EDITORS’ NOTE: The following stories relate to Sanctity of Life Sunday Jan. 15 across the Southern Baptist Convention.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (BP)–Donna Schmidt and Candace Sabo did not know each other 10 years ago, but they shared a common secret sin — a secret so dark that they believed if it were made known, especially to their fellow church members, they would lose favor, lose friends and any hope of regaining their self-respect.
But eight years ago, Donna summoned the courage to stand before her fellow members at Village Parkway Baptist Church in San Antonio and tell them that she had had an abortion.
Thinking she simply was going to give a promotional announcement about an upcoming pro-life event, Donna was stunned when Pastor Steven Branson said she was going to “come up and share her testimony.” The pastor knew Donna’s history and the fact that she was finally in the healing stages of her experience and Donna assumed he meant for her to share that with the rest of the church.
So she made her announcement and concluded by saying that her involvement in the Life Chain event had been her first step toward healing from the devastating impact abortion had on her life. When she stepped down from the pulpit, her husband held her shaking hand and Donna said she realized, “I had just told a whole congregation I had had an abortion. I didn’t know how they would react.”
The response was overwhelming, she said, “absolutely loving.” They thanked her for her boldness. Then one woman, who had been visiting the church with her husband and children, approached Donna and said she needed to talk.
That woman was Candace. Donna’s candor and the response from the church gave the young mother the courage to share her secret sin of abortion. Although there is a 20-year age difference between the women — Candace, 32, and Donna, 52 — the accounts of their abortions are similar.
As a 16-year-old in 1969, Donna said she was a “wall flower” and “shy.” So when she met Kevin, Donna was afraid she would lose him if she did not give in to his sexual advances. “I was madly in love with him.”
Donna said she “bought into the whole idea that condoms worked.” So when she began getting sick she just assumed she had the flu. It never occurred to her that she could be pregnant. When she realized the truth of the situation, she did not tell her parents. But her mother, noticing the bouts of illness, asked her if she could be pregnant.
“My parents were floored but wanted to do what was right,” Donna said. Although church had been a part of the family’s life, there was no real faith and commitment to Christ, Donna admitted. When her mother asked the pastor what should be done, his response was chilling, she recalled. “He told my mom that we could not have this sin in the church and we needed to have an abortion.”
The procedure was legal in California where the family lived at the time and an appointment was scheduled with the university hospital in San Diego. Donna was required to see a psychologist prior to the abortion and was asked, “Do you think you can live with this after you do this?”
The teen was unsure of the answer, but she was certain her family, her boyfriend and his family were depending on her to follow through. “I wasn’t bold enough to say no.”
After the abortion, she was given a prescription for birth control pills. “Nobody talked to me about not having sex. Everything was so hush-hush.” So, she and Kevin continued dating and having sex. When her mother discovered the birth control pills, she was shocked that her daughter was still sexually active and threw away the medication.
So it was back to the risky use of condoms which resulted in a second pregnancy just before both teens were about leave for separate colleges.
Because of the first abortion, Donna said, “We already knew what to do.” As a means of encouragement, Kevin said he would marry her if she went through with the procedure. A second abortion was performed and no one else knew for a very long time. The emotional impact of the second abortion so devastated Donna that years later she did not recall having it.
Three years later the two were married. When Donna could not get pregnant, she believed it was a consequence of the abortions. She eventually conceived and had a girl, Breanna. Twenty months later, her husband filed for divorce. He had been unfaithful throughout the marriage and left with his latest girlfriend.
“At that time, the abortion pain was reignited,” Donna recounted. Thoughts of suicide crept into her mind. “I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up.” It was her daughter’s need for her and a reintroduction to God that kept Donna from taking her own life.
Because of her experience with the pastor at the family church, Donna had given up on church but not on God. As a nurse stationed at an Air Force base in California, she began conversation with the base chaplain, a Baptist pastor who taught her about a God who was a loving Father. His direction helped Donna regain her trust in pastors and, ultimately, in God.
“I was finally able to pray for forgiveness.”
She was in counseling when she began dating Robin. His love and concern for her was evidenced in his attendance of counseling sessions with his bride-to-be. They were married in November 1982 and by July of the next year Robin had orders to relocate to a base in Utah. Their daughter, Caitlin, was born, but the joy of that time was cut short with the news that Breanna, 4, had leukemia.
“I hit the floor [in prayer],” Donna said. She begged for her daughter’s life and promised to commit her life to walking with God. He answered by healing their daughter who is now married with two children of her own.
In the congregation that morning when Donna shared her testimony was Candace Sabo. She, too, was 16 years old when she found herself pregnant. Mike, her boyfriend, had filled a void in her life. She did not have a close relationship with her father and, though she knew sex outside marriage was wrong, she relented out of a desire for the love of a man.
Candace told Mike she did not believe in abortion. By that time, 1989, abortion was legal and prevalent nationwide. Mike said her decision not to abort was alright with him and no one else was told. But when Candace could no longer button her pants, she broke down and confessed to her mother.
“She hugged me and said it would be OK. But she ended the conversation with, ‘You’re going to have to tell your dad.’”
Candace was mortified. She feared her father and kept putting off the inevitable conversation with him. In the meantime, she met the one other girl at her Modesto, Calif., high school who also was pregnant. The new friend told Candace she needed to get prenatal care and told her of a free clinic where she could get help.
Believing she was making a strictly confidential appointment, Candace made arrangements to meet with a physician. Shortly afterward, late one evening, her father called her down from her room to the kitchen table.
“Do you have something to tell me?” he asked.
“No,” was her reply.
