The abortion healing non-profit Support After Abortion recently hosted Secular Pro-Life’s executive director, Monica Snyder, for a webinar on “Meeting Clients Across Different Belief Systems.” Women who seek abortions come from many backgrounds; according to the Guttmacher Institute, 30% are Protestant, 24% are Catholic, 8% belong to other religions, and 38% have no religious affiliation. This makes it probable that any given post-abortion counselor will at some point need to provide support to a person with a different belief system than their own. We thank Support After Abortion for inviting Monica to speak on this important topic.
Watch the video or read the transcript below. Many thanks to our volunteer transcriber, Milena Popp. Want to join her? Learn more about becoming a Secular Pro-Life volunteer.
LISA: My name is Lisa Rowe. If we have yet to meet, I am the CEO of Support After
Abortion. I am thrilled to be sharing with you the topic that we get to discuss today. But before we do, I wanted to make sure that you knew that, if you missed it last month or have yet to listen to the recording, we had a fantastic interactive conversation last month about – ha, well I’m gonna stutter here – “healthy helping.” It was very well received and I believe it was a great way for us to start the new year, talking about how to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. So if you haven’t had a chance to tune into that we will make sure to provide the link for you to go and take a peek.
Every month, as you can attend, we always are trying to provide you with top-notch conversations, research, best practices. And so, this month, we are going to bring to you something I don’t think we’ve ever done as comprehensive as we’re about to do. We are bringing people to you from different walks of life: different culture walks, different faith walks. And we are here to help you better understand the people in your community, the people who’ve experienced abortion. And so, we have done our very best to bring a diverse group of people here to you today, and we’re going to be talking to you about: how they see abortion, what the implications are in their faith journey and their culture life. And, of course, this is just a toe dip into the pool. It’s not anything comprehensive. If you’re a theology major you’ve probably had to go through several grad classes to learn more about other faiths and people not like you or not of your faith. And so this is just a very, very, very finite kind of conversation today that will hopefully ignite in you an understanding about how you can shift the conversations around abortion healing in your communities – perhaps even look at the programs that you’re providing. Are you meeting the people that we’re about to share, the way that they need to be reached? I think you’re going to learn a lot; I’m really thrilled about this. So, if you will [bear] with me for a second, make sure that you are in a neutral zone in your own thought life, in your own heart life – that you are here to receive, not judge. You’re here to learn, not condemn. You’re not here to evangelize or to try to preach your own understanding. But you’re here to receive a message that might help you reach more people. And so, without further ado, if you’ll wave your hand when I introduce you:
Our first panelist is Monica Snyder. She’s from Secular Pro-Life; she’s their Executive Director. She identifies as an atheist. She is leading this ministry and she’s focusing on advancing the secular arguments against abortion. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical biology from UC Berkeley and a Masters in forensic science from UC Davis. She takes a particular interest in the biological aspects of the abortion debate. Welcome, Monica, if you can just wave your hand one more time; we’re glad that you’re here. Some of you may know her.
We also have Deacon Michael Thompson, if you’ll wave your hand for me. We’re glad that you’re here. He is representing the Catholic faith today. He has a Masters in Theology and is a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. He has a degree in chemical engineering and worked in manufacturing for 36 six plus years. He retired two years ago – congratulations – and has been married 37 years and has four adult children. Thank you so much Deacon for being here, if you’ll wave one more time.
We have Cecily with us. She is the president of the Jewish Pro-life Foundation. Cecily provides pro-life education to the Jewish community and healing after abortion for Jewish women and men. She holds a Masters in social work and is the author of Tikvah Rachel: A Jewish Abortion Healing Program – she’s going to say that a lot better when she has a chance to talk – which is offered virtually. Her foundation also provides after-abortion grief training for rabbis, therapists, and professionals and peer counselors. Cecily lives with her husband, Tom, in the Pittsburgh area. One more time, Cecily, we’re glad that you’re here. Thank you.
All right, Pastor Tony Plummer is the pastor of a non-denominational church here in Southwest Florida. He and his wife are leading that church. He enjoys preaching and teaching. He attended Cedarville University and has served as a Youth Pastor, Associate Pastor, and now as the lead Pastor. He’s lived in Venice for 26 years. He’s blessed to be married to his wife now for 36 years. And he says God has blessed them with two wonderful children and five grandchildren, with one on the way. Thank you Tony, for being here.
And last, but not least – oh, actually I have two more folks. I have not seen Dr. Khan. Is he available? He might not have come yet. Okay, so we’re gonna keep waiting. But in the meantime, we are going to introduce you – there he is – welcome! I’m going to come back to you, Dr. Khan.
All right, Pastor Lisa Connors is an Associate Pastor of In His Image International Ministry in Maryland. She’s been in Ministry for over 25 years and is in the human service, social work, counseling, addiction field for over 30 years. Pastor Connors has worked in various settings providing services to the despondent and downtrodden. She works tirelessly to help others reach their fullest potential. She is really just a breath of fresh air, having her own abortion experience, and I really feel like she’s going to be able to add a lot of personal experience today. Thank you Pastor Lisa, for being here.
