"Not according to our sins does He deal with us, nor does He requite us according to —our crimes. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is His kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He put our transgressions from us." From Psalm 103.
Six years after my abortion I was married, so I asked God to send my child back to me. I seriously thought that I had just put my child’s life on hold and that God could and would just send that same soul back into a new body in my womb, because now I was ready.
There I was, a college-educated nerdy bookworm who didn't understand how it all works.
It didn't happen. Nothing happened. I didn't get pregnant again. And it wasn't for lack of wanting or trying. For ten years I cried every time I got my period. And finally it became too late.
A handful of people knew I was pregnant. Not one of those people—two of whom had been raised Catholic—suggested I consider any other alternative besides abortion. And it was those two Catholic friends who accompanied me to the clinic that fateful day.
Everyone "understood." But nobody understood.
And there was no one standing outside that clinic offering to help me—not on the day I went to make the appointment, and not on the day I came back for the "procedure." No one to tell me the truth. It was all too easy, except—
I remember how much it hurt, and how LOUD it was. I remember one of the nurses held my hand—or I should say, I held hers with a vengeance. And the doctor, whom I had not met before he walked into the room that day, said not a word to me. He talked only to the nurses. He was in the room maybe 5 minutes, and after he left, I never saw him again.
Now and then over the ensuing years I learned that other women I knew had had abortions too. No one expressed any regret. So I didn't either.
I was in my late forties when I made a new friend at a new job—a man who was outspokenly against abortion. I always kept my mouth shut when he brought up the subject, until one night he telephoned me and rambled on about a show on abortion that he'd just seen on TV, and I started to cry. When he asked why, I just knew I was about to lose a friend. Through my tears I told him about my abortion, and his response was, You've just confirmed what I believe: that abortion doesn't just kill unborn babies, it also hurts women, and women are being misinformed and misled, even tricked. It was the first time I was allowed to express how I really felt, and I was not rejected. Instead my grief was affirmed. It was the beginning of a new road.
Two years later, when that road had taken me to the edge of a virtual cliff, it was that man who discovered Rachel's Vineyard and told me about it. I went on my first retreat on Palm Sunday weekend 2008. It was the first step in a long walk back from Egypt.
I thought I finally understood what I'd done and how sorry I was, until one night, home alone, I watched The Silent Scream on YouTube. I cried from depths I didn't know I had. Sometime later I watched, with a friend, a video about the week-by-week development of a child in the womb. I learned that when my child was put to death at seven and a half weeks he had a circulatory system and a heartbeat! Arms and legs, and hands with fingers! Kidneys and other developing organs! And he could move even though I couldn't feel it.* Again I wept.
Sometime later I heard about aborted babies being tossed into dumpsters or burned as medical waste. For the first time I wondered, what happened to my child's body?! And my heart broke all over again. I wondered if it would be possible to find out, but I was too afraid to try. And now we know for sure that Planned Parenthood, and probably other abortion providers, sell parts of our aborted babies' bodies to make money, for themselves.
"Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."**
I believe that's the attitude we should have toward everyone involved with abortion, because, smart as I was, that was me. Knowing and accepting the truth takes more than brains. It takes a loved, healed, transformed heart.
The Rachel’s Vineyard retreat helped me to see me in the Bible, in Jesus’s miracles and gestures of forgiveness. Seven years later I am still discovering the breadth and length and height and depth of God's love revealed to us in the scriptures and in the Church.
I recently learned that all four of the Gospels tell the same story,*** with slight variations, about a "sinful" woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume while He was having a meal with friends. Jesus was reprimanded for allowing her to act in this way toward Him. In Luke 7:36–50, for example, Jesus's host chastises Him for allowing "this sort of woman" to touch Him. I have been called "this sort of woman" by Christians who mistakenly think that abortion is the "unforgiveable sin." When I hear Jesus respond to the Pharisee with "her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love, but the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little," I too am forgiven and healed. "Your faith has saved you," Jesus says to the woman. "Go in peace." So, with great gratitude to God, I do.
There are also those who call me hypocrite because I had an abortion and now I speak against it. Look around at the alcoholics and drug addicts and former overeaters, for example, who now speak out against these behaviors and try to help others overcome their addictions just as they did. They are called heroes, not hypocrites.
