Healing abortion wounds
Pregnancy centers offer Bible studies to help women understand God’s forgiveness for their past abortions
Doris lived with a secret for almost half of her life: In the 1980s, she had an abortion. At the time, she was newly divorced and in her early 40s. She remarried in 1990 and for 31 years she didn’t tell her second husband about it. For a while, the fact that she had an abortion didn’t bother her because it was legal.
But then Doris (WORLD agreed to withhold her last name for privacy reasons) started seriously attending church around 2000 and joined Bible studies. Learning what God thought about abortion changed her. “I started feeling condemned,” Doris said. “I felt like I had committed the unpardonable sin by killing something, killing a life.”
Then, Doris’ Bible study leader, Christine Reed, shared about how a women’s ministry group in 2017 had helped her find freedom from guilt over her own abortion. Something clicked for Doris. Late last year, over pizza and salad at a little Italian restaurant, Reed became the first person to hear about Doris’ abortion experience. Reed invited Doris to attend a post-abortive Bible study with her. They joined one at the local Johnson City, Tenn., pregnancy center, Agape Women’s Services.
Abortion can leave women, including Christians, battling shame and isolation. Many pregnancy centers facilitate post-abortion Bible studies to help these women apply the truth of the gospel to their experience. For many women, the real benefit comes in knowing they’re not alone and seeing Christ-like love from others in their group.
According to Heartbeat International, 74 percent of affiliate centers provided post-abortion programs in 2020. Among CareNet affiliates, 90 percent did, though it’s not clear what fraction of those facilitate Bible studies rather than secular programs.
Doris and Reed’s small group met every Monday night for 10 weeks from February to April 2021. It was only five women, with one post-abortive woman serving as a leader-in-training. After about three hours of homework each week, they sat on couches in the pregnancy center for two and a half hours of prayer and discussion.
The group’s co-leader, Miriam Thompson, has been involved in these studies since 2017. Just last week, she started leading the center’s fifth program. She has never had an abortion, but she said watching God transform the lives of women keeps bringing her back. “It’s a Bible study … because, of course, we know that transformation doesn’t take place apart from the Lord,” Thompson said.
The lessons cover grief, forgiveness, and the character of God. They begin with prayer and a memory verse and close with a discussion about applying the lesson to the women’s post-abortion experiences. In the final lesson, they address how God might be using the abortion in their lives, Thompson explained: “Yes it was sin, but he redeems our past. And how is this going to be a part of my future to serve him?” At the end of the class, the women hold a memorial service for their babies.
Thompson’s group used Linda Cochrane’s Bible study Forgiven and Set Free, which CareNet promotes among its affiliates. Other popular titles include Surrendering the Secret by Pat Layton and SaveOne by Sheila Harper. While the CareNet Pregnancy Center of Puget Sound in Washington primarily uses Wendy Giancola’s Tansforming Your Story, it uses Living in Color by Jenny McDermid for women who aren’t as familiar with the Bible, because it “gently introduces the gospel” and incorporates more activities, according to Kelly Bilco, the center’s pregnancy loss director.
Doris is the oldest participant in Thompson’s groups, which have included women ranging in age from the early 20s to late 70s. Thompson said about half identified as Christians at the time of their abortions while almost all were Christians when they joined her studies, although they varied in maturity. The only woman who wasn’t a Christian came with a friend and dropped out of the course early.
But those who stayed showed significant growth in their relationships with the Lord, Thompson said. Reed and Doris’ class in particular surprised her. “These people are so rooted in their faith, walking so close to the Lord what can they possibly get out of this class?” she wondered. “And yet, they did.”
Thompson said one woman from her studies has gone on to lead her own group, and another intends to do the same. The husband of another woman wants to start a class for men after seeing the transformation in his wife.
Thompson and Reed said they saw a change in Doris. She had said she didn’t intend to tell anyone else outside of the group about her abortion. But she ended up telling her husband, her daughter, and her granddaughter.
What helped Doris heal? “Just association with those other girls that have gone through the same thing, and hearing their experiences,” she said. “And these are church girls that … felt forgiven. … I started reading the Scriptures and found out that I really was—that God does forgive every sin as long as I ask forgiveness.”
Reed said even though she had done a post-abortion study on her own before, that particular group of women encouraged her. Love from others can help women understand God’s love for them in Christ, Thompson said. “What I have seen is that these women recognize their sin and brokenness more than many Christians do,” she said. “These women, because they just recognize the gravity of what they have done… they come to know God’s grace personally in a way that many of us never will … because we just don’t think our sin is that bad.”
She said that’s been a lesson to her, as someone who doesn’t have an abortion in her past: “If we could see our sin, our non-abortion sin, like they see their abortion sin—it looks the same to God.”
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