A moment in time
I have been involved in women’s ministry for many years. Sometimes organising women’s retreats, or getting groups of women together to support one another. Often it has been 1:1 ministry, just talking and sharing some of the deepest and hardest times in our lives. I have seen God do some amazing healing. So many women have struggled with the pressures and expectations of being a woman in this world; having to work, family, motherhood, singleness, relationships, faith, church, illness, past abuse and difficult relationships, and all seeking God in the midst of their turmoil. Some of these women have spoken to me about their guilt of particular sins…and some have shared what they called ‘secret sins’ that they dare not share widely because of the fear of judgement from other Christians. One of these issues has been abortion, including taking the decision not to continue with a pregnancy when they were told that the child would have a disability.
Recently there has been some debate on social media about a new test to detect Down’s Syndrome in a foetus. Currently all pregnant women are offered a test to detect if their baby is at risk of having an extra chromosome and if the risk is high (usually between 1 in 2 and 1 in 150) then the mother is offered a second test which can tell more accurately if the child has Down’s, Edward’s or Patau’s Syndrome. (see references for more information). The new test is less invasive, less of a risk to the child and is done through a maternal blood test. (However, is yet to be available on the NHS). Ultrasound scans can also detect other disabilities, abnormalities and serious medical complications with a baby in the womb.
Whilst this seems good news in terms of medical safety, it highlights the moral dilemma of what to do if the baby has a serious condition. We rarely talk about these issues in church and it is very easy to preach that abortion is wrong and all life is sacred (yes these things are true) without realising that statistically there will be someone in our congregation who will have been through a termination and will feel condemned and unaccepted in the church because they have done such a thing.
I found the website ‘Antenatal Results and Choices’ very informative and very balanced. It isn’t a Christian or religious advice service but one that allows parents to gather information, talk to one of their counsellors and gives balanced information that doesn’t try to influence someone’s choice. Ministers, pastors, youth leaders, all Christians…be informed please! Read up what parents have to go through in these circumstances and have compassion on those who have to choose.
And that is what parents are faced with. A moment in time choice.
A typical pregnancy can be hard work, emotional, exciting, amazing and have problems such as sickness to contend with along with all the planning and expectations that the new parents build up over the months to the birth. Once a parent is given the news that their child may or will have a disabling condition the whole tone of the pregnancy changes.
Emotionally, a mother is carrying around more hormone induced emotion than she will ever experience in her life and a shock such as this can make rational thought extremely difficult. We mustn’t ignore a father’s emotions too. If he is present and involved, it hurts him just as much. The wider family will be affected and may have strong influence on what the parents decide.
It is at this point that what the doctors or midwives say next becomes crucial.
‘The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have produced a report on ‘Termination of Pregnancy for Fetal Abnormality in England, Scotland and Wales’ (May 2010). Within it are a number of recommendations. The following is a quote from their report’
“All staff involved in the care of a woman or couple facing a possible termination of pregnancy must adopt a nondirective, non-judgemental and supportive approach. After the diagnosis, the woman will need help to understand and explore the issues and options that are open to her and be given the time she needs to decide how to proceed. She must not feel pressurised to make a quick decision but, once a decision has been, made the procedure should be organised with minimal delay.”
Unfortunately, sometimes doctors and midwives seem to assume that a parent will NOT want to continue with the pregnancy. Some have been asked immediately not what they want to do, but how soon would they like the termination? There have been staff who have given a negative and poor picture of what life with Down’s Syndrome, cerebral palsy, Hydrocephalus, physical disability or other disability will be like which puts unequalled pressure on the parents and is often the advice that influences the decision the most.
I thank God for all the doctors and midwives that do share positives and possibilities with parents. There are many who are just amazing at supporting parents through this most difficult of times. We know there have been many testimonies of parents whose children have achieved much and more than ever was thought possible by doctors. The support the family and child will need and receive, and realistic but positive outcomes for their lives is paramount. Parents need to see that there are services, support groups, benefits and advice that can help them care for and bring up their child, whatever their difficulties.
However, we do have to be realistic. Some children are diagnosed with conditions so severe that they are unlikely to live long after birth, and the trauma of the birth can be a dangerous event. Some children may have such severe needs that knowing whether having them will only bring them pain and suffering, is a question that parents will be faced with. And the truth is that looking after and bringing up a child with disabilities is more than any parent thought that having children was going to be. And at the heart of that, is our thoughts about our ability to cope with that life. I know for so many people, they wouldn’t even question that. They have the determination and faith to go ahead with whatever needs the child will have.
