Heath Lambert: One of the topics that has overtaken our cultural consciousness in the aftermath of the Planned Parenthood scandal is the issue of caring for women who are considering an abortion or who have had an abortion. This is a topic that is dear and precious to my heart because it is important to me that Christians be caring for women who are being destroyed by a culture of death that endorses abortion on demand.
One of the things that nobody talks about is the fact that when women have an abortion they will incur guilt, and many of them will feel this guilt. They will begin to feel the need for forgiveness pressing in on them. This is an issue we have to address because so many of us know these women. Some of you are these women. We need to minister to one another so we can know what forgiveness looks like in the aftermath of a sin like an abortion. So I have invited Julie Ganschow to be our guest this week on Truth in Love. Julie is an ACBC certified counselor and has many years of counseling experience. This week Amy Evenson sat down and talked with her about the crucial topic of guilt after abortion.
Amy: In the aftermath of an abortion there is so much emotion and heartache; even years after the abortion has taken place. What would you say to a woman who thinks God can’t forgive her after her abortion?
Julie: As biblical counselors, our primary mission is to give the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are lost and dying in their sin. And to bring help, healing, and hope to those who are broken and ruined because of their sin. I can think of no greater group of people more in need of help, healing, and hope than those who are post-abortive. What I would say to a woman who thinks God cannot forgive her for her abortion is this: “What I want you to know is God is a forgiving God. And yes, he can and does forgive the sin of abortion.” So many women are living with a past abortion that haunts their present life. There are women who have been suffering, in some cases, with post-abortion effects for decades. The greatest number of women having abortions are in the 19-24 year-old age range. These women typically wait 7-10 years before reaching out for any help after their abortions. Many times they live for decades with the pain and the agony of post-abortive problems.
Knowing this has made me much more aware on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. As I look around my church, I am wondering how many of these dear women are locked in a world that is full of guilt and fear and shame; terrified that if they were to die on the way home they would be unforgiven for their abortions. These women are living under the kind of shame and condemnation that I don’t think someone who hasn’t experienced an abortion can really understand. In a biblical post-abortion counseling ministry, the women typically come from one of two groups and each has their own unique spiritual problem.
The first group are women who had abortions before becoming Christians and the second group are women who had abortions as Christians. I think this is difficult for us to understand, that Christian women do have abortions. One million women each year in the US have an abortion. 200,000 of them are bible believing Christian women. That means 1 in every 5 women who have an abortion identifies herself as a born again evangelical, charismatic, or fundamentalist Christian. And for a variety of reasons these women think they have no other choice than to end their pregnancy. As the church we need to be prepared to help women from both groups work through all the issues that result from the abortion decision. Including the fear that God will not forgive them for what they’ve done.
I think two of the biggest issues that all post-abortive women struggle with are guilt and fear. Both of these are directly connected to God and being forgiven by God. We believe that dealing with the guilt goes beyond dealing with just the guilty feelings. Guilty feelings are a typical result of sinning against God or man, and we believe that a post-abortive woman has to deal with the real guilt that goes beyond just how she feels. In most cases, having an abortion is at the end of a long train of sinful decisions. So she has to begin by biblically addressing the things that lead to the pregnancy. Things such as being sexually immoral, lying to her parents or authority figure, perhaps lying to the boy or man with who she conceived the child. Chances are that she is making selfish decisions or is simply living a duplicitous life; acting one way in front of her church friends and family and then another way in the private areas of her life.
She is also going to have to deal with the real guilt that comes from ending the baby’s life. And with that guilt comes fear. Most post-abortive women are often very fearful of being judged by God for what they’ve done. They fear God’s punishment, His retribution, going to Hell, having future children being born maimed or disfigured, or even having children die as some sort of divine punishment against them for having an abortion. I think most of all they fear having to live with a secret of this magnitude for the rest of their lives. All of these things go into her belief that God can’t possibly forgive her. She thinks, “I’ve done this thing, it’s unforgivable.” And I honestly don’t think the church helps itself. We do not help post-abortive women as the church. Many churches are very vocal about abortion being murder and many pastors will stand up in front of their churches on Sunday, particularly during the pro-life season (which tends to be around the fall of the year) and they will pound on the pulpit and talk about murdering your baby. The post-abortive woman who is already dealing with all of this guilt and all of this fear and shame thinks to herself, “There is no way I’m going to these people for help. All I would get is condemnation and I’ve got enough of that already.” She believes if humans can’t forgive her, then there is no way a holy and perfect God could forgive her for what she has done.
Now the woman who is not a Christian, of course, fears going to Hell because of what she has done. I have to agree that the unsaved woman is in a perilous place, but not only because of her abortion. She needs to know that it is possible to resolve all of her guilt and free herself from any divine judgment by God just like everyone else: she has to believe the gospel by faith. She has to believe that Jesus is the son of God, that he died on the cross for her sin, and that he rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures. She has to accept and believe by faith that there is forgiveness – even for the sin of abortion. When a woman has an abortion as a Christian, she doesn’t really understand how God could forgive her. Especially when she knows what she knows: about grace and mercy and what God thinks of abortion. And yet, she had one anyway.
These are women that are really fearful that there is no forgiveness available to them. Sometimes they say, “I’m sure God has revoked my salvation. How could I do this knowing what I know?” But we have to help her and all women understand that while abortion is a horrible sin, it is a forgivable sin. All post-abortive women need to hear that, Yes God has found her guilty for her abortion. As well as every other sin. And in Christ justice has been served. God has accepted the payment of Christ’s blood for the blood she spilled in having an abortion. And Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for all her sin. The past, present, and even the future sin (including the stuff we haven’t even thought of yet.) The blood of Christ covers our sin. I think this is critical for her to understand: that her sin is forgivable in Christ. As a sinner she must repent and she must run to him for forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Even the sin of abortion. I do think it takes real faith to believe in that type of forgiveness.
Amy: So what about a woman who says she can’t forgive herself?
Julie: Well a woman who says she can’t forgive herself will say things like, “I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.” This is ultimately a lack of faith in God. It is as though she is saying to herself and to God, “Your sacrifice was good enough for that sin, but not for this sin.” In doing so she is effectively negating the power of the sacrifice of Christ in her life. There is no biblical support for forgiving yourself. I do understand that there are nagging feelings that go along with having committed a horrible sin of any kind, including abortion. The Lord doesn’t say you are forgiven if you feel forgiven. And the Lord doesn’t say you are forgiven if you forgive yourself. He says, “You are forgiven.” This is something that must be believed and received.
When you repent and confess your sin of abortion, both 1 John 1:9 and Hebrew 10:17 say that God remembers the sin no more. It is no longer a part of who you are. If a woman is struggling with forgiveness, she has to remind herself that the very reason that Christ died was to pay the penalty for our sin because we are incapable of doing it for ourselves. To believe that we must forgive ourselves is a very grievous sin before God, telling him that Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough for your sin of abortion. It is simply an unbiblical thought life. We must renew our minds consistently with the truth of God’s character, his forgiveness, and by reading the Old Testament narratives about people who were forgiven of horrible grievous sin. And there is probably no man greater in the New Testament than the apostle Paul, who was forgiven of great sin before God because of the great sacrifice of Christ.
For more information about ministering to post-abortive women, check out Julie Ganschow’s session Counseling the Post-Abortive Woman.