God is moving and changing the abortion conversation every day. To encourage you today, I want to introduce you to another person the ProGrace movement. Today, I would like to introduce you to Anne Waddell. Anne served as Executive Director of Central Alberta Pregnancy Care Centre for 9 years. Now, more than two years since our initial conversations, we are honored that she serves as ProGrace Director of Outreach.
Through her words, I hope you can see the beauty in the process of questioning our culture and our own beliefs and reviewing them through a new lens. Anne’s journey is a perfect depiction of a person growing into a grace-based perspective on those around her. She is finding common ground in a time when society encourages us to find and exploit our differences.
Tell us about your perspective on abortion prior to your work with ProGrace:
I have to think back to before even I became a Christian and what my perspective about abortion was, because there have been some seasons of growth through the whole issue. I was in a relationship for four years between the ages of 16 and 20 and had been going through a difficult time. About two weeks before leaving to fulfill my dream of entering the police academy, I had missed a period. Having been sexually active at a young age, and never having missed a period before, I was sure I was pregnant.
At that time, I saw that my friends were going across the border to the states to have an abortion. They would come back to school the next day as if nothing had happened. So my first reaction, based on the values I had, what I knew happened around me, and what I viewed as the norm culturally, was that this getting an abortion is what I was going to do. Thankfully, within a few days, I ended up having my period. I was spared that decision, but at that time, I’m not sure if I would have gone through with it or not.
What were your tensions around abortion before becoming ProGrace?
I became a Christian in my mid-20s, and what I thought of as the right thing to do back then, based on my Christian faith values, was to advocate for the pro-life movement. I did find myself picketing and advocating for pro-life against abortion movement, having an attitude that condemned abortion.
I got involved with our Central Alberta Pregnancy Care Centre as a volunteer and took their training. I was exposed in the counseling room to women experiencing unplanned pregnancy. I also worked with clients and volunteers and staff within the organization who were women who had experienced an abortion. That started changing my perspective quite drastically.
Six years later, I became the executive director of the organization and then just grew from there, in my understanding of the issue and the needs of the women. At the same time, I was really struggling with meeting our faith and our Christian community’s need to “just save the babies.” There was a confusion then on how to do that, and too often I was exposed to how other pregnancy centers were doing things. There were even practices within our own organization that some of us, questioned. I felt, “this is not right.”
Where did you first experience a shift in your own perspective?
One of the surprising things that helped us were the attacks from the abortion coalition, the things in the media that we were being accused of doing, and we used that. We brought that in-house as training and said, “okay, let’s examine that. Are we doing those things?” And that was huge, because they were right on a few different things. That was a really, good tool.
We developed a vision. We saw, as ProGrace does, the importance of emotional support and practical resources for women facing unplanned pregnancy. [As an organization,] we recognized that we are servicing quite a big community, but we are here in one building, and we can’t reach out to these other communities. We realized that we needed to open satellite centers because every woman or family impacted with an unplanned pregnancy has the right to readily access the information they need to make a well-informed choice.
We opened three satellite centers in 5 years (and one still in the works) in our surrounding communities, and then recognized another need, which was housing. Because often women said, “I can’t take care of myself. How am I going to take care of a baby?” We also saw that some women did not believe in abortion and would want to carry to term but were without the support and the tools to parent successfully, so they were losing their children into the foster care program. There you see that emotional support and practical resources are integral to the success of both the woman and the child. We understood, as a Christian community, that we needed to focus on those things and not just say, “you shouldn’t have an abortion.” We really started grasping the ProGrace message and wrestling with it and figuring out, “okay, how do we really internalize that? How do we make that our own?”
And for me as an Executive Director, as I spoke as I wrote appeal letters and newsletter(s), I thought: what message do I want to send? I wasn’t consistent. I didn’t have the research [or knowledge of] theology to back it up until we had the conversation with ProGrace, introduced through a third party. Someone said, “Hey have you heard of this organization? You should look it up online.” My first conversation with Angie and Denise was so refreshing. So finally, somebody speaks our language, has done their research, and has the tools. It was beautiful because Executive Directors wear so many hats that we don’t have the time to stop and go on a retreat and just think.
It was quite exciting. So, my perspective about abortion prior–I was confused. I was sensing the Spirit telling me that things had to change, that the paradigm had to change, the conversation, the attitudes, the heart, the way we speak about it, and the way we think about it, had to change.
Tell us what this shift in perspective has meant for you.
It was really uncomfortable for me for the longest time to own my passion to be with the community I serve. It has taken me a while to have the posture and confidence to know that I would honor God, my values, and my community to whoever I talk to, no matter where they come from. It took me a long time, and I stumbled a lot on my words until I adopted the ProGrace posture.
The tension is just the reality that abortion exists, not that unplanned pregnancies happen. For me, the issue is the attitude we have towards the women (experiencing and unintended pregnancy and) who have had an abortion. That’s the issue that I want to impact, is that attitude. We all have the ability to speak of it in a way that would allow for conversation and leave the other person feeling better equipped or more understanding of the issue. If you say, “if I can leave you with one thing, it is to remember that one of four women has experienced an abortion. That’s no different within your family, at the dinner table at Christmas time, or even at your workplace, wherever it is. So when you speak of it, will your words, your attitude, your actions bring healing and restoration or add to the possible shame and guilt she could be experiencing?” I’m pretty sure from that time on if they’re talking about abortion, they’ll look around and they’ll think twice before they make a hurtful comment.
We’re creating community in a way that we’re coming alongside a woman experiencing unplanned pregnancy, pouring on her the resources we have to help and support her and value her so she can have hope for her future, and the future of her child. No matter what she chooses to do, we’re there for her. It is such an honor for us that, after terminating, she finds us to be a safe place to turn to, to come back and to find the support that she needs to find the healing that she needs in that journey. She knows she’ll be heard and loved unconditionally no matter what she chooses to do. Now we can paint a picture of God’s true heart and the truth is that He is not a blaming and a shaming God. He is just such a gracious God.
One person told me, “I don’t know about you, but I have experienced God’s grace in many ways, many times, and daily and ongoing and for the rest of my life, and I think everyone deserves that. Once we had the conversation with ProGrace and dove into the training and the material, so many of us have been changed personally, and that’s the primary need. Their paradigm has been changed, even though they’ve been involved with the pregnancy center for so long. It has been changed drastically. I love this new approach, because it helps me deal with so many other issues, not just abortion. It’s an attitude of the heart, which I love, and I feel that the research ProGrace has done, and the theology that ProGrace uses around the issue of grace, how Jesus lived it and expressed it, has equipped me to face day-to-day life and apply that in my marriage, in everything I do, in the way I lead my organization and my life.
It’s a beautiful thing, that hope of what’s going to happen through this movement. It’s not just about abortion, because abortion is probably the toughest topic out there. If people can grasp it around abortion, they will own it for everything else in life. And people will turn to God as a result of that. People that know Him might find healing, and people that don’t know Him will get to know Him better through this message. It’s a beautiful thing.
Throughout her journey, Anne used her own experiences, her faith, and the opposition she received from outside sources to reexamine her beliefs about people facing unintended pregnancy, and how they deserve to be treated. Through her training with ProGrace, she learned how to adopt a truly non-political, grace-based approach to abortion, which has allowed her to better care for her clients and approach the world around her in a more Christ-centered way.
God is moving, in our time, in this movement, and in our hearts as we pursue our desire to be more like Him. I hope you’ll share your own story of how this work has impacted your response to abortion. Tag us on Facebook or Instagram and use the hashtag #iamprograce.