It's a disturbing statistic: Nearly half of all American women will have at least one abortion by the time they're 45. And of that group, about 47 percent will experience multiple abortions. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a special research affiliate of Planned Parenthood, Christians are as likely as non-Christians to seek abortion services. That means about 43 percent of TCW readers could be postabortive women. They may attend your Bible study, sit in your row at churchor even be you. Such is the case with Luana Stoltenberg and Sydna Masse. Both had abortions and felt they had no one to whom they could turn. As their self-esteem plummeted, they engaged in self-destructive behaviors and addictions. But the God who forgives all sins healed their emotional scars and prompted them to share their stories in an attempt to help other women in similar situations. Through their faith, these women have become powerhouses for the prolife movement. Here's what they're doing today.
"Abortion wasn't the solution to my problems
the abortion clinic employees promised."
On a cold, rainy day in December 1999, Luana Stoltenberg and a crowd of protestors stood in front of the newly opened Planned Parenthood clinic in Bettendorf, Iowa, singing carols and praying as they pushed baby strollers carrying dolls.
"The reason it's raining today is because God is crying," Luana told Jacqueline Adams of CBS' Early Show.
Luana, media spokesperson and treasurer for the Life and Family Coalition of the Quad Cities, is a woman with an energetic enthusiasm for lifeespecially the lives of the unborn. So much so that for the past six years, she's taken on Planned Parenthood (PP), the largest abortion provider in the nation.
For Luana, 41, living in the center of the abortion controversy gives her the opportunity to share how life can change from hopeless to hopeful. That's because Luana knows abortion's devastating aftermath firsthand: She had three before becoming a Christian, then married and discovered the damage caused by her abortions rendered her infertile. "After I found out I was infertile and why, I realized I needed to educate people and tell them how abortion affected me," says Luana. She got involved as a peer counselor with Crisis Pregnancy Centers, and began sharing her story with youth groups and churches.
Then in 1995, Luana Stoltenberg got involved with the Life and Family Coalition (L&FC), an organization concerned Quad City residents had formed when they became aware of Planned Parent-hood's intent to open a clinic in Bettendorf, Iowa. Realizing the presence of Planned Parenthood would change the fabric of the Quad Cities, four cities that border each other and the Mississippi River in Iowa and Illinois, Luana and the Life and Family Coalition, which USA Today has called "an especially effective anti-abortion group," went to work. And for six years, they were able to delay the building process.
The coalition led marches to city hall for council meetings, sponsored graphic billboards and posters to show what Planned Parenthood does, and held nonviolent sidewalk demonstrations at PP's building site.
Luana and her husband, Steve, also drafted a letter to local contractors asking them not to bid or build for PP's clinic. As a result, Planned Parenthood had to go 165 miles west of the Quad Cities area to find a builder.
In October 1998, the L&FC sponsored a 24-page supplement to three of the local daily newspapers informing the public of Planned Parenthood's intent. The supplement featured Luana's testimony. Frequent TV and radio ads were aired at critical points to keep the public informed.
But Luana believes their peaceful demonstrations and prayer vigils have had the most impact. "It's been prayer that's fired us, kept us going, and brought so many denominations together," says Luana. More than 200 pastors update their congregations on Planned Parenthood's upcoming actions, and congregations mobilize by praying.
The hard work Luana and others invested delayed construction of the PP clinic in Bettendorf for five years. But in December 1999, despite their best efforts, the Planned Parenthood clinic opened to the public. Several months later, the first abortion was performed.
But Luana and the coalition refused to give up. They approached the city council to build a "Life and Family Center" on donated land located directly across from Planned Parenthood's clinic, and received approval the same week the PP clinic opened. The Life and Family Center, set to open later this fall, will provide ultrasounds, counseling, referrals for legal and medical assistance, and on-site physician care.
"We'll continue our prayer vigils, peaceful picketing, and media campaigns to keep the public informed. Prayer is absolutely the key. Prayer held back Planned Parenthood for six years," explains Luana. "And I'll continue to share with women how empty they'll feel on the drive home from the abortion clinicand for years to come. But the good news is, they can find strength and healing through Jesus Christ."
Jean Slover Chellos
You may contact Luana by e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Many of us don't feel like a mother,
yet we're mothers of dead children.
There's no way we ever stop being a
mother once we've been pregnant."
Ten years ago, Sydna Masse sat alone in a memorial service to honor Jesse, the child she'd aborted 11 years previously. The pastor began to share the biblical story of Lazarus: "Jesus called in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!' The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, 'Take off the grave clothes and let him go'" (John 11:43, 44). The pastor concluded, "You're like the risen Lazarusalive, but tightly bound by grave clothesyour children. We're here to help you remove your grave clothes and go free."
That's what Sydna needed to hear. Her child's death had bound her. "I couldn't forgive myself," says Sydna. "I could accept forgiveness from God. But how could I have done this horrible thing willingly? When the pastor spoke those words, then asked us to come forward individually to be prayed for," Sydna continues, "I felt as though I suddenly lost 40 pounds. I finally experienced healing."
Today, Sydna, 39, helps others who've experienced abortion find that healing too. In 1992, Sydna worked for Focus on the Family's Crisis Pregnancy ministries when Dr. James Dobson requested she share her story on their national radio broadcast. After she spoke, the phone lines jammed and letters poured in from women who'd had similar experiences, as well as from those who felt a strong desire to help. But there were only a few postabortion counseling services and Bible study groups available. That's when God planted an idea in Sydna's mind. Why not start an organization to provide re-sources, offer referrals, and train leaders to counsel postabortive women?
So in June 1998, Sydna left Focus on the Family to found Ramah Internation-al, an organization based on Jeremiah 31:15: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more." And in November, she led her first training conference.
"When I founded Ramah," Sydna says, "I thought, If I train 300 people in 3 years, that would be great. I trained 300 in the first year! God really double-whammied me." To date, Sydna and her team of speakers have trained more than 700 people in postabortion counseling. Plus her organization's reached more than 23 million people through radio broadcasts and speaking and writing engagements. "You don't need to be postabortive to help those struggling with a past choice," Sydna says. "God's calling is all that's required. Nearly half of all conference attendees have never chosen abortion, yet they've seen it devastate lives, and they want to help."
About two years ago, Sydna started coordinating with Prison Fellowship and their Operation Starting Line to develop a female prisoners' postabortive curriculum. Through their efforts, they've discovered 60-80 percent of female prisoners are postabortive. "I'm not making a correlation between abortion and crime. But I know how close I could have come to ending up in prison," Sydna explains. "I smoked marijuana for years after my abortion to numb my pain. Had I gotten caught at any point, I could have gone to jail. Ramah tries to help women deal constructively with the trauma of the abortion experience."
This October Sydna hopes to travel to South Africa to start international efforts in training leaders there. According to Sydna, 50 million abortions occur globally each year. "But we've got only a handful of folks doing postabortive work. They're welcoming anything we can do for them."
Sydna's main focus through Ramah International is the training conference. Each conference includes a sample memorial service led by Sydna. "When some-one dies and you don't go to a funeral, you don't get closure. Think of the millions of babies who've never been acknowledged! I believe God's named them all; he knows every single one."
In a service, Sydna has each person light a candle for every life she's memorializing. Then they sit silently for a while, remembering these children and releasing them to God. Next, Sydna reads a Scripture verse and they close with a song. "It's very touching, very powerful," Sydna explains. "A lot of these women are in deep pain. But I tell them, 'You can make a difference. God can take this and turn it to good. You might never get past the point that you don't miss this child in your life, but God can make it better.'"
The other side of her work has been giving referrals and talking with women who are considering abortion. "I tell these women that this is death," Sydna says. "You can't ever change your mind. There's no undoing it." Her work has paid off. Sydna knows of 64 babies who are alive now because of her efforts. "We may never know exactly the extent of our work, but sometimes God gives us a glimpse of our influence."
A couple years ago, Sydna was invited to a church in Virginia to give her story. When she arrived, she discovered she'd have only 90 seconds to speak. "I was like, 'What can I do in 90 seconds, God?'" says Sydna. But she did her 90 seconds, in 3 services. On the flight home Sydna prayed, "Okay, what was that all about? I mean, 90 seconds!"
About nine months went by and Sydna returned to that city to speak at a banquet. After the banquet was over, a young woman with a baby approached her. "I said, 'Hi. I love your baby,'" Sydna recalls. "And she said, 'Did you by any chance speak at a church about nine months ago?' I said, 'For about 90 seconds.' She said, 'I don't remember how long it took. I went into that service set to have an abortion the next day. When I heard what you said, I couldn't do it.' Then she said, 'I think you might want to meet my son, because thanks to you he's alive today.'" Sydna pauses for a moment, then continues reverently. "You just never know what God's going to do. And there's no joy like holding a child God used you to save."
How to Find Healing
ACKNOWLEDGE THE LOSS OF YOUR BABY. The thought of grieving a baby you chose to abort seems contrary. But not until you acknowledge your baby as a lost child will you be able to grieve.
MOURN YOUR LOSS. It's not uncommon for postabortive women to cry for long periods of time. Remember, you don't get over griefyou get through it. Allow yourself to grieve.
GIVE YOUR CHILD A NAME. When you've worked for years to keep the memory of the abortion out of your mind, thinking about your baby as a real human being is freeing. The simple task of giving your child a name is a great way to begin.
MEMORIALIZE YOUR CHILD. Hold a private funeral service; plant a tree; write a poem; make a donation to a charity; or write his or her story, including events and feelings that led to the abortion, as well as the aftermath. This will remind you you've honored your child.
ENCOUNTER AND PRACTICE FORGIVENESSfrom God, toward yourself, toward others.
SHARE YOUR STORY. Join a postabortion Bible study and experience the bond shared grief can bring. The women there understand what you've gone through.
And as you continue to work through your abortion issues, remember Philippians 1:6: "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion."
Adapted from Her Choice to Heal. © 1998 by Sydna Masse and Joan Phillips. Used by permission of Chariot Victor Publishing, a division of Cook Communications.
Where to Go for Help
1776 Hudson St.
Englewood, FL 34223
109 Carpenter Dr., Ste. 100
Sterling, VA 20164
665 East Dublin-Branville Rd. Ste. 440
Columbus, OH 43229
National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA)
P.O. Box 42060
Fredricksburg, VA 22404
Women and Children First Crisis Pregnancy Centers
or check "Abortion Alternatives" in your local Yellow Pages
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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