And then Dr. Khan is here from the Islamic Society of Greenville. Dr Khan is an internal medicine physician and Assistant Professor at Spartanburg Regional Hospital. He’s a member of the Islamic Society of Greenville, South Carolina and we are grateful that you are here with us today. It’s nice to meet you and introduce you to my peers.
So without further ado, we’re going to go across the panel of all of these amazing people here that are joining us. And I’m going to ask them three different questions and give them an opportunity to respond, so that you can hear perhaps why they’re here and how their faith and culture shapes their understanding.
So the first question I have for the panel – and we’re going to do this individually and I’ll call your name – what inspired you to join us at the abortion healing provider meeting this month? And we’ll start with Monica.
MONICA: I’m very grateful anytime people seek to hear viewpoints that are different than their own and, in particular, if they’re seeking to hear secular viewpoints if they aren’t secular. I think that there’s a lot of common ground. I think that the pro-life movement could do a lot to reach out to, what I call, non-traditional pro-lifers. And so, if we are given an opportunity and people are interested and want to know where we’re coming from, I try to always jump on that. So I really appreciate the invitation.
LISA: Yeah. Glad that you’re here Monica. Thank you.
How about you Deacon? Why are you here with us today? What inspired you?
DEACON THOMAS: Uh, Kylie invited me. And I did not know you could say no to Kylie.
Seriously, I think the work that these counselors do is so very important. You know, God loves us all and we all make decisions, and sometimes those decisions are difficult to live with. And he sends people to these, people in need. And I view this as them reaching out doing God’s work. And I think it’s very, very, great that we’re trying to understand each of the different faiths so that we have a good understanding of where these people are coming from so that we can best serve them.
LISA: It’s wonderful. Thank you.
Cecily, what attracted you to today’s meeting?
CECILY: Yes. Thank you Lisa. I’m glad to be here. Oh, it’s just wonderful being included in the pro-life community healing work. And we – the Jewish Pro-life Foundation believes that people – men and women – suffer after making a decision to destroy an innocent human life in the womb. And we want to be able to share with people that we do not agree with the majority Jewish position on the issue, which is that, you know, it’s a religious right and a Jewish value to do this. We strongly oppose that viewpoint and so it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to share an authentic pro-life, life-affirming, Jewish view here this morning. Thank you so much.
LISA: Absolutely Cecily. Thank you so much. Pastor Tony, what inspired you?
PASTOR TONY: Well, you asked – Lisa did. And I’m thrilled to be a part of this work in any way that I can. I think the main thing, in the core of who I am, is that I’ve always had a deep compassion and burden for those young girls and women who find themselves in a frightening pregnancy situation, and an equal burden and compassion for those who have had an abortion and are struggling and need healing and need help and hope. And I also wanted to learn. I’m looking forward to learning here today too, from everybody. So I’m thankful for the opportunity.
LISA: Awesome, thank you so much for sharing.
Pastor Lisa, what inspired you to come with us today?
PASTOR LISA: Good afternoon, everyone. Just to make it simple, what inspired me is because when I had gone through my own experience, I didn’t have anybody that looked like me. And even on this panel today, there are not many of me on this panel, and I want to be a voice for those who are unseen and unheard. And I really want to increase the level of representation when it comes to persons of color. I’m certainly so instrumental in the BIPOC community, because I recognize, even in my congregation and other congregations, there are many people sitting in silence because they don’t feel safe enough to share. And for a long time, I didn’t feel safe enough to share because of judgment. So I’m here based on my own personal experience – but also my professional experience – to ensure that there is some equity across the board as we deal with some of these systemic issues that we continue to deal with on a daily basis.
LISA: I love that. Thank you so much, Dr. Lisa. And to finish this question out – Dr. Khan, would you share what inspired you to be with us today?
DR. KHAN: Well, thank you for inviting me. I was invited recently by a friend. I’m glad that members of the Muslim Community have a seat at this table. You know, we’re largely an immigrant population; we’re a bit behind other faith-based societies and other groups in terms of catching up with…. We’ve had other needs met. But, I think, now we’ve grown to the point where we can tackle some of these more challenging issues, such as abortion, in our community. We don’t have nearly as many resources other communities do. So I’m here largely to learn. But I’m glad to have a seat at the table. Thank you again for inviting me.
LISA: Yeah, absolutely. And thank you for attending. Actually, by way of a neighbor of one of my colleagues, and I appreciate the last-minute-ness of the request. Thank you for being with us.
Okay, so our second question is: we’d like to better understand your practice – your faith, or culture practice – and how that might lend itself to your belief system around abortion. And before we answer this question – I’ll restate it in just a minute… What I’m really hoping that you can hear as you’re listening to them respond is, maybe, [understand] the deposits that have been made into people that our life interfaces with over time, based on their culture and faith experiences, so when they enter into our doors we are more mindful of what they’ve already heard – whether they’ve heard healthy things, whether they’ve heard unhealthy things. So that it’s not a matter of helping to change their mind, but listening to understand so that we can help serve them better.
So, again, the question is: we want to better understand your practices and how that has shaped your faith or your belief system as it pertains to abortion. So we’ll head back to you, Monica, if you’ll get us started.
