My Unsecret Abortion

My Unsecret Abortion July 13, 2011

I had an abortion.

A full-fledged three-day affair in 1974.

I wrote about it in detail in my memoir –After the Flag has been Folded. It’s a very telling part of my life and even if you don’t give a rat’s tail about Vietnam, you ought to read the book just to read about the struggles that good Christian girls go through sometimes.

Because I was that girl.

A good Christian girl.

Ask anyone who knew me. They will tell you — even my Mama would testify to it — that I was a girl who loved Jesus and knew she was loved by Jesus.

Still I had an abortion.


It’s complicated, the hows and whys of all that. I said it all the best way I knew how in that memoir of mine. I thought it was interesting when the book came out that a lot of reviewers put that fact up in high their comments about the book. There were some I’m sure who did it for no other reason than to be able to point a finger at me in that “AH-HA! Gotcha!” way, as if they’d caught me — the good Christian girl — playing the hypocrite.

I’m more of a hypocrite now than I was at age 17, I’ll tell you that much right off the bat. At that age, I was just a very confused and wounded soul. Now that I’m well-seasoned in the ways of adults, I’m pretty good at hiding all my tender places. You only get to see as much as I dare to show you. The girl who walked into Medical Center hospital on that dreary January day and entered the Maternity Ward with my blue overnight case in hand felt nothing but fear and anger (which is often a manifestation of fear).

So you are probably squirming in your seats by now, right? As adults we just hate it when people get all confessional on us. It makes us nervous. We want to fix people, erase all that pain, and study the past through those fancy lenses they use to diminish the wrinkles of aging starlets.

It’s true that I don’t talk much, if ever, about that abortion. My husband gave me a gift years ago when he taught me that there are some pearls you just don’t toss in the hog pen because some body’s going to get trampled, and it ain’t going to be the hog.

In other words, he was saying, it’s okay. You don’ t have to talk about it if you aren’t comfortable talking about it. I’m not uncomfortable talking about the abortion. Or how it was I came to make that decision. It’s just that talking about abortion — mine or anyone else’s — brings out the wallering in people.


You might be wondering why I’m bringing all this up now, given that it’s not the anniversary of Roe vs Wade. Shouldn’t I be writing about Rupert Murdoch or Mark Driscoll?

I’ll tell you why it’s on my mind. For the past few weeks I’ve had a Twitter follower who is very involved in the Pro-Life movement. He’s new to me and I don’t suspect he knows very much about me, which is fine, I like meeting new folks. But it seemed every time I posted to Twitter, he found a way to tie it into the Pro-Life issue. I recognized it as his evangelical style. So at first I just let it slide.

Listen. I was that Pro-Life mouthpiece for a time.  I served on the Board of the Pregnancy Crisis Center. I still think the ministry of such centers is admirable, though I’m no longer involved — nor do I want to be. That last statement will offend some of you. You may think less of me as a Christian because of it. You may even add me to some prayer list. For that I thank you. I need all the prayers I can get, all the time.

Just don’t try and win me over to your national platform in the process. I am up to my neck in platforms at the moment – like a one-armed girl in a snake pit — and yes, I threw that line in there for fun. Sometimes a girl has to do something to lighten the mood.

Anyway, like I was saying, this fella kept hammering away at this Pro-Life stuff on Twitter like it was a bad nail needing straightening. I respected his fervor for the issue. I don’t automatically assume that because someone becomes fixated on a cause that the person is a ranting fool. If that were the case, most of you would have tired of me long ago. Some of you probably have. I’m sorry. I understand. I get tired of my own ranting self some days.

What I assume about most the people I commune with, however, is that they carry on like that because they care very deeply. I respect that. I even appreciate that. I’d much rather hang with a person who cares too much than one who only cares about their own sorry self.

So I kept looking for ways to interact with this new friend without broaching the Pro-Life issue at all. But then he tried to tie the Pro-Life issue to the Casey Anthony case and well, that just seemed ironic to me, for all sorts of reasons, which we can discuss if you like. So I sent him a message and told him that I had an abortion. He immediately wrote back this effusive note of apology, and since then, he hasn’t tried to engage me in the Pro-Life conversation any more. Which is probably a good thing because, really, how meaningful of a conversation can you have about something as loaded as abortion in 140 characters?

But you know how I’m always on the lookout for poetry in life?

On Sunday there was this article in the New York Times about Dr. Mila Means, and her struggle to offer abortions to the good people of Wichita, Kansas. You really should take time to read the article, but I know you are busy and all. Seems soon as Dr. Means made up her mind to start performing abortions she started getting death threats. One letter warned her to look up under her car each morning for explosives.

But instead, Dr. Means, she went out and bought herself a bright yellow Mini-Cooper with a lightening bolt emblazoned on the side, as a kind of double-dog-dare-you. I have to admit, I like a woman with spunk. One of my favorite movie scenes is that union scene in Norma Rae.

