"Even if I deeply disagree...I'm going to continue to love you" : Exploring abortion attitudes and pastoral care among Protestant religious leaders in Georgia Open Access

Dozier, Jessica (Spring 2019)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/qn59q504j?locale=en


Objectives: Unintended pregnancy is a common experience in Georgia, USA, where religion plays an influential role in many people’s lives. The purpose of this study is explore attitudes towards abortion amongst Mainline and Black Protestant religious leaders and identify how they communicate, counsel, and provide pastoral care to their congregations regarding abortion.

Methods: We conducted qualitative in-depth interviews with 12 Mainline and Black Protestant religious leaders purposively selected from a county in Georgia with high abortion rates, low sexual and reproductive health service access, high religiosity, and denominational diversity. Interview topics included: attitudes toward abortion and pastoral care experiences. Interviews were analyzed using thematic analysis.

Results: Attitudes toward abortion ranged from “pro-life” to “pro-choice” and a middle or “gray area” in between these stances.Differences among abortion attitudes were observed in understandings of when life begins, emphasis on moral autonomy, and circumstances in which abortion may be morally acceptable. Across the spectrum of attitudes, participants stressed that they would “journey with” congregants and advise them to make well-informed unintended pregnancy decisions. Participants with “pro-life” attitudes encouraged referral to Crisis Pregnancy Centers and ultrasound viewing/hearing a fetal heartbeat before deciding to have an abortion. Participants with “pro-choice” attitudes and those in the middle of the spectrum advised against the use of abortion as contraception. Across attitudes, emphasis was placed on not using scripture punitively. Participants underscored that even if they personally do not “subscribe to abortion,” they would emotionally support congregants because spiritual leaders are called to love and provide pastoral care. While participants with attitudes in the “gray area” were the only religious leaders who expressed an obligation to confront stigmatizing attitudes and treatment, all participants emphasized the importance of empathy, love, and compassion for people who have unintended pregnancies and abortions.

Conclusion: These findings demonstrate that religious leaders provide different advice and recommendations in the form of pastoral care according to their abortion attitudes. Leaders mayrepresent an important resource for empathy, compassion, and affirmation of people’s moral agency regarding abortion.However, several misperceptions that inform religious’ leaders’ pastoral care practices run counter to scientific evidence.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction            1

1.1 Definitions1

1.2 Problem statement  2

1.3 Significance           5

1.4 Study purpose        7

Chapter 2: Review of the literature       9

2.1 Protestantism in the United States   9

2.2 Mainline Protestant positions on abortion   12

2.3 Historically Black Protestant positions on abortion15

2.4 Mainline and Black Protestants in Georgia17

2.5 Clergy abortion attitudes    18

Chapter 3: Manuscript  20

3.1 Author affiliation   20

3.2 Contribution of the student21

3.3 Abstract     22

3.4 Introduction           23

3.5 Materials and methods       27

Study design    27

Sample and recruitment           27

Participant characteristics         28

Data collection29

Data analysis    31

3.6 Results       33

Moral & religious beliefs and abortion attitudes           33

Pastoral care is influenced by religious leaders’ abortion attitudes        36

Pastoral care across the abortion attitude spectrum       43

Emphasis on love and supporting congregants across abortion attitudes           44

3.7 Discussion  49

3.8 Manuscript references        54

Chapter 4: Conclusion and public health recommendations      57

Thesis references          59

Chapter 1         59

Chapter 2         62

Appendix         65

Interview guide            65

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