MONICA: Yeah, I ask your patience; I just want to say a couple quick caveats before I launch into it. The first one is that I am an atheist but I think atheism is not very cohesive. There are a lot of different kinds of atheists and, mostly the commonality is just lack of a belief, so I’m not pretending to speak for everybody. That’s the first caveat. And also, I don’t have personal experience with abortion and I just want to make clear that I’m speaking to what other people have told me. I do have experience with miscarriage and there’s some commonality there. But I just don’t want to speak out of turn.
So with that, I will say, with my experiences with miscarriage, I joined pregnancy loss groups and there was a lot of discussion in the groups I was in about seeing your child again in an afterlife, about God having greater reasons for bad things happening… And those kinds of conversations were, for me, exceedingly painful, because – they’re lovely thoughts and I don’t begrudge anyone believing that – but because I don’t, it just feels like almost a tease. And so then I joined pregnancy loss groups specific to secular people, especially atheists and agnostics. And that was better in the one sense, but more difficult in another because secular people, especially atheists, are overwhelmingly pro-choice. And those groups had specific rules that, it wasn’t just “we’re not going to talk about abortion,” it was this is a specifically pro-choice space. And so for, I think, men and women – parents – seeking healing from a loss, whether it’s an abortion or a miscarriage or whatever, who don’t have those faith systems, it’s sort of a catch-22 because a lot of healing programs and a lot of people wanting to help them will base a lot of it on these sort of beliefs that they just they can’t access. And also, ideas about divine forgiveness and mercy – which again, I think are beautiful ideas that I think a lot of secular people would like to believe, but don’t – and they can’t access that when they’re trying to figure out how to move on.
And then, in their organic social circles a lot of times, there is deep resistance and misunderstanding about why someone would be this upset. It’s a very confusing space. I’ve seen a lot of secular people who are struggling deeply with grief from miscarriage, but then don’t understand why anyone would have a problem with abortion because in that case you chose it. There’s just a lot of… I feel like there’s a lot of gaps. And so, I guess, the only things that come to mind that I’d really like to emphasize is – it’s a tricky thing when you can’t access the hope of mercy and forgiveness, the hope of an afterlife.
For me, personally, I found the things that helped me psychologically and emotionally was basically acknowledgment from the people around me that this is a significant event, and that it is a very sad event, humanizing of the children that I lost through miscarriage, ritual – which is another tricky thing because that can mean a lot of different things when you’re secular. I was Catholic as a child and I have Catholic family. And when I had my miscarriages, I really, really missed the rituals in Catholicism. I think they can be very healing and cathartic, and I just felt like I couldn’t access them because of where I’m coming from.
The other thing about the loss is, I think, in some belief systems, sometimes, parents will believe that the soul or spirit of the child they have lost can come back in another way at another time, or they could believe in the afterlife – it could be some of those things. And from the atheist perspective, at least my atheist perspective, that’s not a thing. The loss is permanent, completely permanent. And that also makes it very difficult, and I wish I had insight as to how to make that easier from the atheist perspective. I don’t think the atheist perspective is very appealing in a lot of these ways. But just to emphasize that it’s kind of a dark place when it comes to trying to deal with grief and loss and death. It can feel very alienating when the people trying to help you are using tools that you just can’t access.
Another thing I wanted to say is that, I have found as I work in pro-life work and tell people I’m an atheist, a lot of times they have an idea of what an atheist looks like that a lot of times basically is born of the most obnoxious, loudest, atheist activists online. And don’t get me wrong, that’s a real thing that people have to deal with. But there are a lot of secular people who are not anti-theists; they just don’t believe in a faith and they’re quieter about it. And a lot of times, they are secular because of some terrible experience they’ve had with a church or a person or something related to a past faith. And so for them sometimes, just in terms of abortion healing and also in terms of pro-life work in general, they can find it very emotionally and mentally challenging to interface a lot with very vocal faithful people – not because they begrudge that faith, but because of their own histories with it. They might just prefer to not be thinking about it or be around it. And so, sometimes when I talk to pro-life people about how to increase diversity or increase inclusion, and I mention sort of toning down some of the religious discussions, they think I mean it’s because we find it irritating. And it’s not really accurate; it’s more like some people find it quite painful. And if, in order to seek abortion healing or if in order to seek pro-life work you have to constantly be mentally and emotionally filtering out this undercurrent, it could just be a barrier to entry. So, I think those are all the points I wanted to make sure to emphasize .
LISA: Thank you, Monica. You really did give us a great perspective.
Moving on to you Deacon Michael, from the Roman Catholic perspective, what is your practice and how does that inform your belief system regarding abortion?
DEACON MICHAEL: First, for my own personal experience, I’m one of 11 children and I have four children of my own. I was in the delivery room and was with my wife throughout the all the pregnancies and saw all the ultrasound pictures and everything. From a Catholic perspective, we believe that life begins at conception when the sperm and the egg meet and actually before that – in Jeremiah it says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. And before you were born, I consecrated you.” So God’s creating us before we’re even in the womb. And then when we’re created, he consecrates us to him. So we view from the very conception – this is a human life. And we also believe that God is the author of life and death – that he is the one who decides when someone is born and when someone has died; it’s not up to people to do this. So, if we end a life then it is considered a grave matter – sin of grave matter. Now, we also believe that God is a righteous and just God, but he’s also a merciful and loving God and he wants very much for us to be with him. So he provides ways for us to handle these things and to come closer to him again after an abortion. One’s not condemned to hell if they are part of an abortion. And I’m presenting what a Catholic would be taught so that everyone has an idea, so if you’re talking to a Catholic person they may be feeling extreme guilt. That’s not the intent of the Catholic faith. The intent is – an abortion is a wrong thing.