Some of you are too young to remember that movie, or to remember what a three-day ordeal an abortion was back in 1974.

I remember both, vividly.

I came out of that hospital determined to get myself an education and to never, ever again tell God to shove off and leave me alone the way I had in the months leading into that ill-conceived pregnancy.


Anybody who takes death threats to an abortion doctor lightly doesn’t know their history. Two years ago,  Dr. George R. Tiller was murdered in Kansas by a ill-tempered man, who claimed he was killing to protect unborn babies. Tiller was considered a maverick himself because he  performed late-term abortions. Babies that would be considered full-term in somebody else’s hands.

What I found interesting about the story of Dr. Means was the reason why she decided that she wanted to get into the abortion business.

She’s got money problems, and abortions are lucrative business.


Back in 1974, they put me in a room with another woman on the maternity ward. A black woman who was in her 40s. I remember that for a lot of reasons, one of which is this was Georgia, and white people and black people didn’t even go to church together, much less sleep in the same room together with nothing more than a curtain separating them.

She already had eight kids, if I recall rightly. She said she couldn’t afford to feed another one. I sat on the edge of that bed, with that clump of seaweed expanding my cervix, listening to her talk about her kids as the nurses outside the door carried squalling infants to their mamas.

There was only one doctor in all of Columbus who owned up to  doing abortions. He was a long-haired hippie from Montana, one of those liberal states where Jesus is the name of the fella who makes the roadside tamales. It never occurred to me that money might be the motivating reason the Montana doctor was willing to do abortions.

Ironic ain’t it?

That a woman might want to abort a child because she can’t afford it and the one doing the aborting is doing it so they afford a Mini-Cooper?

Unlike Dr. Tiller, Dr. Means (even her name is ironic because it’s her lack of means that propelled her decision) is not willing to do late-term abortions. (At least not until it pays better, I imagine.)

Before she decided to get into the lucrative abortion business, Dr. Means, a Christian woman, applied for the position of Director of the Pregnancy Crisis Center. She didn’t get the job because she told those people that she believed there ought to be allowances for abortions in cases of incest or rape. Dr. Means quit church after that and says now that she suffered from religious brainwashing.

The Director the Pregnancy Crises Center warned Dr. Means when she decided to do abortions  that she had made the “loneliest of choices.”

And that right their sums up the whole problem for me with both the Pro-Lifers and the Pro-Choice folks —they all think that they are the ones stuck making the “loneliest of choices.”

In the pursuit of their political agendas, they often forget that what they are wallering over isn’t just a matter of who is right and who is wrong.

They forget about the loneliest of all people.

The one doing all the deciding — that mama of that unborn child.

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  • JanetLee

    Thank you for your bravery.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      You’re welcome.

  • WOW! I am not sure what to say other than WOW! It takes a lot of courage to talk about that, but I already knew you were one ballsy (obviously not literally) person. I am just getting to the point where I am able to admit to people that I am a convicted felon. Not to compare incarceration with abortion. Thank you for being so courageous. We are all broken in some way or other; if someone isn’t broken yet, they will be. Can’t be just love each other and be gracious toward one another? God bless you, Karen

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I think that last part — be gracious toward one another — that’s what we lack so often.
      RE: being a convicted felon? Lots of those folks in my family, too.
      I think Paul has a lot to say about that, as well.

  • Debbie

    By the time I finished ‘After The Flag..’ your abortion was long forgotten…my heart was with a little girl missing her daddy…my dad got taken from me when I was nine too but not by death…by divorce…and it saddens me to hear that some focused on that…

    Anyway I can’t write much more because that line “the loneliest of choices’ caused me to come undone and I am just crying….love you my cyber friend. xxx

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Debbie: I’ve often said that for a child it matters not whether they lose a parent to death or divorce, the grief is great. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Hugs.

  • What a wonderful post, Karen…You bring to light the pain involved in the process of making such a decision, and the very reasons why it shouldn’t be just another political ploy to get either Republicans or Democrats into office. It’s easy to look at the issue in a one-dimensional way and not see the human aspect to it. It takes experience to see beyond the veil of talking points and in sharing your experience you have helped others to take a peek as well.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      You bring up a great point, April. When political parties make this their focus they are as annoying as the Twitter fella hammering away.
      I hate it because it’s so exploitative, often used as a fund-raising means, or to drum up press.

  • Not in anyway to take away from the power of your post, but that scene from Norma Rae always gives me chills.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      It’s good ain’t it?

  • Gretchen

    I’m sure the reunion between the two of you will be sweet, indeed. God help the lonlies.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      The world is full of the lonlies. If only we had eyes to see

  • In earlier days, much of what becomes sensational national news remained local and community news. That makes a lot of sense, really. Facebook and even this blog notwithstanding, life exists at no other level. I know the pastor of the church in which Dr. George Tiller was murdered while serving as one of the ushers. I know this young pastor and his wife. His ordination photo hung on our refrigerator for weeks. Not even mine has. I won’t say their names. But if ever there were a more Christ-like man to minister in the name of Christ, I couldn’t think who or how.

