As more European countries look to expand their legal limits on abortion, teams in 13 nations have stepped up efforts to offer healing and restoration to post-abortive women, men, and families through SaveOne Europe, led by co-directors Sonja and Chris Horswell. And those healed individuals are speaking up about abortion’s true impact on human lives.
SaveOne, launched in the U.S. by its founder and president Sheila Harper, is a post-abortion recovery program that connects all individuals impacted by abortion with caring facilitators trained to walk with them through a Christ-centered, biblically-based, ten-step program of healing.
“Abortion is a trauma, and trauma always needs steps into freedom,” Sonja Horswell said. Compounding that trauma, she said, people have tried masking their feelings with coping behaviors that have caused more problems. Chris Horswell mentioned that he sees some men who have used pornography and prostitutes to numb their pain; others simply deny the pain exists until it surfaces in other ways.
Speaking from the U.S., Harper agreed.
“By the time people get to us, they have usually tried everything in the book: They've tried drugs, or they're alcoholics, or they've been in prison, or they have slept around, or they have charged credit cards and they have a mountain of debt,” she said.
When at last individuals read or hear something linking their problems to their past abortion, they’re ready to seek out non-judgmental help.
One of the biggest tasks is to let Europeans know effective help is now available through SaveOne.
“When you've successfully held yourself together for years since your abortion, you want to have the confidence that if you begin to look at this there really will be resolution, and that there is a way back to life in its fullness,” Chris Horswell said.
The next thing a person tries needs to succeed.
Transformation After Trauma
A woman named Jacqueline is proof SaveOne succeeds. Jacqueline’s three years of psychological therapy had left her as suicidal as when she began. After finding a SaveOne flyer in her psychologist’s office, Jacqueline called Sonja Horswell in tears, pouring out her story of an unwanted abortion at 17.
“She said she's very skeptical, very fearful,” Horswell said. “She doesn't trust people, and she doesn't trust God because she doesn't know Him, and she doesn't know what to do.”
Horswell assured her she would not be pressured to believe anything she didn’t want to, nor to stay if she wanted to leave. The woman agreed to start an individual course with Horswell and a co-leader.
Things moved slowly at first, as the woman wrestled with her damaged view of God along with all the emotional baggage she had accumulated. She struggled with nightmares, guilt, anger, and depression. But soon she found herself praying and seeing God’s answers to her prayers.
“The second week, when we talked about what happened to her, she could let out all her pain and anger and disappointment,” Horswell said. “During the third chapter, about stray emotions, she received Christ as her Lord and Savior. It broke her heart completely open and things moved forward much faster.”
She was able to receive forgiveness and forgive those involved, as well as herself.
While Jacqueline finished the course, she continued seeing her psychologist. No longer depressed and suicidal, she was gradually weaned off her medications.
“Then the psychologist phoned me up, and asked if I would go with her to lunch,” Horswell said. “At the end of the lunch, she said, ‘Sonja, I've seen transformation in Jacqueline which was incredible. I need help, too.’"
Soon enough, both Jacqueline and her counselor had found post-abortion healing.
Abortion: Not Just a Women’s Issue
Though SaveOne originated in the United States, it made the leap into Europe because of its first male graduate, Timothy Hall. Hall and his wife Kristy worked through the course six years after his former girlfriend aborted his child.
“I was dealing with depression and certainly a lot of shame over what I'd done,” Hall said. “I was never fully myself with anybody because I was always hiding a part of myself. After SaveOne I felt fully released of all of that. I felt like I had a big purpose in my life, to help others.”
“The truth is, it's not just a women's issue; it does affect men,” he said. “I know there are many men out there who felt some sort of responsibility and denied that instinct and feel guilty about it. I would say the majority of the men I have talked to have felt relieved to hear that another man also loved his child and felt all those things.”
In 2004, Hall’s work sent him to Slovenia, where he and his wife eventually housed a young woman transitioning out of rehabilitation. Hearing the Halls talk about SaveOne piqued her interest. Hall had the book translated into Slovene, and soon this woman and several others from their church sat down to the first class ever in Europe.
This launched Hall’s vision for bringing SaveOne’s message of restoration to every capital in Europe.
Enter Sonja Horswell, then managing director of Österreichische Lebensbewegung (Austrian Life Movement Pregnancy Center) in Vienna. Convicted by Isaiah 61:1, she and her staff had been asking God for a year how He wanted “to heal the broken hearted and set the captives free" in Austria. When she discovered SaveOne’s website in 2008, she knew she had found their answer.
“I thought, ‘If there is a tool God is already using to bring healing and transformation to women after an abortion, then I need to order this,’” Horswell said. “So I ordered the book, and with the order came a phone call, and with the phone call came a visit and training for the whole team.”
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By 2010, she had been promoted to director of SaveOne Europe when the Halls returned to the US, where they now serve as the stateside International Liaisons. In January 2017, Horswell left her position at the pregnancy center to focus full-time on SaveOne Europe.
Her husband Chris joined the SaveOne Europe team that same year, he said, “to provide a manly presence for men, to both encourage and to challenge the guys that they have to step up to their God-given role and responsibilities even if it's something they've never thought about.”
“What I see in the guys is that bits of them have stopped living,” he said. “They've found a way to adapt to the situation, whether they were responsible for the woman having the abortion, or they just didn't care, or they walked away. They've stepped out of their role as a man. And that doesn't go by without any traces. It makes them less able to live relationships to the full.”
