Maybe you have had it happen where a friend confides in you that she had an abortion and you are left wondering what to say. Or perhaps your girlfriend mentions in passing that she had an abortion in the past. Or maybe it’s your sister who tells you her secret that she can’t keep any longer. Or maybe it’s a post on social media where someone shares their abortion. 

Whatever the situation is, it’s important to know what not to say because the damage can run deep from your words if you inadvertently (or purposely) say something that is harmful. Saying the wrong thing can increase loneliness and compound grief in an already fragile situation.


Most of us notice when someone is listening to us. They are looking at us, not elsewhere. They may be leaning forward to show with their body language that they are engaged in the conversation. They don’t interrupt. They don’t try to finish our sentences. 

Being a good listener is key when someone comes to you to talk about their past abortion experience(s). Compassion and attention can go a long way for someone who needs a good listener. 

These tips are great for engaging in a sensitive conversation, but can certainly be used for almost any conversation: 

  • Stay calm and focused: be present and control your own emotions
  • Be an active listener: nod at appropriate times to show that you are hearing what the other person is saying, look the person in the eyes. 
  • Use body language appropriately: if possible, lean a bit toward the person to show them you are engaged and don’t cross your arms. 
  • Offer support: be compassionate and offer to support the person however they feel they need it most. 


When someone has experienced abortion, coming across as unsympathetic, judgmental, dismissive, and presumptuous are all main themes to avoid. 

Here are some specific things that can be really harmful for someone to hear who has experienced abortion: 

Don’t say: “You murdered your child.”

Believe it or not, people who have experienced abortions hear this one often and it is terribly unhelpful. The last thing someone who experienced abortion needs is a harsh, judgmental reaction. 

One man described seeing “Murderer” and “Rot in Hell” signs outside an abortion clinic when his girlfriend had an abortion they didn’t want, but her mother insisted on. The experience and those words haunted him for decades. Years later, when he returned to church looking for solace, he was met with a sermon full of harsh language condemning abortion as murder, which further intensified his pain and sense of emotional isolation.

One woman shared publicly about her abortions and healing journey. The comments on that post are a prime example of what not to say to someone who experienced abortion. These are just a sample of what was written: 

“So, she murdered [her] babies and found it uncomfortable…Rot in hell girlfriend.” 

“She is evil and killed [her] babies why was she not on birth control”

Another person sharing their grief and emotional struggles after abortion was met with comments such as:

“I hope every person that decides to murder an unborn child will suffer the rest of their life with knowing they murdered their child. No forgiveness from me.”

This isn’t what a person who has experienced abortion needs to hear and can be incredibly harmful.

Don’t say: “It’s not a big deal, lots of people have abortions.” 

This kind of comment is dismissive of that person’s feelings and experiences. Just because abortion is common doesn’t mean that it is without emotional, physical, or psychological harm. 

Ask the person how they are feeling about their abortion experience(s) and validate their feelings. Don’t dismiss their experience. 

One woman who contacted Support After Abortion for help experienced both being called a murderer and having her grief dismissed:

“I had an abortion months ago and feel horrible. I cry all the time and hate myself for getting the procedure. I’m so full of sadness and regret, but the clinic told me only 5% of women regret the decision. My boyfriend wanted the baby, and calls me a murderer and other names. And everyone else in my life is telling me it was months ago and I should be over it by now. “ 

The man mentioned above who was haunted by his girlfriend’s abortion and messages of “murderer,” also experienced disenfranchised grief. A therapist he told about his struggles related to the abortion told him that emotional impact from abortion “isn’t a thing” and wouldn’t discuss it. The man said that statement and dismissive attitude kept him from talking about it or seeking help for another 15 years.

Don’t say: “You can just have other kids when you’re ready.” or “At least you already have a child.”

This is in the same vein as the above comment about abortion not being a big deal. Saying this to a person who has experienced abortion invalidates their particular experience with that particular pregnancy. And implying that having other children can alleviate the emotional impact of abortion oversimplifies the complex feelings that individuals may experience after abortion. Pushing someone toward future pregnancies without acknowledging their current emotional circumstances or giving them space to heal emotionally can add further distress. This is not a helpful thing to hear for someone who has experienced abortion. 

Don’t say: “That must be hard for you.” or “Don’t worry, you did the right thing.”

Automatically assuming any kind of feeling that the person who experienced abortion is going through is not being a good listener. Let the person explain how they feel. Maybe they don’t feel like it was a tough decision or that they did the best they could in their situation. Maybe they feel like they did the wrong thing and need to get the experience out in the open. Maybe they are suffering in another way and felt the need to tell you. Don’t assume that the person is feeling any particular emotion until they reveal it to you.

Don’t say: Nothing at all 

Awkward silence is certainly something all of us have probably experienced. However, when nothing is said after someone confides in you that they have experienced abortion, it can feel even heavier to that person. They may regret telling you.

Of course, you may be initially surprised to hear that someone you know experienced abortion, but with quick thinking and by leaning in toward compassion, you can bridge that space between the revelation of the abortion(s) and your initial response, leaving awkward silence behind. 


Whitney Goodman, LMFT, suggests questions to ask ourselves as a way to create awareness of how the types of statements mentioned above shut down conversations and are obstacles to growth and healing:

  • What am I hoping to achieve by saying this?
  • Why might this be dismissive?
  • Why do I say this to myself or others?
  • How does this statement make me feel when I say it to others? 
  • How does it make me feel when I say it to myself?

By reflecting on these questions, we can begin to dismantle barriers to meaningful communication and foster environments helpful to personal growth and healing.


Let’s revisit the Tips for Being a Good Listener that we started off with: stay calm and focused, be an active listener, use appropriate body language, be compassionate, and offer support.

Our research shows that one-third of women and three-fourths of men experienced adverse changes after abortion. Further, 3 out of 5 women and 4 out of 5 men want help to process their emotions. Yet only 18% know where to go for support. You can be part of their healing journeys by being a compassionate listener and having resources ready to share for those desiring support.


Support After Abortion encourages following a simple four-step process when you encounter someone who has been impacted by abortion. The steps are: examine your judgment, walk in compassion, ask if they would like to share their experience, and connect them with support. Read our previous blog on Compassionate Conversation Training to learn more about these four steps and the importance of showing compassion, not judging, and being a safe space for someone who has experienced abortion. 