The question was repeated and again she denied withholding anything from him. His anger only grew and he demanded, “You’d better tell me!”
Her confession began the most horrifying night of her life. “He said the meanest things a father should never say to a daughter. He discovered her secret when the clinic called Candace’s home to confirm the prenatal checkup and her father had answered the phone. Instead of a checkup, he scheduled an abortion.
“What if I don’t do it?” she asked him.
“Then pack your bags,” he replied.
Candace said she had nowhere else to turn and no option but to submit. Her heart was broken. Although she could not yet feel the baby move, she had begun speaking to him and sharing the news of her pregnancy with select friends.
Two days later, her father drove her to the clinic. Candace said her recollection of the events is somewhat confused, but she believes she was beginning her second trimester and that she might have been carrying twins. During the preoperative procedures, a technician performed an ultrasound, refusing to let Candace see the images on the screen. The technician, she said, looked confused and called in the physician to verify what the ultrasound was revealing. “They were trying to figure out if there were two. As I was laying there, I kept saying to myself, get up and run.”
She knew, with her father in the waiting room, she wouldn’t get far, but she did not want to be a part of what was about to happen. The abortion took two days and “fortunately,” Candace said, she was asleep for the entire ordeal. Those are memories she does not have to live with as do other women who have had abortions.
“My dad just acted like nothing ever happened. He was angry at my mom for not telling him. We went on with a normal life.”
Another regret she had from the abortion was a lie that stemmed from it. The only person she talked to about the abortion was the other pregnant girl at school. Candace could not face up to the shame of it with anyone else. In a roundabout way, her friend created the lie for her. Angry at how Mike had treated Candace — the two had broken up shortly after Candace became pregnant — the friend approached him and told him Candace had miscarried because he had put so much stress on her.
Candace was relieved to have a reason for why she was no longer pregnant. But, to this day, she wishes she could tell Mike the truth because she believes he blames himself for the loss of the babies.
Healing began for her the next year when she and her new boyfriend, Greg, attended a youth rally. Though she had been raised Catholic, Candace did not have a personal relationship with Christ. It was at the rally, she said, “that I heard the Gospel presented.” Both she and Greg accepted Christ as their Savior. Following her graduation in 1991, the two were married. Soon, Candace was pregnant but miscarried within two months. She believed it was God’s punishment for the abortion. But by the next month, she was pregnant again and had their first daughter, Cheyenne.
After her husband was transferred to England to serve as an Air Force firefighter, they met a strong Christian couple who became the mentors Greg and Candace needed for their fledgling walk with the Lord. When they later landed in San Antonio, their search for a church led them to Village Parkway Baptist Church. On that God-ordained Sunday morning, she heard, for the first time, someone confess to the body of Christ the sin of abortion.
Both women first found healing in their faith. But it wasn’t until they participated in the Post Abortion Counseling Education (P.A.C.E.) Bible study that the process led to resolution. For Donna, she was finally able to let go of the babies she never held. As she prayed one Sunday morning, she heard God say, “Put these babies at the foot of the cross. Give them back to me. Give them back to me.” Donna obeyed, praying at the altar, and “floated out of the sanctuary.”
Candace said during the P.A.C.E. course, which Donna led her through, she was able to confront the anger and unforgiving attitude she had toward her father. She said she doesn’t blame him for what happened -– it was her sin of premarital sex that got her in the situation in the first place. “I don’t want to come across as a victim.” But she knew she had to forgive him for forcing the abortion upon her. And both women had to forgive themselves.
“If God could forgive me,” Candace said, “who am I not to forgive myself?”
Donna and Candace now share their testimonies in a variety of venues. Each time they tell their stories, another woman pulls them aside and unloads her secret burden. “So many women have come forward,” Candace said. “God has just done an amazing thing at Village Parkway. So many women have come out of hiding.” She said at least 10 women in the last six years have sought post-abortion counseling.
Donna said it wasn’t until she began the P.A.C.E. course that she even remembered her second abortion. So traumatic was the experience that she had blotted it from her memory. As she began the Bible study she asked God for a clear recollection of all that had happened. It had occurred so many years ago that she was concerned she wouldn’t recall all the details in order to honestly complete the study. It was during that prayer and the opening session that she began to have flashbacks to the second abortion.
Before they told anyone other than their husbands about their abortions, Candace and Donna lived in fear of their secret being made public. Through confession and Bible study, both women found freedom in Christ and are faithfully involved in the counseling ministry of the Agape Pregnancy Help Center, a ministry sponsored by their church. Donna, a high school nurse, is able to share her testimony with the many young girls on her campus who are pregnant.
“God placed me here,” she said. With abortion so prevalent, pregnant teens don’t bat an eye at the thought of going through with the procedure. Her discussions with these girls open the opportunity for her to share her experiences with abortion and its aftermath. “It’s not a ‘simple over and done with,’” she tells them. “There are consequences.”
Convincing women that abortion is wrong and not the solution to an unplanned pregnancy is the shared goal of Donna and Candace. But, if a pregnant woman cannot be deterred from an abortion, the two want her to know there is love and forgiveness available.
Post-abortion healing is a continuous process that begins with confession, first, to God and, then, to someone who can help. “Women don’t have to be afraid to get healing,” Candace said. Neither woman has had a fellow Christian speak a word of condemnation to them. On the contrary, each time they speak publicly of their abortions, one more woman gets the courage to reveal her deep, dark secret and take a step onto the path of forgiveness and hope found only in Jesus Christ.
Bonnie Pritchett is a reporter for Texas Baptist Crossroads, a magazine of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in which this article originally appeared.