At Allegheny Reproductive Health Center, we are very strongly committed to promoting spiritual health both before and after abortion. From your first contact with us, whether by phone or our website, we want to let both patients and support persons know immediately that we are willing to discuss any concerns you might have, including spiritual matters. We have many brochures on spiritual healing on hand for patients and their support persons. In addition, we offer referrals to supportive clergy who can help with the religious aspects that exist for some women and men before, during, and after the abortion procedure.
If you would like to learn more about faith and reproductive rights, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights and Faith Aloud have many excellent resources available. They also provide pastoral counseling and referral services from a pro-choice perspective. If you are feeling apprehensive about calling, Faith Aloud's clergy members have recorded several compassionate messages for women considering abortion, which can be viewed on their website.
Although there is no way to actually measure spiritual health, the state of spiritual health can be defined as having the presence of many of the following characteristics.
- Sense of inner peace
- Ability to find comfort and/or strength in one's spiritual beliefs and values
- Belief in one's own worth and goodness
- Belief in divine or perpetual goodness
- Ability to receive and offer love and care
- Strong connection to people
- Sense of purpose in the world
- Ability to forgive self and others
- Hopefulness in the future
- Sense of some control over one's own life
And conversely, lack of spiritual health may be present if you feel that several of the terms below describe you
- Persistent fear
- Excessive guilt
- Inner turmoil
- Sense of hopelessness
- Frequent conflict with others
- Victimization of self and/or others
- Judgmental, punishing, and/or harsh behavior toward self or others
- Excessive anger
- Sense of worthlessness
- And perhaps most significantly, the tendency to justify any of the above negative behaviors with religious teachings or values
You can use the above lists to assess yourself to see how you are doing. If you think that you have more characteristics of the second group than the first, you are probably feeling quite awful.
Our desire is that a woman who has an abortion will eventually be exhibiting behaviors from the first list, that is, the list of ten characteristics of a state of spiritual health. What are the indicators of whether a woman will be spiritually healthy following an abortion or whether she will experience guilt, fear, anger, and a need for punishment?
Spiritual Understanding Before Abortion
The greatest indicator of a woman's or man's post-abortion spiritual health is the person's spiritual health before the abortion.
- Do you view God as a loving and caring presence who will be by your side throughout trouble? Or is God a harsh judge who is ready to punish?
- Do you see the pregnancy as an accident of nature or a test from God?
- Does your religious community offer support and understanding or rigid laws you must follow?
- How was God presented to you when you were very young? Was God an invisible presence looking to catch you in acts of disobedience?
- Do you describe your parents as nurturing and forgiving, or strict disciplinarians who withheld their affection? (Your view of God is likely to mimic your view of your parents.)
- In your religious community, is abortion described as "murder" or "sin"?
- What spiritual value do you attach to your sexual life? Do you think that God punishes sexual behavior?
Even when a person thinks that she or he has left behind the religion of childhood, she is often surprised to hear those voices in her head when she is under the stress of an unanticipated pregnancy. She may even think the pregnancy is a punishment from God for leaving her faith behind.
If a woman is not spiritually healthy prior to an abortion, she is at very high risk for spiritual conflict following the procedure. This is even truer if her normal support system of family and friends articulate strong religious values that condemn abortion.
However, with the right spiritual support, an unanticipated pregnancy and an abortion can provide a unique opportunity for a woman to take charge of her life and to come to more mature understandings of the nature of God and God's role in her life. This is most likely to be successful if spiritual support is ongoing.
Is An Abortion Clinic a Place of Prayer?
For some women, unplanned pregnancy may be first and foremost a spiritual crisis. While a clinic staff may be viewing it as a medical situation, the woman and/or her partner may not be thinking that way at all. It can be a spiritual crisis because the patient may connect her pregnancy with God's purpose for her in the world, her morality, her ability to create a future, her satisfaction with her life circumstances, her beliefs about life and death. For all women to achieve post abortion spiritual help, it is our belief at Allegheny Reproductive Health Center that spiritual nurture must be provided in our facility.
Toward that end, we encourage women and men to talk to their counselor about their concerns in their private session. We have numerous brochures from various groups such as Catholics for Free Choice, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and printouts from individuals and others whose purpose is, like ours, to promote post abortion spiritual health. Within our clinic, many hundreds of women have written spiritual messages to God, to one another, to the pregnancy itself. These messages can be read both on the walls and also in notebooks in most rooms while you wait. Patients are welcome to bring a Bible or other religious or spiritual books with them for their own comfort. Referrals to understanding clergy are possible too. Counselors will also pray with a patient, couple or family upon request. Patients who want to baptize their baby or want a staff person to do it need only ask and it will be done. If there is any other way in which we can be of help to you spiritually, please let us know and we will do all we can to comply with your request. Your post abortion spiritual health is as important to us as your physical health and your emotional health.
Rev. Rebecca Turner, from whom much of the above was adapted, tells women and men who ask if God will ever forgive them the following:
"I believe that God is always forgiving, and that there is nothing you can do to separate yourself from God's love. I believe that God already knows that you have done the best you could given your choices, and that God is always willing to welcome you with open arms. I believe that God watches over you every day of your life, including the day you have an abortion. Perhaps being reminded of that, you can begin to forgive yourself."
Adapted from paper by Rev. Rebecca Turner, Executive Director of the Missouri Religious Coalition of Reproductive Choice and a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).