How to Heal the Guilt and Pain After an Abortion

“In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted, because they were not” (Matt. 2:18).

For many years now, countless children have been taught to recite a short prayer before going to bed each night: “Now I lay me, down to sleep. I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” This child’s prayer becomes extremely significant when applied to the unborn babies. I think I can hear them pray at times, “If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take.” The harsh reality that we are all so aware of is that they do die before they awake to love and laughter and the light of day in the arms of mothers who care. Babies die at the rate of one every twenty seconds. That’s 4,000 a day. That’s one-and-a-half million each year that a life is terminated. The statistics become staggering and mind-numbing.

It is a national disgrace. It is also a personal sin. We must not be afraid of the word “sin,” for it has therapeutic value. Several years ago Dr. Karl Menninger wrote a book titled, Whatever Became of Sin? It is a good question. The word for sin is a word that means “to miss the mark.” In the area of honoring the sanctity of life, we have missed the mark. The Creator made man in His own image, “in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (Gen. 1:27–28).

Later, after the Fall of man through disobedience, the Lord would issue a commandment to protect the sanctity of life. Exodus 20:13 says simply enough, “Thou shalt not kill.” That verse alone is certainly enough to warrant obedience, but there is more to the biblical record. In the following chapter, the personhood of the unborn and the necessity of protecting it is similarly made clear when Moses writes, “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life” (Exod. 21:22–23). In other words, if the life that was inside the woman is lost from the actions of another, that person must pay “life for life.”

Interestingly enough, it was a man with a physical defect that recorded the prohibition given by God. Moses, the great lawgiver, had a speech impediment and he tried to use that as an excuse to avoid taking a leading place in life. But God would not let Moses get by with that and the Lord said unto him, “Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind, have not I the Lord?”

We know about disease and genetic disorders through the marvels of modern science. Yet, when all is said and done about the quality of life and the problems of pain, we can still hear the voice of God saying, “I have made each person. Thou shalt not kill.” It is important to understand these theological concepts in counseling because it will help to explain, in part, the mental anguish many women experience following an abortion. Most women have a belief in a personal God. They know that He is holy, just, and good. They know intuitively that God does not approve of the act of abortion. The result, when the moral conscience is isolated and the Divine commandment dishonored, is guilt.

Not everyone will agree, but I would like to suggest that a certain amount of guilt is both normal and healthy to the soul. Indeed, the greater fear should be that individuals will no longer experience a sensitivity of the soul. Then we shall know again the aftermath of battle and the end of a nuclear holocaust. Listen to Dr. Susan Stanford describe a woman she met briefly in an abortion clinic. Susan Stanford was at the time married and pregnant but not by her husband. It was her first abortion and in turmoil of soul she was going through the ordeal with the rational that she was saving her marriage.

Lying on a cot, after the procedure, in a large room painted an institutional green, Susan waited for the doctor. A nurse came into the room pushing a cot that bore another patient. The woman was petite with short sandy-blonde hair. Her features were sharp, pixy-like. There was something calculated about her. Hard. As soon as the nurse retreated the woman looked at me and smiled sourly, “No damn roll in the hay is worth this!” That’s for sure, I thought, but could not answer. No answer was needed. For the next ten minutes she talked non-stop. The air was blue with the profanity spewing out of her mouth. On and on she raved about being more careful with her birth control. She was going to get the guy who had “done this” to her. I wanted to turn away. Get up and run. Anything to escape this wretched tirade. Finally she addressed one proper English sentence specifically to me. “Is this your first time?” “Yes,” I replied stiffly. I did not want a conversation—not now and certainly not with her. “Well, it is my fourth,” she announced. “And it never gets any better.” Fourth. How could anybody go through that four times? Looking at her I felt a surge of pity. While I was torn to the depths of my being, she was hardened.

When understood properly, guilt is good for it is the first step on the road to inner healing and reconciliation. Other steps must be taken. In particular, the guilt must be associated with the abortion procedure. The late Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty’s Godparent Ministries, reports that in all the interviews his counselors have with women who have terminated their pregnancies, the guilt was easier to deal with so long as it was generally held that what had been aborted was just a lifeless, shapeless, unfeeling, piece of tissue.

Now the medical and scientific evidence is in—and has been for years. An abortion takes the life of a living human being with arms and legs, fingers and toes, heart and brain. Moreover, the baby feels the pain of death. Let me repeat that. The baby in the womb feels the pain of being murdered as it is literally being ripped apart or burned alive from the death-inducing chemicals.

Facing the total reality of what was done is more painful—but absolutely essential—for complete healing. Denial is a natural defense mechanism encouraged by clever expressions for avoiding the truth about unborn human life, but it is a mechanism that must be dismantled. Gently, firmly, but honestly dismantled. There is unfinished business until the problem of guilt is clearly defined and the linkage is made to abortion. The manner in which the identification is made is crucial.

One approach is very authoritative and judgmental in nature whereby the counselor tells the client the harsh reality. Perhaps a better approach is presenting the information and asking the client if that explanation seems to fit. We must remember that it takes time to heal the soul as well as the body. “A word spoken in due season: how good it is!”

The third step in the process of inner healing is a collection of all the relevant facts and emotions relating to the abortion experience. A number of sessions might be needed in order to crystallize just which emotions and attitudes are important to focus on.