    He had a consecrated worship space to cleanse and rededicate, an entire congregation of wounded, frightened and grieving hearts to bind up. With blood on the carpet and yellow crime scene tape still in place, he set about doing just that: casting out evil, calling Christ to bring peace.

    How God had already been preparing for that tragic day since time immemorial makes me dumbstruck. “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear,” says the Lord in Isaiah 65:24.

    I 1985 I was wrestling with a question. I thought how often we cut down the question into inappropriate pieces so that we don’t have to deal with or think about the whole question–or all the others we don’t want to ask. I wrote a piece called “The Question” on March 23, 1985. I had no idea how I would need those words more than 14 years later. In my own house. In my own heart. In my own flesh and blood.

    In a Newsweek issued dated March 25, 1985, a young theology student in North Carolina, Rachel Richardson Smith, wrote a piece about her own questions. I saved the piece along with my poem, partly for these very words Rachel wrote:

    “Part of my problem is that what I think and how I feel are two entirely different matters.”

    I have forgiven the rapist. I have had to in order to live. But I grieve. I will ’til the day I die. Yes, I grieve that unborn child, my grandchild, that I will never know in this life, a child that he unknowingly, uncaringly, violently begat in total disregard for life.

    But more than that, I grieve that fact that he left such shame with his deeds that my own loved one’s question was asked and answered in silence and in secret. I didn’t get to be there and hold my own child in my arms and love her my deepest, undying love at a time when no words born of human speech suffice.

    And so, I continue to ask “The Question”:

    No way to cut the question.
    To see part is to see
    next to none
    next to no one
    next to nothing.

    Where does life begin?
    with us?
    in us?
    or outside?
    When do we become responsible?
    at birth?
    When does responsbility end?
    at birth?
    How many ways do we fail to be

    The question…

    Although not born to me
    the starving child is mine,
    my responsibility.
    Likewise the happy, whole and strong,
    the abused and battered child:

    Confused and angry parents, too
    and the world that made them so
    the children yet to be
    the world they will inherit:
    My responsibility.

    There is no way to cut the question
    no way to ask it singly
    it begs of many, many others
    answers by the score.

    Have I seen the faces of the women?
    And the scared young girls?
    Can I read their minds,
    know their desperation?
    Man like me? Really?

    Life is complicated
    tragedy abounds
    Hard questions far more ancient and eternal
    than all the simple, easy answers.

    On answer simply is insane.

    It is to try to cut the question.
    To turn my back upon their pain.

    –March 23, 1985.

    And for the rest of my life.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thanks for sharing your story — that of your unborn grandchild, the rape, and of that young pastor.

      Despite the illusion in this country of self-serving independence, our lives are intricately interwoven.

      Thank you for that powerful reminder by way of your poetic hand.

      If only we all grieved our inability to be of comfort to others when they need us most… as you say much more eloquently.

      • Karen: There’s a little epilogue. As with all of it, something I learned only later, after the fact.

        Several weeks after my daughter’s procedure, a high school friend learned that she was pregnant. Friend and her boyfriend had been careless in their casual sex, had no plans to marry, split up. My daughter tried to talk her friend out of having the abortion. When she couldn’t, she said, “Well, then let me go with you. No one should go through this alone.”

        What she herself had just done.

        Some people would call her a murderer behind her back. Some to her face. But I know that when it comes to her friends, she has a heart as big as Texas–where she was conceived.

        Maybe a little of God’s poetry here? I’ve never called it that ’til now. So it is.

        • Karen Spears Zacharias

          Yes. Certainly. What a heart for your daughter to step up in this fashion. I should point out that I didn’t go through it alone — I had friends and a good church family, who loved me through it all. And a Mama, who tho struggling, found her way through it, too.

  • To me, the issue isn’t political. the fact that many politicians have made it their cause doesn’t change that. And be sure of this: the pro-choice politicos as well as pro-life ones are equally guilty of politicizing it.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I don’t think politicians have made it their cause as much as they’ve made it their stumping point. There’s a difference.

  • I was touched by your story. Thank you for sharing. Too many people keep abortion private, letting society beat the issue around. It is reality that many have experienced first hand and those personal stories help individuals grow and reconsider opinions, feelings. I know Dr. Means. She is a good woman. She is human and has had her share of financial mishaps, changes of heart over issues and has made human mistakes. She is in solo practice because she spends too much time with her patients and no medical practice would put up with it. Not the picture of a money hungry abortionist. The NY Times got it wrong. I just chimed in because I was touched by your post and I continue to be touched by Dr. Means. Keep writing and sharing.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thank you, Kari, for sharing your insights about Dr. Means, and for adding your own insights. Glad you dropped in.