You know, Moses murdered a person; David murdered someone and committed adultery, but God didn’t send him to hell for that. So someone might be feeling guilt about this, but there’s a loving and merciful God who’s anxious to be reunited with them.
LISA: Thank you, Deacon. I appreciate that. Moving on to you Cecily from the Jewish faith and culture. How do you view abortion and what is your belief system?
CECILY: Thank you Lisa. Well, you know, there’s a joke that if you ask three Jewish people their opinion on something, you’ll get at least four different answers (Cecily and Deacon laughing). Okay? So this is my humble opinion as a Jewish woman who’s grown in her faith over the years. And now, you know, I feel that I have a covenantal relationship with my Creator. And I’m in awe of the gift of life and his merciful forgiveness of all of our errors. And, also how he can turn the pain of our mistakes into something positive and useful in the world, which is the foundation of what I see our healing program to be about. So, you know, we have many denominations of Judaism and across the board there’s different viewpoints, opinions and practices of terminating an unborn innocent child’s life in the womb, right? For me, I believe that, through our foundation we try to share this view that life is precious, and that Judaism is the original pro-life religion, because we were the first religion in human history to sanctify unborn life as made in the image of God. And also [we were] the first religion to prohibit child sacrifice, which was normative in cultures before Sinai and, unfortunately, has become normative again.
So yes, we believe that Judaism is definitely pro-life. We don’t have that, you know, motto, “L’Chaim!”, “To life!”, for no good reason. It’s there because we are all about life and not shedding innocent blood. Now juxtapose that to the Jewish majority opinion, which is now that Judaism is a religion that feels that abortion is a Jewish value and a religious right, which to me is heretical and antithetical to Judaism. But that is what the general public hears now so often. So it’s very confusing for many Jewish people who have been taught that and choose abortion for unplanned pregnancy/unwanted pregnancy. They have been taught to feel virtuous about it. But, you know, we’re all born with a conscience. God gives us this to steer us in his direction. And so we have many Jewish mothers and fathers in America, and also in Israel, that silently suffer the guilt and regret of abortion. But this gaslighting that goes on – it teaches them that they’ve been virtuous and it’s their right to do this. So, there’s no two ways about it. There’s a reason why murdering innocent people, wherever they’re located, in the womb or out, is prohibited in our society and that there are legal consequences for it.
So, in order to serve these people in our community, I wrote this program, along with the rabbi who’s on our board of directors, and we run our program now virtually through our Zoom room. And our co-facilitator has had an abortion experience and she’s just lovely. And we’re having women come in now that are recent victims of the abortion Holocaust and then women in their 70s who have suffered a lifetime in a very confused way. And we’re so happy to serve them. And I must just say, that I thank everyone in the healing community who has tried to help Jewish women in healing programs in other faiths. I’ve learned from these women that it was helpful. But, yes, they needed a particular Jewish slant on this thing. So we’re really glad to provide it and I hope that answers your question. I’m really grateful to be here and thank you everyone.
LISA: Thank you, Cecily. I appreciate that. Pastor Tony – I know you don’t like to be classified – but for today’s conversation as the Protestant or the Evangelical Pastor, would you share with us how your practice shapes your belief systems and your understanding about abortion?
PASTOR TONY: Yeah, when I first saw this question and pondered it – you know, because I knew I needed to be succinct – the thing that kept coming to me is that, what we believe is that the Bible, our holy scriptures, is central to all of our life. And so, all of our practice revolves around that. We don’t meet on a Sunday morning without the scriptures being taught. Our small groups that meet in living rooms – all of that is central to us. But what I think a lot of Christians (Protestants) miss – evangelicals – which I think is so unfortunate, is that the central place our scriptures have in our life and in our practice is not just to have heads full of knowledge, but through it to be transformed in our heart to love, and to love like Jesus loved, and to follow him in that love. And so we have that as the central aspect of who we are – to love. And in the scriptures, it’s what we’re taught, and so many just stop at getting information and knowledge in their head, rather than letting that become transformative, and to make them more practical, tangible, sacrificing, loving people.
So that being said – a couple of the verses that the Deacon quoted I was going to quote – so I’ll just say, we believe that life begins at conception as well. And we do have multiple texts in the scripture there, where God makes it clear that he did know us before we were formed. And then, when the forming began, he was the one who was doing that work of knitting the unborn within her mother’s womb. And so, out of that love then. and knowing that that is a new life, to love that life and not to bring harm to that life is what informs and shapes what we do. And so, when this became a blight on our society then, of course, the Evangelical Church had to rally and be a part of whatever it is to stop it and help, and heal and and inform and teach, but all from a place of love, I hope – all from a place of love. So our belief too, is that life begins at conception and it’s out of a loving heart that we have to act and be who we can be to help through all of this.
