By Jenny Baines
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
Abortion is a huge issue on which many church leaders need guidance and resources.
In this section of the Living Leadership website we’re concerned more with resourcing church leaders to help with the pastoral issues raised by abortion, rather than the vital ethical and political aspects. Many resources on these practical, pastoral aspects are available through CareConfidential, an independent charity concerned especially for the welfare of women and their partners in relation to pregnancy and pregnancy loss, including abortion. Some of these are featured below. Jenny Baines from CC writes:
How can I begin helping someone who is considering abortion?
- When a woman (and her partner) are faced with an unplanned pregnancy, it can seem as if her world has turned upside down; and the temptation is to make a decision in haste, so that life can return to 'normal' as quickly as possible. There can also be external pressures to do this.
- The reality is that, whatever decision is made, the pregnancy will be a part of her life's experience. In most cases a decision does not have to be made immediately, and she should be encouraged to have space and time to explore all the options fully so that an informed decision can be made. Some web resources she may find helpful are listed below.
- (Although reference is mainly made to the woman here, this is also an issue for men, and partners too. If there is a partner involved, if it is appropriate, he should be encouraged to be involved with any decision made.)
- The church leader should be aware that there may be an inner conflict taking place between what her head is saying about the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy, and what her heart may be saying. This is very likely if she has a faith or has a church background; but women who would profess not to have any religious faith may also be struggling with the whole concept of abortion. It is helpful, therefore, to try and identify what is taking place in the head and the heart. Experience has shown that those who ignore their hearts can at a later stage struggle with the effects of their decision.
- When looking at the circumstances surrounding the unplanned pregnancy, practical and financial concerns are likely to be a factor. The church leader should consider support which, hopefully, will be available within the church family, and in the community. Many abortions would not take place if practical and emotional support were available to those in the pregnancy crisis. (A huge challenge for the church today, is the need for leaders to create an environment within the church so that women and their partners can talk about an unplanned pregnancy, and not feel compelled to seek an abortion for fear of judgement from fellow Christians. It would also be really helpful for leaders and members of the church to talk about this issue before an emergency situation arises: of how they would respond to a pregnancy crisis, which could be for a variety of reasons, before the event, so that decisions do not have to be made in the context of an emergency.)
- In all of this, the church leader is not alone! He or she can pray for the Holy Spirit to bring revelation into the situation (Ephesians 1:18). Whatever decision is made, reassure the woman of ongoing support.
How can I begin to help someone who has experienced abortion?
- Be aware of the great courage it may have taken for those who have experienced abortion to come and share their story. For some, especially Christians who may have been involved in church life for many years, this may be the first time they have spoken about their experience. They will need to be received with compassion and sensitivity, and without judgement. The issues of trust and confidentiality are paramount.
- Be aware of possible symptoms of post abortion stress. A Christian may be struggling increasingly with feelings of guilt and shame, and may well believe that they are beyond forgiveness.
- Encourage them to share their story - not simply the facts surrounding the abortion, but ways in which this experience may have affected all areas of their lives.
- 'The Journey' is a post abortion recovery programme which covers all of these areas, and has been seen to work well in a church context. There may be a local Pregnancy Crisis Centre offering this programme. Alternatively, it can be completed online: here
- God can bring healing and wholeness in these situations, and spiritual wellbeing which can enrich all areas of life.
Jenny works with CareConfidential, who provide free and confidential support for women and their partners facing either a crisis pregnancy or post abortion concerns. They offer a national free phone helpline, 0800 028 2228, and an online counselling service, here . They support a nationwide network of 135 independent pregnancy advice and support centres, run by over 800 trained advisors, who are mostly volunteers. Through these caring initiatives, CareConfidential support more than 38,000 women and their partners each year, and also work internationally to share good practice and expertise. Other resources any of us may find helpful on thewww.careconfidential.com website include:
Pregnant, what now - a leaflet to help with the decision making process
Your questions answered - detailed responses to specific situations including ‘My daughter is pregnant’, ‘I had an abortion’, ‘I might be pregnant’… and more, including leaflets ready to download
People’s stories - read stories that have been sent to CareConfidential, with people’s actual experiences on the subjects of abortion, adoption, crisis pregnancy, keeping my baby, men's stories, miscarriage, and teenage pregnancy
Baby in the womb - a link to BBC information about the development of the baby in the womb
Experience of abortion - video where women describe their experience, and the help they found after having an abortion
Abortion and teenage pregnancy in the news - summary and links to over 250 news items that have appeared in the UK media
Relevant research - summary and links to over 80 research items on abortion, on unexpected pregnancy, adoption, and parenting
Jenny’s colleague Howard Chapman adds: 'The silence surrounding abortion is widespread in all church communities, where people are aware that it is a sensitive subject and are unsure of what to say. A recent cross-denominational survey by CareConfidential showed that 60% have never heard abortion discussed in a church. And when something is said, it is sometimes not very helpful.
'As a result Christians have become confused; recent surveys show that attitudes among Christians do not differ much from that of non-Christians. As well as aspects of teaching there are many other practical issues of abortion that need addressing with pastoral action before the subject can be discussed openly and objectively. For example, many people coming into the church are suffering from a past abortion, but because of the silence around the subject, they feel unable to talk about it and reconcile this part of their past with their new faith. So the church has become a place that nurtures hurt instead of a place of healing and reconciliation.
'There is need for the church to take a lead in helping Christians react effectively and with compassion to the issue in our own lives, in our own families and in our own church communities. CareConfidential is currently working on “Breaking the Silence”, a practical programme of training and teaching for church ministers, youth workers and leaders that aims to change this.'