The church’s need for post-abortive ministry

The work of healing for the future of the pro-life movement

August 8, 2022

When Karen Ellison was 22 years old, she walked into a pregnancy resource center in Virginia Beach, Virgina, as a student intern, but also, as one who had experienced the pain and lingering effects of an elective abortion. As she began to lead a Bible study for post-abortive women, God led on her journey of healing that resulted years later in the development of Deeper Still, a retreat-based ministry focused on bringing healing and freedom to abortion-wounded hearts. 

The Dobbs case and its resulting national attention on the topic of abortion are very likely emotional triggers for the millions of women and men who have participated in an abortion, says Ellison. Below, she shares her experiences and helps us consider the ways in which individuals in our churches and communities might still be in need of healing from past abortions, as well as the importance of this work to the future of the pro-life movement.

Jill Waggoner: Based on your experience, what effects do those who have participated in an abortion struggle with?

Karen Eillison: It manifests differently for different people. Clearly, people experience what I call “true moral guilt.” When we break God’s laws, we are guilty of a moral violation. You have shed innocent blood, even though people don’t recognize that’s what they did. They just know that they aren’t pregnant anymore and don’t want to know the details. Some people will recoil against the statement that abortion is murder and be defensive, shielding themselves from that truth.

However, when the Holy Spirit works and they realize this was their child, they [become convicted]. There’s a moral guilt that you can’t get rid of on your own. At that point, many try to self-atone. Self-atonement shows up in lots of different ways, but many try to be perfect. They decide they’re going to be the perfect wife and the perfect mom, or they are going do amazing things in their career or in serving the church. They have to do something to deal with the self-hatred they often feel.

Shame is the other main effect I see, coupled with guilt, and it manifests in a different ways, as well. Shame causes some people to shrink back and have no confidence. Another way shame manifests is through an attempt to cover it with a false bravado or anger that says, “I’m going to shout my abortion.” A lot of shame, self-hatred, and an attempt to not be defeated by these feelings is under that posture.

Grief is a huge effect of abortion, and it’s often undefined. People don’t know what they’re grieving because they never allowed themselves to call the child within them a baby. It’s a vague, lingering cloud that some people refer to as depression, and it can truly be. It causes people to believe that nothing good is ever going to happen to them, and they can’t get past this feeling. 

Healing, God’s way, allows you to define what is going on in you. You can define that moral guilt and recognize that you do need atonement for this. You reject the shame because you don’t have to wear it anymore when you have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus. You can you call the aborted child, your child, and you legitimately have a loss. Your grief is legitimate. A compassionate response to people who have experienced abortion is to say: you don’t have to carry your grief alone.

Those are the ways internal brokenness manifests. When people don’t know how to go to the Lord in confession or how to bring those things to their church body, people will try to anesthetize their pain. Perfectionism is one way, as I mentioned, but we also see substance abuse, addictions, promiscuity (that’s searching for someone to love me), and superficial relationships. People are often empty, angry, and sorrowful.

JW: Why should Christians care about this?

KE: Our nation is abortion-wounded. We have a curse of innocent bloodshed. Sixty-two percent of women who have had an abortion are religiously affiliated, according to Guttmacher. There is a huge population of Christians who are abortion-wounded, and they are not talking about it. We have to reach out with [a message of] healing.

My own healing has always been a part of this ministry. I’ve been shocked since Dobbs at how little I’ve been hearing from Christian leaders on the need for healing. There’s been a lot of right emphasis on pregnancy care centers and helping moms, proving that we care for them beyond the pregnancy, and that is 100% true. But, I think people in the church wrongly think the damage is done and there’s nothing else to do for those who participated in elective abortions. That’s not true. We have to move to helping them heal.

Many people with an abortion-wounded heart will feel ashamed, shrink back, and can’t talk about their abortion even though many men and women will say, “I know I’m forgiven.” They equate forgiveness with healing, and those are not the same things. Forgiveness says your debt has been canceled, but that doesn’t mean you’re healed. Forgiveness means you’re not responsible for that debt anymore through Christ, but your heart has still been wounded. Healing is usually some type of a process the Lord takes you through. 

JW: In addition to a ministry of healing, what do those who carry the scars of abortion need from the church?

KE: I address this question at length in my book, Healing the Hurt that Won’t Heal: Freedom for the Abortion-Wounded and Help for the Church They Fear.

Pastors and church leaders carry a tremendous shepherding responsibility. We need to hear from them. Women and men in the pew need to hear the truth about [all of us] being made in the image of God. We need that teaching in order to have the legitimate conviction from the Holy Spirit that these are babies made in the imago Dei

We also need to hear from our pastors that the blood of Jesus is stronger than abortion-wounded hearts. You can be thoroughly forgiven because of the blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the body of Christ can bring healing. 

Some pastors are afraid to address this topic. They have been told that if you open this Pandora’s box, you’re just going to do damage and hurt women more. So pastors tip-toe around it and don’t press in. But we need to develop both a culture of life and a culture of healing. If you develop a culture of healing in your church, people will come to you with their brokenness and sin. Determine to be a safe space. Churches need to say: Jesus has the ability and desire to heal you, and this is a church you can come to. We are going to walk through this healing with you. 

JW: How has the Dobbs case and the national attention on the topic of abortion affected the people you serve?

KE: The subject of abortion is not going to go away, although I do hope abortion itself is going to go away. There was a time I couldn’t even say the word “abortion.” An abortion-wounded person often cringes or aches every time you hear the word or hear a news report. There is often a sick feeling in your stomach and a desire to run away. There is a trigger that is going on [because of the national conversation]. Our prayer should be: help people to know that they need healing from you, Lord. 

For example, at our retreats, our participants are mostly men and women in their 50s and 60s who have been running from their abortion for 20–30 years. People run for a long time. If you are still feeling these affects decades later, it’s not going to go away. Let’s pray that God is surfacing it to use it for good. The enemy will try to use it to bring condemnation, but God wants to bring healing and freedom in Christ.

This interview was edited for length and clarity. 

Jill Waggoner

Jill Waggoner serves as a communications and PR strategist, writing and developing content for the organization’s online and print resources. She has served the ERLC since 2005, including as brand manager for Global Hunger Relief from 2014-2018. A graduate of Union University, she and her family reside in Lebanon, Tennessee. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24