LISA: Thank you, Pastor Tony. All right, moving on to you Pastor Lisa, coming from the non-evangelical and personal experience that you had, would you share how that’s informed your belief system and your practice regarding abortion?
PASTOR LISA: Yes. You know, when you think about Evangelical – I mean I guess it’s up for interpretation for me, because definitely we believe in every word that proceeds out of the Bible. And, you know, we’re non-denominational because we just try not to get so caught up in denominations, because one of the things that I’ve learned is that sometimes, when there are denominations, it causes division. And overall we should be together, linking arms to do this work. And so, for my faith and just my own personal experience, I see myself as a servant leader. I serve and I’m also a leader; but I’m a servant leader. I want to be an example to those who come forth. And one of the things I message on Sunday was for this reason.
I kind of go back to the scripture: Romans 5 and 8 – For this, God demonstrated his love, while all of us were sinners. Christ died for us, and that’s what we believe. And so what I’ve done, and what other people have done, is no big sin and no little sin and that’s what we believe. We’ve all done something against God. We all have. And I don’t mean it – no pun intended – we have been a disobedient people. And we can see it throughout the scripture. Yet God loved us even in the midst of everything that we’ve done. So when people come to me, there is no judgment. There is no shame, because I think about it this way – I still got stuff in my trunk. And so I’m still working to be all that I need to be. And so for my own personal experience, I look at the fact that people are not broken. There is a sense of brokenness. We’re not broken; there is some brokenness and what do we do with that? I also look at it from the standpoint of encouraging people to just be in a safe space, and that’s what I create. And so from my faith and from my culture what I bring. I want to be transparent, and I want to create that safe space.
Now for me, I didn’t have that safe space. When something was done in the church that I grew up in – and I’m not going to tell you what that denomination was. But definitely, when someone did something, you had to go before the church to ask for forgiveness. And so, ‘who are you’!? “You’re a man, just like I am!”. So at the end of the day, God does the forgiving and Christ is the mediator. So it really created this space where people were leaving the church because they felt like there was a lot of judgment. And I felt like there was a lot of judgment. So what we offer is going back to what you were saying Pastor Jonathan (Tony) – is love. Because, at the end of the day, it is about love. And how do we show that love? How do we show up and be present? And there’s a lot of different things that we can do to demonstrate love.
So as a pastor, and also as a licensed clinician and therapist, as a life coach, I bring my full self to the table – I bring me. But also I am sitting there and allowing people to start with their story. And that’s what I do, because I want to be present. I want to hear your story. And I said this today and probably it seems like I’m saying this whole thing all day – ‘that’s why God gave us two ears and one mouth’, because there are times we need to be quiet and we need to be silent so we can hear the story. It means so much.
And also, the last thing is I’m doing research on disenfranchised grief and looking at stigmatized loss – abortion falls under that category. Who gets to hold that space for people when they are grieving abortion. We look at, and I get the other part, you know, about conception – it starts you know when a man and woman come together and we were formed in our mother’s womb. We want to do the aftercare; we want to do the follow-up. Because we talk a good game, but where is the follow-up? Where is the ‘now what’?. You know, they often say in the church I came out of, “now the benediction”. Now what? After the benediction, now what? What are you gonna do with that? What are you gonna do with the words and the message that have come forth? It’s one thing to have a message. But the next thing is, how are you going to carry that message? And so that’s what we offer. We are carrying the message. We’re carrying love. We’re carrying safety. We’re carrying support for those who are experiencing abortion. And I share my experience all the time and I’m very transparent about it, because one of the things I always say, “when I reveal, I heal.” And so that is the message that I try to bring.
LISA: Wow. Thank you, Lisa. I appreciate that. And last, but not least, Dr. Khan, from your experience as a Muslim and as a medical professional. How is your understanding informing your belief system around abortion?
DR. KHAN: Well, some of this is shaped by personal experiences as well. My wife and I had two miscarriages – one at eight weeks and the second was fairly late, about 24 weeks or so: intrauterine fetal demise. So I understand personally the feeling that comes with the traumatic event – and some of the personal experience my wife went through as well, dealing with the religious (unintelligible). And I would say, professionally, although I’m not an obstetrician, I do frequently take care of pregnant mothers who have various other health complications that pose a significant risk to the mother’s health and also their baby’s health. And [I] help them heal with some of the tragic situations that they go through.
I will say, from the Muslim community’s perspective, I have not come across any statistics in our community of how widespread this is. And, like I said, largely [as] an immigrant community, we have not gone to that stage where we (unintelligible) these things. And these things, unfortunately, in our community are kind of kept quiet and private. I’ve been part of several different Muslim communities and have not heard of these things being spoken of quite openly and I wish they were. That’s my hope – to take away from some of your guys’ experience so that I can bring it to my community, where women who are going through some of these difficult decisions can open up and find help in our community.
In medicine, there’s a lot of gray. Very little is black and white. And I find the same when we’re dealing with these issues. Islam, fortunately, we have fairly concrete timelines where abortion is an option and this may be somewhat different than other faiths represented here. Example: after 120 days, which is about 17 weeks, if the mother’s help is in jeopardy, then abortion is allowed at any stage. Between seven weeks and 17 weeks, if it’s in the context of rape, or if the child is going to have some lifelong health problems or a very significant decrease in quality of life, abortion is allowed. And even before seven weeks, if it’s consensual between both parents, if the thought is the child is going to cause a significant burden to the parents, abortion is allowed. Which again, might be different than some of the other faith traditions represented here. But let me put it this way – I don’t know how many women are actually seeking out the Islamic opinion, if they are in that situation. But I hope at some point, maybe, the next generation or two we can work on it and have resources.
