Author and speaker Patricia Layton describes how God has helped her find emotional and psychological healing after an abortion she had when she was younger, offering encouragement and hope to women who are struggling with similar pain. Pat also discusses her ministry to post-abortive women and dismantles the cultural lie that "abortion hurts no one." (Part 1 of 2)
Woman #1: I kept the secret for so long, I didn’t want to let go.
Woman #2: I was so angry at the doctor, my boyfriend, at God. Why did they let this happen to me?
Woman #3: I felt ashamed because everyone would judge me for my mistakes. I felt like a terrible person.
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John Fuller: Those are heartbreaking emotions that so many women have today, and you probably don’t know their story - even though they live in your neighborhood. They attend your church. They might even be a close friend. This is Focus on the Family with Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, abortion has been a part of the public dialogue for more than 45 years now, bitterly debated in courtrooms and political arenas here in North America and around the world. In fact, a few weeks ago, Focus on the Family took a very public stand on this issue with our “Alive from New York” event. That’s where we displayed a live ultrasound on the huge screens in Times Square. And everyone could clearly see the viable, valuable life of a baby inside the mother’s womb. But behind all of the debate and moral arguments, there is a deep pain and shame for the women and men who have taken part in an abortion - maybe more than one. Many have lived with that terrible secret for years, and they don’t know how to express it or even talk about it. If that describes you, we want to help by giving you some godly encouragement and practical steps that you can take toward forgiveness and healing.
John: Yeah and Focus on the Family is here for you. We have caring, Christian counselors. They will listen to your story, they’ll pray, and offer some ongoing help in your local area. They hear from so many. And unfortunately, Jim, they hear from a lot of folks who have held this inside for 10, 20, 30, 40 years. Call today. The number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459. Or even find details at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: And let me say right at the beginning that Focus on the Family’s position has always been pro-life. We know there are difficult circumstances and decisions with an unplanned pregnancy, but we also believe that life for that child is the better choice and it’s always the right thing to do. That’s what we stand for. Today we’re gonna hear from a woman who experienced the toxic secret of a hidden abortion for many years, until God spoke into her heart and revealed His forgiveness and love for her in remarkable ways.
John: For more than 25 years, Pat Layton worked in post-abortion recovery and helped women who were facing unplanned pregnancies. And she also led a Christian adoption agency in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. She’s written a powerful Bible study for post-abortion recovery called,. Here’s how we began that conversation with Pat Layton on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.
Jim: Pat, let’s start with kind of the broad perspective here - the background, the numbers. From your research, how many women have experienced abortion in today’s culture? Just and I know this is not an exact science, but give us some dimension of what we’re talking about.
Patricia Layton: Well, the statistic that we use is approximately 43 percent or estimated 43 percent of women of childbearing age have had a past abortion. Some use the statistic 1 in 3. I use real-life statistics and with any group of, you know, three or four women, the majority of them have had a past abortion. So, you know, it’s hard to be in any group of women and not have many of them who’ve had an abortion.
And again, the issue here is the brokenness of it all. It’s not to say that this is the unpardonable thing.
Patricia Layton: Mmhmm.
Jim: There is a way for people to mend and to heal and that’s through forgiveness through Christ. He understands the situation and we’re gonna talk about that today. But according to the date you’ve collected, 75 percent of women said their baby would interfere with their lives. This is why they have an abortion - 75 percent. I think it’s multiple answers here, because it doesn’t add up to 100 percent. In addition to that, 66 percent said they couldn’t afford a child.
Jim: A lot of people in their 20’s and 30’s...
Patricia: That’s right.
Jim: ...feel like they can’t afford a child. That’s not uncommon but that’s not the right answer to that issue. It’s you - you find a way. Fifty percent said they didn’t want to be a mother at the time. Now get this. Those are big numbers: 75 percent, 66 percent, 50 percent. Now you look at the issues that Planned Parenthood is saying, “The well-being and health of the mother.” Only four percent of women who had an abortion said it was because the doctor said they had a complication - one percent, fetal abnormality; one percent victims of rape or incest. And that catches my attention because those who support abortion play up those numbers as if they were the majority of cases.
Jim: And obviously, they’re not. Talk about that for a moment.
