She May Have Had an Abortion

I was walking down a hall at my parish today, minding my own sweet business, when a woman came out of a meeting room and asked, “Could we talk to you for a few minutes?”

Sure, why not?

I went in and found a small group of women. They told me they have all had abortions in their past, they’re ready to speak out publicly about the pain that abortion has caused them, and they want my help. Which, of course, I am more than willing to give them, in whatever way I can.

But then, several of them started talking about how I had been instrumental in their healing. One pulled out a faded, yellowing newspaper clipping of a column I wrote years ago. Another mentioned that her turning point had come during a talk of mine she had attended.

And I said, “Really? How do I do these things?” And then I immediately followed up with, “I don’t do these things. God does these things.”

What did I do — or rather, what did God do through me — to become instrumental in these women’s healing without even knowing it? Apparently it all boils down to one simple thing: I make an effort, every time I mention abortion publicly, to somehow acknowledge the pain of the women who have experienced it.

I don’t remember when I decided to make that a “policy” of mine. I certainly didn’t do it thinking that God would use something so simple to start healing women of their abortion-related scars. I just remember, at some point, listening to some heated and abstract arguments about abortion and thinking about how painful it would be for a woman who has experienced it personally to listen to something like that. I made a mental note to try to make sure that no woman ever had to feel that way while I was talking.

I think it’s sometimes easy for us, in our little Catholic bubbles, to assume that the reality of abortion is far from us and the odds must be slim that anyone within earshot of our Catholic setting has actually been involved or had an abortion. But when we think about the numbers a different picture starts to emerge. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, every year 2 percent of women between ages 15 and 44 have an abortion. Two percent doesn’t seem like a lot. But bear in mind that’s only one year. I’m no statistician, but it seems to me that if a woman’s reproductive life lasts roughly 30 years, and every year 2 percent of those women have an abortion, then over the course of the average woman’s child-bearing years, the odds of her having had an abortion would climb to something more like 60 percent. Of course, that’s assuming one abortion per woman, while we know that some women have multiple abortions. But still, the numbers are staggering. When you factor in the fact that each of those babies had a father as well (who in many of those cases was aware of and even complicit in the abortion), grandparents who may have known about their prenatal grandchildren, etc., you start to realize the enormity of the toll.

So what are the odds that, in any random conversation you’re engaged in (or talk you’re giving to a Catholic audience) that you may be directly or indirectly speaking to someone who has experienced abortion personally? I’d say they’re pretty good.

The Church is full of women who have had abortions. Some of them have repented, some haven’t. Some have processed the pain, some haven’t. Some have just buried the pain so deep in their subconscious that they wouldn’t know how to access it if they wanted to.

We don’t know about them. Women who’ve had abortions, and the family members who were complicit in them, don’t wear signs. They don’t talk about it. Especially in a Catholic setting, they would obviously be more inclined to keep quiet. They listen in silence, wondering how they would be judged.

Sometimes these women have repented and come back to the Church. Sometimes they have kept the pain buried so deep they don’t know how to.

What do you do about that? Keep quiet and avoid offending anyone? Of course not. But it suddenly becomes a little more important to think about what you’re saying. Listen to yourself. Before you speak, place yourself in the shoes of someone who has experienced abortion personally. How would your words sound to them? Would what you’re saying be more likely to move them toward God and His Church, or away from it?

Abortion is a horror show for women, a complete emotional and spiritual train wreck. An act of unspeakable violence happens inside their bodies. Millions of women are walking around wounded. The God of all love and consolation wants to reach out to them and heal them. Sometimes He needs us to be His presence.

Keep them in mind next time you get to chatting — or arguing — about abortion. Remember that, while it may be an important issue to you, it could also be a private, personal trauma to someone else.

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  • Clare with no i

    BRILLIANT, Mary Beth! Thanks for pointing out the not-so-obvious that is staring us all in the face!

    I still remember attending a Sunday Mass years ago, where a visiting priest lashed out indiscriminately at “women who don’t have children.” A girlfriend of mine, who was still an emotional wreck after an abortion 20 years before, had originally planned to meet me for Mass there that day. I could only thank God that her plans had changed at the last minute, so she wasn’t present to hear this tactless diatribe. In the meantime another gal, who with her husband was trying vainly to conceive, heard about that sermon after the fact and flipped out. The moral of the story: before you speak, think about who might be listening. It’s not rocket science!

  • MaryK

    A very good column! We sometimes get so convinced of our own pure living that our conversation condemning things we know are wrong, like abortion, can be hurtful to someone else. While inwardly sad over the act, we must also be compassionate.

    I once had to sit through a 20-minute homily about the evils of divorce (under any circumstance), and twiddled my thumbs throughout because I divorced an abusive and unfaithful husband. I went away sad, but did not leave the Church – for I knew that my intentions were to protect my children and myself from further harm. But I am sure there were others present that day who considered leaving the Church, and that is also sad.

  • cmacri

    Reminds me of when the Rachel’s Vineyard booth at a local fair had to politely ask the Pro-Life groups’s booth to move the big “Abortion is Murder” sign.