has already been gracious to her:

  • He led her to the center and blinded her eyes to the abortion provider. 
  • He led a group of people to establish pregnancy care centers in Angola and LaGrange, Indiana, and enabled others to support them. 
  • He called people like Mari and the volunteers so they could be in place when she needed them. 
  • He equipped them with training, and with materials to share.

It takes quite a lot to spare a person from sin. Her story is a reminder we all need prayer to avoid temptation (Luke 22:40, Matt. 6:13). 

Related -- A close encounter with abortion: One life that wasn’t snipped short

This musing is a reprint of a Life Matters bulletin insert which appeared in April of 2006 (vol. 6, no. 1). It continues a train of thought begun two weeks ago with Variations on a post-abortion theme, and helps lighten the workload of banquet week.

The email read, "I am scheduled for an abortion tomorrow. I am a Baptist follower of God and want to know if I will be forgiven for this."

We were relieved to learn the next day she had taken more time to think. "I did go to my appointment today," she wrote, "but I could not do it. . . . I was in the operating room in the abortion [clinic] and they were about ready to do the procedure, but I just could not bear it, at least at the moment." She requested information about alternatives to abortion in her city, which we were happy to give.

But what about her original question? How would a wise counselor respond to a woman's plan to abort and then seek forgiveness later?

Christians do sin, and God does forgive (1 John 1:9). Countless women testify of finding forgiveness in Christ after an abortion. That doesn't mean, however, that our assurances concerning God's mercy and grace should ever appear to advise or condone a course of action involving willful, premeditated sin or presumptuousness.

First of all, no one contemplating murder should presume she possesses eternal life (1 John 3:15). Furthermore, the lifestyle that brought our correspondent to the brink of abortion caused us to question whether she was indeed a "follower of God" because those who are born of God do not continue in sin (1 John 3:9 and Romans 6:1-2). Such a one should be urged to examine herself, clarify her understanding of the Gospel, and consider the danger she's in (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Aside from presuming upon God's forgiveness, if she persists in her abortion plan she may be presuming upon herself. She should be warned she may not be the same person after an abortion, that she will be ready and willing to seek God's grace. She may be so overcome by guilt that she turns from God, or so hardened that she doesn't even think to ask for mercy. She may also become so preoccupied with the consequences of her sin that her life spirals viciously downward.

What advice can be given a Christian who is tempted by abortion? First, she should be exhorted to consider her actions in light of God's holiness. Then she should be challenged to turn her thoughts from "Will God forgive me if I abort?" to "How will God help me avoid the sin of abortion?"

Don't 'dis' God

God is completely holy. He cannot ignore sin. His holiness demanded justice and was only satisfied when His perfect Son Jesus died on the cross. Grace and mercy came at a terrible cost. It is, therefore, no joking matter to succumb to the spirit of our age that says, "It's better to ask forgiveness than seek permission." Therefore...

  • DON'T DISBELIEVE GOD by thinking, "God can't or won't help me avoid the sin of abortion."
  • DON'T DISOBEY GOD by refusing to follow His commands concerning the life of your unborn child.
  • DON'T DISHONOR GOD by continuing in your plan to sin while bearing His name.


Explore God's goodness

As dark and desperate as a woman's situation may be, she can be encouraged by the story of Hagar in Genesis 16. Hagar grew in her understanding of a gracious God during a difficult pregnancy. God saw her distress, made a plan for her and her baby, and provided for all their needs. A woman tempted by abortion can...

  • THANK GOD for placing in her heart the conviction that abortion is wrong.
  • TRUST GOD to reveal the escape from temptation that he has promised to provide. Jesus invites her to come boldly before His Throne in her time of need. His mercy and grace are available to strengthen her for overcoming temptation (Psalm 19:13, 1 Corinthians 10:13, and Hebrews 4:15-16).
  • SEEK GOD'S GUIDANCE and accept the help of others to discover alternatives to abortion that may have been overlooked.

