1 in 4 pregnancies end in an abortion decision, a statistic that is no different whether you look inside or outside the church. Whatever the reason a woman has for having an abortion, the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional strains of the decision can result in repercussions for years to come. Whether it be triggers that remind her of the event or physical and emotional struggles that eventually come to light, the local church can (and should) be a place of safety where women receive grace and loving care to help them work through their struggle. In this fifth and final post in a series on Maternal Mental Health, I have asked Cheryl Dudek, Director of Programs at the Laurel Pregnancy Center in Laurel, MD who leads the After Abortion Care and Education Program to share on this topic.
Can you briefly tell us what you do and a little bit about how you came into your current role?
I have the privilege of walking alongside individuals who have been wounded by an abortion decision. The ripple effect of this loss is huge. I work with not only individuals who make the decision but with family members as well. Walking through grief as we unpack their story is holy ground and I stand in awe of what God reveals as individuals are willing to dig into their pain.
What kind of care do clients receive in the post abortive care program?
One-on-one lay counseling is usually where we begin the journey of healing. Sharing the abortion story or stories to expose wounds is the first step. Upon this initial meeting, the options of further healing are assessed and offered (ie: continued one-on-one counseling, group support, bible studies of healing and/or grief counseling, professional counseling or medical intervention). Our hope is that one of the programs we have to offer ‘fits’ the style of healing God has wired within each one of us.
How can the church grow in its ministry and care for women in their midst who may have had an abortion?
Talk about the pain! Those who are hurting from an abortion experience do not need to be told they did something wrong; they know (there would be no ‘pain’ otherwise). Validate their pain and point them to the gospel of good news for the broken. There is not a sin that Jesus didn’t die for on the cross. To say that He didn’t cover the sin of abortion is to say that the cross wasn’t enough. 1 John tells us that if we confess our sin to God, He is faithful to forgive. We can rest in His finished work on our behalf. The hope is seeing Jesus with His arms open wide waiting for us to run and fall into them. Our faith is built as we see God bring peace where there was unrest and beauty out of ashes. Point them to HIM; the only Healer of their pain. Then seek to find a local pregnancy center or after abortion group in your area to assist with the process of recovery and healing.
Even if Roe vs. Wade were overturned today, we would still have hurting people in our world and in our churches. I firmly believe God could end abortion anytime He wants… so why hasn’t He? This is an invitation to the church to be The Church! To be the “called out” ones who show Christ to a hurting soul. To extend compassion and not judgment, to give grace and not condemnation, to speak truth wrapped in love, and give life where there was death. This is the call to the church. Just because abortion is the issue, doesn’t change the church’s call. Everyone is redeemable and everything will be redeemed for those who are His children. Don’t be afraid to talk about abortion but recognize that it is a place of wounding and offer help and healing.
How have you seen abortion impact the mental health of your clients? Their emotional, mental, physical well-being.
Psalm 139 says we are ‘knit together’ in our mother’s womb. I love this picture because when I think of something that is knit and it gets snagged, it affects the whole piece. I have found this to be true with our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual self as well. When something is ‘off’ in any of these areas, it will affect the whole. I have seen abortion connected to (but not excluded to):
- Eating disorders
- Suicide or suicidal thoughts
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Anger issues
- Complications with future pregnancies
- Fear of commitment
- Aversion to the opposite sex
Diane Langberg, PhD talks about trauma as an octopus. An event happens (the abortion) and the fallout of this event has a tentacle that reaches into our present day and pull us right back to the trauma. The ‘triggers’ are all around us. Seeing a pregnant woman, walking down the aisle of baby items in Target, running past a playground where children are playing, watching picketers on the sidewalk, or even hearing a sermon in our ‘safe’ church pew. All these and many more can cause us to relive the abortion decision and/or the event.
What is the healing and recovery journey like? Is there a process that you typically will walk through with your clients as they begin their recovery journey?
The healing journey of an abortion decision is much like working through any other grief or loss. We talk with individuals to see where they are in their pain one-on-one. If they are ready, we walk individuals through a Bible study that deals with the grief process. We also offer group support Bible studies. The big hurdles in the healing process are typically shame and forgiveness as most individuals have a hard time with “forgiving themselves.” Fearing that God will punish them when they do want to have a child or are trying to have a child unsuccessfully is very common. So we do a lot of talking and processing of our theology of who God is to us and how that plays out in our lives. We talk about the strategies the individual has been using to cope with the pain. We reinforce positive strategies and challenge negative patterns while following the Holy Spirit’s lead as we tread lightly on someone’s story.
What resources do you typically recommend to women in a post-abortive situation who desire counseling and care?
The first step of healing is admitting that you need help. Whether that is to tell a trusted friend, family member, or counselor, sharing is important. Finding a group of women who are working through the same grief is so helpful. At our pregnancy center we encounter women with diverse or no spiritual background so depending on their faith base, we’ll determine what the most helpful resource will be. There are many resources out there for post abortion healing. Starting with a web search that is close to you and has the same faith base is where I suggest individuals to start. A few resources:
As God’s people we are to advocate for the unborn, we are to cherish life and honor God as the only One who gives it and takes it away. We also get to extend grace and love to others what ever the sin because we know we too are in need of God’s grace and mercy each day in our own lives. As the church, we get the privilege to bring hope and healing found in Christ to women and their families affected by abortion. May we as the local church be found faithful to minister to those on this particular journey with the love and grace that reconciles others to God.
Cheryl Dudek has been part of the Laurel Pregnancy Center for over twenty years in the capacity as volunteer advocate, teacher and after abortion facilitator, the last ten years working as the Director of Programs. She graduated with a BS in Early Childhood Education from Towson State University in 1992. She compliments the years of education with additional trainings from Ramah International, National Adoption Counsel, Lay Counseling Institute and American Association of Christian Counselors. She is currently pursuing a MA in Christian Ministry and Pastoral Counseling from Liberty University. Cheryl has started an abortion recovery leadership network (ARLN) that spans the Maryland, DC and Virginia areas providing quarterly meeting with recovery leaders for education and soul care.