Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 04/26/21

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No matter which side of the abortion issue we identify with, one thing we all have in common is that we’re all former fetuses. Yet, one perspective we are virtually never given from the corporate media is that of a former fetus (aka a human being) who has survived the procedure. The answer as to why may seem obvious – except that it’s not. Like me, you might be surprised to learn that through various quirks of events (some might call them miracles) there are several cases of abortion survival worldwide. They’ve even formed a group called the Abortion Survivors Network (ASN) which is dedicated to giving voice to their lived experience. Yet, except for the one-off film 2011 film October Baby you’d be hard pressed to find any media treatment of the subject – which via a news report or documentary or dramatically in movies or episodic television.  As far as the media is concerned, these people basically don’t exist. The reason for that appears obvious. They’re simply inconvenient to the narrative.

That’s why Survivor: An Abortion Survivor’s Surprising Story of Choosing Forgiveness and Finding Redemption by Claire Culwell (WaterBrook, releasing tomorrow, April 27th) is so important. The abortion survivor community may be relatively small but their stories deserve to be heard.

In Survivor, Claire shares her journey of how after being raised in a loving adoptive home for twenty-one years, she decided to meet her birth mother—and got the shock of her life. She learned that Tonya was just 13 years old when she became pregnant and, subsequently, went to a clinic for an abortion. She was spared because the abortionist overlooked that Tonya was actually carrying twins. The abortion that terminated the life of Claire’s twin had – let’s just say it – miraculously spared her. Embracing the unique circumstances of her life, Culwell soon began sharing her story with the world and urging her listeners to understand how abortion – from her point of view – takes a child’s life. She recently shared her story with me.

JWK: How old were you when you decided to seek out your birth mother, and what spurred you to do it?

Claire Culwell: I met my birth mother, Tonya, in 2009 when I was 21 years old. I decided to search for her through my adoption agency after my younger sister met her birth mother and thanked her for giving her life and family. I knew that my birth mother did the same thing for me, and I wanted to thank her because I had a wonderful life with incredible parents who adopted me. I also hoped to find out any medical history from her family because I had some medical complications growing up.

JWK: How did you find her?

CC: After contacting my adoption agency and realizing that my birth mother’s caseworker, Debbie, was still working there, she was able to find her. Debbie wrote my birth mother and asked her if March 6, 1988, meant anything to her, and she replied YES. We connected by phone and set up a time and place to meet. We met in March of 2009 in Dallas, Texas. I look just like her, and I am so thankful she is my birth mother.

JWK: How did you feel when you learned you are an abortion survivor?

CC: Finding out I survived her abortion that aborted my twin and accidentally missed me was the most shocking news of my life. I never imagined I would find out I survived something that should have ended my life. I knew there was a purpose behind my survival, but it was hard to wrap my head around it all. I remember my birth mother’s tears and the way she trembled, fully expecting me to never speak to her again. Instead, I embraced her because she had been hurt by abortion too. She was only 13 years old when her mother made the decision for her to have an abortion and only 14 when she delivered me alone in a hospital room and placed me for adoption. She apologized over and over. I knew she loved me and knew she had been a victim of her mother’s decisions for her. She told me that no one told her the words she needed to hear: you can do it, you are supported, you are strong enough, and you are worthy of us walking alongside you. I was sad for her and me. I pledged to fight for what she didn’t have and use our story to expose the unborn child’s humanity created in the image of God with a purpose.

JWK: You write that you probably would have met the same fate as your twin sibling if not for an injury your birth mother sustained during her first abortion in which the amniotic sac that had been holding you had been torn and was leaking fluid. That actually sounds to me like that should have killed you. How did it actually save your life? 

CC: Once they realized my birth mother was still pregnant, she was taken to a second abortion clinic to end my life. The doctors in Kansas turned her away because of the leak in my amniotic sac. She was then taken to an adoption agency where she was on bed rest until I was born a few weeks later at 30 weeks. God had his hand on my life. That is the only explanation for my survival.

JWK: You dedicate your book to your adoptive parents, your sister, your husband – and your birth mother. So, you certainly seem to have forgiven her. Was that difficult and what is your relationship like today?

