And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
A woman who has voluntarily undergone an abortion has sinned. The church has been clear about that. Perhaps we have been less clear that she is also a woman who has been sinned against. Not only does she have her own need of forgiveness, she also has the need to forgive others. For abortion is never her sin alone.
Did the man to whom she gave herself without reservation know what he was doing in taking her sexually without committing to love her for the rest of her life? Did he realize that his cowardly refusal to take responsibility for her and their baby would not only lead to the baby’s death, but also to a lifetime of regret—or denial—and that neither of them would ever be the same? Can she forgive her husband, who insisted that they could not afford another baby? Or blamed her for contraceptive failure?
Did her father know that his distance from his daughter would encourage her to seek the affection of other men before her time? Did her mother realize that her instinct to protect her daughter (from the difficulty of single motherhood) was shared by her daughter, who had the same protective instinct for a child that is now no more? Can she forgive her father for failing to protect her, for his lack of attention to the men interested in her, for allowing this sexual relationship to persist while saying nothing? Did he know how much she feared his disapproval, or his anger? Can she forgive her mother for denying her daughter’s own motherhood? For rejecting her grandchild?
Did her pastor know that the strident way he condemned both sexual sin and abortion made it very difficult to come to him or to the church for help? Or perhaps that his words about the unconditional love of Christ, without being clear about the bright line the Scriptures draw around life and appropriate sexual relationship, seemed to give her permission to do what she felt she needed to do at the time? Or that his silence from the pulpit left her utterly without direction? Did the people of her church realize that their commitment to looking like they had everything together had the effect of driving away those who did not? Living alone, or perhaps with her other young children, did anyone realize how much she wanted to be invited into someone’s home for dinner? Or how much she would have welcomed someone offering to help take care of her other children?
Can she forgive all those involved in the abortion business for leading her to believe that this was a good and responsible choice, even if difficult and painful? How about those who, insisting that abortion should be available on demand and without apology, have in effect told her, on the front end, that abortion was nothing about which to be concerned and, on the back end, that she has no need to grieve? What about a government that not only made abortion legal, but affordable?
None of this is to suggest that a woman doesn’t bear responsibility for the decisions she makes. But it is to suggest that she doesn’t make those decisions alone, or in a vacuum. The idea that abortion is a “woman’s issue” is a lie. Abortion involves a host of other people, many of whom likewise bear a measure of responsibility. Framing abortion as a woman’s issue alone not only misunderstands the matter, but in effect forces a woman to bear a burden of guilt alone, and obscures the very real fact that she has others who she needs to forgive as well.