For 15 years, my mother headed each week to the back room of a small office suite to sort baby clothes.
A stalwart volunteer at our community’s crisis pregnancy center, my mother processed thousands of donations over her years of service—clothes, car seats, cribs, maternity wear, even infant formula. She had watched in sorrow as Roe v. Wade passed in 1973 and viewed caring for expectant mothers as a way she could make a difference, to give her grief legs.
On visits home from college, I’d sometimes accompany my mother to the back room where she worked. I never met the new moms who arrived each week to gather supplies. I never sat and held the hand of a woman contemplating termination.
Nonetheless, I, too, grieved for all the lives lost to abortion. My faith had taught me that all life was precious from the cradle to the grave. Unlike my mother’s, however, mine was grief over an intangible loss—of babies I never held and would-be moms I never knew. My sadness, like that of many pro-life evangelicals, was an ambiguous grief, deeply felt but tragically unresolved.
For almost 50 years, pro-life evangelicals have grieved abortion statistics, procedures, and court documents. We’ve worked behind the scenes to support women choosing life for their unborn babies, and we’re more than ready for this grief to end.
And while the Supreme Court decision might present the illusion that our sad days are over, abortion will remain an ambiguous loss. Abortions past, present, and future will continue to provoke complex sorrow.
Like it or not, we’re here to grieve for the long haul. But how do we do it well?
Grief Without a Face
In the late 1970s, therapist and researcher Pauline Boss sat with grieving families as they processed the absence of their loved ones who had disappeared in the Vietnam War. The term “ambiguous loss” emerged from her research as she watched communities cope with the physical absence of soldiers missing in action—those who were gone and yet not gone.
Over the years, Boss began to see parallels with those who grieved dementia diagnoses, severe family alienation, kidnappings, and, among other losses, abortion. She found that when a person or community couldn’t connect directly with the loss they’d suffered, they couldn’t really move forward toward a productive life. To create a flourishing life after their loss, they would need to chart a unique path that embraced the ambiguity of their grief.
It should go without saying that even if Roe v. Wade ends, abortions will still occur. A landmark SCOTUS victory would be a victory, yes, but only as a point on a line—a moment of clarity in an otherwise ongoing, ambiguous loss.
But even while this grief remains unresolved or disenfranchised, Christians can model productive practices that both enact our sadness and chart a positive path forward. The ongoing ambiguity of abortion loss invites us to grieve and grow, even in the absence of closure.
Consider how these three principles of ambiguous grief recovery might guide us toward a resilient pro-life witness, regardless of a court decision.
1. Finding New Meaning
For over 50 years, evangelicals have defined closure for our abortion grief as an overturned court decision—the very one we expect to happen shortly. But ambiguous loss tells us a different story—that closure from an ongoing loss is only a mirage.
However, that doesn’t mean we must despair.
Instead, the church can find new meaning as we engage in purposeful work around the losses we continue to suffer. As abortion becomes harder to obtain, we can give our grief expression by mobilizing to meet women’s emotional and financial needs more earnestly than ever before.
Women will need safe spaces to grieve, process, and move forward after decisions about their pregnancies. We can open our homes and our lives to the vulnerable. We can work to rid our faith communities of abortion stigma and shame.
2. Adjusting Our Identity
For many evangelicals, an opposing position on Roe v. Wade has been a defining feature of who we are.
Processing ambiguous loss requires that we reassess our strongly held identities, calling forth the places where we have inadequately or incorrectly named ourselves and finding new ways to talk about who we are. Ongoing grief asks us to look to the future, beyond the narrow labels we may have assigned to ourselves in the past.
As we process our long-term grief, the church can resist the dangerous urge to be defined by a single political issue. We can allow our sadness to inform and reshape our identities—making us a more resilient and grace-infused pro-life movement in this new season of loss.
3. Normalizing Our Ambivalence
The day after the official SCOTUS decision will be just like any other day on Capitol Hill; it will be just another day for evangelicals in America.
After the confetti covers the celebration floor, we might be surprised to feel that old sense of grief creeping back into the room. We may find that life has not changed as much as we’d hoped—there will still be many sorrows left to comfort and much darkness yet to confront.
As we acknowledge our long-held abortion grief, the concept of ambiguous loss invites us to accept that we may feel a certain degree of ambivalence—whether or not we achieve our desired outcome. Because regardless of a court decision, we know the victories we achieve in this life will always be tainted with a measure of disappointment.
This side of heaven, Christians must carry both joy and grief in the same hand. Until Jesus comes again, the brokenness of the world will surround us and dwell within us. We’ve come so far, but the grieving process reminds us that our earthly sadness is a long road.
And we still have miles to go.
Clarissa Moll is an award-winning writer, podcaster, and the author of Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Living with Grief and Thriving after Loss.
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