You might also find insights from our blog discussing the harm of incivility and how it can be an obstacle to overcoming grief and restoring well-being. The article is specifically focused on obstacles to men’s grief healing, yet the negative impact of incivility on mental health is universal. The article delves into four categories of communication that can wound others and why negative comments are harmful and can lead others to not seek the support they desire and deserve. 


Here are two resources you can keep handy. Or, just remember our website – supportafterabortion.com – so you can point people to it who are in need of compassionate care after abortion. 


We offer an introductory abortion healing program called Keys to Hope and Healing that walks people through the process of healing from their abortion experience(s). It is available for women and men, in English and Spanish, religious and secular versions. It can be done independently through a free self-guided online program, or virtually or in-person with a mentor or licensed counselor or in a facilitated support group. 


We also offer our free After Abortion Line that people can reach out to for help by online chat, phone or text at 844-289-HOPE (4673), email, or messaging on Facebook or Instagram. We offer free, confidential, compassionate support. We can connect individuals to the healing resource that best meets their preferences. 


Explore our Provider Training Center and attend our free monthly Abortion Healing Provider webinars, Men’s Healing Matters webinars, and Quarterly Facilitator Trainings.

© Support After Abortion




I’m a lost cause
Baby, don’t waste your time on me
I’m so damaged beyond repair
Life has shattered my hopes and my dreams

Somebody save me, me from myself
I’ve spent so long living in Hell

These lyrics from Jelly Roll’s song Save Me speak about feeling like he has messed up so much that he’s beyond saving. And yet, he still has enough hope to call out for someone to help.
This song echoes the words and emotions of many of our clients, such as these:

– I don’t know how to live with this. I can’t forgive myself for having the abortion. I have no hope. I don’t think my life is important in any way anymore.
– I’ve been told countless times that I need to forgive myself but I can’t, how can I? Nothing I do has helped me feel like I will ever heal from this.
– I’m stuck. But I feel like moving on is betraying myself and my baby. I don’t know how to not get consumed by all of this grief. I don’t know how to forgive myself.
– Everyone tells me I need to move on, including my girlfriend, but I don’t know how. I try to feel better, but it’s like I’m just going through the motions of life. I feel helpless and like no one is there for me.
– Before my abortion, I thought I would feel relieved and be able to move forward. But I’ve been overwhelmed with sadness that I’m afraid won’t ever go away. I’m so stuck with grief. I need help.
– I wish people knew how lonely and suffocating it is after abortion. No matter what I do, I really can’t run from it. I’m hurting so much, and I can’t stop crying because the pain is just unbearable. Help.

Jelly Roll’s real-life story of transformation from unhealthy choices and patterns is inspiring – and so are those of our clients who forge paths of change.

The first step is moving past feeling stuck and without hope, unable to forgive ourselves. Although, as Save Me shows so eloquently, it may feel like it in the moment, none of us are a lost cause. So, let’s explore what it takes to get unstuck, forgive ourselves, and move forward.


Everyone experiences emotional challenges differently, and signs can vary from person to person. You might be emotionally stuck if you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms:

  • Persistent negative thoughts
  • Lack of motivation
  • Constant worry, overthinking, or what-ifs
  • Emotional numbness
  • Experiencing flashback or triggers
  • Engaging in repetitive unhealthy behaviors
  • Depending on unhealthy coping mechanisms to avoid dealing with emotions, such as substance misuse, overeating, overworking, or excessive use of tv, internet or gaming


We can feel stuck when we are disappointed about something. Worrying about what others think or how they might judge us can make us freeze. Sometimes we’re afraid we might have to give up something to make a change. Many times feeling stuck is a result of overwhelming negative emotions – we feel scared, sad, anxious, unworthy, guilty, angry, lonely, betrayed, ashamed… and it just feels too hard to move forward.



Grappling with our emotions and past experiences, decisions, or regrets can weigh us down. The burden can be heavy and leave us feeling trapped in a cycle of self-condemnation. It’s okay to feel stuck, overwhelmed, or even lost. The first step toward moving forward is acknowledging our emotions. Confront your grief, regret, anger, sadness, etc. head on without judgment. Avoiding the facts or denying your emotions only prolongs the process. So, take some time to identify and reflect on what happened and what you’re feeling. Some people find journaling to be a powerful tool that helps them see more clearly and make sense of their emotions. By understanding the root of your emotions, decisions, and behaviors, you can start to unravel the layers that keep you stuck.


Explore what you feel guilty, regretful, or angry about. Understand the actions or decisions that led to the situation. Be specific and honest with yourself about what happened and acknowledge your role in the situation. Taking responsibility doesn’t mean blaming yourself excessively. Understand that everyone makes mistakes; it’s a part of being human. If your actions or words affected others, apologize sincerely and seek their forgiveness. However, remember that you can’t control how others will respond, and their forgiveness is not always within your control.


Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer a loved one facing a similar situation. You are not defined solely by your past actions. Speak to yourself with words of encouragement and compassion. Engage in activities that bring you comfort and joy. Incorporate positive habits into your daily routines, such as regular exercise, balanced diet, and sufficient sleep. Taking care of your physical and mental well-being can significantly contribute to a more compassionate outlook on yourself.


Our thoughts have a significant impact on our emotions. Identify your negative thoughts and patterns. Recognize when you’re being critical or condemning of yourself. Ask yourself questions to help you challenge these ideas. For example, Are these thoughts based on facts, or are they assumptions or exaggerations? Try to change the way you talk to yourself. Try saying “I’m feeling stuck” instead of “I am stuck.” Substitute negative thoughts with positive affirmations that emphasize your strengths and achievements.

Often when we feel stuck, that particular area of life consumes our thoughts. Spend some time appreciating what is going well with your health, relationships, work, or other important parts of life. Watch our January 2024 webinar walking through a Life Balance Wheel Assessment, which can help you identify the most important areas of life for you and objectively assess what may need attention and what is working well. This exercise can help redirect negative thoughts and offer insight and a clearer picture of what’s going on.


Shift your focus from dwelling on the past to living in the present and planning for the future. Set new goals and aspirations, and work towards them. Cultivate a positive mindset that emphasizes growth and progress.

