Evangelizing Abortion Survivors

Frank Pavone
Reproduced with Permission

Priestly ministry in our day, especially to those born since Roe vs. Wade, cannot ignore the phenomenon of "abortion survivors." What does growing up in a society that tells you, by law and by dominant cultural thinking, that your life was disposable and your birth was subject to the "choice" of someone else, do to one's psychological landscape? How do the young view themselves and their peers in the light of the fact that "the word 'person' does not include the unborn"? (Roe vs. Wade, at 158). Moreover, how does being an abortion survivor affect the way today's children and young adults hear the Gospel message of God's unconditional love?

Dr. Philip Ney and Marie Peeters Ney have done groundbreaking research in this area and have written specifically about the challenges of evangelizing abortion survivors.

They have identified ten different types of abortion survivors:

1. Statistical survivors. These are people who survived in countries or cities where there is a statistically high probability that they would have been aborted. They come to know that the odds were definitely stacked against them. In some parts of Eastern Europe, the chances of being aborted are as high as 80%.

2. Wanted survivors. These are people whose parents carefully deliberated about whether or not to abort them. They may have calculated, consulted, and discussed the possibility.

3. Sibling survivors. These are people born into families where one or more of their siblings were aborted.

4. Threatened survivors. These are children whose parents have used abortion as a threat, even if they never considered it during the pregnancy: "You wretched, ungrateful child...I should have aborted you!"

5. Disabled survivors. These are people who, because of developmental defects or other circumstances, would usually be aborted. In fact, they often wonder whether their parents would have aborted them had they known about the defects.

6. Chance survivors. These are children who would have been aborted if the mother had been able to obtain the abortion. The abortion was prevented by a lack of money, time, permission, availability, etc.

7. Ambivalent survivors. These are children of parents who could not make up their minds about the abortion and delayed until it was too late. They are often caught up in their parents' continuing ambivalence, and can wonder whether they can still be terminated.

8. Twin survivors. These are people whose twin was aborted. Twins communicate, touch, and even caress each other in the womb. The loss of the twin by abortion is deeply felt and often causes the survivor to be suicidal

9. Attempted Murder survivors. These are people who survived an actual abortion attempt. Besides the physical harm that is often done, they suffer intense psychological struggles, nightmares, confused identities, and a fear of doctors.

10. Murdered survivors. These are children who survived an abortion for just a short period of time, and were subsequently killed by the abortion staff or left to die.

Abortion survivors, to put it simply, live on shaky ground. "If my mother could have aborted me, what is my life worth?" These individuals live with a sense of worthlessness and a feeling of impending doom. They suffer existential anxiety and survivor guilt. They are "wanted" rather than "welcomed." When one is "wanted," he or she meets the needs or demands of another. When one is welcomed, on the other hand, his or her value is acknowledged despite others' reactions or attitudes. One abortion survivor wrote, "My parents always said they had wanted me. I often wonder what would have happened if they had not wanted me? I feel I must stay wanted. Being wanted means existing."

Another wrote, "I had no right to exist. I am still a child trying to find a place in this world∑wandering around, carrying the weight of something on my shoulders. I had so many unanswered questions which I could not ask because nobody would answer and besides which I could not even formulate them. All my life I have been running, running away from death, no from something worse than death."

The implications for evangelization are obvious. Because their very existence is in question, abortion survivors do not allow themselves to grow, to mature, to develop. There are multiple barriers to trust, including trust of God and the Church. Deprived psychologically of their own intrinsic worth, they find it difficult to acknowledge that of others. They have a fear of a personal, loving God. When it comes to personal relationships, they both fear and crave them. They are skeptical of the very existence of love.

Those engaged in the new evangelization need to understand the dynamics of abortion survivors and the transgenerational harm caused by abortion. They must appreciate the need to rehumanize individuals hurt by abortion, and to help such people recapture their individuality and their worth.

The proclamation of Christ crucified, who was a survivor of Herod's rage, is the essential focus for abortion survivors. In finding their relationship with the Son of God, they will be led to the healing of their wounds, to ultimately being able to say, "I have the right to be, just the way I am. I do not have to fight for my existence. I am welcomed as I am."