Stephen Arterburn: Every Abortion Involves at Least One Man

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Stephen Arterburn with his daughter, Madeline
Stephen Arterburn with his daughter, Madeline
Stephen Arterburn went to college to get a Christian education, but what happened is that he got a girl pregnant – and pressured her to have an abortion.

A few years ago, I was asked to speak at a Baylor University chapel service. And while there were a lot of things I wanted to say to the students, what I felt compelled to let them know was what happened to me there. I told them that I came to the school to get a Christian education, but what happened is that I got a girl pregnant – and I paid for her to have an abortion.

I didn’t fully grasp what I had done until about three days later. That’s when 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 it or undo it. It was done. I felt like I had sinned too much, gone too far. God could never use me, never forgive me.

There was no funeral, no way to grieve, no one I could talk to. The silent shame started ripping through me, and I had so many ulcers that I ended up in the hospital.

I was dealing with the physiological effects of post-abortion syndrome – the guilt, the shame and the silence. It was horrible.

More honesty required

A few days after I shared my story with the Baylor students, I received a phone call from the young lady I had been involved with. And she said, “I heard you told our story at Baylor Chapel.”

“Yes,” I said. “You know, I – I hope I did it in a way that no one would know that you were the person.”

“Oh, no, that’s not a problem,” she said. “I heard you said that you paid for the abortion.”

“Yes,” I said. “I wanted them to believe that I was responsible.”

“The next time you tell it,” she said, “maybe you should be a little more honest.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, you didn’t just pay for the abortion,” she said. “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. You pressured and you pressured. So I just did it because I didn’t think I had a choice.”

Well, it was pretty tough to hear 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.

Facing reality

I’ve learned that the man’s role doesn’t end once a baby is conceived. 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 … well, that was a tough reality to face.

I didn’t marry her. Years later, I married, and we very quickly discovered that we were an infertile couple. We could not have children. Seven years and thousands of dollars worth of trying, but every Mother’s Day was worse than the Mother’s Day before.

Then some Christian comes up to me and says, “Have you ever thought maybe that the reason you can’t have children is because you paid for an abortion when you were in college?” As if I didn’t have enough shame and regret! That person, of course, would have me believe that every bad thing in my life is a result of the abortion, and I was just getting what I deserved – that I should be willing to experience anything as a result of that shameful thing that I did.

The unspoken shame of abortion shows up in so many areas, and so many times the woman takes full responsibility. And yet every abortion involves at least one man. It could be a boyfriend, a husband, a father, a pastor, a physician or a counselor. So often I hear a woman say, “I chose to have an abortion when I was 14.” But the reality is that she didn’t choose it; she had an abortion done to her, put upon her by a man – a cowardly man just like me.

Finding forgiveness

And yet there is hope and healing.

For those of us who have chosen to end a life, we can live in that shame and that condemnation. We can focus on what was and what might have been. And we can live in that shame. Or we can live as God wants us to live – free of guilt, shame and condemnation.

Look at what it says in Hebrews 8:12 – “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins” (NLT). If you believe the Word of God is true, then you must believe that He wants you to live as if Jesus really did wipe out the consequences and pay the price for your sin.

Again, in Hebrews 10:17-18, it says, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds. And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices” (NLT). You do not need to sacrifice your life. You do not need to do what I did. I thought it was my calling to make God know that nobody felt
worse about their sin than me. That’s what Satan wanted. That’s not what God wanted.

Grace for all

God has grace for every story – grace for yours, and grace for mine. And that grace began to unfold in the summer of 1990. It was July 3, and I was in Atlanta for a speaking engagement. That day I had lunch with my publisher, Victor Oliver, and he asked, “What are you going to do about children?”

“Well, you know,” I said, “we’ve been doing this for seven years now, and I think we’re gonna look into adoption.” We didn’t know anything about it.

Victor said, “Steve, my best friend’s daughter lives here – she’s 16, she’s pregnant. The boy is 16. They can’t raise this child. They’re looking for a Christian couple to be the parents of their baby. Would you like to meet them?”

The best present ever

On July 4 we met this couple. They did the courageous thing – they didn’t have an abortion like I had chosen. And they decided that we would be the parents of their baby. So we flew back home and prepared to be parents. We received a phone call on Christmas Eve 1990 … our baby had been born.

We flew to Atlanta on Christmas Day. And for some reason, I don’t know why, that nurse brought this darling, gorgeous baby and put her right in my arms. It was like God was giving back to me the very thing that I had destroyed. That’s the kind of God of grace and mercy that we have.

A lot of people don’t believe that. They think that God wants us to suffer and that there’s no blessing for those who sin. And Madeline Arterburn was born on Christmas Eve.

I have the blessing of being a man who can share his past of death and destruction with acceptance – and to say that every bit of grace and mercy that God has given to me, He has also given to each and every one of us.

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