Reaching out to those who need to know Jesus forgives them
But this post is about those who do go ahead with a termination. In this context I am considering those who terminate because of a disability, but the principle has to include all, for whatever reason. In that life moment, whatever their decision, God is aware of it and present in that moment. Whether the parents who make the decision are week or strong in our eyes, God knows they are fallible human beings. Just as the rest of us.
The truth is that termination of a pregnancy, breaks the 6th Commandment – Thou shall not murder. As human beings we have been murdering innocent and helpless people since Cain murdered Abel. And it is no surprise to God. Yes, it is sin. But the Bible is very clear about where we all stand on the issue of sin. He is not going to punish us…because he punished Jesus in our place. What love!
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.”
In the post I am asking that we all remember that whilst aborting a baby for whatever reason is against God’s commandments and however wrong you feel it is, that we have compassion on those who have been through something and made a decision that we may not begin to be able to understand.
At the heart of the gospel is forgiveness and this is for all. In fact, it was often those who felt that they were not worthy of coming to God that Jesus was especially kind to. It is those who have been forgiven much who understand the enormity of his GRACE.
Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’ ‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said. ‘Two people owed money to a certain money-lender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[c] and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.’
‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said.
And Jesus’s command to us was to forgive as he forgave us. We know lots of things are wrong, and hurt others. Forgiveness is the power we have as Christians to share God’s Grace. None of us deserve his favour. None of us can stand before him and say we are better than anyone else. We may hate what others have done. We may think we have done better than them, but in the end Jesus tells us to forgive and have compassion on one another, just as he has done for us. When you are tempted to judge and post comments about how awful some people are because of what they have done, let’s remember that may be someone sat next to you at church, or one of your Facebook friends. It has been an honour for me to have someone tell me that they made a decision not to go ahead with a pregnancy because their child was disabled, when they fully know that I work to include and promote people with disabilities in our society. I hope that is because I remember how much Jesus has forgiven me, and that the only thing I can offer is his Grace for them too.
If you are a person who has gone through this and feel guilty, lost and have maybe never dealt with the pain, when I have ministered to those in a similar position, we have taken the time to talk to God and he has given the women or couple the gift of naming their child. Being assured that their child is with him can bring hope and I recommend the book “Tilly” by Frank Peretti if you’d like to explore God’s grace and forgiveness more. Please do search out someone to counsel you and guide you as God’s forgiveness is for everyone. Truth.
As always we should pray for God’s wisdom to understand and for his grace to do his will. Christian women and men carrying the burden of such a secret can struggle to believe forgiveness is for them if they feel that other christians will judge and condemn them. And there will be non-christian women and men who may be saved by our showing forgiveness and grace to them, no matter what they may have been through or done. Jesus would have us do this. So let’s pray…
Prayer for those who are suffering.
Heavenly Father, we pray for those who have made that decision not to go ahead with a pregnancy because a child had a disability. We pray that you will heal their pain and help them know that you will never punish them, that you have forgiven them and that you can take away their pain and guilty feelings. Help me be sensitive to those that I may meet and be open and gracious to forgive them as you have forgiven me.
David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.’
In Jesus Name. Amen
Prayer for children and families with disabilities
Heavenly Father we pray for children who have been born with a disability and for their parents. We pray that you will help them and guide them and give them all the strength that they need to navigate this life that is made harder for them because our society does not value them well. We pray for the support, help and resources they need to be available and for them to flourish and thrive in our churches and in society.
1 Corinthians 1:26-30
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
In Jesus Name. Amen
Prayer for midwives and doctors
Heavenly Father we pray for all midwives and doctors who support women who are told that their baby may have physical, learning or other disabilities. Give them compassion and wisdom and may they never assume that the child’s disabilities will follow a certain pattern that is negative and hopeless. May they get the training and have the compassion and wisdom they need to help and guide parents through this difficult time.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’
In Jesus Name. Amen
Prayer for the church
Heavenly Father, we pray for the people in your church to be bigger and better at forgiveness. Let us preach it far and wide and shine the light of your forgiveness and Grace into the darkness of people’s lives. Let us be guided by the power of the Holy Spirit to listen and to learn about people’s deepest lives and give kindness and compassion instead of judgement. Let us not be as the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
...to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding,
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
In Jesus Name. Amen
All Bible verses are from the New International Version. www.bilegateway.com
About the pregnancy screening tests: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/screening-amniocentesis-downs-syndrome.aspx
Antenatal Results and Choices website: http://www.arc-uk.org
About forgiveness for those who have had an abortion: https://carm.org/are-you-christian-woman-who-has-had-abortion