Safety of life is paramount in Islam. God calls himself Rahim, which means the most merciful. And the Arabic word for womb is Rahem, which is the same thing – means womb – which is a representation (unintelligible). Preserving the sanctity of life is paramount. Abortions are allowed in rare exceptional cases like I mentioned – it’s a threat to the mother, cases of rape, etc.
LISA: Wow. Thank you Dr. Khan. I appreciate your comprehensiveness there.
Okay, so we are at the time where we’d like to turn it over to you guys for questions for everybody that’s in attendance today. You’ve got a lot of meat here from the folks that are joining us on the panel. We know that there’s a lot more to be understood. So if you could create questions that are for today, not you know big, big questions, that would be helpful for them.
We’re going to begin to take them in the chat. And if you’d like to share them out loud, I’m happy to look for the hands that are being raised and take those questions now. So if you can begin thinking about what you might want to know. And as you’re doing that, I do just want to preface [that] part of the reason for this conversation is the research that Support After Abortion published two years ago, where we learned that the reason why more men and women weren’t looking for or finding the help that they needed was because most of the healing resources in the United States right now are very Christian-focused, very in-person bible-based focused. And so, as you heard on the panel today, some would agree that that’s the way to approach a man or woman hurting after abortion. But you also heard from others today that said, ‘that would not meet people like me’. So that has been our understanding of why ninety percent of our folks that have experienced abortion do not know where to go for help and healing after abortion, because the majority of our healing research resources are Christian, in-person programs.
So it’s my hope today, that as you walk with some new information, some enlightenment, that you might examine the program you’re offering. And if you are offering one of those very Christian, in-person programs, maybe Monica’s face will appear for you, Cecily’s face will appear for you, Dr Khan’s face will appear for you, and challenge you in how you might meet people in their community that are like them. So Ivy, if you’ll come back on the screen and begin helping us with questions, and I will do my best to do the same.
Okay. Do you want to do this? I see you’re back on Kylie. Are you on?
KYLIE: I’m just waiting for Ivy. But I do see a question and I love it. So the question’s for Monica. And the question’s from Cindy Clark who’s asking, “how can she reach her local atheist community”?
MONICA: So, I’m sorry. Is this in the context of working with a pregnancy center?
KYLIE: I don’t know where Cindy works, but I would imagine that she’s trying to reach atheists who have experienced abortion and would desire healing.
Yes, that’s it.
MONICA: So, the best advice I can give is to have resources available that are secular in nature. Support After Abortion, by the way, has been excellent with this – with seeking secular people and saying, “I think this is secular, do you think this is secular?” – and just making sure. Because sometimes people, with with their own personal faiths, even when they attempt to be secular, it doesn’t come off necessarily the way that they think. So the best advice I can give is to have resources available that are secular in nature and then just advertise them and be around.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for how to specifically find these people that might need this, except for to just try to publicize and just be around for them (word of mouth). And it does help to have people of faith know about it. Because if they have friends or family who aren’t coming from that position, they can refer them to you. We have people ask us regularly throughout the year, what resources they can offer for secular post-abortion healing. And, to be frank, until we started collaborating with Support After Abortion, we didn’t have much to offer them. So the need is definitely there, but we’ve seen it mostly word-of-mouth. And, again, you want to seek, I think, feedback from people you know that are personally secular and be like, ‘How does this come off to you? If you looked at this, would you be able to tell that the person who created it was or wasn’t any given faith background?’. And it can make a big difference.
Really, that could apply to anything. If you’re from group A and you want to talk to Group B, get someone from Group B to let you know how you’re sounding. I’ve done that myself with plenty of audiences. So is that helpful?
KYLIE: That does answer the question. Thank you so much, Monica. And I’ve enjoyed so much being able to ask that question of you. It’s helped me to eliminate my biases and how I communicate.
Our next question is for Pastor Lisa. Pastor Lisa, why do you think there’s a lack of conversation about abortion in the black community?
PASTOR LISA: So let me just say this. And it’s not the oppression Olympics. It’s not that my story is greater than yours. But I want to go back to slavery. Dr. Jordan wrote a book called, Post-Traumatic Slavery Syndrome. And so when you’re thinking about the black community as a whole – mind you, now I’m not the poster child for every black person, but I will share this based on my own experience – it’s the fact that we’re all dealing with historical trauma. And so I’m struggling trying to deal with my own psychological injuries, that I don’t have time to really focus on what I really need to focus on because I’m caring for my children. I’m caring for paying bills and going to work. And so you’re telling me that I need to heal from abortion. I don’t think that’s gonna happen, because I don’t have time to heal from abortion, because I have a mortgage that’s due. I have a car payment. I gotta put food on the table. I gotta put clothes on my kids back. They gotta wear shoes. So I think part of it goes back to slavery. Because when you think about slavery as a whole, and when you think about black people as a whole – they had no voice. They had no voice. And then you have society coming to tell me that I should say this, and I shouldn’t say that, and I should act this way, and I should act that way. So I think it’s about voice and people being able to have a voice.
