When abortion issues make national news, such as the changes in New York or Virginia abortion laws, some people rejoice and others are angry, depending on the change. Those of us who have lost children to abortion often have a different response altogether. Just the mention of the word, abortion, triggers all sorts of emotions in post-abortive people.
A national trigger, like a new abortion law, affects millions of women and men, including grandparents of aborted children, across the nation simultaneously.
~ Joni W Shepherd
When Old Wounds Become Fresh
Even an abortion decades ago suddenly may feel like a fresh wound for women and men who participated in it. We work hard to stuff and deny the raging emotions, the pain and confusion, the irreplaceable loss. Then a major event happens, like a more lenient abortion law or the March for Life, and the pot we’ve worked so hard to settle gets stirred. Hard.
Though it is the mom who carried the child and experienced the procedure, the dad often feels deeply about it also. Perhaps they were pro-choice when they had the abortion, or felt that it was their only option, but over the years became devastated that they ended the life of their own child. Perhaps the grandparents or the dad demanded that the mom abort, and the mom didn’t feel she had a choice. Or maybe the mom aborted her baby secretly and didn’t give the dad or grandparents a say.
Each scenario can result in diverse emotions for different players. Siblings of the lost child who know of their parent’s abortion have a distinct variety of emotions to deal with. Regardless of the person triggered, the loss is total and too deep for words for most of us. That’s why we pack it away and deny how much it hurts. Since no one else talks about their abortion loss, we are certainly the abnormal ones.
The silence continues. But the trigger that stirred the pot brought with it fresh confusion and self-doubt, new reasons to consider suicide, a drinking binge.
The trigger can come from a number of sources – the anniversary of the abortion or the child’s would-be birthday, the birth of a friend’s baby, having a medical procedure, hearing a child’s cry, certain smells or sounds, relationship issues, gory movies, or nightmares (can trigger a reaction or a different trigger can cause nightmares).
A Personal Story
A giant trigger for me was being pregnant on purpose, at age 22 and married, after having two abortions when I was 18 and 19. I knew nothing about fetal development at the time of my abortions. When I began reading about my current baby’s stages in utero, I could no longer deny my previous pregnancies were tiny live babies. When I received information about abortion procedures, with pictures, before I gave birth, I became suicidal.
As with my teen pregnancies, I had no where to run with my pain. I was a Christian who had two abortions because I knew of no resources or support for my pregnancies. I had experienced nothing but shame and humiliation from sharing my first pregnancy with a church counselor. The abortions were extremely traumatizing for me and initiated a domino effect of other self-deprecating behavior. This new predicament was just as bad. No one put out a sign offering help for people like me to sort through my kind of mess.
I was completely alone and had to figure it out between myself and God.
Abortion Trauma is Real
A national trigger, like a new abortion law, affects millions of women and men, including grandparents of aborted children, across the nation simultaneously. They feel utterly alone, as I did, and do not know where to go for help. Most churches never mention the word abortion in any scenario, much less discuss abortion trauma to its living victims.
According to Complications – Abortion’s Impact on Women, abortion often leads to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse. It affects family formation, causing a rise in single-parent families, the refusal of fathers to accept responsibility, and relationship breakdowns, including divorce. All of these scenarios leave women and men alone in their trauma.
So, where is someone like me to go for help?
In the next article in this series, I will offer helpful thoughts and resources for those who are experiencing a fresh bout of abortion trauma resulting from national triggers. In the final article of this series, I will provide ideas for how pastors and ministry leaders can use national triggers to gently introduce the subject of abortion and endorse the need for healing for those who have lost children to it.
By Joni Williams Shepherd
Joni Williams Shepherd is the Executive Director of Hope and Grace International and author of two books that help equip the church to address abortion with hope and grace. To start the conversation, Memoirs of a Christian Who Chose Abortion gives perspective of a the journey of a fellow Christ-follower who lost two children to abortion and found redemption and healing through repentance and the grace of God. Why Can't We Say the "A" Word in Church? (Overcoming Our Dirtiest Secret with Hope and Grace) contains the stories from Memoirs in less detail, along with The Scenario of abortion and its ensuing trauma in the world and the church, The Dilemma the church faces in addressing abortion, and The Remedy for how to address abortion in the church comprehensively and with compassion.
If you have lost a child to abortion, how do the listed effects of abortion validate that you are not alone in your pain?
- If you have not lost a child to abortion, how does this article give you more compassion for those who have?
- If you are a pastor or ministry leader, how does this article better equip you to help men and women in your church community who have lost children to abortion?
 Angela Lanfranchi, Ian Gentles, Elizabeth Ring-Cassidy, Complications: Abortion's Impact on Women (Ontario, Canada: The deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research, 2013), pp 271-283.
 Ibid., pp 257-264.