Patricia: Well, the first thing I think about when you give those statistics is that I’ve been doing this ministry for 25 years, over 25 years, and have discovered first of all, as you say, it is the minority that have an abortion due to health of the mother or rape or incest. But those women who come to us, who’ve had an abortion because of rape or incest, had the same heartbreak as the large majority who had the abortions out of convenience, like I did. So, the pain and the loss is the same for those women and in fact, abortion adds loss and pain to a rape victim.
Jim: Pat, I want to be sensitive to that comment that I’ve alluded to and you just made, which is “abortion for convenience” because I can hear some women saying back through...
Jim: ...these microphones, “You don’t know where I was at, at that moment.” Speak to that person.
Patricia: Well, I do know, I guess. That’s my strongest word is - and the word “convenience” obviously, is a rough word. I mean, I certainly, as a college student, was not thinking of having an abortion for convenience. I was truly thinking and decided to have an abortion because I was, number 1, petrified. Well, you know, found myself in an unwanted, unplanned, unready pregnancy, that I had been convinced during my college years, “This is the right way to handle this. It’s the logical way. It’s the prudent way to handle, you know, being in this situation.” So “convenience” is a rough word. I mean, you know...
Jim: And we don’t mean it in terms of...
Jim: ...the shaming thing, but when you look at the rationale, we really want to grab the way you’re thinking about it, the way perhaps, if a woman’s listening, she’s considering, “I’m not in a life stage where I can do this.”
Patricia: Life circumstances would be a big thing...
Patricia: ...to say my life circumstances aren’t right for this at this time.
Jim: And that’s such an easy way to justify the action. But today we want to talk about a different way of thinking about it. In fact, you describe how you reacted to the word “abortion” when you were post-abortive...
Jim: ...and you accepted the Lord and not long after you heard Christians talking and using the word “abortion”...
Jim: ...which kind of appalled you.
Patricia: Right, well, it totally shocked me.
Patricia: Well, I didn’t know that God had an opinion about abortion. I had no idea that God had anything to do with abortion. And these moments like being on your show today means so much to me for that reason, because I was riding down the road just like some of your listeners are right now, listening to a Christian radio show and they started talking about abortion. And I was a new Christian, new to God’s Word, had no idea what God thought about abortion. I had fallen on the altar basically, when I surrendered my life to the Lord, but it was a bunch of other things I was thinking about, you know, the sin in my life that I was thinking about. Abortion never crossed my mind.
Jim: Why do you think and I’m thinking, you know, I’ve had conversations like that with the media or others who look at us with a bit of suspicion.
Patricia: I totally get this.
Jim: Why would we be that interested? I mean, this is really between a woman and her doctor.
Jim: Give the best case you can for why this is important to the culture at large, to the woman, the individual, to her husband, to her boyfriend. Why should be people listening to the abortion issue?
Patricia: Because this culture needs spiritual renewal and we need God. And at that point in my life, I had been in college and I had had very little background to the church just as a young child. But in college I was very convinced about a woman’s right to choose abortion. And I had, in fact, been involved in a teenage marriage and I had a son and was left abandoned. My teenage husband abandoned us, so I was a single mom. So, it was logical to me that women should have a right to choose when to have a baby and...
Jim: Was there ever a moment you regretted keeping your son?
Patricia: ...no, and you know, those are the things that come back to you as you learn and get the truth and as the truth comes in on you. And so, you know, of course not, but at that moment, I thought, “I cannot be a single mom again. I’m just finishing college. I can’t take a chance.” And I had been so brainwashed about women’s rights. I’d been writing articles for NOW and different organizations.
Jim: National Organization of Women.
Patricia: Right. In college, I wrote published articles for them and so I was very convinced that this was the right thing to do. So, when I became a Christian and I started changing all my radio channels from rock to Christian music and I mean, I fell for the Lord hook, line and sinker. I mean, my life was such a mess.
Jim: You were changed?
Patricia: I was dramatically changed and so, I changed everything in my life including my radio shows. So, I was driving down the road and I remember the time and the place. I’ll never forget it, but I was driving down, listening to a Christian radio show and there was an interview just like we’re sitting here doing today and somebody’s hearing today where this discussion was going on. And I had to pull my car over. I just started crying.
Jim: Why that lynch pin? Why do you think that broke the emotion loose for you?
Patricia: You know, I guess because I had just surrendered my life just a few months before at a Christian women’s retreat. I didn’t know that much about God’s Word and I’d given everything I knew at the altar. So, then I’m driving along and thinking, “Well, I didn’t give this. And so, I must not really be saved and you know, I must not really be forgiven.” So, it was like a whole new elephant in the room.
