Early in my ministry as a pastor, my mother told me she’d had an abortion. It was for medical reasons, but it had haunted her down the corridors of her mind. She knew better than most people what was involved back then because she had taught obstetrical nursing at Vanderbilt University.
My brother was born in 1939, and in between him and me, she had conceived a little girl whom she and my father named “Nancy.” Their family physician and fellow Presbyterian, Dr. Bill Evans, advised her to let him take little Nancy before she was bornthat’s how they knew that the baby was a little girl.
I have no idea whether this abortion was medically necessary back then or not; it was during World War II. I only know how this abortion affected my mother the rest of her life. She never got over it. Dr. Evans had killed her baby, and she had consented. She talked about it with me before Daddy died, and she talked about it as an elderly woman. I have her blessing to talk about it with you.
She is not the only woman who has talked to me about abortion. She won’t be the last. I have always tried to be pastoral, meaning I listen and I always speak the gospel: “God loves you. The Lord Jesus died for your sins. Turn from your guilt and cast yourself on God’s mercy in Christ.”
There is no easy way to get rid of guilt. You can’t shove it down and pretend it’s not there. You can’t reason it away. Like midnight reflux of the soul, it comes up when you least expect it, when you are least prepared to deal with it. While you’re lying in bed, half-awakehalf-asleep, there it is, wafting out of your subconscious mind and dancing before you, only to disappear again before you can wrap your rational mind around it. Sometimes it comes in your dreams. Sometimes when you are attempting to pray. There it is as a waking vision, blotting out the sun, bringing on the cheerless and withering cold when the sunshine of cheerfulness should be beaming down on you.
Many people have found relief. Some have not.
The key is in frank acknowledgement of what we know to be true at the deepest level of our mind. Until we face what we have done and confess it to God, we are locked out, shut away from being able to enjoy the presence of God. Instead of Word and Sacrament being a means to communion with Christ, they serve regularly to remind us of what we are missing.
So I say: I am not a politician. I am a pastor, a doctor of the soul, and I want to help you find relief. I want to lead you back to a good place, maybe to a place you have never known before, where you can feel the warmth of the Lord’s embrace and know that all is well between you and him. That baby was not a piece of you, say, the way that the tip of your finger that got chopped off in an accident was part of you. You know that deep down inside. Please bear with me. I am your friend, and I am here to help you, not hurt you.
My mother didn’t need all her scientific knowledge to feel what she felt and be haunted by it for decades. What she felt when she knew she was pregnant was the presence of another human being. And when Dr. Bill aborted her baby, she felt her absencea quiet but profound emptiness. And it never left.
People’s babies don’t cease to exist when they die, whether in miscarriage or through the hand of an abortionist. They continue to exist. The life from Eden continues on even after the mortal frame returns to the earth from which we were taken.
That’s why mothers sometimes dream about their babies. That’s why the emptiness of the womb never ceases to be feltthere is no flesh and blood baby latching on to her mother’s breast, sucking warmth and love and nourishment in that profoundly bonding experience.
What do you do? Face what you fear to be true and admit it to God, but admit it while being held in his kind embrace and unconditional, effectual love.
“I asked someone to kill my baby. My baby is dead.”
Admit it. Face it. Feel it. Now believe the Gospel: “Come to me,” said the Lord Jesus, “All you who are weighed down with a burden that you cannot bear, and too exhausted to handle it any more. I will give you relief. I will give you refreshing rest” (cf. Matthew 11:28-30).
Believe it. It’s the truth. Then ask the Lord himself to tell your baby what you would say if you couldwhat you will one day tell your baby when you are reunited.
Ask him to tell your baby that you love her. Ask him to tell her that you have always been haunted by it but that you were so confused and felt so hopeless. Ask him to ask her to forgive you and to tell her that you accept full responsibility for doing what you did.
Then believe the Gospel, and ask God to fill you with his presence, the precious Holy Spirit. Look yourself in the mirror, and confess: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Bob Vincent is the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Louisiana.