Abortion is never a solution to problems. If God is great enough to forgive abortions, isn't He also great enough to help women avoid them? They can trust Him with their lives and with the lives of their babies.

Post-abortion ministry occupies a large space in the pro-life community, partly because so many women who've had abortions find validation in it. Here's a community that agrees with them that abortion is bad and should be stopped. Here's a community that understands why it hurts and has given them voice. It makes them feel at home, while the pro-choice movement denies them a place.

Everyone in the pro-life movement knows abortion does something irreparable to the unborn baby. For that reason, we also know it's something a person can come to look back on with deep regret. Yet, it's also something from which a person can recover. On that basis, most pro-life ministries reach out to post-abortive people with open arms, offering support groups to women as well as men. 

Not all methods for dealing with past abortions are created equal, however. If the question is, "What should a person do with the pain or guilt of abortion?" we can understand there'd be quite a wide divergence of answers because there are various assumptions or beliefs concerning sin and redemption.

Some in the pro-life movement deny the reality of guilt and a God who demands an accounting for actions. They deal with post-abortion pain solely on the basis of psychology. Because the psychological risks and complications of abortion have been well documented, it's helpful for therapists to inquire about a woman's abortion history and watch for adverse reactions. It helps if counselors affirm the difficulties associated with abortion, but this may not go far enough.

Other approaches deal with the problem spiritually, but tend to "specialize" abortion by emphasizing it over other sins. To be sure, abortion is special in the way it often compounds sins -- from sexual immorality to secrecy and the taking of an innocent human life. Post-abortion "syndrome" or "trauma" also manifests itself in an array of powerful emotions -- anger, grief, despair -- that may not be involved in the aftermath of other sins. Nevertheless, pastors and other Christian counselors should be able to talk about forgiveness from abortion in much the same way as they would deal with someone over any sin.

Several post-abortion books suffer from sloppy, or non-existent, editing. Post-abortion suffering ought not to be so special that books or Bible studies about it are exempt from theological review. Indeed, because abortion is such a pervasive problem -- with something like 43% of US women having an abortion in their lifetimes -- it deserves serious attention from pastors and theologians.

Sloppy theology yields these extra-biblical recommendations:

  • Visualizing the aborted baby alive in heaven, in the arms of a loving Jesus.
  • Asking God to reveal the aborted baby's name so that forgiveness can be sought and obtained from the baby. 
  • Forgiving oneself when bad feelings persist.

Nowhere in Scripture do we find a basis for these practices. On the contrary, Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin. If God's word says Christ's work on the cross is the basis for justification, then we must accept it as fact, no matter what it is we've done. Faith like this honors God. Our feelings will follow.

As we've evaluated various methods of post-abortion ministry, we've found other things to watch out for:

  • Making the cross of Jesus more about our pain, particularly the pain of abortion, than about satisfying the holiness of God. Christ died for the pain that our sin caused God. The best post-abortion books and Bible studies will put God's holiness first.
  • Failing to use biblical terms -- exchanging a weighty concept such as "being reconciled to God" with "healing." Sin is not a sickness and "health" is not an adequate substitution for "justification." 
  • Similarly, many programs urge people to "embrace God's love" rather than "believing" Christ or "receiving" His forgiveness.
  • Speaking of forgiveness for an abortion apart from salvation in Christ, as though that were possible.

Here are some resources that are God-centered and deliberately careful in their explanations of sin and redemption:

  • Living in His Forgiveness, by Sandy Day (Caleb Ministries)
  • Forgiven and Set Free, by Linda Cochrane
  • Binding Up the Brokenhearted, from Healing Hearts 
  • Healing a Father's Heart (for men), by Linda Cochrane and Kathy Jones
  • Reconciled, an online course for men

Some post-abortion ministries prefer to draw women in who aren't ready for talk of God or participation in a Bible study. Surrendering the Secret, by Pat Layton (Lifeway) starts out focusing on women's pain in abortion but is faithful in its closing message about God's holiness and her need of forgiveness for sin.

Other reliable resources:

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