If we look at trauma as a whole, you have acute trauma, you have chronic trauma and you have complex trauma. So acute trauma is one single event. But then if you continue to have chronic trauma – I’m being abused in my home, I had a son who got murdered on the street – and then you got all of this complex trauma that we’re seeing in the media, how do I even have time to deal with abortion. That’s the last thing on my list. So when you think about all the facets of trauma, and then you add historical in there, inter-generational in there, and you add community trauma, I don’t have time to deal with abortion. And I think a lot of it has to do with, ‘I have no voice; I have no voice’.
And I look at it from the standpoint of being a therapist and I ask my clients, “what is your reason for coming to see me for counseling?” You know, what they tell me, “Because you look like me. You look like me”. I’m just gonna tell the truth; I’m not gonna hide anything – “Because you look like me”. And so, I’m saying today, it’s not the oppression Olympics and I’m not minimizing people’s struggle, and my story is no greater than yours, and yours is no greater than mine. But when it comes down to it, I need a voice and I need a platform and I don’t need anybody dictating to me what I should and should not say. And so that is what I do. I can’t speak for anybody else. I open up the floodgate, And whatever you need to share, you do it without judgment and criticism .
KYLIE: Thank you, Pastor Lisa. Beautifully said.
We have a question for all panelists, and that is how does your belief system approach a baby with a severe birth defect or a mother at risk of dying? In these circumstance, how would abortion be viewed? And I’ll begin with Deacon Thompson, who could begin answering that question.
DEACON THOMPSON: I’m gonna be honest. I can’t answer that specific question for the Catholic Church. I can answer for my understanding. One, I have a sister who had problems at birth. I have a daughter who has cerebral palsy. When my wife was pregnant with her, they wanted to take tests. And I asked, “What’s the test for”? And they told me, “To see if there’s anything wrong with your child”. And I said, “Well, we don’t want to take the test – because it runs risk to my wife – and we’re going to love her” – because that’s who God made.
God doesn’t make garbage. He doesn’t make mistakes. Everyone that’s born, he’s brought here for a purpose. And so, if you talk about love, it takes great love to children that are not perfect, in the mind of what you might think you want your child to be. It takes great love to accept that as a gift for God, and to trust that God has a plan and a purpose for that child and, for you, as the parent of that child. So, for me, that doesn’t even …. it’s not a part of the question.
What was the first part of the question about? Oh! About the life-threatening…. The Catholic Church does not teach that the mother has to sacrifice her life for the birth of a child. That’s not….you know, fortunately that’s a very, very, very, very, very, very rare occurrence. But, when it does happen, the woman does not have to sacrifice her life for a child. I feel pretty confident in that answer. And I apologize; I’m just I’m just not an expert on that.
KYLIE: Cecily, I think you have some insights to share with us.
CECILY: Yes, thank you Kylie. Yes, I think what we have to do is start changing the language that we use around these situations. Because, for example, we’re very supportive of the group, The American Association of Pro-life OB/Gyns, who I consider to be the experts in this area. And now, for example, it is most likely that the life-threatening situations to the mother happen later in pregnancy, when the baby can be humanely removed from the uterus and perhaps saved right through intensive care intervention. It is no longer necessary to destroy an innocent baby in the womb by the painful methods that we’ve employed for so many years now. So, I think we need to change the language. If a mother’s life is in serious peril, according to these experts, they do not have to take a violent method to kill this child. You know, by the way, babies feel pain in the womb. We have to look at this in a more compassionate, humane way.
I will say, the matter of the ectopic pregnancy is an area where it is seen as a therapeutic surgery, not the intentional taking of innocent human life. So I think, just that sense, we need to change the way we think about this. And then, in terms of the abnormalities that are seen through these prenatal testing – this is a very inexact science. Many times these tests give false positive results. And so many babies are destroyed unnecessarily because of it. The medical community, especially the science-based, secular kind of education that physicians are given in school, turn out people that are all onto the abortion method for dealing with these issues, and so end up scaring and pressuring parents to destroy their own children instead of taking a more cautious approach.
Also, I think it’s very important to remember that abortion is dangerous for women. It’s not only deadly for children, but it’s dangerous for women. And it’s, oftentimes, more therapeutic and sensible and safer for a woman to go through a pregnancy, even if the baby is deemed to be having a serious problem, because it’s safer for the woman. And abortion is extremely traumatizing. And if a woman does choose to be pressured into doing this, then she has two traumas, right? She knows that she’s aided in [the] demise of her child and she’s also experienced this traumatic surgery. So we need to start thinking in a different way about these issues.
KYLIE: Thank you, Cecily. I want to move into a different question and this one is for Dr. Khan.
There have been a couple of different questions of awareness of Muslim men who are struggling after abortion, and also Muslim women. Is there anything, within your faith, that one could point to to assure these people of hope and forgiveness?
