I was 16 when I had my abortion. I carried it mostly alone that first year, but when it became too much to bear alone, I slowly invited more people into my pain—a friend, a youth pastor, and, eventually, my parents.
I’ll never forget sitting across the table from them my senior year of high school. I expected rage, disgust, a permanent severing of trust. But what I got instead was compassion and grace. My dad lifted my head, looked into my eyes, and said the words my soul so desperately craved: “We forgive you.”
It would take another 8 years before my heart would receive those words from the source that mattered most—the one against whom I had truly sinned, my heavenly Father (Ps 51:4; Rom 8:1). By then, I’d piled wound upon wound, living out my shame among flashing lights and loud music and blurred memories in the morning. When I returned to the church after those years spent running and hiding, and finally believed the gospel message was for me, I’d accumulated a pile of baggage that needed unpacking—a lengthy process that involved several people, many setbacks, and a whole lot of patience.
Why do post-abortive ministry?
About one in four women will have an abortion by age 45, leaving invisible scars that often feel too shameful to expose. And yet, unaddressed, these wounds fester, bearing unwanted fruit and trapping women in cycles of shame and regret. These women need the local church and its ministry of the gospel. Week after week, the Word preached has the power to assuage their consciences, to remind them that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for them.
But post-abortive women have also undergone great trauma. They need more intentional care that helps to apply the gospel to the dark places they’ve kept hidden. Here are four reasons the church is uniquely poised to engage in post-abortive ministry:
1. Because these women are in our churches.
Given the statistics, there are likely post-abortive women sitting in our pews. Nearly every time I’ve shared my story in a public setting, a woman has approached me to share hers. The need for post-abortive ministry is not out there, it’s right beside us. These are our women—the members of our churches who are trying to be faithful while often fighting an invisible battle. Pastors must preach like they’re listening, proclaiming not only the law that exposes the depth of their sin, but also the assurance of the gospel. In providing intentional care for post-abortive women, the church has a unique ability to invite these women out of hiding and into the process of true healing.
2. Because we have the only source of true healing.
When Jesus encounters the sinful woman in Luke 7, she has no apparent physical ailment. And yet, after he forgives her sins, he pronounces the same healing words he uses with the bleeding woman (Lk 7:50; 8:48).
Perhaps Luke draws this parallel to show us that the sinful woman has not only been forgiven, she has been healed. Sin had wreaked havoc on her soul. She lived in shame, unable to shed her label as a sinner. But the same power that restored wholeness to those with physical ailments restores this woman’s soul (Ps 23:3; 51:12). She no longer needs to cower in the presence of those who would condemn her; she can lift her head, knowing she has been given peace with God (Ps 3:3; Luke 7:50; Rom 5:1-2).
This speaks to the power of the gospel to bring transformation in the lives of those who have gaping wounds from a life of sin—Jesus sends out his word to both break their bonds and heal them (Ps 107:10; 14; 20). The church heralds this healing Word and has a unique ability to apply it to the “sinful women” in our midst.
3. Because healing happens in community.
Shame can’t survive the light. When we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins (1 Jn 1:9), and that process of confession has the power to bring us into greater fellowship with one another (1 Jn 1:7).
Post-abortive women may need the space to confess the sin of their abortion for the first time—to hear those healing words of forgiveness as their secrets are exposed to the light. But as they continue to work through the guilt of their sin and its lasting effects in their lives, they need a safe community of people with whom they can continue to confess as they unpack the many layers that led to and from their abortions. The church has a unique ability to provide this kind of healing, gospel-formed community.
4. Because healing is a lifetime process.
It’s been 19 years since my abortion. Most days, I walk confidently in the grace and freedom that I know is mine in Christ. But some days, the shame and regret surface at the most unexpected times, reminding me that I wait for a day when the healing I have experienced in Christ will be complete (Rom 8:23; Phil 1:6).
As fellow sojourners in the church, we have a unique ability to come alongside our post-abortive sisters as we all learn together how to live in more honest awareness of our brokenness and more and more dependent upon God’s grace. While we live on this earth, we can weep with those who weep and bear one another’s burdens (Rom 12:15; Gal 6:2). And we can remind each other that a day is coming when Christ will once for all wipe every tear from our eyes and death will be no more (Rev 21:1-4).
Kendra Dahl is a writer, wife, and mom of three living in Escondido, California, where she and her husband both attend Westminster Seminary California. She is passionate about women’s discipleship in the local church and writes to invite women to the healing and freedom found in knowing Christ. You can read more of her work at her blog and follow her on Twitter.