Victims and Heroes

by Renee Zitzloff

In January America painfully marked the 27th anniversary of legalized abortion. In this period, in the US alone, 35-40 million unborn children lost their lives — victims, through no choice of their own.

But it is not only the unborn who are the victims of abortion. Two stories come to mind, one about a family, the other about a former abortionist.

Story one: Sheryl became pregnant during her last year of high school. Her father was pastor of a local church while her boyfriend, Adam, the son of a prominent couple in her father’s church. The couple were afraid to tell their parents Sheryl was pregnant, afraid to reveal their sin, afraid to shame their parents in front of the Christian community. They decided abortion was their only choice. After the abortion Sheryl and Adam felt relieved — the problem was gone, their families had been spared humiliation, their freedom and reputations were intact. The abortion was tucked tidily away in the back of their minds, hopefully gone for good.

They went on to get married and within a few years had two children. Adam had a good job. They should have been completely happy. Unfortunately not long after the birth of their second child, Sheryl realized that she felt angry almost all of the time, an anger that was very hard to control. She began to physically abuse their two young children.

When Adam realized what was happening, he encouraged Sheryl to get help. She agreed. In the course of therapy, she began to talk about her first child, the child she had never met or held or named. Finally she realized that as a mother she had never bonded deeply with her two born children. Unconsciously she had withheld her love from them and abused them because of the terrible guilt and shame she felt for having aborted their elder sibling. Her two abused living children were also victims of abortion.

There is some resolution in this story. Adam also received counseling for his part in the abortion. He and Sheryl confessed their sin to God and accepted His forgiveness. They were able to tell both sets of grandparents of the little grandchild they never knew existed, and, when their two born children were older, Sheryl and Adam told them of the little brother or sister in heaven. As a family they chose a name for the child they hope someday to meet.

Looking back at the abortion, Sheryl wishes at least one thing had been different.”If only someone had been outside the abortion clinic to talk to me,” she told me. “It would not have taken much to change my mind. I needed support to do the right thing. But no one was there.”

Story two: Joan Appleton, formerly employed as the head nurse of an abortion clinic, confesses she took part in killing over 10,000 unborn babies. Then something remarkable happened that changed the course of her life: she fell in love with a pro-life activist who had been standing outside her clinic every day. The relationship also transformed her understanding of what she had been doing. She resigned. Almost overnight Joan became a hero, embraced by pro-lifers who assured her of God’s forgiveness. She began to travel and tell her story and fight for the lives of the unborn.

But her struggle with her past was far from over. However much she was admired by others for her change of heart, Joan could not stand the guilt and pain from killing thousands of babies. She says, “The more I spoke and the more love and adulation I received from pro-lifers, the less time I had to think and deal with the core of my problem which was why I killed in the first place.” She continues, “Unfortunately, in America, the need for heroes far surpasses the need for healing. Nowhere in the world are former baby-killers treated with more love, respect, and adulation than here in the US. All this attention takes away the one thing each of us who have been in the abortion business needs more than anything else and that is to come to terms with our killing. Asking Christ’s forgiveness is not enough. We need to deal with the issues that brought us to the killing fields in the first place. Because we have stopped killing does not make us heroes.”

Abortionists must bear the responsibility for killing, but we must not miss Joan’s point that they are also victims of abortion, deeply wounded by their sins. They are lied to by a society that tells them they are the saviors of women and benefactors of mankind. They need forgiveness and healing and the possibility to make reparation in whatever way God shows them.

Heroes: In a world and society where so many are victimized, are there heroes who give us examples to follow? I found one in an unlikely place, Roberto Benigni’s film Life is Beautiful (La Vita e’ Bella). The hero is Guido, a Jewish-Italian man, and the story begins not long before the Holocaust. While others are already capitulating to the Mussolini’s Fascist regime or cowering in fear, Guido has his own agenda. He marries Dora and they have a child named Joshua. By the time Joshua is six, the regime is closing in on Jews in Italy. One day Joshua asks his father why a store has a sign that says, “No Jews or Dogs Allowed.” Guido replies that everyone has someone they don’t like: another store in town, he says, put up a sign that says, “No Chinese or Kangaroos Allowed.” After further discussion Joshua and Guido decide to put a sign on their store that says, “No spiders or Visigoths Allowed.” Far from being a childish game, Guido is protecting his son from fear and hatred. This is the beginning of Guido’s mission to safeguard his son’s innocence and eventually his life. Soon Guido and Joshua are put into a concentration camp and separated from Dora. Guido is able to convince his son that it is all a game, and in order to win Joshua must do certain things such as hiding when his father goes out to work, not crying, and not asking for jam sandwiches. The film is full of comic elements and has been criticized for them — how can one make a comedy when the subject is the Holocaust? — but I found comedy served to accentuate Guido’s willing to become like a child in order to protect and give hope to his son. Finally Guido gives his own life to save his child. Christ’s exhorts his followers to be as “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16). This is the real theme of Life is Beautiful.

How does this Scripture apply to us Christians who, like Guido, live in a time of legalized killing? First, like Guido, we must not blindly react, nor capitulate, nor retreat. Guided by the Church’s teachings and with a spirit of love and compassion we must set our own course. Second, we must cultivate the same nobility, the same dedication within ourselves that Guido had for protecting innocence and life. To be a hero does not necessarily mean to be noisy and combative. Guido wasn’t. It may mean that we must be gentle and unassuming, yet always faithful. And, third, we must not give up, even if it costs us our lives. Even if we are not called to martyrdom, we must be prepared to sacrifice. The Gospel clearly states, “All who desire to live Godly lives will be persecuted.”Yet, in all these things if we stay close to God, we will have His blessing and His help. Certainly in our time we must protect the lives and innocence of those who are born. But we must not forget the voiceless unborn. They are the tiniest victims that need heroes today.

Renee Zitzloff, mother of six, has been involved in many areas of pro-life work, including crisis pregnancy counseling. She directs the church school program at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Sheryl and Adam are personal friends of hers. Joan Appleton’s story is from her article, “Why Heroes Can’t Heal” published in the newsletter of Pro-Life Action Ministries in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she is currently on staff.

The text is copyright by the author and may not be reprinted without her permission.

posted January 28, 2000 / revised final paragraph added February 1, 2000