Radio host and counselor Stephen Arterburn candidly shares how he pressured his college girlfriend into getting an abortion, and how the guilt and shame haunted him until he learned to fully accept God's abounding grace.
Stephen: I was asked to speak at Baylor University at Chapel a few years ago. And I went there. And uh, lot of things I would have loved to have told them about, things I had done. But I felt compelled to tell them about what had happened when I was a student there at Baylor - told them I had come here to get a Christian education. What I got was I got a girl pregnant, and I paid for her to have an abortion. Didn’t really fully understand what I was doing till about three days later. It really hit me. This shame just came over me. I had destroyed the life of my own child. And I just - I just couldn’t believe it. There was nothing I could do to reverse that, to undo it. It was done. And I felt like I had sinned too much, gone too far. God could never use me, forgive me. I was done.
And the silent shame - you know, there was no funeral, no - no way to grieve, no one I could talk to. And the silent shame just started ripping through me, and I ended up with 80 ulcers just eating me to death. In fact, the physician - I was hospitalized - he said, “You’re gonna die if something in your life doesn’t change.” Nothing but the physiological effects of post-abortion syndrome, they call it - the guilt, the shame and the silence. It was horrible.
And so I told those students, hoping that maybe someone would hear this. And you know, maybe they were like me. I was a Christian, but Jesus wasn’t really the lord of my life. I thought the Bible had some great stories and some great truth, but I didn’t realize it was absolute truth. I would see that the wages of sin was death. And I was promiscuous and sinning, and I - there was no death, not until then. And then I understood it in a very real way.
So I shared that with them, and then I returned home. And a few days after I was there, I received a phone call from the young lady that I had been involved with. And she said, “I heard you told our story at Baylor Chapel.” I said, “Yes, you know, I - I hope I did it in a way that no one would know that you were the person.” She says, “Oh, no, that’s not a problem.” She said, “I heard that you said that you paid for the abortion.” I said, “Yes, I wanted them to believe that I was responsible.” She said, “The next time you tell it, maybe you should be a little more honest.” Said, “What do you mean?” Said, “Well, you didn’t just pay for the abortion. You pressured me to have that abortion. You made sure I knew that you wouldn’t be there for me or for our baby that I wanted to bring into this world. And you pressured, and you pressured. And so I just did it ‘cause I didn’t think I had a choice.”
Well, that was pretty tough to see just what a coward I had been. When that wonderful young lady and my baby needed me to be a man, I had been anything but that. I’ve learned that in - in conception, the man’s role doesn’t end there when you conceive a - a baby. The man’s role is to provide and protect for the life he’s created. When you don’t do that, and then you move to destroy that life, even an atheist experiences some kind of intrinsic guilt for destroying your own flesh and blood. (sniffs) That was a tough reality to face. Didn’t marry her. Years later, I married. And - and very quickly, we discovered we were an infertile couple. We could not have children. Seven years and thousands of dollars and every Mother’s Day worse than the Mother’s Day before, nothing.
And then some Christian comes up to me and says, “Have you ever thought maybe that the reason you can’t have children is ‘cause you paid for an abortion when you were in college?” As if I didn’t have enough shame and regret. Sometimes, you know, Christians should just not talk - just not talk. And so, um, I dealt with that. And that person, of course, would have me believe that every bad thing in my life would be a result of the abortion, and I was just getting what I deserved, and that was just gonna be part of my life and - and I should be willing to experience anything as a result of that shameful thing that I did.
Well, I’ll finish that story later. But I want to get to these numbers - 58 million medically performed abortions, 58 million, since they became legal in 1973. And you know, abortion is the direct act with the sole purpose to end a life in the womb of a mother either surgically or chemically or with, uh, an implanted device. That’s what abortion is - 58 million. The latest figures, the most updated figures, on Adolf Hitler is that he - he was responsible for about 20 million deaths. He’s dead, and he’s stopped. And we’re still adding to that number of 58 million. About 1 in 5 pregnancies end in abortion now. And sadly, before I finish speaking today, within this hour, 120 lives will be destroyed. Every hour, 120 abortions, just in America. Sixty to seventy percent of the abortions that are performed are performed on women who have already had a baby.
Every number has a name. And the sides have been drawn on this, the pro-choice, pro-life, pro-abortion, anti-abortion. But it all comes down to one single issue. This is the only issue that matters, no what the label is. Here’s the question: Is that cluster of living cells within the womb - is that - is that fetus a human being or not? That’s the question. And our choices as believers need to be based on what God says - not philosophy, not culture, but a biblical worldview based on God’s truth the way God intended that truth to be interpreted.
If this is not just ‘something’ that’s living, if it’s not just a cluster of living cells but a real, live human being designed by God and created by God and given life and a soul by God, then no one has the right to harm or destroy that life. If that is true, then every life has a name, and it has a hope, and it has a future designed by God. It’s known by God and has a purpose long before conception or birth.
Here’s what the Biblical worldview is beginning with what God told Jeremiah: “The Lord gave me this message. I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born, I set you apart and appointed you as My prophet to the nations.” Who has the right to interfere with what God did in the life of Jeremiah long before Jeremiah was ever even born? It was all planned out. And Jeremiah is no different than any other human being that is a life. He’s got a plan and a purpose, and if that fetus in the womb is a real, live human being, then that applies to everyone.
Look at Psalm 139. Here’s what David said, 13th verse. “You made all the - the delicate inner parts of my body, knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex. Your workmanship is marvelous. How well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, and I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me. You saw me before I was born. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”
It’s not a matter of birth. It’s not a matter of conception. It’s a matter of life is created, a life is created, in the mind of God long before any of that. It’s not just that there’s something alive there. It’s a life with a hope and a future.
And if I am gonna do what I need to do or I’m supposed to do in this tough question about abortion, I’ve got to address the toughest situation when it comes to this tough question. And so we have to say, “Well, isn’t abortion the right decision when the life of the mother is at risk? Wouldn’t that be okay when her life is at risk?” And here’s kind of the - the reality about when the life of the mother is the issue. And this is what the medical community - this is how they - they put it. This is their - their terminology. If there is a procedure or a medication that a mother needs to save her life, well, of course, that’s what should happen. And their term is, if the unintended effect, if that takes the life of the child within her, well, that’s not abortion. That’s not the willful and the intentional destruction of a life. That’s an unintended effect. So in the, uh, political realm, they will use the life of the mother as justification for abortion. But when that happens, you’re going to deliver the care to the mother. But that really isn’t the issue of - of abortion here. Pro-life advocacy does not promote that a mother’s life be sacrificed or a treatment withheld so that the baby can live and the mother die. That’s just a sad distortion.
Then people say, “Well, what about when there’s a diagnosis of some severe, uh, disability or - or deformity or something like that? Wouldn’t abortion be justified then?” Well, that’s just one of the worst situations ever for a parent. There’s no judgment here for that decision. There’s no shame. We don’t know what we would do in that situation. But look, pre-born children diagnosed with a disability - don’t they deserve to be treated with the same respect as people who had been born, who have disabilities outside the womb, who are given special laws and provisions to protect them? Shouldn’t we be protecting? But disability, deformity - is that ever a good excuse to end the life of a human being, a life that is created and formed by God with a plan and a purpose and a future?