It is very important when ministering on the sidewalk of an abortion center to try to understand the mindset of the women intent on aborting their children. There are things that we can say that can be very damaging if we don’t understand the mindset. For example, these women are in crisis whether we agree with the severity of the crisis or not. They are in fight or flight mode, and usually experience varying degrees of fear, anger (including toward God), guilt, betrayal and feeling overwhelmed.
In this article, we examine how to specifically respond to each of these major reactions to what the women are feeling when they arrive.
The women are fearful as they look at their future, the repercussions of an unplanned pregnancy, and the impact upon their lives and the lives of others who are involved with them. Almost universally, the women I work with tell me that when they see that pink line on the pregnancy test they feel like their world has ended. They are terrified. Young people still living with their parents are certain that their parents will either kill them or kick them out of the house.
One of the worst things we can do is respond how we would normally respond to someone who tells us they are pregnant. Telling them “congratulations” is going to fall very flat and probably increase their anger. The last thing they are feeling like doing is celebrating this baby. The Bible says we are to mourn with those who mourn and laugh with those who laugh. Be very careful not to bring any emotion to the table that they are not ready to receive.
If these people are afraid, we can offer them the perfect antidote to fear. We know that God’s perfect love casts out fear. We know that we can fully trust God; we have nothing to fear. In all these situations, I firmly believe the Gospel is the answer; however, I think it is very useful to examine how that woman is feeling, and address it scripturally. The Bible admonishes us “do not fear” 365 times. Quoting some of those scriptures can help a woman to remember that God can help us overcome fear. Specific stories of overcoming fear can be comforting. One such story is about Mary when the angel comes upon her and tells her about how she will be pregnant with Jesus. Mary was also told by the angel do not fear. It is a good message for the women in crisis that we meet.
It is very common for women at the abortion center to lash out at us with anger. Psychologists tell us that a very common response to fear is anger. Knowing this helps us to be more compassionate and understanding when we are the recipient of undeserved anger. Pointing out the fact that their anger may be a reaction to fear might alone mitigate the anger.
Additionally, we know biblically that a gentle answer turns away wrath. It is very important that we do not respond with anger but with gentleness and offers of help. It is hard to be angry at people who are offering help! We have to be very careful not to be condemning or name calling or judgmental. We should speak truth, but offering help before offering hard truths is more likely to decrease anger. Acknowledge that we understand they feel that we are the enemy. Remind them we have been sent by God to help them with their child. We know God has called us to be a good neighbor to everyone who is vulnerable and in need. Because we love God, our deep desire is to help those mothers in need.
Usually, when I approach a woman with offers of help and reminders that I’m just there to help, the anger begins to melt away. If someone tells me to shut up or other rude things, I usually put my hands up in a gesture of surrender and tell her I’m really there just to help.
The fact that the woman feels guilt may be unrecognized by her. I believe they do feel guilt and they usually transfer that upon us, claiming that we are making them feel guilty. I think it is important to remind them that if they were here getting a tooth pulled, no matter what we said would be unlikely to engender feelings of guilt. But abortion is different than other medical decisions. It is a morally explosive act and the guilt they feel is because their conscience is reminding them that it is not normal, good or healthy for a mother to kill her own child.
I may or may not directly address a mother about this, but I think it is important for me to understand it. We hear all the time that we are harassing women and making them feel shame and guilt. And yet I know our counselors; I hear what they say. They are not saying things that would cause anyone to feel guilt or shame. They are speaking biblical truth and offering help. The guilt and shame comes because the women are doing shameful things. In almost every instance when I’ve had an opportunity for extended discussion or ongoing relationship with these women, they end up agreeing with this point. They were filled with guilt because they knew what they were about to do was wrong. They were ashamed because we saw them do something that they knew in their hearts they should not do.