  • I’ve read After the Flag multiple times and your bravery is of immeasurable quantity and inspiration to me not only as a writer, but as a human being. My sister faced similar circumstances in the late 70s and to this day, she is now 61, the decision still weighs heavy on her heart. I know what she went through and it had a major influence on me. Prayers for you as always! Oh, I LOVED Norma Rae! And about that Mark Driscoll…Grrr…

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      You are a good brother, Gary. And friend.

  • D.

    What courage….love of Christ…grace and hope you bring thru your writing. How can a person say Thanks for touching the shameful hard places of a person’s past…the reminder that our God is good and loving and forgiving when I can hardly forgive myself.

    I appreciate your honesty, and love your rantings!!!
    Hugs from my heart to yours.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      D. We all have our shameful places… some of us are just more skilled at pretending we don’t.

  • Gloria

    As you know Karen, I was in the exact same spot as you a couple of years later. A pregnant teenager. I just wasn’t as brave as you. I didn’t tell my parents until it was too late for any decision making. I gave my child up for adoption but only because it was too late to actually make a decision any other way. I feel guilty when people tell me what a GREAT and WONDERFUL decision adoption was. I love you and you are so courageous and I am VERY proud of you for so many reasons!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Feelings are mutual, girlfriend.
      Thank you.

  • A beautifully written story of pain. I’ve heard many like yours, and read many more at the Silent No More Website. I got into the pro life movement after college in the early 80’s, not for the babies, but because of the women. What I saw was pain, grief, and sadness. Women deserve better. It was later than I understood what they were grieving for.. their babies. But I think many here seem to only see the media’s version of the political side of the issue. They show you the ones who yell at women or blow up abortion clinics. Those are fanatics that are always condemned by the pro life movement. I have spent years (I am 50 now) seeing the real side. Those of us who gave up doing MANY other things we would rather be doing, and got involved in pro life, because we were called by God to do so. Society forced us into politics. It was becoming a pro abortion culture through politics. What else were we to do? We have made many strides, that I won’t list here, but don’t discount the hard work and tears that many of us have put into being involved not only in helping women not have to make that choice, but to urging our politicians to understand the sanctity of life and what it means in our society. It’s an important task.

    We are all touched by our difficult experiences. We either let them make us hard, or we learn from them. You have clearly learned from yours. But we still carry the pain, don’t we? Anyway. Great writing. Just don’t look too badly on us who stay fighting in the political arena. It’s our calling too.

  • Thank you for writing so creatively about this pivotal experience. We all have our secrets. Blessing to you.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Yes, we all do, don’t we?

  • Miss Karen,

    Another thing that binds our hearts… Following is a letter I wrote a few years back. Indeed it is amazing & very sad that the mamma is indeed the saddest, loneliest, & most confused of all. Here is a link to the ministry that the letter helped start.


    Dear Pastor/Church Leader,

    Consider for a moment the way the church acknowledges “Sanctity of Life Sunday.” Facts are spewed, data is presented, images are shown, pamphlets are handed out, books are dispersed, and preaching is perfunctory. And wait a minute, what is happening right there in the church pews?

    In some, folks are squirming with discomfort of public discussion regarding such a horrid topic. It is an atrocity they cannot even imagine and don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about.

    In a few, people even are shouting “Amen!” out loud as a battle cry to join forces and money and prayers to hinder such an appalling act.

    In most, congregation members are joining forces quietly. They put money in the offering plate for their local pregnancy care center, while some even make baby blankets sewn with love and prayers to donate to those moms who keep their God-given babes.

    But in an alarming number of those wooden, hymnal-lined pews, women are dying. Dying because they have never felt the forgiveness offered to them by their Heavenly Father. And they are dying because they haven’t taken His hand in order to forgive themselves. One out of every three women sitting in church pews across America are suffering unknown pain, agony and torment come “Sanctity of Life” Sunday. Often times they do it discretely and silently. Some even do it right next to you, but behind a mask. A great deal of our church-going women are being overlooked. Neglected. They line the pews.

    “Sanctity of Life” Sunday is an honorable and worthwhile day, but for many, it is a day that bashes them against the cold, hard brick wall of their reality. They had an abortion. They did the unspeakable. They committed the sin of murder. They killed a baby. They broke God’s heart right in two. While “Sanctity of Life” Sunday revelers spout the statistics and pass the offering plate, the broken sit in the pews. And they bleed all over the place.

    If they haven’t taken their burden to the cross and have not rested their head in God’s forgiving lap, they remain broken, bleeding, and dying. And what is the church doing about it? Rubbing their faces in it. To those precious women sitting in your midst, it feels like their sin is being held up front for everyone to see. It feels personal.

    How do these women cope? Why don’t they seek help? Many may harden their hearts and push it deeper down into the pits of their being. Bury it way inside. After all, they are sitting in a church pew.

    What would the other proper ladies think? Would they turn away in disgust? Would they shake their heads, lower their eyes, and walk away from me? There is no way I could confess my sin. Not here. Not in God’s House. No way.

