Personal Stories that Dispel Common Myths About Those Who Have Had Abortions

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Missie Branch: Today we’ll be addressing false beliefs that Christians have about women who’ve had abortions. We’ve all been in those conversations. That’s very touchy. What are some of those things that people believe?  

Jessica Russo: Honestly, in preparing for this conversation today, I had to check my heart because I have experienced two abortions, and there have been some difficult situations and conversations I’ve been a part in sharing my healing journey. And one of the things that I feel like is, a misconception is that people who experience abortion don’t experience grief or they shouldn’t be sad about it because we chose that. 

And even giving myself permission to grieve. It took fifteen years for me to be able to feel like I was worthy to receive God’s forgiveness and healing.  

When I first, my very first article that I wrote about my healing for Focus on the Family, I was so excited. I was so excited. I felt so legit. And it gets put out there, and it’s posted to all these forums. And I made the mistake of looking at comments. And it was all in pro-life Christian forums. Facebook pages, websites, and the comments of people saying that I deserve to be sad, I didn’t deserve to enjoy Mother’s Day, that I murdered my baby so I should have regret for the rest of my life and I should suffer because of that. 

And I started my healing journey back in 2011, and it felt in that moment, that the grief was fresh all over again. There’s certain situations that just keep taking you back and keep taking you back. So that’s something that I’ve really struggled with in conversations with pro-life Christians, even seeing us being valid in the pro-life community.  

I fully believe that if we can heal and set free those that have been harmed by abortion, that we can change the world. Truly, that our voices matter in this.  

Missie Branch: Someone said to me just yesterday that healed people heal people.  

And that’s the journey. That’s the purpose, that God can use what you’ve actually been through to bring healing to others.  

Jeff Bradford: I’m sorry you went through that. Sometimes the hardest people to deal with are Christians. And it’s sometimes I think just because of maybe how they were raised in the Christian church and don’t understand sometimes the grace and forgiveness that comes along. When, I like to say there’s no sin greater than the cross of Christ. And this includes abortion.  

I don’t know if you guys know my story, but my wife and I got engaged to be married. During that engagement, we got pregnant, went to my father and ended up at Planned Parenthood. 

And we took the life of our first daughter. By God’s grace, we’ve been married. We’re going to celebrate our 30 years, but I’ll tell you, there were some tough years in there. And one, some of the hardest years are those years in church.  

And I think another false belief is that pastors think that talking about abortion won’t bring healing and restoration, that it’ll bring division and strife. And people will leave the church, and they don’t know how to talk about it winsomely and gracefully. Many of them, and many of them do a fantastic job. But my wife and I were, we helped start a church. I was the lay pastor. I was on the board. We led home teams and my wife was an ordained worship leader. 

And yet this is the one thing nobody talked about. We felt like it was the unforgivable sin because no one talked about it. And so, pastors will talk a lot about a lot of things. But unless we bring this out into the open in winsome and graceful ways, people are not going to be healed. One in three people in the church have had an abortion experience, so it’s very likely that somebody sitting right next to us has had an abortion. 

And so, if we don’t encourage pastors to talk about this, how can we educate our congregations on the grace and the beauty of life? I think all those Christians just, we’re not educated. They didn’t have a good shepherd to say, “Hey, we need to love on these men and women who have had abortions and they deserve the forgiveness and the grace of Christ.” 

Missie Branch: I do think that honestly, there are Christians who believe that if you have had an abortion, you can’t be or have been a Christian at the time. That is a false narrative, but that’s also what kind of will keep people in the shadows and not willing to seek forgiveness, to seek healing, because even their Christianity can be in question. 

I don’t know if you’ve experienced that or seen that in your communities.   

Jessica Russo: Oh yes, absolutely. It’s even seeing, once I started my healing journey, I almost feel like I have radar for men and women who have experienced abortion. I can just feel it on them. So, I just gently pry a little bit. 

But there is so much shame surrounding the conversation of abortion in the pro-life Christian community and churches. The shame of even talking about it.  

I was a pro-life Christian when I had two abortions. I was, had been brought up in church, I was 16 years old, my parents were in leadership at church but I questioned my identity in Christ. Who was I?  

I was messy. I’m messy. I’m loud. I’m a loud and proud Texan. I don’t fit in the box. And I didn’t even understand my own identity. I was a pro-life Christian. And then I end up at the abortion clinic out of fear. I didn’t want to destroy my family. But after I had moved out of the house, nobody knew about it. 

I remember one day my mom called me and she said, “Do you remember so and so? This morning at church, they got up and talked about that they had an abortion in college.” They were married, had kids, and I remember being so mad that they hadn’t talked about it ever. That there was so much shame on this in the church, that it’s the unforgivable sin at church, because you have murdered. 

Jeff Bradford: I think that’s why it’s so important that pastors and Christian leaders talk about this issue because there’s so much healing to be done. And until we bring it out in the open… What is amazing, I think too, when we take our biggest failures, we take the sin that really weighs us down and we’re, we use that as a testimony- what God does with that is, incredible. 

