How should churches handle the delicate issue of abortion when nearly one-fifth of women who get abortions are sitting in our pews?

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Still, movement leaders' frustration is borne out by at least one study. In a master's degree thesis for Regent University, Molly M. Stone surveyed over a hundred pastors in the South Hampton Roads area of Virginia. About 75 percent described themselves as pro-life, and the majority had counseled women in crisis pregnancies and women grieving past abortions. They agreed that the church should take a stand and that it was not too divisive to address from the pulpit. Yet, while exactly 70.2 percent said the church should support pro-life pregnancy care centers, exactly 70.2 percent said their church did not.

But pastors who would like to speak out but don't know what to say will find many pro-life organizations eager to help. A good place to start is with an annual pro-life Sunday, which the Catholic church observes on the first Sunday of October ("Respect Life Sunday") and Protestants on the Sunday nearest the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, January 22 ("Sanctity of Life Sunday").

"Sanctity of Life" church bulletin covers, sermon outlines, prayers, and other materials are produced by various pro-life groups. Of course, there is a wide array of pro-life materials suitable for congregational use all year round: videos and speakers for adult classes, posters, books for the church library, even pro-life rock songs and T-shirts for the youth group. A church that is ready to make a commitment against abortion does not have to make up everything from scratch.

Healing postabortion grief

One of a pastor's fears is that, if he speaks out against abortion, a postabortion woman in the pew will burst into tears. David Reardon, author of Aborted Women: Silent No More, has written a book for clergy called The Jericho Plan: Breaking Down the Walls Which Prevent Post-Abortion Healing. His aim: to give pastors the training and confidence they need to heal this grief. After all, letting it go unresolved helps no one.

Reardon believes that when clergy speak against abortion, they can see a reaction scattering among the members of the congregation: some get steely-eyed ("Who are you to judge me?"), while others look downcast and pained. Neither is the sort of response preachers enjoy. Reardon recommends a plan of empathy, education, repentance, and reconciliation. His approach is notable in that it presumes that men as well as women will bear the marks of postabortion grief; postabortion counseling for men is a growing field.

Therapist Anne Speckhard, who helps train pastors in postabortion counseling, thinks that "women really need to hear it was wrong." Whitewashing the sin, or coaxing the woman to see herself as a helpless victim, may initially seem compassionate, but these approaches ultimately complicate and delay healing. "It's a fine line on how to do it. Don't minimize and don't condemn."

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