Ask yourself What is the next smallest step I can take? Then commit to spending a short time – even 5-10 minutes on that. This technique can be especially useful when you feel frozen – stuck. Maybe today you feel so depressed you called in sick to work. Maybe your next smallest step is to get a shower or brush your teeth. Maybe you feel like you have no control in your life. Maybe your next smallest step is to identify one area of life – any choice – where you can feel control. Perhaps it’s deciding what you want for dinner, applying for one job, or texting one friend.

If your regret is related to a specific behavior, develop a plan for change. Outline concrete steps you can take to avoid repeating the same actions in the future. This proactive approach can help you regain a sense of control and empowerment.


You don’t have to navigate this journey alone. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust, whether that’s a family member, friend, peer facilitator, mentor, or therapist can provide a sense of relief and help you gain valuable insights.

If you find it challenging to forgive yourself or if the guilt and shame persist, consider seeking the support of a therapist or counselor. They can provide guidance, care, and strategies to help you navigate through your emotions and move forward.


Getting unstuck emotionally is a process. And the power to forgive yourself and move forward starts with acknowledging your emotions, identifying the facts and accepting responsibility, being compassionate with yourself, reframing negative thoughts and self-talk, setting realistic goals and focusing on solutions, and seeking support. Your emotional well-being is worth the journey. And Support After Abortion is here to listen and connect you to healing options that meet your needs and preferences.


Two resources that are particularly helpful in exploring our emotions and behaviors are:

Keys to Hope and Healing, which is an introductory abortion healing resource available for women and men, in English and Spanish, religious and secular versions. Resources include booklets, journals, facilitator’s guide, training videos, and self-guided video series.

Unraveled Roots: Exposing the Hidden Causes of Damaging Behaviors, which helps individuals identify the root causes behind damaging choices and patterns to change their life and legacy by establishing new, healthier patterns one small step at a time. Resources include book, journal, facilitator’s guide, training videos, and self-guided video series. A men’s version is coming soon.


Reach out to our After Abortion Line by online chat, phone, text, email or messaging on Facebook or Instagram. We offer free, confidential, compassionate support. We can connect you to the healing resource that best meets your preferences – that may be one-on-one, group, or independent; counseling or peer facilitator; virtual, in person, or self-guided; religious or secular; weekend, weekly, or self-paced, etc. Check out our website for information, videos, self-guided healing, and more for women and men.


Explore our Provider Training Center and attend our free monthly Abortion Healing Provider webinars, Men’s Healing Matters webinars, and Quarterly Facilitator Trainings.

About the Author
Michele serves as Communications Manager for Support After Abortion. She holds a B.A. in International Business and a M.B.A. with an emphasis in Marketing. She and her husband have experienced reproductive loss through three miscarriages and stillborn twins. They live in Greenville, SC with their three daughters.

Understanding Codependency & Abortion

Understanding Codependency & Abortion


“Codependency is one of the biggest topics in abortion healing,” said Lisa Rowe, CEO of Support After Abortion and licensed mental health therapist, as she opened the webinar on Codependency. She explained that questions and comments from abortion healing providers during recent months indicated a desire to explore more about codependency for themselves and their clients. 

Support After Abortion is responding to those requests by offering a three-tiered look at codependency: a toe-dip into the topic today, followed by a 90-minute waist-deep look next week, and continuing with multiple opportunities for a deep dive by joining a group working through an 8-10 week course on codependency.


Lisa explained, as someone who has been in codependency recovery for over a decade, that the description of codependency that makes the most sense to her is that “in order for dysfunctional relationships to exist – we need someone who makes a mess and somebody who cleans it up.” 

She explained that as a child she “quickly learned that love meant helping or fixing other people” because that’s what was modeled to her and that’s where she found value and affirmation. Lisa shared that she realized much later in life that by carrying this way of finding love and acceptance into adolescence and adulthood, she found partners who made messes and needed her help. 

Lisa noted that helping people is a good thing, but it may be a red flag depending on our motives.

Lisa read a paragraph from her book Unraveled Roots: Exposing the Hidden Causes of Damaging Behaviors that discusses how trees planted too close together can become intertwined and limit their growth potential, drawing a parallel to codependency in relationships.

What does codependency look like?

Lisa unpacked the image at the top of this flyer and encouraged attendees to look for the following while reflecting on the image :

  • Notice the body language
  • Notice what you think they’re thinking about themselves
  • Notice the way the strings are attached
  • Notice if the strings are really attached, or if it is a perception
  • Think of someone you connect with this image – maybe yourself or a client  
  • Think about how this shows up in unexpected pregnancies, and in our offices

Lisa described how in her own life she “at times lacked self-esteem and purpose.” She “tried to wrangle people who turned away from me to try to wrangle them back in. Trying to control everything, including men I was in relationships with, coworkers, my kids.” She explained codependency as an unhealthy attachment to being needed in order to be in control.

Codependency and Unexpected Pregnancy

Lisa pointed out that both women and men can be codependent. So while the image illustrates a woman who is codependent, the ideas being communicated could easily be related to a man.

“Envision the woman in the blue shirt being unexpectedly pregnant and how the dependent connection to her partner influences her abortion decision,” Lisa said. “Or vice versa, imagine a man in the blue shirt with an unspoken tether to the woman and how that impacts his abortion thinking.”

10 Signs of Codependency

Lisa then went through each of the ten signs of codependency on the flyer including:

fear of rocking the boat or upsetting others, having a hard time thinking about your needs in a relationship, worrying about others excessively, obsessing about pleasing others, easily losing yourself in others’ drama/problems, being more comfortable taking care of others than yourself, tending to overshare or overgive, struggling to set boundaries, suffering from self-doubt, and having been raised by a caregiver who was narcissistic, non-nurturing, or had an addiction.


How Many of the Signs Mean You’re Codependent?

“If you have one that hits you,” Lisa said, “I’d want you to do a deep dive to better understand why that one area exists in your life. We don’t have to call it codependency, but let’s just say this is a risk factor for unhealthy behavior in relationships. It could be an indicator of low self-esteem. It could be an indicator of looking to somebody else to value you because you don’t value yourself.” 

