Highly controversial laws passed in Alabama, Georgia and other states have stoked the political debate surrounding abortion, but there’s another dimension to the issue that typically gets lost in the heated rhetoric.
The headlines trigger deep wounds in many men and women who have been involved in ending the life of an unborn child, said Karen Ellison, the founder of Deeper Still Ministries in Knoxville, Tennessee.
In an interview with WND, Ellison said that people who regard themselves as pro-life must recognize that while abortion is a crucial political issue, for many it’s a deep wound that must be healed.
“People with abortion-wounded hearts are constantly managing the stuffed pain,” said Ellison, the author of “Healing the Hurt That Won’t Heal: Freedom for the Abortion-Wounded and Help for the Church they Fear.”
Eventually, however, the pain will be expressed.
“If you don’t have a hope that someone will forgive you and help you heal, you’re response is more one of anger and defensiveness,” she said. “You’re not going to let these people take you down.”
She pointed to a new generation typified by the “shout your abortion” movement.
But for many, like herself, who were reared in Christian families, the emotional pain of having an abortion typically manifests itself in shame and avoidance.
“There’s a divide separating the abortion-wounded from the church they so desperately need but so deeply fear,” she said.
How do we talk about this?
Ellison said the gap is the result of the reluctance of the abortion-wounded to talk about their pain combined with the “ambivalence” of many pastors about the issue.
The dilemma many ministers face, she said is: “How do we talk about this egregious sin, child sacrifice, for which the nation has blood on its hands, and at the same time convey compassion and grace?”
“They don’t know how to begin. They don’t have a confidence that they won’t make matters worse, so they stay silent,” she said of pastors.
Consequently, instead of seeking healing, people are “pushing the pain further down or managing it.”
Ellison said she can empathize with pastors who fear that if they preach strongly about the evil of abortion they will only hurt women more.
Pastors wonder, she said, “Will I see women crying and walking out of the building, and never coming back again?”
Culture of healing
It took many years for Ellison to come to a point where should could talk about the abortion she had while she was in college.
“There was a lot of shame, a lot of self-condemnation, because I knew better. But I yielded to all the fears, more than what I knew to be true,” she said. “I couldn’t even say the word abortion for several years.”
She explained that while she knew intellectually that God would forgive her, she didn’t have a “heart knowledge.”
Acknowledging the “shedding of innocent blood,” repenting and receiving forgiveness are keys to healing, she emphasized.
Ellison said the church must develop not only a culture and theology of life, but of healing. And that takes considerable effort over time, she noted, so that people don’t “all of a sudden on Human Life Sunday get it with both barrels.”
The abortion-wounded, she said, have to perceive “that you’re for them, that they’re not going to get judged.”
Just as lawmakers fight for the lives of the unborn, she urges the church to “start fighting for the healing of those carrying abortion wounds.”
‘There is a way out’
Ellison worked in the crisis pregnancy movement before she began hosting “healing retreats” for the abortion-wounded. The work was formalized with the founding of Deeper Still in 2008.
The group now has 13 chapters in various cities, and she wants to see the healing retreats expand across the nation.
She’s started a work in China, pointing out that 98 percent of abortions in the world take place outside of the United States.
The biggest demographic segment at the retreats, she said, are women in their 50s.
She said women in their 20s who have had an abortion tend to be in denial, but by the time they reach their 40s, “they begin to look back on life and have a lot of regrets.”
When they reach their 60s and 70s, she said, they say: “I don’t want to go to my grave with this on my conscience. Are you telling me there is a way out? Are you telling me I can have peace before I die?”
Ellison noted that this is what she is hearing from Christians.
“It’s amazing how much we will live with something, because we don’t see there’s a way of escape,” she said.
Men also come to the retreats, Ellison noted.
In particular, they suffer because “the very thing they were built for is to protect.”
If they could say anything to their unborn child, said Ellison, it would be, “I’m sorry, I wish I had fought for you.”
She said “our brothers” need to know “your fight doesn’t have to die.”
“You can get your heart back. You can get your fight back,” Ellison said. “You can fight for your children now, or somebody’s children.”
Ellison said she sees herself as part of a healing movement, and she hopes that through the testimonies of the healed, abortion will become not only “illegal but unthinkable.”
Some of the healing and the fruit of healing comes from telling one’s story to the world.
“When the army of the wounded rises up and talks about it, then abortion will stop, and then it will become unthinkable,” she said.
As for the church, “we have to break out of this denial.”
“We have to call [abortion] what it is. We have to begin not only to repent of it, but we have to grieve,” she said. “We’ve lost 60 million of our children in this country alone.
“If it were the genocide of any other people group, we wouldn’t forget it.”