Churches have a particular challenge regarding the issue of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
On the one hand, the teachings of Christ and his church affirm that sex is to be reserved for the bond of faithful, lifelong marriage. Many churches have effective youth and young adult outreaches to help parishioners strengthen moral resolve in this area. And yet, a percentage of young people fall short. In some cases, this leads to a pregnancy. This is impossible to hide from public view — especially if mothers choose life for their unborn child and carry her to term.
Herein lies the challenge: How can a church teach that sex outside of marriage is immoral and then warmly embrace and welcome a young parishioner who faces a pregnancy outside marriage?
A 2015 report by Care Net suggests that a number of churches have room for improvement. Care Net supports one of the largest networks of pregnancy centers in North America. In a survey of more than 1,000 women the group found that 43 percent of post-abortive women said they attended church at least monthly at the time of their abortion. Even more of these women (70 percent) identified as Christians.
Despite their faith connection, only seven percent of women surveyed discussed their abortion decision with someone at church and two-thirds were afraid church members would judge them. Only 41 percent thought churches were prepared to help with decisions about unwanted pregnancies and only three in 10 thought churches gave accurate advice about pregnancy options.
Ultimately, the report found that most women would not advise someone facing an unplanned pregnancy to discuss it with someone at church.
It should be noted that the Archdiocese of Anchorage and a number of local parishes have extraordinary outreaches for women who are either facing an unexpected pregnancy or who have suffered an abortion. The goal here is to suggest ways to expand and enhance these efforts.
In a recent interview with Bill Donovan, the executive director of the Community Pregnancy Center in Anchorage, he noted that many Alaskan women who come to his group’s crisis pregnancy center don’t really want an abortion, they just feel trapped.
“They want someone to help them,” he said. “They know abortion is not the godly thing to do or the right thing to do, but they still do it anyway and then don’t want anybody to know. It is a secret, hidden thing.”
And for women who do get an abortion, Donovan said churches need to be ready to reach out to them in their suffering.
“There are women who are still in the pews and they need to know that it is not the unpardonable sin. There is still forgiveness and healing and they can find wholeness,” he said.
This is not a matter of churches changing doctrine or going soft on morality. The Christian position is clear: We believe that sex is reserved for the context of faithful marriage, and we hold that all human life — regardless of how a baby is conceived — is precious and sacred in the eyes of God. The challenge has more to do with messaging. Parishioners need to know that despite their failings, Christ and his church are eager to forgive, to stand by them and to support their decision to defend and love the new life they carry.
“I’m sure pastors will be understanding, but some people think they will be shown the door,” Donovan told the Catholic Anchor. “I mean we all do things that we shouldn’t do, but the church is the hospital where we can go and get healed.”
As the leader of the only crisis pregnancy center in Anchorage, Donovan said he regularly visits area churches to inform pastors of ways they can partner with his organization in providing greater resources to women facing unexpected pregnancies. Already the Community Pregnancy Center works closely with Catholic Social Services in referring many Alaskan women to their adoption services program.
“But we really need to partner more with the churches,” Donovan said. “We have flyers available for any churches that want them. We can get them to them. We’d be happy to do that.”
In addition, the Archdiocese of Anchorage runs Project Rachel, a support group for post-abortive women who are seeking healing and reconciliation.
Given that we affirm the dignity of all life, we must also ensure that the faithful feel confident in turning to the arms of Christ and his church when they falter. The church must help all to understand that it is a place to heal and restore what is broken — a place to bind wounds and move forward celebrating the new unborn life — a child cherished by Christ and his church.
For more information about the Community Pregnancy Center go online to cpcanchorage.com or call (907) 337-9292 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about Project Rachel’s post abortive healing ministry, call the group’s confidential phone line at 297-7781 or toll-free (866) 434-3344.