Lisa said the goal is to understand yourself in a different way, and she offered some questions for self-reflection:

  • How do I feel about myself? 
  • Can I be alone? 
  • If I can’t be alone, what’s the reason for that? 
  • When I am in relationships, do I feel like an equal partner, or do I feel like I’m pulling the weight a lot? 
  • Can I make decisions by myself, or do I struggle with that? 
  • What was my paradigm growing up? 
  • What did I see in relationships that were modeled to me? 
  • How did I see conflict resolved? 
  • What is my motive?

“There are so many things in there that really require us to do deep dives within ourselves and see what our motive is,” Lisa said.” That’s the number one indicator. What is our motive? Do we know who we are, and can we really determine who we are without somebody else? These can be really hard things to ask ourselves.” 

How can we identify if a relationship can become healthy or not?

“All relationships can be renewed or rectified,” Lisa said, “as long as you have renewed… yourself.” She continued, “If we trust ourselves, have an alignment in ourselves so that we know what we want and what we don’t want. We know what our needs are and what we don’t need. We know what we’re secure with and what we’re not. From there, you can enter into any situation and decide how you want to handle it.”

“Often codependent people are like castles,” Lisa said. “Picture them as a Rapunzel-like castle protected by a moat and controlling the drawbridge that lets people in or keeps them out. She explained that we have control, but many have let the bridge down and open – or shut tight – for too long “making all or nothing decisions in relationships.” 

Lisa talked about the importance of connecting with ourselves first. Then we can decide what relationships, situations, or places aren’t healthy for us.

What’s the best practice language for codependency?

Lisa described two schools of thought regarding terms that describe codependency in people. 

Person-first language means we would say “a man with codependency” or “a woman who struggles with codependency” rather than saying “a codependent woman.” This is similar to the recommendation to say “person with substance abuse disorder” instead of “addict” or “person who struggles with alcohol” not “alcoholic.” 

Alcoholics Anonymous follows a different protocol. Their 12-Step “belief system is that we are powerless over that thing,” Lisa said. “And in order to start a healing journey, we need to admit that that thing has power over us. So oftentimes you hear people say I’m an alcoholic rather than saying I struggle with alcohol.”

She cautioned though that many people don’t want to be identified by their issues. For example, we often talk about this with abortion. “Rather than saying post-abortive woman, we encourage this language: woman who has experienced abortion.” 

What can we do to learn more? Next Steps

Today was a toe-dip into codependency.  “If you’re contemplating what else this could mean for you, your clients, your relationships,” Lisa said, “We have several options for you.” She encouraged providers to remember, you can’t sit with somebody else’s junk until you’ve sat with your own. We’re really helping you develop that space for yourself to get the healing you need and better understanding.”

Waist-Deep Dive into Codependency 

90 minute webinar with Lisa

11:30a-1:00p ET OCT 25

Register here

Topics will include attachment, early childhood trauma, lived experience, and intersections with codependency. The webinar will include time for dialogue and Q&A, so come with questions!

Deep Dive into Codependency

Three options for groups that will last 6-10 weeks. 


This group is for women and will take a religious approach to looking at Codependency using the book You’re Not Crazy, You’re Codependent. The group will meet on Wednesdays at 12p-1p ET beginning NOV 8. MAX 10 people

To register, email: programvolunteers@supportafterabortion.com


This group is for women and will take a religious approach to looking at Codependency using the book Conquering Codependency. The group will meet on Tuesdays at 1p-3p ET beginning JAN 23, 2024. To register, email: HeartsRestored@claritycares.org


This group is for men and women and will take a secular approach to looking at Codependency. The group will begin in January. TBD: dates, time, and book.

For more info, email: programvolunteers@supportafterabortion.com

What would you do first today if you identified symptoms of codependency in yourself?

“I wouldn’t go changing the world today,” Lisa said. She encouraged attendees to sit with their feelings, pause in that space. She suggested expressing what you’ve learned with a healthy friend, reading Unraveled Roots, journalling, and taking a deeper leap with the 90-minute webinar and/or the weeks-long groups. “Don’t walk away from today thinking something really stuck with me, but it scares me; I’m going to ignore it,” Lisa advised. “Remember it’s a journey. You didn’t get here overnight,” she continued. “Some people want to go change every relationship. I want you to take a pause in that space, create a network of support, and walk slowly into this.” 

Conversations with Attendees

Deborah shared, “How I would have loved to have heard this early on.” She said it’s interesting to look back on her journey in light of the 10 Signs You May be Codependent and realize what she was doing back then. She said she and her husband didn’t discuss their abortion for 23 years, leading to “a lot of life patterns and self destructive things.” She said, “How codependency affects our lives and our choices is very real.”

Georgia said, “I had the privilege of doing an Unraveled Roots virtual group. It was eye-opening. I didn’t realize I had a codependency problem. But it explained a lot through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Some of the choices I made, most of which were self-destructive, stemmed from certain aspects of codependency, and I wasn’t aware of it. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. It helped me get to the point where I’m able to identify when my borders are coming down, especially when I’m working with a client. Then I stop and ask myself, Is this an actual need or my needing to help. It allows me to step back if this isn’t going to benefit my client. It’s not something we may be readily aware of, but it’s there, and it interferes with effectively serving our clients.”

Click here to watch the video of this webinar.

Click here to email for more information about Support After Abortion’s coaching program for facilitators. 

Click here to register for the next Abortion Healing Provider webinar.

Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Resource Library.

Click here to explore Support After Abortion’s services, resources, and training for Abortion Healing Providers.

One Grandmother’s Story of Abortion: The Ripple Effect of Abortion

One Grandmother’s Story of Abortion: The Ripple Effect of Abortion

That sunny, summer Sunday began with joy, hope, and excitement for Linda and her family. It ended with anguish, devastation, and wounded relationships. The pain was one they never anticipated would happen in their family. The light at the end of their dark tunnel came months later in the form of a Support After Abortion tagline scrolling along the bottom of the TV. Linda was the first to step onto the road to healing and restoration. 

Emotions after abortion can affect, and even feel overwhelming, for not only the woman and man involved directly, but also their parents, siblings, friends, and others. For parents, the struggle is often two-fold: helping their daughter or son and coping with their own emotions and grief about the loss of their grandchild(ren). 

This is the story of one grandmother’s experience of the abortion of her first grandchild and the keys to her hope, healing, and recovery. 