    If I tell them of my history, will they understand my choice? If I tell them of the troubled teenage promiscuity I experienced, could they relate? If I tell them of the rape, would they pity me? If I tell them of my drunken stupor, would they still listen? If I tell them someone else made me get the abortion, could they, would they, comfort me?

    And what about my family? My husband. My children. Do they know they are living with a murderer? How could they endure the shame? The whispers? The guilt of being related to me?

    I should tell somebody. I hear that God forgives. But how could He forgive this mess? How could He forgive me? Why would He? Look, it is a big deal they are making today. It even has a name and a national day of recognition. Oh, I would mess up their service with my truth. With my pain. But I feel like I need to talk.

    Oh, no. I won’t even bother. The service will end soon. Who will care after today? It’s a touchy subject. What does the man preaching know about women anyway? Who could I turn to? Not the pastor’s wife, she definitely won’t understand. Not the elder’s wife, she couldn’t possibly relate. Nope. No one.

    So, I will stuff it down. Oh, my. I am bleeding all over the pew. My tears. Oh no, does anyone see? What’ll I do with the mess I have made here in my pew? Smooth it over with a weak smile. Wipe it up with a donation to the pregnancy center. There you go. Shove it back inside. Until next year.

    It may cross the mind of a suffering woman to find help, but when the focus is on the atrocity, on the act itself, and on the innocent baby, the broken woman, although surrounded by Christians, often sits alone in her very own church pew. Hoping no one is on to her. Her secret. Her past.

    I know. I was that woman. By God’s grace, mercy, compassion, and infinite love, He helped me lay down my burden. I am one of many who bore that cross, but only one of the few to lay it down. To really lay it down. I had a couple of trusted women on my side. They knew. They prayed. Twenty-two years after the abortion, God spoke to me and filled me with a supernatural strength. I reached out and someone was there. Right there.

    Very soon after, and in God’s strength alone, I literally went to the cross and wept. I did it when no one else was at the church. I placed my heavy burden of guilt, shame, fear, sorrow, remorse, and depression right into God’s hand. I wept for the baby. I wept for myself. I wept for could-have-been grandparents. I wept for the doctor and nurses who took my baby’s life. I wept for the baby’s father. I wept for my family.

    That night when I gave my burden to the Lord, I accepted His forgiveness. And I forgave myself. You see, that is the component of the equation that often gets overlooked. Forgiving ones very own selfish self.

    Forgiving the one that is being talked about at church. Forgiving the one who feels like her sin is absolutely unforgivable. Now, that is hard to do. And the burden gets oh so heavy every “Sanctity of Life” Sunday. So heavy that I, being free from my sin, but knowing other women are weeping and bleeding from their wounded past, felt God gently tapping me on the shoulder to write this note.

    Please know that there are precious daughters of Christ right in your midst who sit broken and bleeding and dying among you. Some may be young, some may be up-town, some may be down-and-out, some may be elderly—but all are children of God who deserve grace, compassion, mercy, their Father’s forgiveness, and your tender love.

    Consider for a moment the way the church acknowledges “Sanctity of Life” Sunday.


    (Hugs to you, miss Karen. I skipped those chapters in your book because I was focusing on the ones about your finding peace about your daddy, but be certain that I’ll go back and read them asap. These things that bind our hears, daddies, babies, and the love of Christ…)


    • bind our hearts, bind our hearts

      (sorry ’bout the typo in my initial comment)


      • Simply Darlene,

        Your letter touched me. So much sadness. I hate that you or any woman has felt that way in Church on “Sanctity of Life” Sundays. I know my Church (Catholic) always acknowledges that pain. There has been a special ministry in our Church (nationwide)just for women like you. It’s called Project Rachel. I hope it helps.

      • Karen Spears Zacharias

        More poetry. Beautiful Darlene. Thank you for sharing your story and thanks for having the insight to write such a letter.

    • Darlene: As you so eloquently point out, our ministry is often focused only “out there” to the exclusion of “in here”. Sanctity of Life Sunday is a good thing. But a church here in Portland very quietly maintains a ministry called Refuge where groups meet weekly away from worship to love and be healed by one another and the Spirit of Christ. There is far more broken-ness among us than we know or see because mostly we have put our focus on corporate worship and have paid attention to the other needs for the body of Christ to be restored.

  • Diane

    WOW! I’m speechless. Thank you for your vulnerability. I am glad to have all of eternity to get to know you.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Is there blogging in heaven? I don’t know what I’ll do if I can’t write.

  • This is a beautiful and brave piece of writing. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thank you for saying so.

  • Just — you are loved.

    You already knew that, yes — forgive me? I just had to whisper it again.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I did, Ann, but it’s is always good to have a sweet soul whisper it to me again. Thank you.

    • Amy Sorrells

      May I whisper that with you, Ann, and to you, Karen, too?

  • Steve T

    I have a friend, well, not a friend really, but a friend of a friend. Over the years, we’ve shared a bit of space along the way … sometimes finding ourselves inside the real space of communion and community. I think she is one of the most courageous people I know. This is a story of forgiveness.

    Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

    And Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah. And she entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened as Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and cried out with a loud voice and said, Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And from where is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For lo, as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believes, for there shall be a perfecting of those things which were told her from the Lord. And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He looked on the humiliation of His slave woman. For, behold, from now on all generations shall count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has worked power with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart. He has put down rulers from their seats and exalted the lowly, He has filled the hungry with good things, and He has sent away the rich empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever. And Mary stayed with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
    (Luk 1:39-56)

    It was never supposed to be this way. She was not supposed to be here. HERE … in the white, stainless steel surroundings; here, surrounded by men in white laboratory coats and women who wore soft-soled shoes so that they might move silently across the hard pale-yellow tile floors. Love was never meant to end in such manner. Yet, regardless of how things were supposed to be, here she was and the news was not good. No, the news was horrible, tragic, the harbinger of a life of poverty, a life of lack, or worse. After the doctor had left the room, she sat in shocked silence, the waves of fear crashing around her in the horrendous tempest of bitter reality. This could simply not be happening to her. Her tears fell onto the now rumpled sheets stretched across the metal framework of the examination table, making small dark dots of moisture. Pregnant. She was pregnant.

    Expecting statements of his unfailing support, she had told him that she thought she might be pregnant. But instead, she found that the flame of childish love is indeed fickle. She found that she asked for that which he was unprepared to offer. At first she cried. Then she pled with him. Finally, she screamed and slammed her small fist into his chest, but his demeanor never changed. It was her problem. It was her child. This could not be. She had been certain that he would care. He had promised his undying love. She had been so sure. Naivety, the assailant of youthful indiscretion. He shrugged his seventeen-year-old shoulders, turned his back, and left her standing in the dirty snow on the rickety porch steps of her father’s weather-beaten house. After all, commitment is such a big word.

    Had her mother still been living, perhaps she would have found solace in the embrace of her loving arms. But cancer had been a devastating foe and her mother had died two years before, leaving her and her now alcoholic father. Telling him would only bring deeper darkness to the nightmare. Metaphorically, the news would kill him. Her reality would be much more concrete. She could already imagine his hard hands smashing into the soft flesh of her oft-pummeled face. Covergirl, the facial salve of the beautiful and the mask of the battered, would not cover the wounds this news would garner. For what was sure to come, there would not be enough makeup in the whole of God’s universe.

    With apparently nowhere else to turn, she turned to others in white lab jackets. In her fear, in the face of hopelessness, caring hands reached out to her. Though, in that time and at that place, their actions put them outside of Caesar’s rules. Though, in that time and at that place, they ran the very real risk of prosecution, arrest, and imprisonment; still, they reached out to her. They did it not because they wished to end life, but because they wished to protect that life which was beyond the womb. They wished to protect her. Thus, the deed was done. And the life created in a promise unkept, died as surely as that promise died.

    With the gratitude of being released from the hell that would have been, she left those in the white lab coats. She felt as if she had overstepped the prison walls, felt the burden of her condition lifted from her broken existence. She was free. “Thank God,” she was free …

    Except that, as the years passed, as the seasons changed, as she moved beyond youthful naivety into the sagacious veracity of adulthood which hard living always brings, she realized she wasn’t free. Somewhere along the road a small voice began to assert its presence. Somewhere along the journey she realized she wasn’t alone. She was surprised when she first heard it, wondering when it had joined her and from where it had come. Perhaps it stemmed from the many hours she had spent in that church on the corner, the one with the chipped crucifix hanging above the altar. Perhaps it came to her as she sat in silence, there on the stained pews in the shadows of the far corner, waiting for a happiness that never seemed to come. Perhaps it came to her for no other reason than somewhere along the road from that day unto this, she had learned to listen.

    She never knew from where it came, but come it did. And with the presence, with the voice, came the realization of the enormity of that which she had done. “Who might I have been?” the voice whispered. “What life might I have known?” She was crushed by the pain, overcome by the pain, almost destroyed by the pain. “Oh God, what had she done?” Those around her, those who knew her story, took her into their arms and wept with her, even those who disagreed, even those who fully believed she had been wrong. They took her to their breasts and they loved her in her pain, loved her through her pain. It was love, real love, the perfect love which cast out all fear.

    In the many years that had passed, in the many years since those with white lab coats loved her when no others would, abortion had been legalized. Now, angry words screamed from apposing sides, angry words as sharp as swords, angry words as destructive as bombs. The shouts cascaded over her, some demanding that she shout with them as they sat outside of those places peopled by the ones wearing the white lab coats … and peopled by young women, clutching their Covergirl, facing the hell to come. Others demanded that she side with them, for after all, she had known the fear, the very real fear of the living nightmare. After all, they shrieked, the alternative would have been so much worse. After all, it was her body. Angry words, all demanding that she scream with them.