Jim: Let’s talk about the guilt for a minute that women, particularly, and some of their partners, the men, have regarding that decision. Paint that picture for us of the guilt that a woman particularly has after abortion.
Patricia: You know, at that moment, I didn’t have any guilt because I didn’t know I was supposed to feel guilty or I thought I had made the right decision for everyone. And so, when I’m listening to this show and I’m listening to these women who are being interviewed share the results of their abortion, the aftermath of their abortion, then I realized in that moment that I had been living seven years of the aftermath of an abortion, that everything that I had brought to the altar - the sin and the mess of my life - had really all started. Obviously, I’d been immoral before the abortion, but it all, you know, there’s something about sacrificing the life of your own innocent, unborn child that takes the cake, so to speak, in a woman’s heart. And that it’s not that the sin is bigger.
Jim: It’s hard to feel forgiven...
Jim: ...because it’s big.
Patricia: So, all of a sudden, that moment in the car, I was confused about God’s forgiveness, about whether I had really gotten saved and whether He really knew about this. So, all this stuff came flooding in on me about the abortion - a lot of revelation, of realizing some of these things that I had mentioned, the symptoms that I talk about in my book.
Jim: Let’s talk about those. What were some of the symptoms?
Patricia: Well, in the book I tell the story of having had my abortion. It was supposed to be a simple in and out procedure.
Jim: That’s what you were told.
Patricia: Mmhmm, but instead I had an allergic reaction to the anesthesia that they used on me that day.
Jim: How old are you again?
Patricia: I was 23...
Jim: Okay, so you’re there...
Patricia: ...just finishing college.
Jim: ...alone or with your...
Patricia: No, my husband was there. We’ve been married now 39 years which is a God story. But he was there with me and it was supposed to be in and out, you know, then you’re gonna go on with your day. But instead, I woke up on a respirator with my husband and my parents standing at the foot of my bed. And I had had an allergic reaction to the anesthesia they used and if I had had that same abortion down the street at the abortion clinic, which I was going to have, instead of at the hospital, I wouldn’t be sittin’ here today.
Jim: You would’ve died.
Patricia: So, my husband and parents were at the foot of the bed. I ended up being admitted to the hospital instead of, you know, you go home in a few hours. I was admitted for a few days. After a few days, I started burning up with fever. I had to go back into the doctors, was rechecked and during that checkup, they said during the emergency procedure when you stopped breathing, parts of the fetus were left behind. We’re gonna have to do the abortion again.
Patricia: So here I was, a 23-year-old unsaved woman or didn’t know the Lord, and they’re telling me parts of the fetus were left behind. So, from that day I did go back and have the abortion again and I became dead woman walking. I had no idea what was goin’ on in my life but all of a sudden, all I could think of instead of abortion and women’s rights and a simple procedure that’ll make you safe and free, all I could think of were parts of the fetus. And so, I would have nightmares for years. I would wake up in the middle of the night with baby parts reaching out at me...
Patricia: ...little baby hands. I’d see baby pieces and so that immediately. So, when I shoved that aside, just you know, just pushed it aside, never even let the realities of that come forth until I heard those women on the radio. And then when they started sharing about nightmares, about just all kinds of marital and relationship dysfunctions, physical issues that happen as a result of abortion, emotional issues. My husband and I got married and spent seven years hating each other because we had had an abortion of our own child together. So, all those things they defined, in that moment on that radio show, it all kinda came to light.
Jim: Pat, in fact, in your book you describe very vividly the closing of the casket of your heart after your abortion experience and that’s powerful imagery. What were you getting at?
Patricia: I felt like I got off that table and I was not the same young woman. I was empty and afraid and confused about the decision I had made. And at that point, didn’t have the spiritual awakening, didn’t know why I was confused, so talk about confusion. With women who go in and have an abortion and they’re very convinced this is the right thing to do and it’s good for everybody and this is the only thing I can do, then their emotions surprise them.
John: There’s been so much transparency that our guest has brought today, Pat Layton on this edition of Focus on the Family. Pat has a wonderful resource for women who’ve experienced the tragedy of abortion - it’s a Bible study called,. And we’d invite you to contact us about getting a copy of that. Also, get in touch if you’d like to speak with one of our Christian counselors about this or anything else in your life that you might just need some extra help with. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459, or visit focusonthefamily.com/broadcast to learn more. Okay, here’s more from our conversation with Pat Layton on Focus on the Family.