In reading Linda’s story, keep in mind that everyone has their own story. Parts of her story may resonate with you, others may be far from your own. Our stories are all unique, yet hearing about others’ lived experiences can provide insights and understanding, or we may simply benefit from knowing we’re not the only one struggling to cope with this type of loss.


The family has a tradition of joining together for Sunday dinners. Linda’s young married daughter, Sarah, was in her senior year at a Christian college. Just one Sunday before “that day,” Linda suspected her daughter was pregnant. As the family went back-to-school shopping, they enthusiastically pointed out baby furniture, strollers, car seats, and baby clothes, eagerly anticipating the arrival of their newest family member. 

Linda and her husband spent the next week excitedly making plans to welcome their first grandchild by Easter. But, unbeknownst to them, rather than excitement and joy, their daughter Sarah’s week was filled with fear. Sarah received confirmation of her pregnancy on Tuesday, but was worried that a prescription she was taking could cause birth defects. Although her doctor tried to reassure her, the information she read online greatly troubled her and her husband. They decided to travel out of state for an abortion that Friday to avoid the mandatory waiting period in their own state.

Two days later, the family had Sunday dinner together as usual, but Linda felt something was off. She had an odd feeling all week during phone calls with her daughter and with her sudden trip out of town. After dinner, Sarah and her husband left, but Sarah quickly came back inside. She was crying. Linda said, “My mind was going through a list of what it could be.” When Sarah said, “I did something,” Linda thought, “No, that can’t be the truth.” At the same time her husband said, “You had an abortion, didn’t you?” Linda said, “I’ve never screamed or yelled before, but I did that night. And my usually calm husband went outside and destroyed the backyard. Our youngest flowed with tears. I’ve never seen so many tears as we all cried that night.”

Sarah told them that she was scared something would be wrong with the baby, but that once she was on the clinic table, she tried to get out of it. She asked for her phone to call her mom. But, the clinic worker told her it was too late to call her mom, that the procedure needed to start now. She was not allowed to have her husband with her, either. So, he didn’t know she was struggling with second thoughts. She was all alone in the room for the first time for any medical issue, having always had either her mom or husband with her before. She thought she had no right to stop it. “After all the emotion and pain and everything,” Linda said, “thinking of Sarah going through that experience on her own, by herself, hurts us all so much.”


After that Sunday, every person in the family was in pain. The following weeks were full of crying, anguish, anger, and feeling empty for Linda. Sarah had been Linda’s own unplanned pregnancy while she was in college and working full-time. Linda thought, “If I chose Sarah’s life, how could Sarah choose abortion?” Linda said she wondered how this happened when she had always been pro-life and raised her daughters that way. She kept thinking about the grandchild she would never see or hold. She didn’t want to speak to her daughter or son-in-law. “I will always remember that week, Sunday to Sunday,” she said.

Linda’s younger daughter was devastated. Linda explained that because they’re so close in age and did everything together, it was very painful that one sister did something major without talking with the other sister. She felt that her sister didn’t trust her and kept saying, “Why didn’t you tell me, I would have been there for you.” After that they didn’t speak to each other for half a year. “It really hurt me to see their wounded relationship,” Linda said, “but I had to pause on that, so I can be a mom to both my daughters.” 

After several months of thinking there had to be a way to heal for herself, as a family, and to help her daughter with her emotions, the days were just getting worse as her grandchild’s due date approached. Linda even asked her doctor about going to therapy, but didn’t tell him that her depression was about an abortion. “I wanted to protect my daughter, and I didn’t want them to think I was a bad mother,” she said. Linda felt she had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. 


In addition to short-term psychological impacts such as grief, emotional distress, feelings of isolation, and changed family relationships, grandparents may have long-term psychological health effects and poor health outcomes after the loss of a grandchild during pregnancy, according to a study led by Jane Lockton, RN, psychology Ph.D. candidate, and grief researcher at the University of Adelaide in Australia. While the study was specific to “miscarriage, stillbirth, and medically-indicated termination,” the findings are relevant to other induced abortion situations.


“A key overarching finding is that grandparents must be recognized as grievers in their own right when a grandchild dies in pregnancy,” Lockton’s study says. “Our study also recognizes the importance of support at all time points in grief processing to prevent long-term distress, poor health outcomes and family disruption.” 

The study emphasized the value of counseling and peer-facilitated support groups in “reducing complications of unresolved grief” where “bereaved individuals can share stories … being there to support each other and talking about their feelings and experience” and helping to “process and integrate the loss.”

One grandparent in the study said, “It would have been helpful to know that counselling was available, and that it was ok for me to have it … My own experience didn’t help me, I didn’t know what to do with all this.”

“I found all kinds of mental health resources,” Linda said, “but nothing for grandparent abortion grief or for other family members going through this, who are greatly affected by abortion.” 


One day in January, as she watched the March for Life on TV, she saw www.SupportAfterAbortion.com scroll across the screen. She immediately grabbed a piece of paper, scribbled down the information, and hurried to the computer to read everything on the website. She felt an overwhelming sense that this was the help she needed. She sent an email and connected with the After Abortion Line. Linda said, “It was the first time I was able to say, My daughter had an abortion, and we need help healing as a family.” 

Linda joined a Support After Abortion support group based on a book called Unraveled Roots: Exposing the Hidden Causes of Damaging Behaviors. “I wanted to get to the root of how this came about – for myself. Was it me? Was it something I did when Sarah was younger? Unraveled Roots made me realize it wasn’t my fault. It opened my eyes to what happened to me when I was younger and how I am as a woman now, and that I’m not the only one who went through things as a child.” 

Linda later participated in another Support After Abortion virtual support group called Keys to Hope and Healing (KHH) for people who have experienced or been impacted by abortion. Listening to others’ points of view, and hearing someone share what she went through as a college student who had an abortion, “helped me understand and forgive Sarah and start asking how she was doing physically, mentally,” Linda said.

“Just being able to know I’m not alone out there. I’m not the only grandparent that grieves for a child they never met,” was such a helpful part of the group,” Linda said. 