DR. KHAN: You know, in Islamic tradition, if miscarriage happens, or an abortion happens, there’s certain timelines – usually, again after 120 or so days – or if the baby passes, we give the baby a funeral and have a prayer service over the baby. We name the baby; we clean the baby, just like we do with adult Muslims who pass away. So that can be quite healing for a lot of family members to understand that this is God’s will. The baby had some kind of unsurmountable health condition and passed away. We pray for the baby’s forgiveness, the parents forgiveness, [and] ask God to yield them through the suffering that they’re enduring. But having that burial process is helpful to a lot of family members.
LISA: Kylie, you’re muted.
KYLIE: Yes, thank you, Dr Khan. We recently had an abortion healing provider meeting on memorializing children who have been lost to miscarriage or abortion, and the importance of that ceremony and ritual which, I think, Monica you were starting to get at too – that there’s an importance in atheism to ritual, as well. Is that correct?
MONICA: I will say there was to me. And I have anecdotally had others talk about it, even if they don’t use those phrases. I think in atheist and secular communities, in particular, anti-theist communities where there’s a hostility toward religion, there’s a knee-jerk reaction against the concept of ritual, and they can kind of dismiss it. They can kind of dismiss it as just unnecessary posturing. But, I think that there is some evidence. And I think people who work as therapists and clinicians can attest to [that] there is some evidence that ritual can be very cathartic to people, almost regardless of religious tradition, because it can indicate importance. And it can give you some kind of process to go through instead of just sitting there with your pain and your grief.
I felt differently about ritual until I had my miscarriages and, all of a sudden, I really felt like I needed to do something. And, when I say ritual, in my case, I don’t mean religious rituals. But you can have plenty of secular rituals that people can go through to just help them process, whether it’s grief or other issues. And so, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that if you go to atheists and say, ‘what’s your grief ritual?’, they’ll know what you’re talking about necessarily. But, for example, one kind of ritual is meal trains. If you are having a really hard time with a trauma or a grief or a problem and you have a community around you, it doesn’t have to be religious, who says, “let me make you dinner; let me give you a gift card to go out to eat”. That’s a type of ritual and it’s a way to say… it almost doesn’t matter what you do; it just matters that you find something to do to say, ‘I am here for you; I want to find a way to help you. I care about what you’re going through’. And so, at least for me personally, when I was struggling a lot, just having people do anything and just to say, ‘I love you; I care about you’.
With my first miscarriage, I had a group of friends, who I’m not even that close to, who sent me a candle with the name. They don’t know if I like candles. I don’t even care if I like candles! I care that you were like, ‘what is something tangible I can do to show that this is important?’. And now, for me, I have a lot of secular friends – it’s not specific to miscarriage and abortion – that when they have a death, a parent or something else, I know that I can’t tell them anything that will be comforting in the sense of, ‘well you’ll see them again someday’, that sort of thing. So my ritual that I do is, I take this family recipe for these chocolate fudgy cookie bars and I just make it. And I just send it to them with a card that says, “I can’t fix your problems, but chocolate never hurt anybody”. And that’s my ritual. And a lot of times they have reacted very strongly because I did anything. Just do something, you know? Anyway, if that makes sense.
KYLIE: That’s beautiful. Somebody summed it up beautifully and said, “healing happens in community”. Well, we have met the one o’clock mark. There could perhaps be an hour more of questions with a panel as rich as you all. And we couldn’t be more grateful for your openness in this conversation and help in helping us serve each of you better.
Lisa, I’ll turn it back to you to close.
LISA: I just want to echo exactly what Kylie just shared. What an opportunity for us to dip our toe in in the pool to understand that the clients that are coming to us come from a variety of walks of faith and culture and belief systems. Some, like we’ve heard with Monica, may be wounded. Some may be confused, like Cecily has shared. Some may feel accepted. Some may feel judged, like Deacon shared. We need to be mindful as we’re serving our population – be mindful of the types of programming that we carry, and how we can better serve those who would reach out for help if we offered them a program that met them where they are.
And I will end with this – there’s a question on here, and I get it often. You know, Jesus being the ultimate healer for many of the folks on this call – that’s what you believe – how do you meet people knowing he’s the ultimate healer? And I always like to share – there’s a difference between healing and evangelization. If you had a broken arm today and you went into the ER, you would not need the evangelization to get your arm x-rayed to get your arms set to begin the healing journey. Spirituality can certainly support that journey, but it’s not necessary to start the healing journey.
So I just want to encourage you with that. Some of you have a belief system that it’s required. And it’s not. They’re different. And if we don’t start meeting people that need that initial triage, we’re missing a whole group of people that won’t come in. They won’t go to that hospital that you have to pray first, or you have to pray before you leave. So be mindful of what Lisa shared, Pastor Lisa shared. We want to meet people where they are and be in relationship with them. Our story isn’t any bigger or different than their story. So we want to be very conscientious as we’re serving those. And that’s especially true as it pertains to abortion. You know that this conversation is hugely stigmatized, hugely politicized, and we need to be more and more and more and more accepting of people where they are so we can help them get the healing they need.
So, on that note, we’re really thrilled that you’re here and we hope that you join us next month. The link will be here in the chat. So you can click on it and get connected, same time and same place. And you’ll get an email following with a recording, if this is something you want to share with your board or something you want to share with your colleagues. It’ll be available for replay. Thank you again to all of our panelists and we will see you next time. Take care.