Men and abortion:
Renouncing secrecy and experiencing God’s grace
An interview with Warren McDonald
When I attended the 2014 National March for Life in Ottawa, I heard for the first time a man speak about his involvement in the abortion of his child and how it had affected him. Then, in Sept. 2015, I read in the St. Catharines Right to Life newsletter a report on a conference in Niagara Falls, Ont., the first of its kind in Canada to focus on men and abortion.
What is the impact of abortion on men? In an email interview, Warren McDonald, 57, from St. Catharines, Ontario, tells his story.
Christian Courier: How did you go through the abortion process?
Warren McDonald: First, in agreeing that it was the course of action that must be taken. Then, I drove to the city where my girlfriend, Colleen, was attending college. I took her to the hospital for the procedure. I was 19 years old. We had been dating for about a year and a half.
What factors influenced your decision?
Fear and shame. We were afraid to disappoint our parents, siblings, and church community. About a year before, we’d both become Christians. We feared the judgement and shame from what was, sadly, for the most part, a very legalistic and uncompassionate church community.
We’d been very open and forward about our faith with friends and unbelieving family members, and didn’t feel we could expose ourselves as still being sinful, lustful individuals.
What did you experience after the abortion? What did Colleen experience?
I sat in a waiting room at the hospital during the abortion procedure. I felt cold and empty. I was waiting for the relief to come. My secret, our secret, would never be known. Everyone would still think I was a respectable young Christian. Everything would just go on as if this had never happened. But relief never came. The solution I had supported to deal with our crisis pregnancy didn’t bring relief or peace, but rather a deadness of spirit that revealed itself in anger, bitterness, shame, guilt and brokenness. Guarding my secret robbed me of closeness and authenticity in relationships with family, friends and fellow believers.
After the abortion, I drove Colleen back to her apartment. She was so sad, so upset. She wanted to talk about it, share her pain and feel my support. I wasn’t capable of hearing her or talking about it or giving her the compassion she needed. I told her, “It’s done with. Forget about it.”
Against all odds, Colleen and I stayed together and married in June 1979. We continued to attend church and serve in various ministries. I was very good at keeping up appearances. No one could find out what I had allowed to happen.
Life got busy as it does with houses, children, work and more. I welcomed the busyness. It helped me to not think about the reality of my decision to end the life of my own child and the pain I had caused, especially to Colleen. I worked too much, stayed out too late and drank too much, trying to avoid my grief and guilt. But in quiet moments, it was always there, haunting my deepest thoughts, even in my sleep. For years I had a recurring nightmare that I still can’t speak about. Colleen and I didn’t speak about it to each other. Instead, we suffered silently and separately for almost 30 years.
Colleen suffered from anxiety, battled an eating disorder, and felt she must earn God’s love and acceptance through serving at church, which only led to more depression and anxiety. She finally came to the point where she felt that, literally to survive, she needed to break the silence. First, she told some close friends, then our children, siblings, pastors and congregation.
You went to Elisha House Pregnancy & Family Support Centre in Welland, Ontario, for counselling. How did God lead you there? How were you helped?
A member of our congregation was working at Elisha House at the time and suggested to Colleen that she might benefit from a post abortion counselling program. Colleen agreed to go and, as it turned out, the other two women who were scheduled to participate had to back out. The counsellors then proposed that I join in the sessions. They had never had a man go through the program. I agreed, thinking that this would be a way that I could finally support Colleen.
As it turned out, it was I who was desperately in need of healing and support! Colleen had essentially done a self-guided grieving and healing process while I remained in denial. The counsellors gave me a safe place to open up and speak about my regret and grief. They helped me to be brutally honest with myself and God, and to recognize the selfishness and pride that were really the motives behind agreeing to the abortion. I was able to see my aborted child as a real person, grieve this horrible loss, and, without judgement or manipulation, allow myself to acknowledge my sin and to ask forgiveness from Colleen and God, and to forgive myself.
The process of being completely honest and vulnerable about my part in the conception, abortion and cover-up had an immediate impact on who I was and what I’d caused myself to become. My relationships with my children and everyone else became so much more natural and engaging because I wasn’t wearing a mask anymore. I have publicly shared my story and have received feedback that my honesty has been an encouragement to many others dealing with a variety of secrets and struggles.
What have you learned about God through these experiences?
Through all this, God has reinforced his faithfulness, his promise of forgiveness, no matter how terrible the transgression. He has always pursued me. It’s amazing that he wants communion with me. He has shown me that our identity isn’t in what we do or have done. It’s not in what we think we should be like or how others perceive us. Our identity is from him and in him. We are his beloved. He can and wants to use us to accomplish his plan and can use us even in our brokenness. It is in our weakness and humility that he is strong and can accomplish great things through us.
If you had a chance to talk with a man who has been through the abortion process, what would you say to him?
I would like to know if anything about my story resonated with him. If it did, I would encourage him to open up completely about his feelings and experience, first with a trained counsellor whom he can absolutely trust and then with significant people in his life. It’s the secrecy and denial that allow the damage to spread through virtually every relationship and to the core of who we are as men. I’d say that this sin is no less forgiven than any other and God only desires to restore us and accomplish his plan for our lives.
What is your life like now?
Colleen and I have been a couple for 40 years. We’re empty-nesters now. We have three wonderful adult children and three even more wonderful grandchildren. We deal with all the same family and financial issues and aches and pains that most people in our age bracket experience.
About five years ago, I started playing guitar in the worship band at our church. I feel I’ve finally found the area of service I was suited for and really enjoy. I periodically have the opportunity to share my story and, while it’s emotionally draining, I do it quite willingly in the hope that healing can happen in other lives.
Some relief did come, but not in the way I’d hoped, sitting alone in that waiting room almost 40 years ago. It was exactly the opposite that brought about the relief. Not secrecy, but confession and openness and honesty with myself, God, family and community. The relief only goes so far. Part of my program with Elisha House included naming our child and having a memorial service. Colleen had always felt that the baby was a girl and had named her long ago. Her name was Tanya Grace. Rarely a day goes by that my heart doesn’t ache with loss and regret.
Warren McDonald lives in St. Catharines, Ont. with his wife Colleen. They have two sons and a daughter, and two granddaughters and one grandson.
Welland Crisis Pregnancy Center/Elisha House
Information, counselling, live chat line
Phone: 905-735-9934 | After Hours Text Line: 289-823-2424
For a list of pregnancy support centres across Canada: