When Erin Oyer found herself pregnant with her second child in less than a year, she prepared to do what she had done the first time she was pregnant - get an abortion.
She was 19 and had been mentally and emotionally distancing herself from her family and her faith for years.
She didn’t want to marry the father of her child and she sure as heck wasn’t going to tell her Southern Baptist pastor father. So, she decided to have an abortion, her second. But when she told her boyfriend, nothing could have prepared her for his response.
“Please don’t do this,” he told her at the time. He asked her to have the baby, give the child to him to raise and walk away. He said he would never ask her for anything again.
“That hit me so hard,” she said. And it also changed her life.
That baby she considered aborting is her oldest son, 11-year-old Carter. And today he, Mrs. Oyer and the rest of her family of nine, which includes seven kids, are passionate advocates for the unborn.
Mrs. Oyer volunteers regularly with the Christ-centered Abortion Recovery of East Texas, C.A.R.E., where she leads a Bible study, and she makes it a priority to educate her children and others about fetal development.
A necklace and ring she has serve as a reminder of her aborted child, whom she later named Aiden Alexander because she always felt he was a boy, and the mission she lives out as a defender of the unborn.
“I just wanted something that was on me that was on my heart to remind me,” she said of her necklace.
Mrs. Oyer said she wants people to put a face to abortion and realize there are women sitting next to them in church who have had abortions and who are struggling in life and don’t even realize some or all of those struggles are connected to their abortions.
She wants those women to know she loves them and Jesus loves them and they are going to get through it.
She also wants to share with women who have had abortions about how they can find emotional freedom and healing through Jesus Christ.
Burden of a Secret
For three East Texans who have had abortions, the reasons behind the decision were similar. They all feared telling their parents. None of their boyfriends wanted to marry or raise the child. And they saw no alternative.
Jo Lyon, 65, who is C.A.R.E. president, was 22 years old, unmarried and pregnant when she decided to have an abortion.
“I am a pastor’s daughter and I didn’t think I could go home and tell my parents I was pregnant,” said Mrs. Lyon, who was living in Wichita Falls and serving in the U.S. Air Force at the time.
This was pre-Roe v. Wade, so abortion was illegal in Texas, but Kansas allowed it and that’s where she went to have it done.
She said it was the biggest mistake she ever made. Guilt and shame plagued her. Aside from telling a few friends whom she swore to secrecy, she lived with it for 30 years before telling anyone else.
“I had sworn that I would go to my grave and never tell that I had an abortion,” she said. But God had different plans.
Barbara Bobo, 64, of Arp, was 16 and in love with an older guy at her Dallas high school when she became pregnant. Coming from a strict, legalistic household, her family didn’t talk about sex and she certainly wasn’t supposed to engage in it. Her boyfriend was captain of the football team and a year older. He was planning to attend Southern Methodist University on a scholarship.
“I was so stupid and so naïve,” she said.
At 10 weeks along, she told her boyfriend and he said he could take care of the situation.
In Dallas, there was a nurse named Aunt Jane whom everyone knew. She had an apartment in town where she worked, and that’s where Mrs. Bobo went with her boyfriend. Something went wrong during the procedure, though, and Mrs. Bobo was bleeding profusely.
Through a series of what she described as miraculous events, her sister, who did not know where she was, found her and called 911. At the hospital, doctors operated and gave her blood, but told her they didn’t know if she would be able to have children.
Although she recovered physically, emotionally she was wrecked. Feelings of insecurity and worthlessness consumed her.
“I was a dead girl walking,” Mrs. Bobo said.
Each of these women, although deeply affected by the abortions they had, did not directly process or deal with them emotionally afterward. They tucked the knowledge away and tried to move on with their lives. But it was like the abortion wouldn’t let them.
For Mrs. Bobo, healing didn’t come until she was in her late 40s. It came in part through a neighbor who was connected with Living Alternatives, a local nonprofit with programs including a maternity home, pregnancy resource center, parenting education program and adoption ministry.
As Mrs. Bobo toured the nonprofit’s headquarters, tears started to fall and wouldn’t stop. From there, God continued to teach her about His views on life and help her see how she had not received His love and forgiveness.
It was during a post-abortion Bible study, led by Living Alternatives founder and executive director Bev Kline, that God began to show Mrs. Bobo how to receive that forgiveness.
Her journey led her to C.A.R.E., where she started leading Bible studies and was actually the person who led Mrs. Oyer through the eight-week study.
With each child Mrs. Oyer had, she experienced half joy and half grief. She struggled with severe postpartum depression to the extent that her husband thought she would have to be hospitalized. And even though she took care of her kids - feeding them and bathing them - she wasn’t connecting with them.
“Why do I feel so much grief, like I don’t deserve joy when I’m looking at this baby?” was a question she had at the time.
Any time she would hear the Bible verse about God knitting people together in their mother’s womb, she felt physically ill. She couldn’t stand to hear or say the “A word.” When she heard negative slogans about abortion, “I wanted to curl up inside myself and die,” she said. “My whole body would be wracked with guilt.”
That is about the time God brought C.A.R.E. into her life, she said. She received a mailer and the contact listed was Dr. Grace English, whom she had met before when their sons were on the same Cub Scout retreat and her son had a seizure.
She called Dr. English and asked if they could meet to talk. The two met and as soon as Mrs. Oyer opened her mouth, the tears fell.
When she arrived for her first C.A.R.E. Bible study, she was sweating. About seven other women were there. She said the Holy Spirit just put up a boundary, a barrier, and it became a safe place.
“That’s what C.A.R.E. created, a safe place to talk about it,” she said.
It was through this study that Mrs. Oyer found freedom for the first time in years.
“There was something so healing about sitting in a room with other women who knew exactly what I went through,” she said.
She then participated in a weekend study that was a full three days.
The Lord was doing work in her heart, she said. Through the Bible studies and the community she found, she gave herself permission to grieve.
“I walked out of there a completely changed woman,” she said.
She felt forgiven, relieved and redeemed. She looked different. She acted different. Her husband even told her her eyes were different.
“He relentlessly pursued me,” she said of God. “I don’t know why. I don’t deserve it.” To which Mrs. Lyon replied, “None of us do.”
With newfound freedom individually, these women sought to reach others who were in the same place.
“The Lord healed me completely and that’s why I’m so passionate … (about) other women and men” finding healing, Mrs. Lyon said.
C.A.RE. offers an eight-week Bible study for women and men separately and a weekend Bible study.
“It is ongoing, the process of healing,” Mrs. Bobo said. “Every time I lead a study, there are still things God teaches me.”
C.A.R.E. representatives also are open and available to speak at church events or wherever people want them to.
So far, in the organization’s five-year history, 300 women and four men have gone through their programs.
Representatives of the organization also have spoken and provided training in abortion recovery in East Asia and in Jamaica.
Because its reach has moved beyond East Texas, the organization is in the process of changing its name to Christ-centered Abortion Recovery and Education, although the C.A.R.E. acronym will stay the same.
Mrs. Oyer said if you could see how the women who walk into the Bible study look and carry themselves on the first day, then compare that to how they walk out after the eighth session, it’s a transformation.
These are mothers, teachers and high society women, some of whom have carried this secret for a long time, she said.
They come in broken and through the sessions they grieve and they get angry at others and at themselves and they let it go to Jesus, Mrs. Oyer said.
“Forgiveness is a key step we have to walk through,” she said. “To see them walk out in week eight, there is no greater gift and it’s all Jesus.”