One meaningful activity from the KHH program for Linda was the participants’ memorializing their children lost to abortion. “I wear a necklace that has a little pearl in it the size my grandchild was when she left this world,” Linda shared. “I bought one for each of us. My youngest wears her necklace all the time. She was looking forward to being an aunt, and it really means a lot to her to carry the pearl next to her heart. Sarah also wears her necklace, although not every day.” 


Later that year, Linda became a volunteer with Support After Abortion. She worked on the After Abortion Line listening compassionately and connecting hurting women and men with healing resources that best meet their needs in the same way that she was helped when she reached out. 

“As I listen to them,” Linda said, “I think that could be my child calling, and I want to show love, and be there to listen to them.” She continued, “After a few minutes, their whole voice changes, you can hear that hope breathe into them. I’m so thankful I have the opportunity to be on the After Abortion Line for them.


“When our granddaughter’s due date came around,” Linda shared, “there was just quietness in the family. It hurt. She would have been there for her first Easter.” Linda texted her daughter, “I love you very much,” and Sarah texted back, “I love you, too.”

Sarah keeps very busy trying not to think or talk about it. “She can’t even say the word abortion,” Linda said, “It’s very tough as a mom to see her in such pain.” Linda shared that her husband is still struggling with his grief and never talks about it. 

“I’m sure it’ll impact us this Christmas, too…it would have been her first Christmas,” Linda said. “I believe we’re not done mourning her or being sad, but we’re slowly reconnecting as a family.”


“Absolutely!” Linda said. She described her previous work volunteering with a pregnancy center. “Women would tell us they’d had an abortion before and didn’t want to do that again. While I never judged our clients, our focus was on the baby, not what the woman who had previously experienced abortion(s) was going through during this pregnancy.” 

Linda explained that after her daughter’s abortion and volunteering with Support After Abortion, “I realized pro-woman means taking care of the woman in her needs at that moment. The baby is important, of course, but we need to also consider what can we do for her?  What is she going through?” 

Linda also shared that now she better understands “that women don’t just have an abortion because their baby is unplanned or unwanted. There are fears, emotions, and suffering behind that decision.


Talking openly about abortion and abortion grief “is important for healing,” Linda said. “To start healing from anything for any reason, you first have to voice what happened.” She explained that for abortion, “we need people to say it. We need to be able to tell our story of what we went through. That helps the healing.” 


“Absolutely, because it’s not talked about,” Linda said. She explained that before her experiences, “I just thought a woman went to Planned Parenthood and didn’t grieve at all. I had never heard that a woman can experience emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety after an abortion or that for some it can go on for years. I think most of the public is like I was and doesn’t understand that.”


“Sharing your abortion experience can be very scary,” Linda explained. “It’s something that’s not welcome in our society because it’s not seen as something that people need help with afterward.” Linda continued, “We should allow someone to share their story without jumping to a conclusion or judgment.”


Linda shared that she felt as a parent her next step was to be a grandparent, and “when that step is gone, the first thought is there’s no hope,” Linda said. She encouraged people to give themselves permission to mourn. “Even if I wasn’t the one who had the abortion,” she said, “it was okay for me to grieve, cry, get angry, get help, to say this is my story, this is what I went through, this is what my child went through.”

“If one in four women have abortions, what about the grandparents?” Linda said. Sharing her story, she said, might help others to “know they’re not the grandparent who’s sad, who’s going through this.”

She suggested asking yourself, What do I need to do for my healing to begin?



Whether you are the woman or man involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion or their parent, relative, or friend, and you are experiencing emotions such as anger, regret, grief, depression, guilt, anxiety, etc., know that this is common. Whether it was days or decades ago, your emotions can bubble up and become an obstacle to your emotional health and well-being. Your pain is real. You matter. We are here to listen and help.

Reach out to our After Abortion Line by online chat, phone, text, email or messaging on Facebook or Instagram. We offer free, confidential, compassionate support. We can connect you to the healing resource that best meets your preferences – that may be counseling, support group, virtual, in person, religious, secular, etc. Check out our website for information, videos, self-guided healing, and more for  women and men.


Through our research, curricula, training, and resources, Support After Abortion educates and equips abortion healing providers to meet clients where they are, assess what they need, and offer a safe space to provide that service and impact their healing. Explore our Provider Training Center and attend our free monthly Abortion Healing Provider webinars.

* It’s not uncommon for people who experience early pregnancy loss to attribute a gender to the baby. 


About the Author

Michele serves as Communications Manager for Support After Abortion. She and her husband have experienced reproductive loss through three miscarriages and stillborn twins. They live in Greenville, SC with their three daughters.

 © Support After Abortion

The Intersection of Generational Trauma and Abortion

The Intersection of Generational Trauma and Abortion

Just like passing down the hurt, we can pass down the healing, and help prevent future pain.

Oh wow, that was just like my mom (or dad)!  We often hear our parents echoed in our words, thoughts, and behaviors. It might be a phrase we say, a focus on good grades, or a career choice like following in the footsteps of a parent’s and grandparent’s military service. It might be behaviors we copy because that’s what mom or dad did – like the way we fold towels, let people enter traffic ahead of us, keep food and water in the car to offer homeless people we encounter, or run five miles when we’re stressed. We may not even be aware or consciously think about these things. Often they can be endearing signs of family unity. On the other hand, we can also pick up and repeat negative or harmful traits and behaviors. 

What is Generational Trauma?

“Generational trauma is a pattern of behavior that follows from one generation to the next,” says Lisa Rowe, licensed mental health therapist and CEO of Support After Abortion. Rowe named some of the more commonly known generational traumas such as substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, anger, depression, homelessness, and poverty. 

Psychologist Bertrina Olivia West Al-Mahdi, Ph.D. offered other examples of repeating behavioral patterns in Men’s Health magazine, such as having “frugal or overindulgent spending habits,” or “eating unhealthy food because it’s more affordable.” 

Family patterns of seeing “discussing feelings as a sign of weakness,” being “emotionally numb,” or being “anxious and overly protective even when there is no threat of danger” are listed as examples of “how trauma affects multiple generations” in a blog by the Austin, Texas counseling group Ensemble Therapy.

Can Abortion be a Trauma?

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) describes trauma as “challenging emotional consequences that living through a distressing event can have for an individual.” 

Al-Mahdi says, “Trauma refers to stress that’s so overwhelming and severe that it impacts your emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, and other parts of your well-being.” 

