Michaelene Fredenburg is president of Life Perspectives, a San-Diego-based group which has recently launched abortionchangesyou.com, a resource and safe haven for anyone suffering from the aftereffects of abortion. Fredenburg recently took questions from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez about the efforts and her book, Changed.
Michaelene Fredenburg: Although there were many events leading up to the creation of the Abortion Changes You outreach, there was one specific person who inspired it.
About five years ago I went to a body piercing salon to get my ear pierced. The body piercer — I call him Zach in the book Changed — sensed how nervous I was and attempted some small talk.
When he learned that I lecture in college classes about abortion, he told me his story. He told me about how much he loved his girlfriend, their unexpected pregnancy, and his desire to support her no matter what. She made the decision to abort, and they both had difficulty afterwards. He talked about his pain and the guilt when they broke up two years later. He kept repeating, “abortion forever changes you — it’s changed my girlfriend, it changed me, and I’ve seen it change other women I know.”
When he was done telling me his story I thanked him for being willing to talk about something so personal, but he stopped me and said, “No, thank you. I enjoyed talking with you. It’s hard to talk about abortion. I can’t talk to people who are liberal because abortion is supposed to be okay. And the people on the Right are scary. But I can talk to you.”
I was deeply impacted by his sense of isolation and his desire to have his experience validated. I began to think about a way to create a safe and inviting place for Zach and all the other men and women who are having difficulty after either their own abortion or the abortion of someone close to them.
Lopez: What is your most important goal?
Fredenburg: The most important goals is to communicate to men, women, grandparents, family members, and friends who have experienced abortion that they are not alone, that their pain is real, their loss is real and that healing is possible.
Lopez: Promotional material refers to Changed and abortionchangesyou.com as “a place that is set apart from politics, from labels, from debate.” Is that even possible?
Fredenburg: The book Changed and AbortionChangesYou.com were created specifically for people who have already made the difficult decision to abort. The outreach meets each person as he or she is and gives them the space to express and work through their emotions. Not only is it possible to create such a place, it is necessary for the person who is hurting or confused after an abortion.
Lopez: What was it that made you realize you had to do this?
Fredenburg: I noticed that when I shared my own abortion story and the stories of other men and women in the college classroom, the students began to set aside labels and share their own stories – sometimes about their own abortion, sometimes about a friend’s abortion, and sometimes about their mom’s abortion.
They freely expressed emotions ranging from relief to grief. They wondered aloud about their missing brothers or sisters or how they could help their mother who was clearly affected by the abortion. As they shared their stories most would say, “this is the first time I’ve ever talked about this” or “I didn’t know anyone else felt this way.”
I was grateful that they were able to break their silence but I was very concerned that unless the students had a faith background, I didn’t have any referrals to give them if they needed more help. Abortion Changes You provides a safe place to begin the healing process for people with different backgrounds and beliefs.
Lopez: About one in three women in the U.S. have had an abortion by age 45. Are they all hurting?
Fredenburg: Men and women have a variety of reactions after an abortion ranging from relief to paralyzing guilt and grief. Many individuals experience conflicted emotions that are both positive and negative. While I had an immediate reaction after my abortion, there are others that will experience a delay of months, years, or even decades.
I spoke with a man recently who told me he pressured his girlfriend into an abortion 35 years ago. He didn’t think about the abortion at all until 5 years ago. For some reason, he began to think about the fact that he would have an adult child that might possibly be married with children making him a grandfather. The more he thought about this, the more concerned he grew about his ex-girlfriend. The concern turned into guilt — something that has become a bigger and bigger burden for him.
Lopez: If I know someone might be hurting from an abortion she’s had or he’s been involved in, what the heck can I do?
Fredenburg: It is very painful to see a loved one struggling, especially if they don’t reach out to you for help. One thing to keep in mind is that each person’s timeline for healing is unique and varied. Healing is unpredictable — it shouldn’t be forced or interrupted. However, when a family member or friend is ready to begin it will be important to be prepared.
One way to prepare is to gain a better understanding of what a man or woman may experience after an abortion. In addition to sharing personal stories from different perspectives, the book Changed paints a picture of the grieving process and experiencing healing. The “Build Support” chapter describes the type of person that someone struggling from a past abortion may feel comfortable reaching out to — someone who will protect their confidentiality and listen to them without “fixing” — someone who won’t dismiss the losses and emotions involved in their abortion experience — someone who will stick with them as they journey toward healing.
Another way to prepare is to familiarize yourself with local after-abortion healing resources. It is helpful to know where to refer a person that needs more assistance than you can offer.
Of course, if a person’s behavior is scaring you, then you should immediately seek professional help.
Lopez: Who is Changed for?
Fredenburg: Changed is a gentle invitation for men, women, family members, and friends to begin the healing process. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to face the loss and pain that my abortion created. That is why I wrote the book in a friendly informal manner — just like we’re sitting with each other having a conversation. I included space to write or draw as you move through the “Healing Pathways.” The Afterword of the book, by Dr. Gary Strauss, paints a picture of what the healing process looks like and includes special notes for men.
Lopez: Who do you want to get Changed in the hands of?
Fredenburg: Changed is for every man and woman who is seeking to make sense of their own or a loved one’s abortion experience. Individuals who haven’t been personally touched by abortion, but who wish to gain a better understanding of what others are experiencing can also utilize the book.
Lopez: Who is AbortionChangesYou for?
Fredenburg: AbortionChangesYou.com is a safe, confidential place that can be visited any time of the day or night. The interactive content allows visitors to anonymously explore at their own pace while still feeling a sense of community. The “Find Help” locator (at the top right hand on each page) allows visitors to enter their zip code and find after-abortion healing resources in their area.