Jim: Pat, let me refer to your statistics again, because I’d like your comment on this. You say 92 percent of post-abortive women experience emotional deadening. That’s what you meant when you talked about closing the casket of the heart. And 86 percent experience anger or even rage.
Jim: Why? Why do they turn to anger or rage? Is that toward the people around them or the doctor, the boyfriend or husband or a family member? Talk about that rage and where it’s coming from?
Patricia: And it comes from a variety of places for women who’s have a past abortion. In my case, most of my rage was self-focused. But as I have ministered to women throughover these years, many times it comes from the boyfriend who leaves them, drops them off at the clinic and drives away. Or the parent who drives them to the abortion clinic, thinking that that’s the right thing to do or the doctors who are rough or aggressive or tell you not to cry and, “This is your decision” or, “You got yourself into this mess.” I mean, I’ve heard everything. So that’s where a lot of the rage and anger rises up in women. But the majority hold on to a lot of that for themselves, that they made the choice. It’s their decision. And honestly, we have to help them see that it wasn’t always just their decision, that there often...
Jim: That’s so true.
Patricia: ...is a lot of outside influence.
Jim: Well, and again, we’ve got to think of that woman who’s in that position. She doesn’t know what to do. She’s frightened. She’s getting advice from different people and the easy advice is, “Hey, just do this and it’s all good.” I’ll give an example of that and some people will remember this. We did a Super Bowl ad with Tim Tebow. And many of the pregnancy resource clinics participated...
Patricia: Right, I know Tim.
Jim: ...with us in that. Millions of people hit the website to look at that, but one woman in particular, to give you an idea of what these women face sometimes, she was watching the Super Bowl with her boyfriend and that ad came up. She was pregnant with their child and the boyfriend had told her that if she didn’t get an abortion, he was gonna commit suicide.
Patricia: Oh, great.
Jim: Now think of that. Think of what she was faced with. And she contacted us after seeing that Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad with his mom, Pam. And we were able to counsel her and to give her a different option and I just thank the Lord that through all that effort - that was about 5 or 6 donors who contributed specifically to that - that we were able to save that baby. And that little girl is growing up now with her mom, and I just think that’s an example of what can be done. But they need to hear what the options are.
Jim: And they need to be told what the future will look like. I want to ask you this. It may be a tough question but given we’re talking about that sense of guilt, that abandonment, that rage, that anger that post-abortive women have, some in the abortion community say, “Well, that’s because of people like you - religious people - who lay that guilt on them. They would not feel that guilt if they did not have you telling them they should be guilty.” Respond to that accusation.
Patricia: Well, it certainly wasn’t true in my life because I had no Christian influence for seven years after my abortion. And from the moment of my abortion, I knew I had done something that was going to hurt me and that I had, had a great loss. And that was the tough part. It was when the Christian community came in to help rescue me, that I found hope. I found a place to go, somewhere to share my pain and loss and someone to me the way to healing. So, that was the opposite truth for me. I had had all the facts and figures and the rationalization from the world that I needed to make an abortion decision. But the world was nowhere around from the moment I got off the abortionist’s table.
Jim: So, really and the world says, “Here’s your option. It’s one.”
Patricia: That’s it.
Jim: This is it.
Jim: And in the Christian community we’re saying, there’s more ways to think about this and for that, we’re scorned, you know, that we’re coming with guilt and shame. Talk about the lies that the enemy of our soul speaks to our hearts in this regard...
Patricia: Well, and...
Jim: ...not just those around us.
Patricia: ...right and honestly that part I’d have to say, as I became a Christian and I became more aware of darkness and light, of God’s truth versus what the enemy’s trying to tell us, it was then that those kinds of feelings and thinkings began to rise up in me, so that I would hear more from the enemy. “God didn’t really forgive you. You’re not saved. God doesn’t forgive abortion. That’s murder. You murdered your own child. You’ll never be healed. You’ll never be part of the Christian community.” I heard this radio show when I was just being embraced by a new Bible study group and so I, all of a sudden, walked away from that group. I was petrified that they would see abortion on me and that if they knew that I’d had an abortion that I would be excluded. So those - the enemy is the one that put in the shame and the guilt and all those unredeemable emotions.