Horswell said, “Abortion turned out to be a trauma for them, instead of an answer. It was sold to them as a solution—that life goes on superbly after that. It just takes a half hour and $300 or $400 and then it's all dealt with.”
Harper said men sometimes experience a debilitating sense of helplessness that compounds their guilt. In a class she led, a male student’s girlfriend had aborted their baby—a baby he wanted.
“He had been taught, ‘It's her body and it's her choice, so you just need to sit down and shut up,’” she said. “He couldn’t let forgiveness penetrate his heart. He kept saying, ‘I did nothing.’”
“Abortion goes against the very nature of who men were created to be as providers and protectors,” she said. “We've raised an entire generation of men that think they can't speak to this issue.”
Harper, whose husband Jack became SaveOne’s Men’s Director at the end of 2018, said, “As we reach men, I feel we are becoming a louder voice in this arena, and starting to change people's thinking as to this only being a women's issue.”
Sheila and Jack Harper at SaveOne's European Summit last fall | Photo Courtesy: SaveOne Europe
While noting that younger women seek post-abortion help earlier than they used to, Sonja Horswell, too, finds post-abortive men still resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
“Counselors have told us when men come to a counseling session with a completely different issue, most of the time when they trace it back to the starting point, it was an abortion that was not sorted through,” she said.
To help men detect the part abortion plays in their current problems, Chris Horswell wrote a brochure entitled, “Post-Abortion Stress in Men” and published it on the SaveOne website.
He said, “They've convinced themselves that this is not a problem until someone comes and holds up a mirror up, and says, ‘Perhaps whatever else you're experiencing could be a result of that abortion.'”
That men are seeking post-abortion help is evidenced by a man from the far side of Germany who contacted Chris Horswell. He had been searching for two or three years for someone who offered help to post-abortive men, he said. Though separated by distance, the two men worked through the SaveOne course together by Skype.
The Spread of SaveOne
Distance is not the only hurdle for SaveOne courses. Though SaveOne now has chapters in 32 U.S. states, reaching into each of the 45 nations of Europe requires overcoming larger hurdles, such as differences in languages, histories, and cultural mindsets.
The 13 countries with SaveOne leaders in place include Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Germany, Croatia, Romania, Macedonia, Switzerland, Serbia, Slovenia, and Hungary. Leaders in Bulgaria, Holland, Ireland, and Malta have also taken steps to introduce the program in their countries.
Part of Sonja Horswell’s job is to oversee accurate translation and provide contextually-appropriate leadership training. That training starts with one-day sessions for interested pastors, pregnancy care staff, and other lay individuals who want to bring healing to their communities.
According to Chris Horswell, those one-day trainings are one-part education in the SaveOne program and one-part testing ground.
“It confronts people with the question, ‘Am I this person? Is this for me?’” he said.
“People dealing with people need a core understanding of how people function: how they communicate, the issues of life, and how they as humans deal with them,” Chris Horswell said. “You need to see for yourself if you're in a position to help others in the way they need. You can only be strong from a place of strength.”
Recognizing leaders need more than a one-day training session to equip them to handle the range of issues post-abortive men and women may bring into their courses, SaveOne seeks to connect their leaders with additional pastoral care training where available in their country.
Sometimes the first thing leaders need is healing of their own, Sonja Horswell said.
“Women have come to our trainings to help others and realized that because they had an abortion themselves they are not well,” she said. “Once they went through a SaveOne course themselves, then they could help others.”
Becoming the Voice of Experience
Helping others understand the true impact abortion makes on an individual features prominently in the final chapter of SaveOne books. Whether through sharing their testimonies with future leaders during training days or just talking with friends, SaveOne graduates are encouraged to speak up about their experience.
“We believe abortion recovery is the greatest answer to keeping people from having an abortion,” SaveOne President Harper said. “The people who know the truth can go tell the truth.”
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Sonja Horswell told of a couple in Austria whose marriage was almost lost due to the fallout from the couple’s past abortion. After God brought healing to the couple through SaveOne, she said, “He told his brother and his pregnant girlfriend who wanted to abort their child, ‘Don't do it. You're not just destroying the child, you're destroying your relationship.’ This child was actually saved.”
Harper said personal testimonies like these are powerful. “SaveOne graduates are able to talk about what abortion really is and what it does to a person, without having some huge emotional reaction, because they're healed. Instead of being political or judgmental, they just tell their story. You can't really argue with someone's personal experience.”
More Voices, More Hope
Multiplying those voices of experience is Sonja Horswell’s goal. “My dream is really to flood the nations and peoples with the message of hope and restoration for women, men, and couples. To bring back the value of the sanctity of human life in the nations is also part of our message.”
Hall said he sees momentum building behind SaveOne in Europe.
“I think we haven't even seen the real wave yet,” he said. “There's a lot of buzz and there's a lot of excitement. It’s really going to explode.”
European chapter leaders at the SaveOne European Summit in 2018
At last year’s European Summit, more pastors and pastors’ wives attended than ever before, which he sees as key to bringing healing to church-goers as well as to expanding the reach of the ministry.
“I always pray for networks that can multiply the ministry in the nations,” Sonja Horswell said. “And the more people that run, the more people that are a voice for life, the faster we can move. I really believe SaveOne is a God-given tool in our hands to turn the tide of abortion in the nations.”
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