I will often talk to them about the times in their lives when they have felt no guilt. They usually describe very healthy, kind, loving, compassionate, or sacrificial things they have done. They generally admit that when they do what is right, they feel no guilt. I ask them how they feel now as they consider aborting their child. Just planting this seed is a good strategy. N. R. Narayana Murthy said “the softest pillow is a clear conscience.” I will often say that over the microphone.
Most of these women are in relationships in which they have felt betrayed. A large number of them are with men who have either cheated on them, or have told them to kill the baby. A good number are in domestic violence situations. One recently told me when I asked about role models in her life that she had never had good role models. Her parents were alcoholics and grew mean when they got drunk. She had never experienced a normal, healthy, loving relationship. This is not at all unusual in the abortion minded population.
I have found that it builds trust towards me when I sympathize and directly state that it sounds like they have faced a great deal of betrayal in their lives. Quite often their eyes fill with tears. I remind them that the greatest betrayal to their soul will be from Satan. And just as they do not want to be betrayed, they should not betray the God who died to pay the penalty for their sins by disobeying His laws and commandments. So that sense of betrayal can work to promote a choice for life and for following God because they can sympathize with what betrayal feels like and how damaging it is.
Almost all the women we encounter say it is all too much. Their lives are too filled with tragedy, struggle, broken relationships, and sorrow. The last thing they feel they can handle is the very significant stress of a new baby. It is important to acknowledge that this is true to some degree. Babies are indeed a lot of work. But I ask them, “What are the things in life that you are most proud of? Are they the things that were handed to you and easy, or are they the things that you worked the hardest for?”
Almost always they admit the things that we work hardest to achieve in the midst of great adversity are usually the things that bring us the most self-satisfaction and joy. It is good to help them understand that they are not alone, and many women have successfully navigated single parenthood while going to school, working full-time, etc. Pointing out that this struggle is only for a season and not permanent may help them to put it all in perspective.
It is rough in the early years of rearing children, but it gets progressively easier as the children grow. The rewards are great when adult children are there to help their parents. It is also very important to point out that they are not alone in their struggle. Most of them express feeling all alone. Now, the church is with them.
When they are feeling overwhelmed, the offer of a mentor can be transformative. Knowing that there is a committed mentor and church willing to walk alongside them and link them with the specific resources they need can be a lifesaver; therefore, it is very important to seriously discuss with them what their obstacles are that are causing them to feel so overwhelmed. Try to link them as quickly as possible with resources to fill their hearts with hope instead.
Anger at God
Of all the things mentioned thus far, this is the one that they may not initially recognize but is common. They are blaming God because they know God could have prevented the pregnancy, but He did not. Some of them who have had horrific lives also blame God. They wonder why as innocent children they had to endure so many terrible things. Why did God not intervene? Do not ignore this cry of their heart.
I think it is very important to express compassion and not necessarily try to answer why God allowed so much pain in their lives. Of course, we can talk about how this is a fallen world and sin affects everyone. But I think it is important to acknowledge their feelings of being abandoned by God. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t want to leave them there.
I would then explore the times when God was there for them. Sometimes, I will say, “Right now, look at what God has done! He has sent sent tangible hope and help to you at your moment of greatest need! Might that not show that God loves you and is trying to help you?” When I feel they are able to hear it, I may gently point out how it is sin that has brought them to their current struggle … because that is often the case. They usually agree.
We should assure them that God is not punishing them with a baby, but that the baby is a gift; but there are consequences to our behavior. Sex outside of marriage can lead to undesired and unplanned pregnancy. The good news is that God can take what Satan meant for evil and turn it to good.
I share stories of moms that I have worked with who were in impossible situations. I relate how God not only saved the baby but brought the women to a better life that they never dreamed possible! This happens over and over again, and is very powerful in instilling hope in moms who are angry at God.
Oftentimes, the moms who have walked this journey and are looking back do see the hand of God in their lives even though they were unable to see it at the time. Stories like that can remind the women that God is indeed faithful. They can trust Him and acknowledge that His ways are perfect and good.