"The abortion is booked and I’m definitely having it,” said an old friend who is a life-long atheist who thinks that people who talk about God are liars.
“Having an abortion is not a sin – there is no such thing as sin – there is no God who will punish me for it,” my friend instructed me.
Listening to her, I felt trapped. I knew if I spoke about the Catholic teaching that abortion is a mortal sin, I would actually make my friend more determined to ‘prove’ that it was not, and she was adamant that, “Mary – you will see nothing bad will happen to my soul – I don’t have one.”
I only had one option; to listen intently to her – and I discovered that she was of the opinion that she would not suffer after the abortion. I decided to rectify this by getting as much information on Post Abortion Syndrome as I could and showed her a secular testimony from a woman who wanted to commit suicide after her abortion.
Even though she was tempted to brush this off as “not enough evidence” (the same argument she has against faith), she was stunned to learn of studies showing post abortion depression, such as the large scale Finnish study which unearthed that the suicide rate following abortion was nearly six times greater than the suicide rate following childbirth.
My friend swung from the opinion that abortion was “harmless to the woman” to cancelling her abortion and having a baby. She’s become softer on the Catholic Church now because in her view if it’s anti-abortion, it can’t be all bad.
Helping her decide against abortion was horrifically hard, there were sleepless nights spent talking to her, I felt slighted when I was told that people who believe in God are “loons.”
But the experience taught me a lot about how “loons” or people like me can reach out to atheists. We may feel hatred towards atheists because they deride Who we love: God.
Listening to atheists explain why they don’t have faith is crucial; if we don’t know their problems with Christianity, then we can’t help them. My worst fault is that I am a dreadful listener and can’t stop talking about myself, so if I can listen, then that does prove miracles happen.
There is the frustrating task of sidelining our egos, (I have a gigantic, fragile ego, so if I can suffer insults to prevent an atheist from having an abortion, then anyone can).
Most essentially, there is a need for prayer and sacrifice for those who have no belief in God. We don’t need to use a loud-speaker to announce that we are praying for them, praying privately is still praying and God sees our hearts and knows that we have a good intention when we chose not to tell an atheist we are praying for them.
In tandem with prayer, there has to be steadfast example of Christian witness, which is why I think my hero, Fr Hugh Simon-Thwaites was so successful in bringing atheists into the Church. People were attracted to his goodness.
Thankfully, atheists are not violently punished here in the UK, and to be fair, atheists often have the upper hand over Catholics because it is their ideology that informs most of Britain’s societal trends: which is precisely why atheists are subjected to a form of persecution here that is deadlier, because they are encouraged in their belief that there is no God.
Compassion is needed on our part because atheists are in an unrequited love affair, God loves them, but they refuse to let the love in.
I wrote this article for The Catholic Herald, in response to Bishop Declan Lang's comments that practising Catholics ought to defend persecuted atheists. In my life-time, I've spent a lot of time helping pregnant women who are atheists.
A small note: yes, I did get grief after writing this, with a number of people getting in touch to tell me that I should not have intervened and prevented an abortion (effectively arguing that the mother of the baby would have been better off aborting her child). Another quibble was that atheists are not necessarily pro-abortion (I never said they were, but simply said that they say we do not have souls, so do not think an action like an abortion will stain an entity which they believe does not exist: the soul). The piece above ignited a lot of disputes and denial of the medical studies done on the link between abortion and depression.
Well, darlings, thankfully, the 'grief'/ backlash to the article on preventing an abortion has not troubled me. I'll be candid during my pro-life work - I have helped hundreds of atheist women who were planning to have an abortion - avoid an abortion and give birth to their children. Along the way, I got a lot of 'grief' from the women themselves, their boyfriends and even their families. At times it has hurt, but more often than not, it has not: this is not because I am some extra special person who is less human and less prone to feeling damaged, rather it is God's grace that works on my temperamental nature and makes me get over myself to the point where a pregnant woman can call me a loon because I'm pro-life at 1 pm and I'll still be talking to her at 3 am because unashamedly I think it is in her best interests to cancel her abortion.