Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday & Post-Abortive People

Part One

Rachel Held-Evans has a popular segment on her very popular blog called “Ask A…”  During these posts, she has individuals, with differing experiences, answer questions from her readers.[1]  I appreciate the candor and transparency these dialogues create.  And I appreciate that we live in a culture for which personal, experiential narrative is paramount.  We want to know, to understand, to feel one another’s stories. 

Though Ms. Held-Evans has not yet contacted me regarding my experience as a woman in the Church who’s experienced an abortion, in spite of expounding a fair amount on the topic of abortion in general, I’ve decided to answer some questions I’ve been asked in the past, that are similar to those generally asked by her readers.[2]  I do this on the heels of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday with the hope that some who lead churches, some who are in churches, and some who are outside the Church can begin to understand what it’s like to be a Christ-follower who’s had an abortion

1.        What do you want pastors to know about post-abortive people in their congregations?

Primarily, I’d like pastors to know that there are post-abortive women and men in their congregations. In speaking to church leaders, and future church leaders, the general consensus is that people who have abortions don’t go to their churches; that is an outside issue.  To help current and future pastors, as well as their lay leaders, understand the dynamic of the post-abortive population, I begin with some statistics.  These numbers come from the Guttenmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood.  And they help dispel the NIMBY {not in my backyard} aura surrounding people who’ve had abortions.

·         1 in 4 American women between the ages of 15 and 30 have had at least one abortion.  This also means that 1 in 4 men have also participated (whether volitionally or not) in at least one abortion.  That’s 25% of the population.

·         Of these post-abortive women, 79% report attending church, either Catholic or Protestant. 

·         Of the women who have had an abortion, 50% have had multiple abortions, and a majority of these are with different fathers.  This means that more than 1 in 4 men are affected by abortion.[3]   

These numbers serve the purpose of illuminating the fact that women who have had abortions are not staying away from churches; rather, a majority of us are hiding within her walls.  And mostly we are not the ones running from pew to parking lot, covering our faces lest we be recognized; though some might be.  We are the women who sign up and attend every Bible study, the man who shakes your hand on the way in, youth leaders, children of the church staff, men and women’s ministry leaders, and worship leaders.  We are seminary students, missionaries, and pastor’s spouses.  Because we are, just like everyone else, broken sinners in desperate need of a Savior

I also reference these demographics because at least once a year pastors are expected to preach on abortion.  Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  And that’s only if it’s not an election year, in which congregants are urged to examine the issues of the political clime.  Or each time pastors are expected to guide their flocks in upright living and God-honoring behaviors. 

I want pastors to remember that the words they speak from the front of the church go directly to the hearts of their congregants.  Spouting theologically inept and cruel fallacies similar to the idea that there is a “special place in hell for abortionists” does no one any good.  You can’t back this statement up with scripture, so it’s irresponsible to begin with.  Yes, abortion is the willful ending of a human life, making it murder.  Yes, it is a sin.  Yes it grieves God; I believe very, very deeply.  But it is not an unforgivable sin.  Abortion does not render anyone unredeemable.  Insinuating so mocks the resurrection and belittles the grace of God

I also want pastors to remember that they are speaking to individuals who are hiding this secret deep within their person.  They are in your congregation looking for the face of Jesus.  They are desperate for His healing, whether they are fully able to admit this to themselves or not.  Thus post-abortive people need to hear Colossians 1:21-22, 1 Corinthians 6:9-12, and Ephesians 2:1-3 just as much as anyone else.  Just as much and as often as you, pastor, do yourself. 

Remembering that at the foot of the cross we are all the same, sinners in desperate need of a Savior, softens sharp words.  It opens the fist pounding on the lectern, making one able to embrace the broken and hurting among our company.  It lifts our eyes from just the words of scripture, making us able to see a person for whom scripture was penned.  It opens our hearts and minds to what the Savior has done for us, and what He has tasked us to do thereafter: be ministers of reconciliation.   

I want pastors to know that post-abortive women and men are in your congregations.  That we’re hurting and in need of Jesus, just like everybody else in those pews.  And we need you to show us, to teach us, to be for us the grace and mercy and love of Jesus Christ.            

2.       What’s it like to go to church as a Christian who’s had an abortion?

Before recovery, mostly your life is about hiding.  And striving.  And fear.  And feelings of worthlessness.  And loathing.  And masks.  And loneliness.  And more guilt and condemnation and shame than is allowed to be expressed in polite society.   

                A Fear and Loathing in Church Pews of sorts.