Lopez: How can people help?
Fredenburg: People can participate in the Abortion Changes You outreach by purchasing copies of the book Changed at ChangedBook.com or by calling 877-325-HEAL. In addition to reading the book, you can give a copy to a man or woman who is touched by abortion. You can also provide copies to mental health professionals, church counseling offices, or even to your local library. All proceeds from sales of the book benefit the Abortion Changes You outreach.
I also encourage readers to consider making a financial contribution to the outreach. The goal of the Abortion Changes You outreach is to reach each individual who has been touched by abortion — this is a goal that can only be met through the generosity of others. Tax-deductible donations can be made at either ChangedBook.com or by calling 877-325-HEAL.
Lopez: Are these resources churches can use?
Fredenburg: Studies show that women who attend church regularly have abortions at the same rate as women who attend church sporadically or not at all. It is important for church leadership to realize that a majority of men and women sitting in the pews have personally been touched by abortion. It is also important to understand that most people will not reach out for help within churches due to either shame or because they fear judgment or condemnation.
When I am invited to speak at churches numerous men, women, and grandparents come up to talk with me. Usually, I am the first person that they have shared their abortion experience with.
Church leadership can read the book Changed to gain an understanding of persons’ experiences. They can offer Changed in the church bookstore, which communicates compassion as well as the church’s desire to offer healing resources. Churches can also add a link to AbortionChangesYou.com on the church website or insert an outreach card in the church bulletin (available at ChangedBook.com). This provides access to healing resources that doesn’t require someone to reveal their secret.
When funding becomes available we plan to develop a specific Abortion Changes You Church Resource Kit that includes information about reproductive grief, complicated grief, and creative suggestions for the church to communicate it is a safe place to heal after an abortion.
Fredenburg: Since one out of five abortions are performed on college-age women, many students have personally participated in an abortion. Additionally, students that know of their mother’s abortion(s) are often left with confusing emotions about their missing sibling(s). They also express deep concern for the emotional well-being of their mothers.
In a recent meeting with Biola University in La Mirada, California, the professors and administrators in attendance made specific recommendations for Residential Assistants, Student Life, the Health Center, and the counseling department. In time we hope to fully develop an Abortion Changes You College Resource Kit based upon these recommendations.
Lopez: Who are Pam and Veronica?
Fredenburg: Pam and Veronica are the names that I have given to two students that I met in a Human Sexuality class. I included their interaction in Chapter 8 “I Thought Life Would Be the Way it Was Before.”
Pam and Veronica
During the class discussion after a college lecture, one of the students, Pam, hesitantly stated that some women don’t have a negative reaction after an abortion.
In a quivering voice, she went on to describe the circumstances that necessitated her own abortion — unable to complete college, a lack of housing, and abandoned by the baby’s father.
Although she was close to tears, she repeatedly stated that she was “okay.”
As I fielded more questions, I kept a close eye on Pam.
She appeared to be calming down when another student, Veronica, asked Pam if she’d felt free to choose a different pregnancy option.
Pam’s chin began to tremble as the other students started to discuss what Pam should or shouldn’t have done.
Before I could intervene and stop this inappropriate and hurtful debate, Pam started crying and angrily defended herself to Veronica. Then Veronica became visibly upset, and she also started crying.
Before long, both young women were sobbing, and most of their classmates were also close to tears. Thankfully, the professor was able to assist Pam and Veronica after class. Veronica admitted that she’d also had an abortion and was struggling with it. Both students were grateful to have a safe place to talk about the painful emotions regarding both of their abortions.
Pam and Veronica started out talking about abortion in ideological tones, but their personal experiences changed the conversation very quickly. They both admitted to having an abortion and struggling with their decisions.
As you can imagine the other students were profoundly impacted by Pam and Veronica. This painful interaction caused us to reflect upon the personal complexity of abortion and how conflicted emotions are often felt just below the surface.
I was personally grateful that the professor in this particular classroom had grown over time to acknowledge reproductive grief and loss as a result of abortion. This meant that the students had a compassionate and sensitive resource immediately available for them.
Lopez: What’s the feedback been like thus far?
Fredenberg: AbortionChangesYou.com has begun receiving visits from around the world. Dozens of stories as well as poems, song lyrics, and artwork have been submitted and posted on “Explore.” We’ve received stories from young women who had their abortion as recently as the day before, to women who write in about an abortion that occurred more than 30 years ago. Men tend to send in song lyrics to express their stories. Aunts, uncles, and grandparents have e-mailed messages of gratitude that someone is finally acknowledging the loss that they have experienced by a family member’s abortion.
Most of the stories are so painful. My heart breaks for them because I’ve been there. I take special comfort from the “Healing” page of the website. When a man or women is ready to take that important step to begin the grieving process they can enter their initials. Once they click “Submit” their initials and the date are added to a wall of hope. I am so inspired each time someone adds their initials.
In addition to the men and women that have been visiting the website and bought the book, we have had an overwhelmingly positive response from the health professionals, therapists, after-abortion healing resources, pregnancy resource centers, churches, and life groups that have been introduced to the outreach. We are very grateful to organizations like BreakPoint Ministries, Christian Medical Association, Family Research Council, the National Black Catholic Conference, and so many others that have embraced and promoted the Abortion Changes You outreach.
Lopez: You’ve done the book. Set up the website. What’s your next big goal?
Fredenburg: This outreach is just beginning. I hope more individuals will invest in the Abortion Changes You outreach so we can complete resources for churches, colleges, and mental health professionals. I would also love to find individuals, foundations, and organizations that are interested in sponsoring Internet, mass transit, radio, and print ads so that we can effectively communicate with all those touched by abortion. There are so many people that need to know that they aren’t alone, and that there is hope.