One counselor observes that: “Women who chose abortion speak of seeing the faces of their babies in living children on the street or in the playgrounds. They hear their babies calling out to them. They dream of holding their aborted babies in their arms, and they awaken feeling all the grief and loss that any death in a family brings to those who remain. They report nightmares that dramatize the moments of their baby’s deaths and the horrors of knowing the parts they played in the suffering.”

The loneliness that may follow the loss of the unborn child is often compounded by the loss of relationship with the one who fathered the child. I have read that 70% of the relationships that produced the aborted baby will fail within one month after the abortion. That may sound like good news to a parent who has gone through an abortion experience with a daughter, but the results of the loneliness that follows this “dual loss” may lead to a pendulum swing of emotions that begins the entire abortion process once again.

Besides guilt, loneliness, disturbing dreams, and depression, other emotions that might emerge include suicidal tendencies. In the November 1981 issue of Pediatrics, Carl L. Tishler, Ph.D. alerts doctors to the possibility that “a teenager who has had an induced abortion, may attempt to kill herself on the day which corresponds to her baby’s birthday had the baby been allowed to be born.”

Less intense but equally self-destructive emotions and behavior might include an abuse of alcohol and drugs or a return to an unhealthy relationship in a conscious or unconscious attempt to get pregnant again to undo what has been done through abortion. Some psychologists refer to this as an “atonement baby.” One study in the British Medical Journal shows that 43% of women who aborted were pregnant again within the year following their abortion.

Once the specific details have been gathered, the client’s spiritual frame of reference must be discerned. How God is perceived is essential because the role of God as Father can be quite revolting to a young girl sexually molested and impregnated by her father. Likewise, a mature woman who has not had a father image or a healthy relationship with her father may react in a negative way. It may take time to communicate basic biblical concepts such as the following.

First, God is a holy God. He can be no less. Second, He wants His creation to be holy, too. It is not an option either, for the Bible teaches without holiness no man shall see God. Third, it is obvious that we are not holy. “There is none righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 6:23).

However, there is good news. God is not only holy, He is also merciful. While an authoritative figure, God is also a compassionate Friend. As a Friend, God has done two things.

First, He has come to dwell among men. John the Apostle tells us that: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory.”

Not only did God come as a Friend to dwell among men, but He also came to redeem us. The word “redeem” means “to purchase” or “to buy back.” God in Christ died to purchase the forgiveness of sins. A sacrifice for sins has already been made. There is no longer a need for self-punishment and self-destructive behavior. Forgiveness is merely for the asking, it is there for the receiving. It is the will of the Lord to forgive and to heal all who are hurting.

Do you want to be healed? Then take the next step, which is prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God as one would talk to a friend. If a pattern is needed, I would suggest Psalm 51. Perhaps you are familiar with this Psalm of David. It was written after Nathan the prophet had exposed the great sin of David in committing adultery and murder and, as a result of those actions, being the cause of the death of an innocent child through divine punishment. Pray with David as he cries with tears and says in part, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.”

It is always best when prayer comes from the person’s own heart. The words may be simple. “Dear God. I have sinned. Please, please forgive me.” The tears may flow and that is alright. Sometimes the counselor may just want to pray for the client provided there is prior permission and total agreement with the words uttered.

Following the prayer and receiving of Divine forgiveness another step can be taken. It involves the use of mental imagery. I would suggest the client be asked to close their eyes, relax, and go back in their minds to the scene of the abortion. Recapture all of the moods, sights, and sounds. Ask if there is any indication of the sex of the child—a boy or girl. Is there a name?

Now have the client ask the child to forgive and then listen as the child replies, “Mommy, I forgive you.”

It has been my experience that children are indeed the most loving and most forgiving by nature. Hurt them and they cry, only to return for a hug. A variation on this technique would be to have the client write a letter to the baby setting forth the reasons for the abortion, confessing it as wrong, and asking for forgiveness.

In recent years the idea of a committal service of the baby has become very popular and is recommended. A committal service is simply a mental releasing of the unborn child into the loving care of the Creator of all life. Dr. Susan Stanford offers a model prayer:

“Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus, and Holy Spirit, we come to You at this point in our journey and we wish to dedicate this child to You for all eternity. We know Lord, that You love this child more than any earthly parent can comprehend. But, Jane, as the earthly parent of this child, wishes now to commit her daughter to You forever. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we commit little “Janie” to You, heavenly Father to be with You in heaven, to be loved by You, and to be with Your host of angels for all time. Thank you Father for the love that You have for this child. We ask You to keep her safe from any darkness or evil and to keep her fully in the presence of Your light in heaven. We are confident, Lord, on that day the souls of Jane and her daughter will be joined together in heaven and we look forward to that day. We praise You, Father, and we thank You for all the healing that you are doing at this very moment.”

If a woman is willing to travel down the path to healing and reconciliation then she might want to consider taking these steps (1) accepting the value of justified guilt, (2) associating it with the abortion procedures, (3) exposing all of the inner emotions and behavior, (4) praying for Divine healing, (5) asking the baby to forgive, and finally (6) committing the child back to the Creator. The client can walk away with the heavy burden of guilt removed. Atonement has been made by Another and accepted. There can even be hope in the heart and a final word in response to the child’s prayer: “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

A woman, if she does these things, can take comfort in her heart knowing she can say to her unborn child, “I will see you soon darling. Soon we will be reunited in heaven so that we can spend eternity together with our Savior.”

Let mother and child be reunited in repentance and continue in hope.

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