Life after Hollywood, forgiveness after abortion
Editor’s note: With 30 feature films to her credit and 30 years as a spokeswoman for Cover Girl cosmetics, internationally acclaimed actress and model Jennifer O’Neill knows fame and fortune. But with multiple failed marriages, nine miscarriages and one abortion in her past, she is also well acquainted with sorrow and regret. O’Neill may not have survived her self-destructive ways had it not been for a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ at the age of 38.
Now 56, O’Neill has long since been rejected by Hollywood’s elite due to her faith in Jesus Christ. But the life transformation she experienced with her newfound faith led O’Neill down a new career path. Today O’Neill is an outspoken pro-life advocate, working with organizations like Focus on the Family, National Right to Life and Women of Faith. Her books, Surviving Myself, From Fallen to Forgiven and You’re Not Alone, chronicle her life story and encourage women to seek the forgiveness that God has for them, even after abortion.
O’Neill is also an avid horse lover and spends many hours breeding, showing and training horses at her farm in Nashville. She is a successfully married mother of three and grandmother of four. O’Neill spoke recently with Assistant Editor Ashli O’Connell.
PE: What led to your salvation experience?
O’NEILL: It’s difficult to explain how a life that looked so good on the outside and was blessed in many ways, hurt so much on the inside. I had all the accoutrements of a fabulous life. Nonetheless, from the time I was a little girl I had this hole in my heart. Although I attained success, I was bumping into life pretty hard. I almost died three times. I broke my neck and back on my horses. I was shot. I had nine miscarriages. I have had, unfortunately, failed marriages.
At 38, when I was pregnant with my third child, I came to the Lord. I did not have a Damascus Road experience; mine was more of a slow-motion Clairol ad. While I was carrying Cooper I found out that people had been praying for me for years. The biggest plus of having any kind of celebrity, if you will, is that people prayed for me who didn’t even know me. I also had some friends who had been witnessing to me about Jesus. During my pregnancy, I began to read the Bible. By the time I had Cooper and we dedicated him, I was baptized.
During that period there was a battle, as there is for every soul. It took me a period of time to hear the truth. But I asked Jesus to be Lord of my life and began my journey of faith filled with mercy from a loving, patient, powerful, all-knowing God. It’s a process to change your life. Although I welcomed God’s offer of eternal life, it took me years to receive His promises in full. I’ve finally reached the point where I can speak about these issues, and the truth does set you free. God does use all things for good.
PE: What professional price did you pay when you gave your life to Christ?
O’NEILL: When I came to the Lord, I was ecstatic and very vocal about it. Like most new Christians, I wanted to stand on top of a house and scream out about the grace of God. That was costly in terms of just working in Hollywood. Of course that was 17 or 18 years ago. It’s getting a little bit better now with the advent of The Passion of the Christ and so forth. But it cost me my career. Fortunately, God is very faithful and He’s used whatever celebrity I had in doing those 30 movies to give me a platform today. I’m so very humbled and honored to be in that position.
PE: Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Can you share your abortion story?
O’NEILL: I had married at 17 and had my daughter when I was 19. So I was already a mom. Not being based on any solid foundation, my marriage failed after six years. I then dated a man for about a year, fell madly in love with him, and we were engaged. He had been married before, as I had. We were just waiting for his divorce to become final when I became pregnant. I was thrilled and couldn’t have been happier. Unfortunately, my joy was not shared. He basically said, “You’re not going to have a baby, you’re going to have an abortion.” The disappointment, sadness and horror of that moment remain indescribable to this day.
My parents told me as best they knew then, which was, “Oh, Jen, you can’t have a baby with a man who doesn’t want to have one. It’s not fair to the baby. And, anyway, it’s so early on, it’s not even a baby yet.” This was well before ultrasounds, and my parents weren’t believers in Christ, so from their perspective they just gave me the best advice they could. My friends echoed their comments.
Even my doctor told me a lie from the pit of hell that is still told today: “Abortion is a very simple procedure. It’s just a cluster of cells right now. It’s not a baby.”
I tried everything I could to convince the father to be excited about our baby, but he refused, and in fact became increasingly belligerent and threatening. I just finally gave in. Even during the abortion I was begging that it wouldn’t happen. Nonetheless, nobody’s responsible for my actions but me.
PE: What kind of an effect did that have on you?
O’NEILL: Abortion was personally the biggest nightmare and shame of my life. The aftermath is devastating. Abortion is the doorway to self-hatred, self-sabotage, guilt and aching regret. And what happened to me happens with so many.
The statistics show that abortion is the number one medical procedure performed in this county. We’re still losing 3,000-4,000 babies a day. Following those abortions, mothers suffer from higher rates of depression, alcoholism and drug abuse because they want to be numb. They have difficulty relating to the children they have. They have trust issues. They suffer from promiscuity and low self-esteem. That’s why so many women have repeated abortions; it’s just a spiral-down effect.
PE: Among our readers there are those who have had abortions and are struggling to forgive themselves. What would you say to those readers?
O’NEILL: I would implore them to allow Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to cover their sin. His blood covers all of our sin, not just some of it. God assures us in Scripture that His arms are open wide for everyone who seeks Him. Our Lord’s grace, restoration and unconditional love are ours for the asking in Jesus’ name. He wants us released from past recriminations that rob our lives on a daily basis through our unforgiveness, bitterness and sorrow.
I have a workbook and a video called Life After Abortion. There are other programs out there. You have to come forth and claim your life again. Repentance and reconciliation will bring freedom; and for those of us who have received God’s offer of grace, we walk in victory.
PE: Do you think, in general, Christians are too passive about this issue?
O’NEILL: Yes, I do. However, I think it’s getting better, and that’s why I’m so honored to be in your magazine. There’s greater movement in the church to address abortion, but quite often we go to church and we just want to put on that “perfect face.” The truth is the perfect face is to have a real face, a transparent face. We need to be encouraged from the pulpit to address tough issues, like abortion, with no recrimination.
We need to have more abortion recovery groups in churches. Christ did not come for just the well; He came for the hurting.
PE: What else can Christians do?
O’NEILL: If you’ve had an abortion, let God use you to help other women who are considering having one to choose life. Women who have had abortions are quite often the volunteers who work in pregnancy care centers. When a woman who is considering an abortion walks into one of these centers, there are two things that make a huge difference. One is being able to see an ultrasound of their baby. The other is to speak with somebody who has had an abortion and knows the pain it inflicts. “Experience overrides theory” is a phrase I often use when addressing the truth about abortion.
PE: Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
O’NEILL: I implore any of you who have not experienced God’s grace in healing all your past regrets and pains to wait no longer. Please don’t turn away from God because you don’t believe yourself worthy of His pardon and love. His favor is simply a free gift through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. I am so grateful to be called a child of God, forgiven and set free. I stand with you in praise and worship of our Lord with thanksgiving as we embrace the assurances in His Word that we are profoundly loved by God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in Christ.
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