Where I’m at today in my work and really leaving the for-profit world because I knew that this is where God was calling me to do to use this. And I didn’t tell anyone about our abortion for 17 years because of the shame. And it really, and even when I came to Human Coalition I had told a few people about my story, and they’re like, you need to tell other people. 

I’m like, why would I tell people about this? Something I’m not proud about at all. And yet, when I was bold enough to do that, I saw people start to share their own testimony and say, “Hey, I was a part of an abortion and it opened the door for healing and restoration.” And that’s where I think a lot of the church leaders and pastors are really missing. 

If they don’t talk about it, everyone is going to continue to feel like this is the unforgivable sin. And so, I think that’s one of the biggest things that we can do as church leaders and pastors across the country. Certainly, you felt that way, I know. 

Jessica Russo: Oh, for sure. I have a dear friend that has also experienced abortion and she had not talked about it with anybody. And it’s so funny, Amy Ford, the President of Embrace Grace, my boss, she was at lunch with this, our friend. And she just, they were talking about something and she felt it on her, and she just asked her in the middle of the lunch, “Have you had an abortion?” 

And the woman almost spat out her diet coke. She was like, “What?”  

Jeff Bradford: That’s so Amy.  

Jessica Russo: That’s so Amy. She’s, “Oh, I’m sorry, we’re just used to talking about this.” But her and I did abortion healing together and walked through that journey.  

And I remember there’s this one Sunday that we had a guest preacher come and preach a sermon. And he was talking about the unfailing love of God and forgiveness for all and God’s grace. And at the end of it, he said just one sentence about abortion. He said, “And if you’ve experienced abortion, God wants to heal you and set you free, too.” That’s all he said. And she called me. She was so excited to hear me talk about it at church. And she just kept saying, “I wonder how many women got brave enough to talk about it, how many men got brave enough to seek healing about it.”  

And it doesn’t, like pastors don’t even have to, or church members, anybody, you don’t have to know all the facts to talk about it. You just have to know God’s love and grace. 

Missie Branch: Exactly, yes. Yes.  

Jeff Bradford: Why do you think pastors don’t talk about it?  

Missie Branch: I think fear. I think fear, I also believe that a lot of people don’t think that it’s happening in their churches. And so, they think it’s a thing that’s out there. And sadly, I teach, no I don’t teach, I work at a Christian college and seminary and there are a lot of our students who have some relationship with abortion, especially coming from secular high schools and things like that. They either know someone or they have assisted someone or they have had the experience themselves, and it is true that they’ve, no one has ever said what I should be doing or feeling at this point.  

And so, I do think it has a lot to do with just a lack of understanding that it’s happening right here amongst us. Not just out in the world.  

And I think what might add to that is just this false idea that supporting a woman who has had an abortion equals condoning it. So then, if we talk about it and offer support, we may make other people think they can do that. But it’s not true.  

Jeff Bradford: We see that a lot. We had, look at our Facebook followers. In fact, when we first started, my wife was moderating it. And she literally had, she said, “I can’t do this anymore.” Because the Christian comments on there, you’re condoning. She’s … it was really frustrating her. She’s I can’t believe these are Christians that are commenting about this in this way. 

And I think you’re exactly right. We had a pastor that came to work for us because of that reason. He never talked about abortion because he was in a smaller, rural church. And he said, “It’s not happening in my church,” until a woman came and told him about her abortion. And he was floored. It crushed him. Because he said, ” I could have done something about this and I didn’t.”  

Missie Branch: But I didn’t say anything.  

Jessica Russo: Yes. I also see that the misconception that women and men are choosing abortion. And for the majority of people who experience abortion, it doesn’t ever feel like a choice.  

It feels desperate. It feels like fear takes over. The enemy uses that fear to grip. And it is real and it is isolating. It is terrifying. I grew up in a Christian home. My parents are still married. I never experienced abuse as a child. There’s no reason I should have felt afraid to talk to my family or my church family. 

But fear is so real. Do you agree with that?  

Jeff Bradford: Oh, very much. I think it comes back to this. We don’t have conversations, and so I think you said it and I felt the same way. The reason we had an abortion is because we didn’t want to disappoint our family. The shame and fear of that was enough  

Jessica Russo: To be the one who ruined it all.  

Jeff Bradford: Yeah. And them be disappointed in me or, and there’s so. And I think this again, comes back to we’re not having the conversation in church. We’re not talking about this in ways to say, hey we don’t condone premarital sex, but we certainly don’t want you to go have an abortion and not be a safe place for us to come and talk to. 

And I think some of the most, the, what you say, the strongest Christians, we feel as children and people that are, having in this situation, feel the worst about that because you’ve disappointed someone that you’ve looked up to so much.  

Jessica Russo: Yes, it’s powerful. I will never forget that day of taking that pregnancy test, which, by the way, I stole because I was too embarrassed to even buy it.  

Jeff Bradford: Then you end up in jail.  

Jessica Russo: So, then I’m just sinning all over the place. Okay, just sinning all over the place. And so, I’ll never forget sneaking it home and taking that test and seeing that positive sign. I will never forget that day. 

