One thing you realize while doing pro-life work is that everyone you encounter seems deeply wounded. The visceral reality of abortion brought to light tends to dredge up pain—pain that existed already, but in many cases was pushed down and kept quiet.
“You think I’m a demon,” one woman said to me after revealing she’d had an abortion, her voice on the verge of cracking. She turned and walked briskly away before I could finish saying, “No, I don’t.” Please come back, I wanted to say to her. You are not a demon. I’m sorry you’re in pain.
Pro-lifers are often told what we ostensibly think about post-abortive women. We must think they’re coldhearted murderers. We must think they’re evil. We must inwardly sneer and, at best, pity. We must want to shame women for a freely made choice.
Our first response tends to be How? How does an accurate image of abortion inherently send a message of shame? How does the factual evidence of what abortion does equate hating women?
As Jonathon Van Maren writes in his new book, “It is a mark of our times that by condemning an action, you are almost inevitably accused of condemning the person.”
Shame researcher Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly explores the fact that our culture cannot differentiate between shame and guilt.
“Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behaviour,” Brown says. “Shame is ‘I am bad,’ guilt is ‘I did something bad.’”
As a culture, we lean automatically to the former. When we make mistakes we think, I am such an awful person. But the truth is (as cliché as it may sound) that everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has done things that they later recognized were wrong. Everyone has regrets.
Recognizing this can be a powerful tool in the hands of the pro-lifer. Rather than blindly calling out the failings of others, we can acknowledge the wrongness of an action while simultaneously reaching out with compassion and empathy.
Brown talks about the necessity of this in her book: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
Abortion is our society’s greatest darkness and its shadows have spread wide.
Our response shouldn’t be shame, but should be rousing guilt. Not only in those directly complicit in abortion, but also in all those bystanders, both pro-choice and pro-life, who through apathy and inaction allow thousands of children to die every year.
Brown explains the power of guilt wielded well. “Guilt,” she writes, “is just as powerful as shame, but its influence is positive, while shame is destructive.”
Guilt is a good and necessary thing. It brings positive change, and inspires us to make better choices in the future, in spite of—and informed by—the mistakes of the past. It says: Yes, that was bad, but there is a way forward.
The way forward, as a pro-lifer, is to continue showing the truth of abortion with love and compassion. “Empathy is a strange and powerful thing,” Brown writes. “There is no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotional connection, and communication of that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’”
And the more we do this, the closer we come to an abortion-free future, one that—through awareness of our guilt of over four million dead—can afford every human being the dignity and respect they deserve.