By Riley Manning
Statistics on abortion run far and wide, and do well in assessing almost every angle of the situation. Here are just a few.
At current rates, about one third of American women will have had an abortion by age 45. Of these women, 58 percent are in their 20s, and 61 percent have at least one child.
Eighty-five percent are unmarried, 69 percent are economically disadvantaged, and 73 percent report a religious affiliation.
No racial or ethnic group makes up a majority.
But for all the accounting and political discussion in the way of abortion, resources for women in crisis pregnancy scenarios are virtually invisible within the community.
Parkgate Pregnancy Clinic in Tupelo sees the human faces of such women every day. While their mission is to offer non-abortive solutions to pregnant women, they also provide counseling for women who have had an abortion, in hopes they might find peace and forgiveness for themselves.
The Hope Garden
Michelle Henderson and Anne Reed lead an eight-week Bible study for post-abortive women that largely takes place in Parkgate’s Garden of Hope. The serene space sits behind Parkgate headquarters, and the path leading through it mirrors the journey of women in crisis pregnancy situations. The garden’s path is marked with redemptive Bible verses, and in the center is a statue of Jesus sitting with a mother, cradling her child.
Henderson and Reed have led the study for the past five years. As post-abortive women themselves, they understand the struggles of their students better than anyone.
“When I moved here, I hadn’t allowed myself to grieve because I didn’t think I deserved to grieve,” Reed said. “I found Parkgate and went through the study myself. When I saw how beautiful and powerful it was, I started doing it with others.”
Women begin the study by coming forth with their story to the group, then come to terms with their feelings and actions, ultimately finding forgiveness for themselves and rebuilding their self-esteem.
Henderson said all types of women attend their study. Some of the women come to them only a few months out from their abortion, while others had their procedures decades before.
“With women who have been carrying their pain for a long time, the damage from their own self-condemnation can take the place of the actual event,” Henderson said. “The shaming aspect of it is probably the worst part.”
Reed agreed, and said the vast majority of women who elect to have an abortion feel pressure from their family and the baby’s father.
“We actually have them write anger letters to those who pressured them, and we have a ceremony in the garden where they burn those letters,” she said.
At the end of the study, attendees have their child’s name engraved on the stone, and placed near the exit of the Hope garden.
“There’s something really powerful about seeing the actual names,” Henderson said. “The whole garden gives a visual to the journey, and that really helps. They identify with the statue of the women and Jesus in a powerful way.”
The Rev. Joseph Parker, who serves on Parkgate’s board of directors, said an overall lack of awareness is a danger for women before, during, and after their pregnancy. The Clinic partners with middle and high schools to deliver a five-day, abstinence-based class on the consequences of premarital sex.
“It’s more about making them aware of how their decisions will affect them later down the road,” Parker said. “You don’t wait until you’re an adult to make good decisions, you make them now, every day, and they will add up and put you in the situation you want to be in the future.”
Conversely, teens have to recognize bad decisions before making them. Between pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and emotional damage for boys and girls, Parker said underage sexual activity is a particularly dangerous roll of the dice.
But the message doesn’t hit home until students hear it from the horse’s mouth.
“The testimonial stories are what really grab the kids,” he said. “Pop culture glamorizes sex so much, but we have to show them the other side, too.”
Women who do find themselves in crisis pregnancy situations are hardly ever aware of the amount of support available to them. When they feel like the walls are closing in, especially in the face of pressure from their family, they may not even consider outside resources that could help them.
“In our society, men are often the engines behind abortions,” he said. “They put forth this notion of, ‘how dare you get pregnant.’ What these young women don’t know is that coercing someone to get an abortion is illegal, even for parents.”
Parker said around eight out of 10 abortion-minded women who come to Parkgate end up changing their minds. However, many clinics struggle with funding due to their lack of visibility within the community.
“Most clinics are spread extremely thin, working on a shoestring budget,” he said. “But the need is so great. We have to empower and support our women. It may seem like it at the time, but abortion is not a quick fix.”