And just the numb, paralyzing feeling I felt all over. Just absolute fear. Just crippling. And I made a vow in that moment, I will not be the one who destroys my family. I made a vow, an inner vow and the isolation just keeps going and going and going and going. And then a year later, I’m having another abortion and it’s just that downward spiral. 

So, it’s never like a choice, but I’m truly an advocate for creating a culture of vulnerability and transparency within our pro-life Christian and our community, period. I want to be known for what I’m for. I want to be known for love. I want to be that name that pops in someone’s head and says, you know what, I don’t think she’s got all the answers, but she can help us. I want to be known for that.  

Jeff Bradford: One of the other things I, get y’all’s thoughts on this. I think the other, really misconception and false views is that talking about life in our church is a political issue. That if you, if pastors talk about this, they’re entering into politics. 

How do we over, how do we overcome that? It is, it’s obviously a spiritual issue, and I think pastors use some of these things because they know if they talk about it, they’re going to lose some folks, and some pastors have overcome that, and others, I think, really worry about it. What has y’all’s experience been in that realm? 

Missie Branch: I think pastors, church leaders, it requires courage, and this, we are in a season in our society where we are divided. But we’re divided over silly things, not even the things that are truly going to send people to heaven or hell, but things that are silly. And if no matter what, when you stand for truth, you’re going to lose somebody. 

And so, I think that there’s, it’s really time to take the risk and say what needs to be said, especially when you know, honestly, your motivation is, this has nothing to do with red or blue. This has to do with the agenda of God. God is the giver of life. And so being pro-life means we’re pro His agenda.  

Jeff Bradford: I think we have to change the name pro-life in order to do that. I know words matter and words are powerful. I’ve heard the term whole life and yes, pro love and other things. It seems like I’ve talked to a lot of folks and a lot of folks will say, “Oh pro-life is Republican Party, and if you’re pro-life, then it means you’re a Republican.”  

Missie Branch: I understand why people think that. 

I think there are a lot of movements that have to question whether or not they, because there’s the statement that we are pro-life and then there’s a movement called the pro-life movement and often you see that as in other places where the reality of this statement is being absconded with by somebody else’s agenda or beliefs. I don’t know. What do you think?  

Jeff Bradford:Can we get over it?  

Jessica Russo: I have lots of opinions about this. I truly believe that it’s all about the delivery, and a lot of times, church leaders, everybody, Christians in general, we don’t know the terminology. We don’t know the facts of numbers and the statistics. 

Missie Branch: And so, we talk about things and we get passionate, like we’re very passionate about things. But we need to get down to the personhood of that man and that woman. And we make it about, so many people make it about this big issue that we’ve got to tackle. We’ve got a war together, but really, it’s just about that person. 

Jessica Russo: God keeps bringing me back to Matthew 28. And Christ has ascended, He’s about to ascend, He’s been raised from the dead. It’s this amazing thing. And He’s there with His disciples, and He says, “I have all authority of heaven and earth, and I command you to go and make disciples.” 

That’s the point of it all, is to save lives. Not only physically, but eternally. And we can’t go and make disciples if we don’t go and see that person for who they are. Break it down to that need, that we can’t reach them if they’re too hungry to think, if they don’t have shelter, if they don’t have support, if they don’t feel safe, if they’re in a domestic violence situation. 

So, not bringing it just about that one issue, but seeing that person. What’s their trauma? What’s their need? I think back to that moment of my decision. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to feel secure. I wanted to know that nobody would leave me and that I would be loved unconditionally. That’s it. Everyone wants to be loved unconditionally.  

Jeff Bradford: And I think it’s a great way to even wrap up our conversation. Isn’t that what, really, this is all about His love. Jesus changed the world by loving his neighbor and loving one another unconditionally. And that’s how He sees us. 

That’s how He loves us. How can we talk about one sin is greater than the other? And yet we as Christians weigh, tend to weigh sin and say this one’s unforgivable, but this one’s okay. 

Missie Branch: And it diminishes God’s work on the cross. It diminishes His work on the cross to imply that there is something that His death didn’t cover. 

Jessica Russo: He’s not powerful enough.  

Jeff Bradford:  I think that’s the message that, I would leave pastors with, you may be concerned about bringing this issue up, but if you’re loving women and families and children, that will heal your congregation. And if you don’t talk about this, your congregation is not going to get healed. 

And so, you have to be bold and courageous to cross that divide, to lean into this issue, and do it in ways that are winsome and graceful and healing. Because women and men are sitting in their pews, a third of them are waiting for someone to love them, to say, I see you.  

Jessica Russo: What’s your story? How can I walk with you? 

Missie Branch: And that’s why it’s not just up to pastors and leaders. Christian communities are responsible for the people in their community. And when we know someone is hurting because we’re investing in the people around us, we have a responsibility to bring them back, to offer them help, to bring them to the pastor or leader or to get more help, but to not allow them to suffer in silence when we say we serve the God who can heal all of our brokenness.  

Jeff Bradford: Well, it was great to give me a few minutes to talk to you. 

Jessica Russo: Thank you.  

Missie Branch: Thank you so much.