After volunteering at a Pregnancy Resource Center, abortion is no longer primarily a political position, or a catchy slogan. Nor is it a nameless, faceless evil that is far removed from everyday life. It becomes something real and personal. It has a face and a name. It is “Rachel,” the woman who cries herself to sleep every night holding the ultrasound picture of the unborn baby she was pressured into aborting. It is “Sarah,” who continues to grieve the abortion she had decades ago. It is “Anna,” the teenager who describes her previous abortion as “the worst experience” of her life. It is “Jake,” the man who came to tell his story of manipulating his former girlfriend to have an abortion; with tears in his eyes, he asked that his story be told so that his unborn child’s death will not have been in vain.
These faces and their stories have left a lasting mark upon me, and have brought about the greatest pain a counselor may face: watching clients suffer so greatly. That’s the trouble with opening up your heart to love others: it hurts. There comes a point when you have done everything in your power to help, but there are some anxieties you just can’t quiet, some scars that run too deep. At that point, all you can do is fall on your knees and pray for them.
What happens inside a Pregnancy Center
The center that I volunteered at assisted a quarter of the pregnant women in our county last year. In addition, it provided support for families with infants and young children. A majority of the visits were requests for material assistance with such things as diapers, formula, and baby clothes. Other services included free pregnancy tests, information on pregnancy options, and referrals to outside services such as highly rated doctors in the area and social programs that help women in need. Because our pregnancy test results are signed by a nurse, they meet the Social Services paperwork requirement for proof of pregnancy so that the woman can receive the aid she needs. In addition, for those women who are experiencing psychological or emotional trauma due to a past abortion, the center connects them with free individual counseling with a psychologist, made available by a diocesan program.
Some centers, such as ours, offer free ultrasounds. This service is of practical assistance to women in confirming pregnancy, estimating due dates, as well as allowing them to see their unborn baby. In addition, our center offers free lessons in such topics as child development, breastfeeding, nutrition, etc. Women who complete eight hours of study can choose to receive a free crib or pack and play.
When not meeting with clients and assisting them with their needs, a peer counselor spends time following up with past clients to ensure that they are receiving the help and support they need, as well as documenting the material assistance given, client lessons completed, etc. Counseling is more than just a set of duties, however; it is a dynamic interaction with the women assisted.
In the case of assisting a woman facing a crisis pregnancy, I consider these to be the counselor’s three fundamental tasks: to calm fears, to provide information, and to show the client unconditional love.
Women facing a crisis pregnancy are terrified, and understandably so. They face a life changing event, often without the support of loved ones, usually with financial difficulties. It is the goal of a counselor to help calm fears and reduce anxiety so that difficult decisions may be made from a place of peace and not of panic.
It is of utmost importance for the counselor to take time to truly listen to the concerns and fears that the woman has. Often there is a temptation to spend too much time talking and not enough time listening to her share the struggles that she faces. Having a safe place to voice her fears provides the woman an opportunity to examine and address them, rather than be overcome by them.
Speaking truths that are hard to hear
One of the most challenging aspects of counseling a woman considering an abortion is speaking truths that are hard to hear. Such women are desperately wanting to be “unpregnant”, and think that abortion will erase their pregnancy, making it as if it never happened. Unfortunately, there are only two ways for a pregnancy to end: in birth, or in loss through abortion or miscarriage. I struggle with telling the women this hard reality—I wish so badly that there was an easy option, one that wouldn’t involve any suffering. Sadly, my work with post-abortive women has shown me that no such easy, painless solution exists.
In speaking these difficult truths, the counselor needs to model the example of Christ. He spoke with compassion and great sensitivity to the struggles of those around Him, yet even in His compassion and mercy, He did not hesitate to speak the truths that others needed to hear. It is a false concern for others that does not speak the truth when it is difficult to hear.
Great care must be taken to ensure that it is the truth and not biased personal opinion or misinformation that is shared. To this end, our center provides counselors several weeks of training, part of which is spent learning far more about the various abortion procedures, birth control types, and sexually transmitted diseases than I ever cared to know. While counseling, I personally make a point of having a binder full of information in front of me to avoid misrepresenting or distorting facts.
The final and most important mission in counseling a woman is to show her true, unconditional love. Regardless of what she may decide, I want her to know that I care about her as a person. Her value is not based on this decision, rather it is intrinsic to her dignity as a human being. It saddens me that many clients have never experienced unconditional love in familial or romantic relationships. Many come bearing bodily or psychological scars of abuse. In many cases, pregnancy is the result of a desperate search for love. As a counselor, I hope that if nothing else, I am able to communicate to these women that they are worthy of love and that their lives have meaning and value.
In this spirit of love, it is important to make sure that one’s intentions toward the client are free of manipulation and self-interest. Manipulation views and uses the other person primarily as an object to further one’s personal agenda. This can include forcing one’s will upon another, coercion through fear or misinformation, sugar-coating the truth, or outright deception. These methods generally follow from a misguided view of the counselor’s role to the woman. Attempting to manipulate a woman in a crisis is unethical, even if the counselor thought the end result would be that she chose to carry the pregnancy to term. It is neither loving nor prudent for a counselor to coerce a woman in such a situation. One may never employ evil methods even to accomplish the most noble of goods.
These women are not objects to be used, either for an abortion provider’s financial gain, or for padding someone’s spiritual tally sheet. This is a unique, unrepeatable woman made in the image and likeness of God with an intellect and free will. The counselor’s role is to calm the client’s anxieties and provide her with the knowledge needed to make an informed decision that most benefits both her and her unborn child, so that when she leaves the center she has a plan for the future.
It isn’t my duty as a counselor to make sure that the woman doesn’t have an abortion, though I do very much hope that our interaction will play a role in helping her choose to continue the pregnancy. This decision is one that ultimately only the mother can make. It is not my role to “save” the woman and her unborn child. God has already done that. It is His grace that will reach the woman’s heart, I am merely an instrument in its transmission.
One of the more profound experiences I had in volunteering was seeing the face of Christ in the women I served. It was such a scary unknown, stepping into the counseling room for the first time, but it was there that I saw the face of Christ in my fellow man in the most profound way I have ever experienced. Here was a woman, made in the image and likeness of God, and I had the privilege of serving her. Here was Christ, often suffering greatly, and I was invited to help Him carry His cross.
Perhaps one of the greatest joys of counseling is experiencing a visit from a client nine or so months after you first met; and she is not alone. You get to hold in your arms a baby who might never have been born. You look into the mother’s eyes and you see peace and contentment with the decision she made. You see her look down on her child and can almost hear her thinking “You are worth all the challenges, my child.” She loves her child and you were privileged to play a small part in helping bringing them together.
Editor’s Note: If you want to read about the inside of a Planned Parent facility, I would recommend:
Unplanned by Abby Johnson. She has a unique perspective going from PP clinic director to pro-life advocate.
Photo CC: Ben Grey
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- Inside the Pregnancy Center: Not Manipulation, but Unconditional Love - September 22, 2014