CC: The decision to forgive my birth mother was instant because I, myself, have been impacted and changed by the forgiveness of Christ. I knew that God had already forgiven my birth mother, and I knew that He called me to forgive, not because someone deserves it but because of His goodness and grace. He wanted to make something beautiful from something evil and hurtful. I just needed to be willing to let him work in our lives and our journey. The decision to forgive has allowed me to share His forgiveness and grace with others. It has enabled my birth mother and me to have a renewed relationship. Instead of being a constant reminder to her of what happened, I am now a reminder of what God has done. He has redeemed and restored. He has used my survival and her heartache to bring healing and point people towards the love of Christ.

JWK: Abortion is a very tough issue for those of us who believe that the science solidly indicates that an unborn child is, in fact, a human being worthy of protection. On the other hand, we don’t want to harshly condemn people who .when confronted with a very difficult situation – a pregnant 13 year old for example – had an abortion or pressed their child to have one. That’s certainly a tough case and there are many more tough cases out there. As someone who has been through what you have, what are your thoughts on how society can grapple with the issue in a way that is compassionate to everyone?  

CC: While circumstances can be difficult, and we should absolutely empathize with and support those in difficult pregnancy situations, circumstances don’t change the unborn child’s humanity. Every human life has dignity, is worthy of protection, and is created with God’s purpose. We should compassionately support women and families in all pregnancy situations.

As believers and communities, we can help make the impossible possible for women and families through our support, tangible resources, and our words. Imagine if every woman and family were told that they are worthy, supported, and loved. Imagine if we said to women and families that they CAN instead of telling them that they can’t. Imagine if they knew that they could run to the church and their community because we tell them that we are here. We are ready to walk alongside them, no matter what. The abortion clinics tell women these things when it comes to their abortion services; why aren’t we? We can create a culture that truly values life and families by how we speak and support them. That is the answer to our culture that says we need abortion today.

JWK: I believe you’re involved with the Abortion Survivors Network, a support group for abortion survivors and their families. Can you tell me about that – and do we know how many abortion survivors there are out there?

CC: The Abortion Survivors Network was created to support abortion survivors through the process of navigating the reality that they survived abortion procedures meant to end their life. I am not alone. I have met dozens of other abortion survivors over the past 11 years as I have been outspoken about my survival. I am aware of hundreds that have found community at The Abortions Survivors Network. Still, I know that many may never know their story, like me for 21 years. Many will never speak out because we live in a society that doesn’t want to acknowledge we exist.

JWK: Why do you think the very existence of you folks is virtually unknown to most Americans?

CC: To acknowledge the humanity of an abortion survivor would require acknowledging the humanity of the unborn. It is not commonly known because society doesn’t want to hear our stories. It would go against the narrative that says “my body, my choice.” Every single abortion survivor, and every single unborn baby, has a separate body inside of a woman’s body. We live in a culture that devalues and dehumanizes others. In order to create a culture that values and humanizes all life, we must start with the unborn child.

JWK: The news media has pretty much been MIA in acknowledging the existence of abortion survivors and, aside from the movie 2011 movie October Baby, popular culture has pretty much taken “nothing to see here” approach as well. Now, thankfully, there’s your book. How has the media been receiving it?

CC: In my book Survivor, you will hear the reality of what abortion is and what it does. You will listen to the heartbreaking reality of how abortion affects a woman, a family, and a culture. You will also hear about the redemption and forgiveness that one can only find in Christ. My favorite part of Survivor is that it tears down the lie that children are unwanted. I pray the media will have a renewed hope that, as a society, we can be bold in our stance for life and our support for families in ALL pregnancy situations.

While mainstream media has remained silent in sharing about Survivor, the Christian media response has been incredible. I have heard a multitude of reactions that sound very similar: “The story in Survivor shows the value of life, forgiveness, courage, redemption and points people towards a God who can bring beauty from ashes.”

JWK: Now that the book is done, what’s next for your own life? What are you looking forward to?

CC: I will continue to do what I have been doing for 11 years. I will share my story through speaking, day-to-day conversations, writing, and anywhere God calls me. I know the impact that my story can have and how it changes hearts and minds. I will be obedient to “go” when God says “go.” I will serve in my community, and I will support organizations that empower women to choose life. I will use my voice to tell women and families that they are valuable, strong, and supported.

Note: To learn more about Claire and her ministry visit www.claireculwell.com.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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