A post-abortive Christian is hiding from the truth that she/he has had an abortion.  I didn’t want anyone to know.  Secrecy is the reason I had an abortion in the first place.  And every day thereafter, I did what I could to keep people from finding out this truth.  Though the Officer and I (my then-boyfriend, now-husband) were both actively involved in the abortion, he and I couldn’t even speak the word to each other for almost a decade.  We avoided the topic in political conversations.  We did everything we could to keep up the appearance that for all intents and purposes, we were a Non-Abortive couple.  We wore masks; we couldn’t really be ourselves in church or bible studies or small groups or even as leaders.  Because we were afraid of what would happen if anyone found our dark secret out.   

It’s lonely because you can’t ever be truly vulnerable with anyone.  Because to do so would mean exposing your darkest deed to them.  And the very premise of abortion is that no one can know about it.  So I spend years carrying around this immense burden, but couldn’t speak about it to anyone.  Not even to my husband, who’d participated in the abortion with me.  It feels like you’re on an island, watching all your friends and family on a very near shore, enjoying themselves.  They’re waving you over, but you’ve got this anchor chained to your ankle and you know if you set one foot in the water, you’ll drown.  So you stay where you are, smile and wave back, and act like you’re having as good a time as they are.  All the while, making sure they don’t catch a glimpse of your chain and anchor. 

The striving.  Oh, the striving.  The wanting to be good-enough.  That’s probably another reason I had an abortion.  Not wanting to disappoint people, or myself.  Trying to keep up the outward appearance of good-enough, Christian-enough; and all the while, knowing deep down that I would never, ever live up to this ideal because of what I’d done in the past.  But I would keep trying; relying more on self than anyone ever should.  Believing the lie that if I could just try hard enough and live a good enough life, I might be worthy of the grace of Jesus.  Not that I could earn it, but eventually I might make it to a “normal” level of sinful – and be like everyone else – and then Jesus could forgive me.  Because I really doubted that His grace could reach far enough down for someone like me. 

Of course, I couldn’t ever be good-enough {no one can}.  So I loathed myself, my choice.  And I felt completely worthless; a deep and abiding worthlessness that isn’t self-pitying, it’s self-condemning.  I placed every single person around me on a higher pedestal – they’re holier and more righteous than me.  They deserve the love and blessings of the Lord.  I was just lucky to squeeze into heaven by the skin of my teeth.  That’s what I thought grace looked like for someone like me: I’m tolerated by Jesus because He’s committed to being the One forsaken for my sin.  I got eternity and salvation on a technicality.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s a prideful perversion, this I’m too bad for Jesus’ grace.  I shamed and condemned myself more than any of the angriest anti-abortion activists ever could have.  And I did it so well and so often that it became my internal dialogue. 

So I’d keep trying harder each day, to be the Christian woman I should be.  So that maybe I could be worthy of a little more of God’s love than I could be, as a post-abortive woman. 

It’s a dark and lonely cycle that will devour your very life.               

Join us tomorrow for questions 3 & 4, again on Friday for questions 5 & 6, and on Saturday for closing remarks, in this mini-series: Sanctity of Human Life Sunday & Post-Abortive People.  

If you have experienced an abortion in your past, please know that you can reach out -- there are so many genuine and loving people who want to help you through your pain.  The links below are to ministries that I am personally acquainted with and trust.  Or you can contact me.  I am willing to answer any questions, offer what help I can, and pray with you -- confidentially.  Because you, dearest one, are loved by the Maker of the Stars.  

Surrendering the Secret (Nationally for women and couples)
Rachel's Vineyard (Nationally for women and men, Catholic)
ARIN (Nationally for women, men, and couples)
Life Choices Pregnancy Center (in Colorado)
Me: Jen Baros, |or| @jenkbaros on twitter

[1] You can find the list of Ms. Held-Evans’ “Ask A…” series here
[2] The questions in this article are similar to those in Ms. Held-Evan’s “Ask A Recovering Alcoholic,” though each has been asked of me or my husband personally in various settings.  Accessed 1/20/14 at 09:50MST.
[3] “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States.”  Guttmacher Institute.  Accessed 1/21/14 11:46MST


  1. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

    There is nothing I can say, except I love you-- which is something you already know. You are brave and honest, which makes your pain like His pain-- a way for someone else to heal. For by His stripes we are healed.

  2. I love you, too. But you knew that already.

    Thank you for that day, sitting in your living room floor, when I let it all spill out. Thank you for listening, and loving me. Thank you for helping me be brave in so many ways. Thank you for everyday showing me what Jesus looks like. You, dear friend, are a gift to my heart straight from our Heavenly Father who loves us and delights in giving His children good things