By Liz Townsend
Editor's note. Jennifer O'Neill will be the banquet speaker at this year's NRL convention. Please see the ad on page 20 for instructions how to register.
Actress and model Jennifer O'Neill is one of the millions of living victims of abortion - - women who made the devastatingly wrong choice to abort their babies. For many years, she suffered in silence, unable to forgive herself. But now O'Neill has found peace by publicly witnessing to the truth about abortion and God's healing love.
"My life on the outside looked good - - I had fame, fortune, a career," O'Neill told NRL News. "But inside there was a hole in my heart from the time I was a kid."
O'Neill, now 55, had an abortion when she was 20, already a mother of one and well known as an actress and model. "I wanted the baby," O'Neill admitted, "but I was emotionally weak." The unborn baby's father, whose name O'Neill has kept secret, was angry that she was pregnant and even threatened her. Her parents and doctor also encouraged her to have an abortion.
"Everyone said it wasn't a baby yet," O'Neill said. "There were no ultrasounds then and I did not have faith. I felt coerced, but I know I am responsible for what happened. I felt such self-loathing and disappointment."
In the years following her abortion, O'Neill said she continued to think about it but tried not to dwell on her actions. "But it festered, and came out in a lot of different ways," she told NRL News.
O'Neill said that women who regret their abortions suffer in several common ways. They have a much greater incidence of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, inability to have healthy relationships, and even suicide.
Post-abortive women may also have difficulties with future pregnancies. O'Neill had nine miscarriages. Each time she would remember her lost aborted baby.
"I felt it was a punishment," O'Neill said. "But I know now that God does not punish us in that way."
Her journey toward healing began when she came to her faith at age 38. She accepted Jesus as her savior, and found a great deal of comfort. But healing did not happen for her overnight. "Although I knew I had eternal life, I still couldn't immediately embrace God's forgiveness," O'Neill said.
The next step on her journey came when she wrote her first autobiography. Surviving Myself, published in 1999, dealt straightforwardly with her abortion and its effects. "I knew it had to be honest," she said. "The abortion was a crucial part of my life."
Although writing her story was "extremely cathartic," O'Neill said she realized that she still had a long way to go before she was truly healed. In 2002, she wrote a second autobiography, From Fallen to Forgiven, and then began to speak publicly about her experiences. O'Neill can now say she has forgiven herself and accepted God's forgiveness, and continues to share her story to help other women heal as well.
Her ministry to other women can be seen in her involvement with "Silent No More," a nondenominational, nonpolitical group that encourages women who regret their abortions to find "help, hope, and healing," according to O'Neill. These women tell their stories and reach out to others who are still keeping silent out of shame and fear.
"It is important for those facing their abortions and desiring to recover to see these women, to see the victories in their lives," O'Neill explained. "They can see the healing God has offered to each and every one of us."
O'Neill acknowledged that she would never have found the strength to heal without prayer. "I found out that people have prayed for me for 20 years," she said. "Prayer works!"
In addition to speaking out, O'Neill has published a video and workbook entitled Life After Abortion. It explains the steps for healing and features the stories of women who have found peace. Life After Abortion is not only meant for women who have aborted their own babies, but for the lost child's grandparents, siblings, and fathers who also suffer from the death of a family member.
The first of many steps to healing is to acknowledge the abortion. It is so difficult to look truthfully and clearly at such a devastating decision, O'Neill explained, but the pain is necessary for healing.
This pain is why "most women go through five plus years of denial," she said. "It hurts so much once you own it, look at it, realize you killed your own child."
It can take years for post-abortive women to work from acknowledging the abortion to forgiving themselves. The long process may seem discouraging at times, but "we claim our victories every day," O'Neill said.
Complicating her own recovery was the prejudice O'Neill encountered in the entertainment industry. The Hollywood culture looks down on those with Christian or pro-life commitments. When she acknowledged Jesus Christ, O'Neill found it difficult to find work.
And years later, as she began to speak out against abortion, she found that the anti-life sentiment is still widespread. O'Neill endured a difficult interview on the television program The View last year.
Sitting in the middle of the pro-abortion hosts of the show, O'Neill wasn't able to get a word in edgewise. "They were so angry, and I was shell-shocked after it was over," O'Neill said. The appearance had some negative consequences, such as when an agent refused to work with her.
"But when I went to the office, there were about 200 e-mails waiting for me," O'Neill remembered. "Ninety-eight percent of them were so positive, saying, 'you go, girl!' People are far more pro-life than one would imagine."
O'Neill sees some signs that Hollywood may be beginning to accept different views. Movies like The Passion of the Christ are "breaking open new walls." Other celebrities such as Patricia Heaton of Everybody Loves Raymond, honorary chair of Feminists for Life, are refusing to back down. O'Neill began her association with Silent No More with the help of Heaton.
Other celebrities are also becoming more outspoken in defense of life. O'Neill was one three entertainers honored at the 2003 Proudly Pro-Life Awards Dinner sponsored by National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund. Ben Stein and Margaret Colin joined O'Neill as they were praised for their pro-life activism and courage of their convictions.
O'Neill has several projects in development to continue to bring her message to the public. In 2005 she will release another book, You're Not Alone: Healing Through God's Grace After Abortion. A photo of O'Neill and the words "I Regret My Abortion" will be featured in a series of billboards sponsored by Silent No More. The billboards will give a toll-free phone number for post-abortive women to call for help from crisis pregnancy centers.
"The 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers across the country are doing a wonderful job," O'Neill said. "If more women are offered financial, emotional, spiritual support, they'll choose life."
Jennifer O'Neill is an inspiration to all women who are searching for a way to live with their abortion decision and find peace. The words she spoke when receiving her Proudly Pro-Life Award from the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund are a clarion call to all the living victims of abortion, that they can be powerful defenders of the unborn once they find healing in their own lives:
"I implore any of you out there, because I can never speak in a room of ten people or ten thousand, and not know that there are other women or men that have suffered abortion in that room. And some of them have never told anybody; it's their deep dark secret.
"I implore you to get help with that because there is healing and there is forgiveness and there is release. And you have no idea that when you give that over, how your life will change, and more importantly what an incredible voice you'll be for others."