There is one more source of strength that I have recently encountered in a new way: Mary, the mother of Jesus.
For several months now I have been in the habit of listening to Lighthouse Catholic CDs in my car as I drive. This past weekend, after I'd said my yes to the invitation to speak here today, I popped in the next CD on the pile: a CD of Kimberly Hahn speaking about Mary with the name Our Lady of Sorrows.
As the CD progressed, Kimberly spoke about how Mary's own sufferings are intertwined with the sufferings of her Son, especially during the events of His Passion. She also reminded me that we too are part of the suffering body of Christ, so Mary’s sufferings are also intertwined with ours. And as I see it, Mary is also united to the suffering of our aborted children, because as Jesus said, "whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me"—and who is more "least" than voiceless, powerless unborn children?
So I listened to the CD again, and I heard Kimberly say these things:
Mary "knows the powerlessness that a parent feels when a child is in pain, severe pain, especially when it is suffered unjustly," as our unborn children have suffered. Mary "had to extend forgiveness while they harmed her son." In these words I hear Mary forgiving not only those who killed her son, but also those who harmed my child, and me. "She chooses to forgive, and she does not lash back out. She doesn't turn on the disciples who flee or those who are inflicting this pain."
Kimberly says, "Typically our response to pain and frustration is sadness, and we turn inward to console ourselves, especially when the cause is unjust. Mary ... doesn't turn in. She is not Our Lady of Sadness, she is Our Lady of Sorrows ... the focus is outward ... so she stands vigil by the cross." And there, at the foot of the cross, are also "other women ... and they share her sorrow." When we stand here, in front of this place of great, deep suffering, we too stand vigil by the cross. And Mary stands with us. We are not alone. "This," Kimberly says, "is courageous love demonstrated through ... presence."
Kimberly goes on to say, "There's something so wrong about burying a child." And something even more wrong happens here. Yet Mary doesn’t lash out at us for causing her son’s—or our sons’ and daughters’—suffering and death. "One of her titles," Kimberly says, "is 'Refuge of Sinners.' She invites us to draw close to her. She welcomes us at her side as children of the Father. She's the compassionate mother who calls us to repentance ... because she wants us to receive the grace that we can from what her son suffered."
And then, Kimberly says, "Mary receives back ... the body of Jesus." But we whose children were aborted did and do not receive back our dead children’s bodies. "The body is not just a shell," Kimberly says. "It's so much more than a container of the spirit. And I think how heavy His body would have been, but she needed to cradle Him one more time. She needed to rock Him in her lap one more time. She sees His wounds up so close. I imagined she would have wiped His brow." If we and our children are in the body of Christ, then as Mary held the dead body of her son, Jesus, she also held, even then, the destroyed bodies of our aborted children. And I believe she still holds them for us, until we can.
Then Kimberly says, "A part of Him would always be with her, and a part of her had died. When you lose a child, you know a part of you has died. It's relentless how time marches on, but it does. She also relinquishes her right to bury Him where she might choose, or even to prepare the body for burial alone.... And then the stone is rolled into place, and Mary had to walk away." In this experience, Mary knows how we who have aborted our children feel—if not right away, then eventually.
"Mary's faith," Kimberly says, "did not keep her from suffering, but it enabled her not to be bitter or hard-hearted. Her grief was real, but so was the faith, hope, love, and even joy, real. She is bereft but not without hope.... She's an instrument of grace to all who abandoned Jesus"—including us—"as He went"—and goes—"to the cross."
And then Kimberly says, "as great as her grief was, I believe her joy was even greater." There’s that word again: joy. Why joy? Because Mary knew what the Resurrection meant, and that it would be ours too, if we follow her following Jesus's example. "Now she had to walk through forgiving—forgiving the disciples who abandoned Him, and meeting with them, being a part of Jesus's appearances with them, and there's nothing she holds back in terms of love and being that channel of grace to those disciples.... And she extends her spiritual motherhood ... to every one of us."
So, as our Mother, like her son, whom she follows and to whom she leads us, it is "not according to our sins or our crimes that [she] deals with us. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is [her] kindness toward those who fear [God. Because] as far as the east is from the west, so far has He put our transgressions from us."
"Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."
***Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-8.