For both men and women, elective abortion may lead to intense grief, regret, anger, and/or guilt. Emotions after abortion may be varied and confusing. For example, a man whose female partner chooses to have an abortion may simultaneously feel both anger at and compassion for her. If he abandoned his partner or pressured her to abort, he may suffer from extreme guilt and a sense of personal failure. In either case, the choice to forgive another or to forgive the self is liberating and opens the door to healing.
Neither forgiveness of another nor forgiveness of the self is easy to achieve. It may be helpful to define these types of forgiveness and to differentiate them from other responses to hurt and loss. Forgiveness is not simply letting go, forgetting, or turning a blind eye to the injury. Instead, forgiveness is the conscious decision to cancel a debt that is owed to us. It is the deliberate decision to offer mercy to one who doesn’t deserve it and further, it is a decision to let go of resentment and to give up one’s right to get even. Forgiving another is a courageous response to injury. Like “other forgiveness,” self-forgiveness is a considered decision to be merciful to the self by ceasing self-condemnation and self-punishment for a wrong committed. In short, when we forgive ourselves, we choose to stop beating ourselves up. However, in both types of forgiveness, there is no room for excuse-making. In other words, the decision to forgive another or the self does not mean that one minimizes the offense or the harm done. It also does not mean that one can trust the other or the self without reservation. Reconciliation with another or even with the self requires trust. Sometimes, there are valid reasons not to trust others or ourselves. Yet, we can still choose to forgive and refrain from the human tendency to mete out punishment or to get even.
In order to begin the forgiveness process, the man must first identify who he blames for the abortion. There may be multiple individuals he blames, including himself. Next, he will have to take an honest and painful look at the injury he has suffered or inflicted on others. Working through the process of forgiveness will require that he develop empathy and compassion for the offender. This can be facilitated by considering the larger context in which the injury took place. When we take into account all of the pressures the offender was under as well as the offender’s personal characteristics, it helps us to view him/her in a larger context rather than simply as a perpetrator of pain. When we strive to view one another in the context of humanity, we recognize that our fellow humans have worth simply by being human. We cannot logically define others or ourselves by a single failure. Each of us is far more complex than that and all of us have good and bad traits.
The development of empathy and compassion is a major achievement and enables us to entertain kinder, gentler thoughts toward those who have harmed us. As our thoughts become more generous, our feelings may become more positive as well. These changes in thought and emotion bring release, relief, and hope.
While forgiving one’s offender or one’s self can open the door to healing, there is still another form of forgiveness that brings a more complete restoration and that is ‘receiving forgiveness’ from another or from God. This can be achieved through genuine repentance, prayer, and/or spiritual counseling.
Most individuals will benefit from all three types of forgiveness. Choosing to forgive the one he most blames for the abortion will free a man from the subtle control of the one he holds accountable and from his own anger. Choosing to forgive himself will free him to enjoy his present and future in a way he cannot do while he continues to punish himself. Receiving forgiveness from the one harmed or from a higher power gives him a solid and lasting peace.
There are a number of books and healing programs developed specifically for men and women who have experienced abortion. Each of these includes forgiveness as a critical component of the healing process. For more information about these programs, see the “Resources” page of this website: