Actress, model and writer Jennifer O'Neill had an abortion in her 20s and said it took years for her to emotionally recover from it.
O'Neill spoke Thursday at the Etowah Pregnancy Center's annual "Choose Life" banquet. She said in an interview prior to the speech that she was impressed by the options and services the center offers young women who are pregnant.
About 650 tickets were sold for the banquet and O'Neill said she was "astounded' by the support for the center.
O'Neill, 61, has had a long career in movies and television and now lives in Nashville. She said she moved from Hollywood after becoming a Christian when she was 38.
"Hollywood is not very user friendly for Jesus Christ, especially 22 years ago," O'Neill said.
She said she moved to Nashville about 15 years ago because she found it "more spiritually uplifting."
O'Neill addressed her abortion for the first time in her autobiography, "Surviving Myself," which was published 10 years ago - years after she became a Christian.
"It took me that long to receive God's grace," she said. "God has allowed me to have a platform from that horrible experience."
O'Neill already had a 3-year-old child, but her financé did not want a child and persuaded her to have an abortion.
"That's one of the reasons this center is so important because it offers alternatives," O'Neill said, noting that the center offers information and emotional and financial support.
"When one finds oneself in an unexpected pregnancy that can make all the difference of life and death," O'Neill said.
She said the after effects of abortions are devastating. She had three children, but said she had nine miscarriages as a result of her abortion.
"Abortion is not safe," O'Neill said, "not emotionally, spiritually, physically."
She said she suffered from serious depression and guilt after her abortion.
"It took me a long time even after coming to my faith," O'Neill said, "to accept forgiveness for my abortion. Jesus died on the cross for all of our sins, including abortion."
She said many people who have had abortions "become a billboard for the truth" and can help others.
O'Neill is the spokeswoman for "Silent No More," a non-denominational, non-political awareness campaign dedicated to post abortion healing.
She said her ministry deals with tough issues such as teen suicide, abortion, domestic abuse, domestic violence. She addresses those in her fiction series "Circle of Friends," so people can realize they are not the only ones who have those problems.
O'Neill has appeared in more than 30 movies. Asked about her favorites, she named "Rio Lobo" which she starred in at 21 opposite John Wayne, and "The Innocent."
She said"Summer of '42" which she did after "Rio Lobo" and was released in 1971, also was memorable, noting that it is still popular.
"I had women for years say to me 'oh my husband is in love with you,'" O'Neill said, "and now they come and say 'my husband is in love with you and my son is in love with you' so it's been around for a long time."
In "Summer of '42" O'Neill played the "older woman" at 22. She also signed a 30-year contract with Cover Girl promoting their cosmetics.
She said she is in the Smithsonian for having one of the longest contracts.
"So between the Smithsonian and being the older woman in "Summer of 42" people think I'm about 95 and I'm actually 61," O'Neill said.
In the movie, O'Neill plays a woman who has developed a relationship with a teenager and after learning her husband was killed in World War II, they become intimate.
She now promotes abstinence.
Would she do the role now?
"It was a sweet story," she said. "Would I do it now or after I've come to my faith? Probably not."
O'Neill has written seven books and said she is writing material to produce "family-oriented" films.
She will have a movie coming out at Christmas titled "The Last Ounce of Courage."
O'Neill said it is about a family with a son in Iraq and covers what is important about Christmas, stressing the message that it is not a shopping spree.