I nervously waited in the little room. My head swung around as a man in his mid-20s confidently strode in.
With his interesting ear piercings and tattoos that covered his arms and disappeared under his shirtsleeves, he fit right into the décor of the body-piercing salon.
He introduced himself as Zack and tried to put me at ease with a little small talk while he prepared to pierce my ear. We chatted easily until he asked me what I do. What I do is not small talk—I talk to people about abortion. Abortion. Emotionally charged, painful, divisive...
I wasn’t expecting what happened next.
He paused. Then after taking a deep breath, he said,
“I was involved in an abortion.”
He then told me how he’d loved his girlfriend and how she’d unexpectedly become pregnant.
His first concern was to support her. She wanted an abortion, so he went to the clinic with her. Neither of them coped well afterward. They’d both been recreational drug users before, but the situation worsened after the abortion. In the end Zack was able to pull back from the unhealthy behavior; his girlfriend wasn’t. Their relationship eventually ended after two years.
And then he told me something that profoundly impacted me:
“Abortion forever changes you. It changed my girlfriend, it changed me, I’ve seen it change other women I know.”
He fell silent before looking me straight in the eyes and saying:
“I carry tremendous guilt about this.”
When I reminded Zack that God forgives him, Zack sadly replied:
“I know that, but I don’t know if I can forgive myself.”
I could relate. When I had my abortion, I thought life would go back to the way it was before. I wasn’t prepared for how the experience would change me.
I thanked him for sharing something so personal with me, and he said:
“No, thank you. I enjoyed talking with you. It’s hard to talk about abortion. I can’t talk to people who are liberal because abortion is supposed to be okay. And the people on the Right are scary.”
I left the body-piercing salon wondering how many other men and women feel the way Zack does—like there’s no one to talk to about their abortion experiences.
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, approximately 1 out of 3 women in the United States will have had an abortion by age 45. Studies also reveal that 78 percent of women who have abortions report a religious affiliation. So it’s fair to say we walk past “Zacks” every day—men, women, and adolescents who are secretly burdened by their own or a loved one’s abortion experience.
This secret burden will only grow heavier as the anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches. Labels (anti-choice, pro-abortion) and judgment (murder, “other side”) can pick at tender wounds and trigger painful memories. It can be an extremely difficult time for someone who’s been there.
Believe me, I know.
The abortion seemed like a logical solution in my situation—18 years old, ballroom dance instructor, unsupportive live-in boyfriend. I believed the abortion would erase the pregnancy and allow me to move on with my life. Instead, I experienced regret and sadness.
I was confused by these emotions. Before the abortion, I hadn’t been prepared to feel anything other than relief afterward. At first I tried to ignore them, but the emotions only grew stronger and more intrusive. I thought about talking to someone, but the desire to reach out was checked by my fear of how people might react.
What if they denied my feelings? What if they condemned me? What if they treated me differently afterward?
I seriously wondered if anyone could understand what I was going through. I also wondered if other women were experiencing troubling emotions after their abortions or if I was the only one.
As my unresolved emotions turned into unhealthy behaviors, desperation to find help overcame my fear. Fortunately, when I did reach out, I found compassion, understanding, and support from friends and family members. I also found an after-abortion healing program through my church. When they acknowledged that my feelings were real and that my loss was real, I was finally able to work through the emotions and eventually find peace.
But I worry about people like Zack who haven’t found peace.
Although we can’t control the pundits or the politicians, we can start a different conversation—a conversation that communicates compassion and sensitivity.
Because abortion is rarely talked about on a personal level, it’s normal to feel confused about what to do or say. You may worry about “saying the right thing.” You may wonder if it’s even possible to initiate or to sustain a dialogue about such a painful subject.
Keep in mind that most men and women have been touched by abortion—either their own or that of someone close to them. When we are aware of this reality, we will be more likely to choose our words more carefully and to make sure our tone of voice and body language convey compassion and understanding. A conversation about abortion will be profoundly different if we focus on the individuals involved—perhaps the very person in front of us.
When appropriate, verbalize your understanding to someone that people who’ve experienced abortion may fear another person’s judgment or disregard for their feelings and therefore keep the abortion a secret, leaving no way to find support. After conveying this insight, listen. Resist the impulse to argue, interrupt, or label.
If someone shares an abortion experience with you, acknowledge the experience by making simple statements of support and empathy, such as, “I know this must have been difficult,” “I’m so sorry for your loss,” or “You must have felt so alone.” Your willingness to listen and offer support will provide enormous comfort and relief to the person who feels safe enough to share his or her story with you.
If someone struggles with anger or guilt or expresses the need for forgiveness, gently encourage them to seek spiritual counsel through their church or a faith-based after-abortion healing program. (To access national and local support resources enter your zip code into the Find Help locator found on the upper right-hand side of www.AbortionChangesYou.com.) Offer to pray for them and follow-up if it is appropriate.
Articles on the BreakPoint website are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Chuck Colson or Prison Fellowship. Outside links are for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply endorsement of their content.