By PPL Former Executive Director, Deborah Hollifield
Repent, then, and turn to God, that your sins may be wiped out and
that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. Acts 3:19
Women who were aged 18-30 in 1973 are now between the ages of 67 and 79. In 1973, we were the first ones lied to about how a fetus was “just a clump of cells.” We were the first ones to be told that sexual promiscuity was actually freedom and now that abortion was legal and readily available, there would be no consequences.
We would be able to have an affair, keep our secrets, stay in school, have a career and still wear white in our weddings, because who would know otherwise? Some of us marched for abortion or volunteered for Planned Parenthood booths on our college campuses. Others cheerfully counseled their pregnant friends that their problem could be easily – and affordably – eliminated. Some of these women had multiple abortions, until abortion became a reliable form of birth control, replacing the Pill and its side effects and the inconvenience of a condom. Still, some knew that their abortion – or at least the extramarital sex that led to pregnancy – was morally wrong, and so kept it to themselves, keeping it a secret from parents, close friends and often, their husbands.
But now, 49 years later, these same women are starting to look back on their abortions and wondering if their lifetimes of simmering emotional turmoil, depression and self-medication had its roots in that long-ago act. Some have suffered from breast cancer and have read about the link between abortion and increased rates of breast cancer. They’ve seen the photos of the preborn in the womb. They know about prenatal surgery. They’ve had their own children later on, and stayed in school and had careers. They’ve seen their grandchildren’s 3D ultrasounds.
They may have kept their abortions a major secret from their husbands – how would he react if he learned about it all these years later? Would her betrayal lead him to abandon her in their golden years? Some of these women might be Christians, active in the same church for decades, respected by their pastors and friends. How could they find the courage to confess, and if they did, what would their reception be? Shock? Judgement? Ostracism? And as they near the end of their earthly lives, some wonder how they will face Jesus.
Abortion is not just “a young woman’s problem.” Graying congregations may be supporting a pregnancy care center, but not realizing that hurting women are in their midst. Young congregations, especially those led by young male pastors, have no idea that the grandparents among them carry the scars of a sexual past.
How can these women be reached and helped to receive compassion without judgement and hear about and accept the forgiveness of Christ, unless churches provide safe opportunities for confession, companionship, study and healing? Churches can partner with a local pregnancy care center and offer confidential, off-campus retreats for post-abortive women. A date is scheduled, an announcement is published, and a telephone number is provided for women to call and receive information about the location. The assurance of confidentiality is critical for these older women – some may welcome the opportunity to testify later in public, but others - after a lifetime of secrecy – may not find the courage.
Finally, one compelling program that can open the doors to conversation among older post-abortive women is the one-act play, Viable. Written by Presbyterian Robert John Hoover, a member of First, Greenville, SC, this play is performed by a touring company and would be a great centerpiece for a Sanctity of Human Life week event or a fundraiser for a pregnancy care center. The play focuses on the anger of an older post-abortive woman who comes to terms with her past, her aborted daughter, her husband and her Savior. Seeing the possibility of a positive result play out might encourage reluctant women to address their own issues.
There are a lot of women – perhaps one in four – who have experienced abortion in their lifetime. At one event I was approached by an 80 year old woman who told me she’d had five pre-Roe abortions at her husband’s insistence. We should not turn away from them, when we have the compassion of Christ ready and available to share.