    Yet, she could not. For as that perfect love cascaded down around her, she understood from where that voice stemmed. It was the voice of the one whom brought mercy from generation to generation. It was the voice of the one who lifted up the lowly and called them blessed. It was the voice of one born into the trough of animals, born into the realm of the pain, born so that the shouts might be loved into silence. It was the voice of the child she had terminated, the voice of One who died showing us how to live, the voice of the Child who now looked back at her with no condemnation, only love.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias


      You’ve been missed.

      Always a grace to hear from you, your words, your stories, your heart.

      Thank you.

  • I understood you, Sister Karen, until the very end. Especially given the graphics of infants you chose to include, I was expecting a different punchline. With full sympathy for the mama doing the deciding (and I do not write that lightly, being related to such mamas), I thought the loneliest of all people would be that baby in the womb.

    That baby is not only alone but without even the possibility of connecting with anyone else except that mama–who is deciding whether to abort her. And the very act of deciding is ipso facto an act of distancing herself from her baby in order to weigh up the alternatives.

    That’s a lonely, lonely baby.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Perhaps you are right, John, but even so the decision … which is what we are talking about here … falls to the mother. And, unless you’ve made that sort of decision yourself, you simply can’t understand how lonely… and isolating.. a place that is.

      • Absolutely no argument from me on that, my sister. It is an awful decision to have to make, and I pray God’s shalom for you each day (as I need people to pray the same for me, of course). Thank-you for your gentle response: We could all use more gentleness especially around this tender, terrible matter.

  • pepy

    Thanks, Karen. I always wonder about the overmuch protesting. Why do they object in public but make no attempt to having a real life relationship with people in order to speak into their lives with authenticity? Oh, wait, am I combining my thoughts on more than one of your posts? Anyway, the overmuch protesting (IMHO) suggests “me thinks thou dost protest too much.” What are they covering for? they start to creep me out.

    OK, I’m going out there on a limb: I am pro life, but I think it’s a woman’s choice to choose life. It’s not a bully pulpit to choose life. Lord knows there’s too many men out there pounding some agenda, boring into the psyche of women. Not healthy, not productive. Someone tell these guys, “thanks, but you take care of your body parts, I’ll take care of mine.” And, you’ll have to trust that we women are doing the best we can.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. Obviously, I come done on this from a pro-life position…an admittedly hypocritical one.

      But you’ve noted what I think is at the crux of this — relationships. Community.

      When will we learn that we can’t bully people into better choices, but we can love them into such a place?

      • Steve T

        Yes, I agree … I’m certainly pro-life and also acknowledge that sin is rarely held solely by an individual. I’m sure we can never truly separate ourselves from the context of our being; thus, our choices are always filtered through our realities, like with my friend. I’m not excusing her poor choice that led to her pregnancy, and at the same time, neither am I willing to offer up much condemnation — dead mother, alcoholic and abusive father, a life lived in the midst of an apparent hell. One thing for sure, my experience is that I … and we Christian folk, weren’t in deep enough relationship with her to convince her that she had other more viable options.

        Perhaps my perspective doesn’t flow well from the story, but I think that if we lived in a world where we Christians took very seriously the fullness of our responsibility to those facing horrific no-win choices, I believe we could bring about a reality where abortion is very rare. Yet, rather than noting the reality of impossible choices, I think we too often leave young women on-their-own to face such nightmare. We are not explicit in an outreach of love by making other alternatives possible and accessible. Too often we only chant in condemnation and judgement … and call it the “will of God.” And the truly crazy thing is that often, “we Christians” are doing the yelling from both sides of the issue.

        I guess I posted this to simply point to the difficult space, where Jesus never leaves us alone, but is the incarnational promise of hope and forgiveness. Even making it possible to forgive ourselves … and making it possible to stand on the side of a love that refuses simplistic bumper-sticker proclamations that too often magnify hateful rhetoric.

        It’s a lot easier to honk if you love Jesus, but the work of discipleship only occurs in the difficult space where flesh lovingly touches flesh.

        In the end, what I mostly do is thank God for the Smitty’s in the world … and the Karen’s.

        • Steve T

          Oooops. Somehow your response to Pepy showed up initially under my post on my computer looking as if it were your response to me. Very weird. I see now it was not. Still, as a friend has noted in the past, “Steve doesn’t know what he thinks until he starts talking.” So, I guess the “burp” offered up a bit more space to ponder. Always appreciate you Sister.

      • Straight Lawyer

        Have you seen Citizen Ruth? It’s a great satirical film about the ways in which political groups use individuals (a pregnant mother) as a political football.

        But ultimately, abortion is politicized because there are people trying to outlaw it. The personal becomes political, and if it had been illegal, you would now have a child that you seem not to have wanted, and your life would likely be very different.

      • I totally agree with your statement above, Karen, that “we can love them into such a place.” And to me, crisis pregnancy centers that offer real support, counseling and options to a mother who feels that she has no option but to abort her baby is a way of loving these women toward a better choice. Yet you seem negative about them. I don’t get that.

