Grappling with Difficult Truths
Paula C. Ellefson felt scared. Becoming a mother during her senior year of high school was a threatening, imminent possibility.
“I did not want anyone to know I was pregnant because I was involved in a lot of activities,” Ellefson says. “I was a good student. I always got good grades and didn't want my athletic coaches to know what was going on. I certainly did not want my family to know.”
She had been working as a nightclub waitress when she became involved with the man who would have been her baby’s father — if he hadn’t driven her to an abortion facility.
“I thought I had no other options,” she says. “I just decided I did not want this child that I was carrying."
Ellefson says abortion was the instigator of an initial descent into a season of personal difficulty marked by frequent periods of intoxication.
“I started becoming very angry and didn’t understand why,” Ellefson recalls. “My life started to unravel a little bit. All the while, I pretended I was OK.”
RICH IN MERCY
Denise and Brian Walker, founders of the “abortion recovery” ministry Rich in Mercy, identify anger and substance abuse as common symptoms of “post-abortion trauma.” Located in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, Rich in Mercy says its mission is to “help men and women heal from abortion decisions, with mercy triumphing over judgment.”
“What folks have found is they may not exactly understand how abortion has played a part in the trauma in their lives,” says Denise, who is an ordained Assemblies of God minister. “All they know is that something is terribly, terribly wrong and they want answers.”
Rich in Mercy takes clients through an 8-week curriculum. One of the core goals of the program is to counter the feelings of self-hatred and shame that many clients identity with abortion.
“They leave with the truth that their babies are in heaven, that their babies are whole, that their babies are not mad at them, and that God is not mad at them,” Denise says.
The work of Rich in Mercy is rooted in the Walkers’ personal journey. They share a similar story to Ellefson’s. Before going through their own therapeutic journey, the Walkers had three abortions. Denise recalls lugging over a decade’s worth of pent-up anger with her into a ministry predecessor to Rich In Mercy known as Post Abortion Trauma Healing (PATH).
“The rage that I had been putting down for years literally creeped up from my foot, in my leg, up to my torso into my neck and I blew like Mount Vesuvius for nine weeks,” Denise says. Through PATH, the Walkers saw the abortions in new terms.
"I was a serial prenatal murderer," Denise says.
Brian notes that Rich in Mercy uses very specific language for abortion.
“We don’t call it a misstep or something or a poor decision,” Brian says. “We call it sin and we use the term of prenatal murder. Our participants over the years have found that actually to be liberating.”
Brian and Denise say Rich in Mercy walks clients through the process without judgment.
“When the person comes in the group we don’t say, ‘You’re a murderer,’” Brian explains. “That’s not the spirit of what we’re saying. We’re presenting it as a biblical truth of grace and love, but until we get to the truth of the matter you won’t get free from the lie of the matter.”
“We let them know that we are not here to judge,” Denise adds. “But you can’t have mercy if there wasn't something that had to be dealt with.”
They report they have seen people thrive after going through the program. Some, such as Ellefson, have become facilitators.
Ellefson completed the Rich In Mercy program in 2007, years after she’d had two abortions. She has gone on to become a recovery chaplain at Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge and to serve as a children’s pastor at Rochester Assembly. She is currently a Rich in Mercy facilitator and regional director for the southern Minnesota chapter.
She says that her journey through the Rich In Mercy program helped her to process grief related to her abortions that she had previously ignored.
“I had not recognized that I needed healing at that point,” says Ellefson, who is ordained with the AG. “Through Rich in Mercy, I’ve been able to understand God's heart toward me. I've had reconciliation.”