EDITOR’S NOTE: Sunday, Jan. 17, is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.
CRESTWOOD, Ky. (BP)–It was nearly a year ago that Missy Reigel stood in front of hundreds of people at Crestwood Baptist Church and shared her deeply personal testimony.
“On Thursday, Sept. 19, 1996, I had an abortion,” she told the Kentucky congregation.
Reigel shared about how she struggled to put God first in her life as a teenager and in college but got caught up in a life of drugs and alcohol, becoming a “slave to my sin.”
She recalled getting pregnant during a one-night stand, wanting to keep the baby, but instead becoming convinced by the child’s father and her friends that she was “too messed up to have a baby.”
Reigel described the abortion as the “worst thing I have ever gone through in my life.” She said the pain was excruciating, feeling “as though my very soul was being ripped out of me.”
Today, Reigel, 34, uses her story to help other women who have experienced abortions confront their own demons, accept God’s grace and forgiveness — and ultimately, heal.
Southern Baptist Convention churches will observe Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, Jan. 17, just days prior to the Jan. 22 anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in 1973.
National Right to Life estimates that nearly 50 million abortions have been performed in the U.S. in the 37 years since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down.
According to GRACE Ministries, a Crestwood Baptist ministry co-founded by Reigel in 2009, 1 in 4 women age 45 or younger has experienced at least one abortion. Of those women, 70 percent claim some Christian affiliation.
GRACE Ministries dates back to a 2007 Bible study for women who have had abortions. It since has developed into a church-wide ministry that also provides resources and support to those facing crisis pregnancies.
The GRACE post-abortion recovery group uses an eight-week series of Bible studies to help “bring healing and wholeness to those who have experienced an abortion in their past,” Reigel said.
Abortion is “like the secret sin. It’s like the scarlet letter ‘A’,” Reigel said. “People are afraid to mention it — especially in the church.”
GRACE is an acronym that stands for: Grieve the past; Receive forgiveness; Allow healing to begin; Choose to forgive; and End the Silence.
Reigel said the group uses “Surrendering the Secret,” a study from LifeWay Christian Resources written by Pat Layton. “We really wanted to make sure that we were replacing the lies with the truth,” Reigel noted.
“I’m not only talking about the truth of what [abortion] can cause, what you can and will go through — the sorrow, the guilt and the regret — but also the biblical truth,” she added.
The study addresses the shame that post-abortive women suffer, often in isolation. The secrecy of abortion, Reigel noted, begins even before the procedure itself.
Abortion providers “don’t give you details about what’s going to happen, what the procedure’s going to be like [or] what they’re going to do to you,” she explained. “There’s just a lot of secrecy involved.”
Reigel recalled being awake during her abortion, although she never saw the person who performed the procedure until it began. “You’re sold a lie that everything is going to be OK,” she said. “They don’t want you to think about it as being a baby.”
Abortion not only jeopardizes a woman’s mental health afterward, her physical health also is at risk during the procedure, said Alecia Graves, a Louisville-area OB/GYN.
The most common medical complications that can occur with abortions are excessive bleeding, infections and other problems that can lead even to infertility or a hysterectomy, Graves said.
Fortunately, these instances are low, she said, especially among women who have only one abortion.
However, the more abortions a woman has, “the higher those risks become,” Graves said.
“You have people who use [abortion] as their form of birth control and they do that over and over again,” she said.
The emotional scars from abortion are more difficult to detect and, many agree, are just as damaging.
Julia Estes, 27, of Paducah, Ky., had two abortions as a teenager. She now helps other women cope with their post-abortion pain at Hope Unlimited Family Care Center in Paducah.
Working as a counseling mentor at the center since last October, Estes said that too often women who have had an abortion do not want to talk about it. “They’ve repressed it to such a point that they think, ‘I’m OK,'” Estes said.
Hope Unlimited offers its own Bible-based recovery program called PACE (Post-Abortion Counseling Education). Estes said the one-on-one program focuses on forgiveness — accepting forgiveness from God and learning to forgive oneself — and knowing where the baby is now.
“That’s a big thing for some women who have abortions, not knowing where their child is [and] not knowing if God’s forgiven them or not,” Estes said.
Reigel agreed, saying that even women who are believers often say they “feel like God has forgiven them of all the other sins, but they don’t feel like God can forgive them of [abortion] and it has to stay separate.”
“I remember thinking of myself as a murderer on a daily basis,” she recalled. “I struggled with … how I could walk around and live a normal life after doing what I did.”
But what Reigel and the women who lead GRACE Ministries try to explain is that Christ forgives all sins — even abortion.
“He does forgive us and He will heal us and He will bring us to a point where we can accept that Christ’s death was enough for even our sins,” Reigel said.
The healing process, Reigel noted, is similar to the five-step grieving process associated with the death or serious illness of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Because of the guilt involved with abortion, Reigel said many women remain trapped in the denial phase and never truly grieve for their lost children.
“Many women live in denial for years and years,” she said. They think “it wasn’t a baby, or if it was a baby, that [abortion] was the best choice. That’s what they have to tell themselves so they can deal with it.”
But statistics indicate that many women do not “deal with it.” Instead, studies show that women who have had abortions are more likely to experience depression and other mental health problems compared to women who have not had an abortion.
According to Estes, true healing comes when women accept God’s forgiveness, which then leads to self-forgiveness.
“If you know the God of all creation who created the entire universe loves you and forgives you, how could you not forgive yourself?” Estes asked. “That’s what I went through…. It seems to be a real common thread through most women.”
Both Reigel and Estes agreed that the number of women who come through their programs is small because abortion is such a sensitive issue that most do not want to discuss. But those who do complete the studies typically are set free from their shame, Estes said.
“Once you break down the lies of the enemy and the things that have held [women] captive and bound them, then it breaks the shame off of their lives,” she said.
For Reigel, the abortion more than 13 years ago has led to a ministry to help other women heal and avoid similar mistakes. She is now is married to husband Chad and has two children, Cassidy, 9, and Braeden, 6.
She admitted that while she was pregnant with Cassidy, she feared that “God might not let me have my child,” because of her previous choice. It’s just a testimony to God’s grace that He would allow me to have a family.”
Reigel also is part of a steering committee that is putting a nonprofit group in place to open a crisis pregnancy center in Oldham County, Ky.
She said they hope to have the center up and running by 2011 and plan to incorporate the GRACE Ministries curriculum.
“We will, of course, be a faith-based organization … where we will be sharing the love of Christ.”
Drew Nichter is news director of the Western Recorder (www.westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. With reporting by the paper’s partnerships editor, Dannah Prather.