  • The phrase of John 1:16 surfaced in my mind, Karen, as I read your story: “grace upon grace”, “from God’s fullness we have all received.” Grace and peace are with you, and with me, too, thank God.

    Thank you for sharing from your heart.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thank you, Ann.

  • Karen, Thank you for sharing your story. I’ll be honest, friend (and I hope you’ll let me call you that….) This isn’t something that I can understand, because I have not been through it. I find myself firmly on the pro-life side, and yes, seeing the good that can come from the legislation against abortion.

    However. That’s never at the exclusion of nor love for the individual, nor at the cost of the relationship. That comes with compassion for and help for the ones, like you, who have suffered.

    Even though I can’t imagine what you have gone through – I want you to know that you are loved and cared for, that you matter, immensely.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thank you for that grace. Always good to hear words of affirmation.

  • Tracy Balzer

    Karen, your experience is completely outside of my own, but I needed to write and say how touched I am this morning by this piece and by the ensuing conversation. (Your book is now on my “to read” list.)

    I am usually reluctant to respond to situations with quotations, as they can seem flippant. But Kathleen Norris cites Philo of Alexandria in her memoir “The Virgin of Bennington,” and it provides ongoing, biblically-rooted correction to me (you’ve likely heard it): “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” Your life and writing has incarnated this principle to me today. Many thanks, and every blessing in Christ to you.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful reflections. I appreciate the heart behind your thoughts. Blessings.And yes, I am familiar with and love the quote. Thanks for sharing it here.

  • Tarry

    Years ago in Newsweek, the columnist Anna Quinlan related the story of a nun, working in a health clinic in an impoverished area. One day a middle aged woman called out, “Sister, I had an abortion.” And the nun, bowled over by the woman’s courage replied simply, “Tell me your story.” For the nun, the experience was pivotal, “yes, tell me your story –of a life I have not lived, a choice I have never had to make. Tell me.”
    I think of Jesus word’s to the Syro-Phoenician woman, and the way he listened to her, and refined his initial, absolutist response, “I am here for the lost of Israel.” He was capable of taking in the humanity of one standing in front of him. Would that we all could do this.

    Thank you for offering a piece of your story. You don’t tell us here why you came to the decision you did — but I hope those of us reading you here will remember that there are stories, and choices we can’t possibly imagine.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Tarry: The decision I made is explained in context in my memoir — After the Flag has been Folded. It takes more space than a blog post allows to explain such a choice. But I appreciate the nun’s comments. Our stories don’t often make sense to others — out of context. The best we can offer is to listen to one another.

  • syd

    When I thought I might not get a babysitter a couple years ago for my second child’s birth — the idea of giving birth alone without my husband was terrifying. And then I had a small inkling of what it must be like for a woman with no support system and an unexpected pregnancy. We need to love women in this situation, love them abundantly.

    However, I still cannot advocate abortion for any reason, including rape. I never understood the logic of killing a baby for a man’s crime. How does that make anything better? The added trauma and guilt of abortion on top of rape just makes things worse.

    And while loving the mother is important, why must the needs/wants of the mother outweigh those of the child or even the father? What about fathers who want their babies but have no rights to keep their partners from aborting their child? While this situation may not be common, it does exist. And fathers in these situations would willingly carry the child themselves if they could. It is sad.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Syd: I think your response is a perfect example of how what starts out to be a very compassionate response quickly morphs into a position of Certainosity. Relationships are secondary to this religious practice.

      • syd

        I wince everytime I hear about murders of doctors or those idiots yelling at women at abortion clinics.

        But, I don’t understand what you are saying. It seems like you are saying this is not black and white. But isn’t it? I don’t know what your “certainosity” is. I believe in objective truth outside of ourselves, and if you want to call it “certainosity”…well, ok. So what? Aren’t there some things that are certain?

        So, could you expand on your reply? I want to be compassionate, but I want to save babies too. Is it impossible to do both?

  • Dayne

    Ms. Zacharias,

    Nobody is saying it the way you said it, and I really respect that.


  • cathy

    Someone I loved had an Abortion, before it was legal….she didn’t want to, but the Doctors told her she had little choice, as she had gotten measles before she knew she was pregnant. Yes, the doctors knew from what ever new fangled test they had that the baby would be severely handicapped. So this young woman had a tough decision to make…which she did. I know she grieved to her death…..I won’t share the gory, uncaring things that were done to her….By all means lets punish her for such a thoughtless act on her part..It’s now, only her memory that can punished!

  • Sallypat09

    I think “pro-life” is a misnomer; why isn’t it “anti-choice”?

    • For the same reason that the pro-choice movement isn’t labeled “pro-death.” that knife cuts both ways.

  • Janenwanet

    A friend of mine stars in October Baby, due to be released Spring 2012. I love it’s redemptive message of hope and forgiveness in the midst of failings and pain.

    • Janenwanet

      Failings….not the right word here. Mistakes that seemed the best choice for that moment in time.