By Katie Scalf
Ruth Schuler is the director of Restore, the abortion recovery program offered by Pregnancy Ministries, Inc. She meets with individuals who have experienced abortion and helps them process their grief and other negative emotions so they can heal and live in light of God’s forgiveness.
As she walks them through the recovery process, Ruth often witnesses incredible change in her clients that begins when they share their abortion story. The freedom and weightlessness they experience as a result can even extend to their appearance and posture.
Ruth describes the visible transformation she observed in one client in particular.
“When I first saw this client,” Ruth says, “she had long extensions in her hair and she did not have any makeup on. No makeup, and her clothes were large and baggy, and she walked hunched over.”
Ruth illustrates by taking a few steps with her back bent and her hair hanging over her face, staring at the floor.
“It’s just amazing what the guilt and shame and pain and loss of abortion can do to a person,” she says. “But part way through the study, my client started pulling her hair away from her face, and then one week she had some makeup on, and the other facilitator and I would just looked at each other like,” Ruth pauses to show a gleeful, surprised expression, “‘cause we knew what was going on. It was hard not to smile. Look at this transformation happening right before our eyes!”
As this client’s transformation illustrates, healing is possible after abortion. Although individuals may live beneath the weight of guilt, shame, and anger for years after an abortion, God can lift the darkness and restore them through his mercy and love. This transformation often begins when they share their abortion story with someone they trust. Some individuals turn to resources like Restore when they are ready to talk, while others choose to confide in a friend.
If someone told you about their abortion story, how should you respond? Ruth offers some guidance based on her ten years at Restore.
1. Recognize the significance of them sharing.
“It’s a weighty thing,” Ruth says. “It’s a big deal if somebody shares an abortion with you… Realize that this is a special situation that you’ve been given.”
It’s not easy for them to talk about, and you may be the first person they’ve ever told. Most of the time they are exposing a secret that has been hidden for a while, one that brings them deep pain, guilt, and fear.
“When someone shares their abortion story,” Ruth explains, “I think one of the first things you want to do is let them know that you understand that this was a difficult thing to share.”
2. Listen and let them express themselves.
Ruth explains, “They may just need a listening ear, so you don’t need to know necessarily anything about abortion recovery or about how individuals struggle. They need you to treat them like a beloved sister or brother who you would do anything for, that nothing they could do would cause you to de-friend them, to leave them. Depression is sometimes caused by not being able to express strong feelings. Allowing a friend to share their experience is so very important for their recovery.”
3. Try to understand where they’re coming from.
The decision to have an abortion is not made lightly. Consider how you would feel if you were in their situation, feeling the pressures they felt and experiencing the internal and external struggles they went through when they made that decision.
“It’s not something they necessarily want to do. It’s something they feel like they have to do…It has been likened to an animal caught in a trap that feels like, if it doesn’t get out of this trap, it can’t survive. So it’s willing to gnaw it’s limb off in order to get out of the trap to survive. In the same way, men and women who experience abortion then return to life lame. They have lost a piece of themselves.”
Ruth says that most of the time, men and women choose abortion out of desperation when they feel like they have no other options. While you may not understand why your friend chose abortion, you can acknowledge their experiences.
4. Reassure them that you love them and support them.
To expose their secret can be scary and painful, but if they’re sharing it with you, that means their emotional needs are more pressing than their fear.
“They want to know that they’re cared for and loved. And we don’t need to accept their decision, but we need to accept them,” Ruth explains.
Express your love for them and reassure them that you want to help.
5. Go slow and avoid words of condemnation.
“When someone comes to me for help, the first time they come to see me, we talk about a lot of things,” Ruth says. “I don’t go to what God thinks about what they’ve done right away.”
Ruth says it’s likely that they already feel condemned, so it’s important to be gentle and compassionate. If they feel rejected after they share, they will close up and stop sharing, which can hinder their recovery.
Instead, she recommends trying to understand your friend’s experience by asking gentle questions.
“‘Tell me about your story,” Ruth says as an example. “What caused you to choose abortion? What was going on that you felt like you couldn’t go through with this pregnancy?’ And talk about that. They may bring up relationships or dreams that they felt like they were going to lose. Just affirm them that those were difficult and complex issues. And say, ‘I can see how you struggled with making that decision.’”
6. Be ready with the Gospel.
When they share their abortion story, some people are struggling with their understanding of God and how He feels about them.
“What they’re struggling with is, ‘Can I be forgiven? Can I be made right?’ And they’re afraid that they have committed the unforgivable sin,” Ruth explains.
“This is an opportunity for you to help them know that, ‘Hey, there’s a God that loves you and wants to forgive you and have a relationship with you, and there’s nothing that can stand in your way.’ So just be ready with the Gospel to share with your friend, whether they’re a believer who needs reminding or an unbeliever who has not known God’s love.”
It’s also important to remind yourself of the Gospel and of your own need for it in order to keep a humble and accurate perspective.
“In God’s eyes,” Ruth says, “all sin is punishable by death, so it’s only through the grace of God that we can have forgiveness through Jesus Christ. When feelings of judgement or condemnation come up when a friend shares their abortion, it’s good to reflect on God’s grace toward us.”
7. Guard their secret.
They have chosen to confide in you. You can’t safely assume that, because they tell you, it must be common knowledge.
“That’s their story. We don’t have a right to tell their story. That’s their secret and in order to help them, we need to keep that in confidence,” Ruth says.
The best thing you can do is not discuss it with anyone besides them and the Lord.
8. Keep communicating.
After they confide in you, they need you to stay present and engaged in the relationship. They need to know that you won’t run from them because of what they told you.
Based on her experience, Ruth says it’s also important to keep talking about the abortion when they are open to it.
“Because they have shared it with you, you’re not going to want to ignore it. You don’t have to avoid the word ‘abortion,’” she says.
In fact, if neither one of you brings it up again, they may begin to worry about what you’re thinking. Instead, Ruth suggests bringing it up gently, saying, “If you ever don’t want to talk about it, just let me know. But I want you to know that I want to help and I’ll talk whenever you want to.”
9. Respond to warning signs.
Depression is common among those who have experienced abortion, and it’s important to know when someone needs immediate professional help. Ruth says they may mention hating themselves or feeling like they should be punished. They may talk about using substances like drugs or alcohol to drown out the pain.
If you see something concerning in your friend’s behavior or words, Ruth suggests doing a suicide assessment to help discern if they are a danger to themselves. Asking these questions is a good place to start:
1. Are you having suicidal thoughts?
2. Do you have a plan?
3. Do you have the things necessary to carry out that plan?
“If they answer ‘yes’ to all three, you need to call for help,” she says.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. They also offer an online chat at SuicidePreventionLifeline.org/chat/. If you or others are in immediate physical danger, call 911.
10. Most of all, pray.
Ruth encourages you to rely on God throughout the process, to be “true to God and asking God for help all along the way.”
Not only can you pray for God to guide you, but you can also pray with and for your friend. Ruth suggests asking God to show them His love and your love, and to restore them in relationship with Himself.
By the power of God, you can help your friend start walking a journey toward forgiveness and freedom. You may even get to witness the type of inside-out transformation Ruth sees in her clients at Restore.
If your friend wants to talk to Ruth or someone at Restore, they can call 717-372-2845, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or they can learn more about Restore at https://www.healingafterabortion.com/ .