The experiences women and men share with Support After Abortion – on our After Abortion Line, in our Keys to Hope and Healing after-abortion virtual support groups, and at conferences and events – certainly reflect overwhelming and challenging emotional distress, as these client examples show:

I’m dealing with miserable depression, mood swings, and very paralyzing, intrusive thoughts since my abortion. 

I feel so depressed, and I’m struggling massively to sleep, eat, or even think properly. It’s getting worse. I am seriously struggling with my mental health.

I started using marijuana to cope with the emotions, anger, grief, anxiety and depression after my girlfriend’s abortion 10 years ago. The abortion has affected my ability to form and maintain relationships. 

I struggled for 15 years with alcohol and drug abuse, acting out, poor decisions, and destruction after encouraging my girlfriend to have an abortion.

I’m full of regrets and thoughts of suicide because of how much I’m hurting after my abortion. 

CAMH explains, “the same event may be more traumatic for some people than for others.” This is true for abortion, as well. 

While media outlets regularly tell stories of people who share they had no negative effects from their abortions, our research shows that 34% of women and 71% of men report experiencing adverse changes after abortion. 

Can Abortion be a Generational Trauma?

“It seems that teenage pregnancy is generational, as well as abortion,” one former pregnancy center director told Support After Abortion. She said they frequently saw pregnant teen clients being pressured to have abortions by their mothers who said they had also gotten pregnant as a teen and experienced abortion. 

She described family patterns such as older siblings who also got pregnant young. Sometimes they had abortions. Other times the current client is under pressure to have an abortion because “my mom’s already taking care of my sister’s kid(s), and doesn’t want to deal with more.” 

She described the impact of other generational traumas on client abortion decisions. One common variable she saw was the impact of absent fathers. She said some clients felt overwhelmed by the idea of repeating their mother’s and sometimes also grandmother’s single parenting. Other clients – both male and female – would say, “I grew up without a father and I don’t want my child to experience that.”

Rowe said some families are overt in talking about abortion – both family members’ experiences and viewpoints on abortion. In other families, parents and siblings may be silent about their personal experiences, “yet make influential statements such as don’t go to prom and get pregnant, make sure you use protection, and we don’t need any babies around here.” Rowe also said it’s not uncommon for personal stories to be unspoken until another family member is facing an unintended pregnancy or shares their abortion experiences.

Support After Abortion “regularly hears stories of generational traumas and specifically abortion from participants in both our Unraveled Roots and Keys to Hope and Healing virtual support groups,” said Karin Barbito, Special Projects Manager. “In all of the groups I’ve facilitated, clients have shared experiences such as “When I got pregnant, my mom encouraged me to have an abortion because she had one and didn’t think it was a big deal” or “I knew my mom had an abortion, but it wasn’t until I had one that I learned my grandma also had an abortion.”

One Client’s Story of Generational Trauma and Abortion

Jane* shared with Support After Abortion that she grew up knowing her mother miscarried as a teen. “She told us it was a blessing,” Jane said, “and that if we ever ended up pregnant, we’d have to have an abortion.” She learned later after her abortion that her grandmother had told her mom the same thing. 

Jane said even though she had argued with her mom and told her she would never do that, when she got pregnant at 15, she immediately had an abortion. “I was scared, confused, and her words penetrated me more than I thought.” She said she never wanted to do that again, so when she got pregnant at 17, she chose to parent. 

However, Jane described her family as “dysfunctional,” and said “my mom was codependent and my dad had an addiction problem. I grew up looking for validation and love, and started having sex at 13.” She said those repeated patterns of behavior included marrying a man with addiction struggles just like her dad. “I had no support and no money, so I panicked when I got pregnant again, and I had another abortion.” 

Years later when her daughter got pregnant as a teen, Jane was the main influencer in her having an abortion. “Now she’s struggling with the same hurt and pain as my mom and I did,” Jane said.

“It was a long time before I realized how much my abortions and generational traumas had affected me,” she said. As a clinical counselor now, she sees the same patterns with her clients. She says, “We only know what we’ve been taught, what we’ve seen, what’s been modeled. We think I don’t want to be like my mom or dad, but we end up in that same place and don’t know how we got there or how to get out of it.” 

Even after going through years of therapy, Jane said entering after-abortion healing helped her “explore areas I had shoved down for years. And that brought a level of healing also to my mom, my husband, my siblings, and my kids.” The result was “where once dysfunction was embedded in my family, now healing, hope, encouragement, and support is what defines my family.”

What is the Impact of Generational Trauma?

“Generational trauma may affect one’s day-to-day life,” said Al-Mahdi, ”by causing symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and other trauma-related symptoms.”

Generational trauma “can affect both your mental and physical wellness,” Psych Central says in an article medically reviewed by Matthew Boland, PhD, “including detachment, impaired self-esteem, estrangement, neglect, abuse, violence, chronic pain, certain illnesses, and behaviors that impact wellness.” 

The article states that these effects of generational trauma may be more pronounced among “people from marginalized groups — such as People of Color and those in lower socioeconomic classes.” This finding is connected to abortion-related generational trauma, as the Guttmacher Institute reports that unintended pregnancy and abortion rates are significantly higher for Black and Hispanic women than for white women and that 75% of abortion patients qualify as poor or low-income according to federal poverty levels.

How can the Cycle of Generational Trauma be Broken?

Having “adequate mental health and addiction care delivered to the adult population – especially those who are having children and raising them – is the best possible way to disrupt [generational trauma],” says Indiana University psychiatrist R. Andrew Chambers, MD in an article in IU Health. The article states that breaking generational cycles involves “understanding the issue, preventing and treating the root issues.”

Rowe advises applying the three-part process of change, often called The 3 A’s – cultivate awareness, which evolves into acceptance, that allows us to take action and make change.  


Rowe explains that awareness “helps you understand where this came from, why you have these certain beliefs, why these behaviors are part of who you are, why you’re in the relationship you’re in, etc.” 

“It’s not about going backward to blame or shame,” Rowe says, “it’s about going backward to raise an understanding of awareness.”

In the Men’s Health article, licensed mental health therapist Chase Cassine says, “Treatment starts with acknowledging what caused the trauma, and how it has negatively affected you and others in your family. 