Jim: Well, and eventually you did break the news to...
Patricia: I did, yes.
Jim: ...this group of friends, these Christian believers.
Jim: What was the response?
Patricia: It was amazing, and one of the reasons I believe the Christian community needs to be educated about post-abortion recovery and pastors and you know, that they learn how to share this, is so that we do know how to embrace those that have had a past abortion. And so, I shared with a girlfriend. I had dropped out of the Bible study for a while. She kept pursuing me to find out where I was and I finally decided I’m gonna have to tell her. And so I met her for lunch. I sat and poured my heart out to her and she just embraced me. She said, “Pat, I’ve never had an abortion, but I’ve had other sin in my life and this is what God says about this.” And then the next thing I knew, she was introducing me to her pastor and I had never met a pastor face to face before. And he listened to my story and he said, “Pat, God’s gonna use this story and He’s gonna save women through your story.” So, that was spoken over me as a brand-new Christian. I didn’t even know what that meant, but little did I know a few years from that I would be starting a crisis pregnancy center where I would share truth with women.
Jim: Boy, what a powerful word that he gave you and it’s been fulfilled.
Patricia: It did; he spoke it over me that day, you know after we had lunch and so, my argument is such the opposite. The body of Christ is here to share redemption and love and healing and restoration. The reason we fight against abortion is to protect women, not to put them down.
Jim: You know, Pat, I’m reminded of that Scripture and usually I think of this Scripture in the pro-life context, because the parallel is so strong, but it’s John 10:10, where Jesus said, “The thief (meaning Satan, the enemy of our soul, the one who wants to rob of us everything), that he comes to steal, kill and destroy us.”
Jim: And that’s really - that’s it, isn’t it?
Patricia: That’s it.
Jim: I mean...
Patricia: That’s clear.
Jim: ...if he can get you in the womb, he’s taken you out early. He doesn’t have to worry about you and he does that through that decision-making power. And again, our goal here is not to lay that guilt on anyone and I love the friend who said, “Listen, we all do things that grieve the Lord’s heart.”
Patricia: That’s right.
Jim: And I just want to say to you, if you’re that woman who has made that decision, maybe not even just once, maybe twice, I don’t know, call us. I mean, we are here for that reason and you won’t get that condemnation. You will hear the Gospel. You will hear the way forward, the light at the end of the tunnel.
Pat, your story is outstanding and I so appreciate the fact that you’re willing to share it, because many will be touched by it. And I want you to come back tomorrow to talk more about the guilt and grief that many post-abortive women have and how they can handle that in Christ and get that healing that we’ve talked about. I also want to know why you urge these women to share their stories with their friends and family and no longer hide behind this awful secret. Can you come back next time to bring more hope and healing to these wounded souls?
Patricia: I’d love that. Thank you.
John: We’re looking forward to hearing more of Pat Layton’s heart and her passion for hurting women and families next time. And we just want to say, if you’ve experienced any of the pain and shame that she described today, contact us here at Focus on the Family. We’ve mentioned our Counseling team, and we can set up an initial consultation for you with one of those counselors. Simply call 800-232-6459. Or you can learn more at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: And John, before we close this program, I want to encourage our listeners to get a copy of Pat’s Bible study guide -. This resource will help post-abortive women finally experience the love and forgiveness and freedom that God wants to give you. Don’t miss this opportunity. Get a copy for a friend or for your church. It’s an excellent tool God is using to help women find redemption within a caring, Christian community. And we can send you a complimentary copy of when you send a financial gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today.
John: And again, our website is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or donate when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Well please plan to join us tomorrow for a wonderful story from our guest about discovering God’s forgiveness and grace after her abortion.
Patricia: But then, um, as if God hadn’t done enough, we found ourselves the parents of a beautiful, adopted baby girl who had been born to a 16-year-old birth mother. And we just, you know, I heard the voice of God say, “This is what I’ve called you to save. This is what I knit together in a mother’s womb.”
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Patricia LaytonView Bio
Patricia Layton is a prolific speaker, an author and a life coach. She is also the founder of one of the nation's largest pregnancy resource centers and has spearheaded the leadership of an international post-abortion recovery ministry, an adoption agency and a professional client-coaching program. Pat has written six books including A Surrendered Life and Life Unstuck. She and her husband, Mike, have been married over 40 years and have three children and several grandchildren. Learn more about Pat by visiting her website, www.patlayton.net.