My life forever changed in that room full of middle-aged women, dabbing their swollen eyes with crumpled tissues. I never wanted to be there, to be one of them, to bare my soul to strangers. But still I sat there, completely out of place. I constantly reminded myself why I was there. I was a young activist, determined to forever eradicate injustice. In an effort to better understand the effects of the rising abortion industry, I attended a retreat for post-abortive women.
It was divine mercy weekend when I attended the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat, having never experienced an abortion or the loss of a child. A rather peculiar way for a nineteen-year-old to pass the weekend. I blame my English professor. The abortion issue wasn’t really a consideration for me until she gave us our final assignment; write a research argument on any controversial topic. Abortion seemed the logical choice. After all, it is arguably the most significant debate of our time. No matter your position, you are driven by what you believe to be fundamental rights. After I proposed my topic, she shook her head decidedly. “You can write about anything, except abortion. You cannot make a logical argument on the issue. The matter is purely religious. And who would you cite? Dot heaven?” Her last remark evoked snickers from the class. After a fair warning that every other student who had dared to attempt such a paper received an F, I wrote it. Providing evidence from medical journals and personal narratives, I argued that abortion jeopardizes the emotional and mental stability of the mother. And amazingly enough, I received an A.
I was completely familiar with the arguments surrounding the humanity of the unborn child, but until writing the paper, I never considered the damage abortion has on the mother. I sought out local leaders in the pro-life movement, hoping to help aid the cause. During one of my meetings with a passionate pro-life leader, I was asked to volunteer at a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat, as it is designed to help the men and women who have experienced the loss of a child through abortion or miscarriage find peace and healing. I agreed. Hesitantly. .
My uncertainty doubled when I discovered that before officially volunteering I was required to first experience this retreat as though I were any other attendee. And this scared me, quite a bit, actually. In fact, I was dreading it. I have been so blessed with an intact, loving family, so what on earth was I going to say for my twenty uninterrupted minutes?
I was right in assuming that the other personal stories would be filled with heartache; hearing them broke my heart. The three women who attended the retreat had all dealt with so much grief in their lives, even their earliest memories were tainted. I waited until everyone else had gone, still uncertain of what to say. I don’t know how or where it came from, but I heard myself relaying my silent struggles and insecurities. I didn’t speak for as long as they did, but I found it surprisingly emotional. In the end, it didn’t matter how different our stories were. Instead, we found the commonalities. Everyone reached out to one another, with merciful arms of acceptance.
This wasn’t the only time I stepped into the shoes of a post-abortive mother. It was January when a friend and I walked briskly to the Hillcrest abortion clinic, talking of trivial matters. Our cold fingers, stuffed in coat pockets, fingered our wooden rosaries. Nearing the cracking sidewalk before the building, we met the gaze of an elderly woman standing in the clinic’s driveway. Certainly she was a sidewalk counselor, there in a last-ditch effort to save a baby. But she was shaking her head at me. “This isn’t a good place for women. You don’t want to be here.”
I was dazed at the realization that she mistook me for a woman seeking abortion. I heard my friend hurriedly explain that we were only here to pray. We proceeded with our peaceful prayers for the women who enter the clinic, as well as for the clinic workers, that they might realize the value and beauty of human life at every stage. But like a scratched record my mind continued to replay the moment. Again I saw the worried look plastered across her well-meaning face. And again my self-esteem was destroyed by the instantaneous mark upon my cherished reputation. My cheeks burned from the moment of shame.
I understand how it must have appeared. Me, a twenty year old with her head bent, accompanied by a young man. I reflected on her position, remembering when that was me praying on the split sidewalk, watching the women cut across the dead grass to enter the matchbox facility. I was seven when my family first took me there to pray, not fully understanding what was happening. I had wondered at cruelty of these women. My young mind struggled in vain to understand. While a young woman hurried into the stone structure, my tearing eyes followed her, for I knew she would leave empty, despite entering the structure with the living and thriving baby tucked safely away within her. I longed to call out to her, but my heart and feet stood frozen, too aware of the reality of the trying situation.
I am now well-educated on the abortion debate, thanks to five intense weeks of study in Washington, D.C. Determined to more fully understand the science and arguments involved in abortion, I spent my summer studying at the National Right to Life Academy. Yet even this did not soften my heart. Not completely. I needed first to sit beside a post-abortive mother as she mourned. As she read the letter composed to her dead child. As she named him. My heart needed to break along with hers. To become one of them. To fully realize that “if you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
Writing a research argument paper on the negative effects abortion has on women opened my eyes to the horrors of abortion, particularly on the mothers themselves. I knew the facts, but until I heard each of these beautiful women’s stories, I did not fully realize the intense brokenness and pain abortion imprints on their lives. Women don’t simply wake up one morning and decide to abort their growing baby. So many people and decisions influenced that choice. It is of the utmost importance that we treat the women and men wounded by abortion with unadulterated compassion. We must strive to help them find the healing and forgiveness that in our humanity, we all desire.