An example of acceptance, Rowe says, may be recognizing “I was a victim of that experience, I didn’t have an idea of another way, I was afraid, or I didn’t have courage enough to stand up for myself.” 


Taking action often involves “entering into recovery, forgiving ourselves and other people, and engaging in experiences to create new understandings and mindsets,” said Rowe.

“Treatment can help you develop coping skills,” Al-Mahdi says, “and learn to replace outdated or unwanted behaviors.”

Support After Abortion’s Unraveled Roots: Exposing the Hidden Causes of Damaging Behavior is one effective way to dig deeper and gain awareness behind behaviors, past events, and generational traumas. As one client shared: 

Recently in my Unraveled Roots group I had an awakening, so to speak. I have been so focused on healing from the aftermath of my abortion that I neglected the trauma that came before it – the abandonment I felt, the abuse I endured, and the dysfunction I grew up in. Unraveled Roots helped to put the pieces together as to why I even got to the point where I was facing the abortion decision in the first place. My trauma was so much deeper than I imagined.

Supporting People Working through Generational Trauma

“People working through generational trauma need support, compassion, and empathy, as well as grace for mistakes and relapses,” Rowe said. 

Often this support must come from outside the family unit. A discussion by the Duke University Office for Institutional Equity about the PsychCentral article previously mentioned states, “A parent or grandparent who never truly healed from or explored their own trauma may find it very difficult to provide emotional support to a family member suffering from his or her own trauma.” They explain that many families use “unhealthy coping mechanisms” such as denying or minimizing the trauma, which can “set the precedence for younger generations.”

“Creating space and supporting the coping needs of people who come from lineages of trauma is often the best move,” according to PsychCentral, “rather than attempting to ‘fix’ or remove the pain.

In dealing with the intersection of generational trauma and abortion, “we need to be able to see the person and not the word abortion,” Rowe said, “It’s a human issue – we have to see the woman or man.” She continued, “Learning and understanding their why is important. It’s about helping them find healing to break the generational cycle.”

In a webinar on generational trauma and Black women, Jerrilyn Sanders of the Chalmers Center, which focuses on addressing broken relationships at the root of poverty, advised, “Don’t overlook what’s below the iceberg. There are layers of things below what you see.” She also emphasized the need to “understand that how people got here is so often not a result of their own individual decisions. They’re trapped in cycles without power or ability to make choices for themselves.”

Shay Basset, also of the Chalmers Center urged people, especially providers, to “create an atmosphere of safety and community” and to “Hear me first before crafting this narrative about me. Know me and my story before you form an opinion about who you think I am. Hear me before you help me.” Some tips she offered:

  • Remember and use the person’s name.
  • Share a meal with them, it helps tear down walls.
  • Be willing to be uncomfortable together.
  • Work through your own biases and ideas of the other person.
  • Share your own fears and vulnerabilities – not just hear their plight.
  • Discern and acknowledge the person’s strengths so they can feel valued, seen, and heard.
Toward a Healthier Future

Generational trauma impacts self-perception, relationships, parenting, communities, and abortion decisions. For those who are negatively impacted, it’s important to acknowledge and understand their experiences, and provide access to mental health care and healing resources to help them restore well-being.

“As with any form of healing or intervention, there is no one path to healing intergenerational trauma and no set definition of what it means to heal,” says PsychCentral. “Through examining what intergenerational trauma you may carry, you have the opportunity to pass along new healthy coping skills to the next generation.”

“Women and men facing unintended pregnancies are making a monumental decision in a cloud of trauma, fear, isolation, and grief,” said Rowe. “Many have generational trauma, previous abortion experiences, codependency, and other risk factors themselves, as well as within their families and circles of influence.”

Working to identify hidden patterns, behaviors, and significant past events that may be impacting today’s thoughts, actions, and decisions is crucial to breaking cycles of trauma, including abortion, and paving the way for different choices in the future.

* Name changed to protect privacy.

Next Steps

Our resource Unraveled Roots: Exposing the Hidden Causes of Damaging Behaviors helps individuals identify the root causes behind damaging choices and patterns to change their life and legacy by establishing new, healthier patterns one small step at a time. Resources include book, journal, client videos, facilitator’s guide, and facilitator training videos. A self-guided course is available for those who would like to explore on their own. And virtual support groups are available for those who would like to dig deeper along with others and a trained facilitator. There is hope. Change is possible. Life can be different.

About Support After Abortion

Support After Abortion is a nonprofit dedicated to helping men and women impacted after abortion by (1) connecting them with healing options they prefer, and (2) equipping providers with curriculum, resources, and trainings. Support After Abortion’s free resources include an After Abortion Help Line, a national therapist and counseling directory, and an introductory abortion healing program.

About the Author

Michele serves as Communications Manager for Support After Abortion. She and her husband have experienced reproductive loss through three miscarriages and stillborn twins. They live in Greenville, SC with their three daughters.



Sweeney, Erica, “17 Signs of Generational Trauma, According to Therapists,” Men’s Health, 23 Mar 2023 https://www.menshealth.com/health/a43392391/signs-of-generational-trauma-according-to-therapist (Accessed 7 Jul 2023)

Ensemble Therapy, “What is Generational Trauma and How Can We Heal From It?” 

https://www.ensembletherapy.com/blog/what-is-generational-trauma  (Accessed 7 Jul 2023)

“Trauma,” Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/trauma (Accessed 7 Jul 2023)

National Abortion Studies, Support After Abortion / ShapardResearch, 2021 https://supportafterabortion.com/resources/research/men/ (Accessed 7 Jul 2023) 

Ryder, Gina and White, Taneasha, “Inter-generational Trauma: 6 Ways It Affects Families,” PsychCentral, Updated 15 Apr 2022,, https://oie.duke.edu/inter-generational-trauma-6-ways-it-affects-families. (Accessed 7 Jul 2023)

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Duke Office for Institutional Equity, “Inter-generational Trauma: 6 Ways It Affects Families,” 

https://oie.duke.edu/inter-generational-trauma-6-ways-it-affects-families (Accessed 7 Jul 2023)

“Love & Trauma: The Unique Challenges of Black Mothers,” Her Plan Webinar, 28 Feb 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgAG4P73Cwc (Accessed 8 Jul 2023)