Session 4: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb” - Abortion
The Pains of childbearing are part of the eternal wisdom:
From barrenness, the God-loving Elizabeth gave birth!
Let us the faithful remember her with rejoicing, glorifying the All Good One.
(From the Praises for Sept. 5, the feast of the Holy Prophet Zachariah and the Righteous Elizabeth, Parents of the Forerunner and Baptist John (Tone 6))
Aim: This is a huge topic. The most important approach we must take in this unit is to get past the intellectual level of debate and the emotional level of sensationalism and get to the spiritual level. Abortion hurts. Not only is a human life ended, but this impacts the mother, the father, and all around them. Sin has an ecological impact. We again focus on the fact that death is a tragedy and must be approached with humble sorrow.
It is important for participants to learn exactly where the Church stands on this issue. The Church affirms that for those who have gone through this tragedy, we are not to judge or punish but to aid and help in the process of recovery and repentance. People who have made the choice for abortion already suffer the consequences of their action, whether they are aware of it or not, and they don't need to be damaged more. This is important for the youth leader to remember since it is possible that some participants will have personal experience with abortion, either themselves directly or through friends or family. Compassion is what it is all about.
Luke 1:39-45, 46-56
Protopapas, Valerie. “Common Pro-Abortion Cliches and the Pro-Life Response.” from the Resource Handbook, Vol. II: Family Life.
Garvey, John. “Orthodox Christians and Abortion.” from the Resource Handbook, Vol. II: Family Life.
Each person needs a loose leaf sheet of paper and something to write with.
You will need a small box or bag, preferably something a little ornate.
3 x 5 cards.
I. Opening Prayer:
II. Check-In and Review
III. Activity #1: The four most valuable things
IV. Activity #2: Truth or dare
V. Activity #3: The Meaning of Sacrifice
VI: Session Conclusion
VII. Closing Prayer
I. Opening Prayer
II. Check-In: "Birth is not an isolated, accidental part of human life. Our salvation was made possible through the birth of our Savior. Giving birth is one of the things we humans do best-- and not just in the literal sense. As go through our check-in, tell us one thing that you have helped create in your life."
1. What is the difference between voluntary euthanasia, physician assisted suicide, and removal of life support?
2. How is euthanasia a form of suicide? How does it differ from martyrdom?
III. Activity #1: The Four Most Valuable Things
Time: 10-15 minutes
This activity is designed to simply teach the meaning of sacrifice, and to indicate how difficult life and death decisions really are.
Each person should have a sheet of paper that they can fold into four parts, then tear into four pieces. Begin by telling them only to fold the paper into four parts.
What is it that you consider personally the most important thing in life? What is most valuable, most special, most significant, most sacred of all, to you? What is that one thing? Write it down on one part of your paper. Don't worry-- no one needs to see it but you. (Pause)
Now, consider if you will the second most important thing in your life. After all, there is always more, isn't there? What would you say is the second most valuable, most special, most significant, most sacred of all, to you? What is that second thing? Write it down on the next part of your paper. (Pause)
But wait! Certainly, there is more to life than these two things. Consider the third most valuable thing in your life. What would you say is the third most valuable, most special, most important, most significant, most sacred of all, to you? What is that third thing? Write it down on the third part of your paper. (Pause)
And at last, what would be the fourth most valuable thing to you? Certainly not as important as the first but not the least important, either. What would you say is the fourth most valuable, most special, most important, most significant, most sacred of all, to you? What is that fourth thing? Write it down on the last part of your paper.
Put this sheet aside where you can find it and we will come back to it later.
This exercise is continued in activity #3: "The Meaning of Sacrifice." You may go directly to that activity before proceeding with activity #2. However, it is better to let their choices take some time to sink in before you continue with the exercise.
IV. Activity #2 Truth or Dare
Time: 15-20 minutes
**Reference and Print the Truth or Dare Sheet**
This activity is designed to evaluate the myths surrounding abortion and come up with alternatives that do not jeopardize life. The “Truth” aspect provides participants with knowledge they need to know about abortion to be able to discuss the situation objectively with others. The “Dare” aspect challenges participants to come up with methods for preventing abortion and helping mothers who are considering abortion.
Split the class into three or four groups. Following the worksheets at the end of the session, make a series of 3 x 5 cards labeled “True?” and “Dare!” You should have more “True?” cards than “Dare!” cards, at about a 3 to 1 ratio.
It is time for Truth or Dare. But we are going to play it in a slightly different way, because we are going to talk about abortion. There are a great number of ideas and arguments being tossed around in the world today about this issue. It can easily become a debate of ideas instead of a search for truth and what is best for us human beings in the long run.
What are some of the arguments and slogans that you might have heard or seen with regards to abortion (either “Pro-Life” or “Pro-Choice”)? [”Choose Life,” “Every Child a Wanted Child,” “Get Your Laws Off My Body,” “Pro-Choice/ Pro-Life and I Vote!” “Abortion stops a human heart,” etc.]
It is very easy to talk about abortion in slogans and rhetoric. However, if we are going to be able to make clear decisions of our own and help others in very real and very difficult situations, we should be informed and be able to see past the rhetoric.
First of all, why would anyone want to have an abortion? There have been over 30 million abortions performed in the U.S. since it was legalized in the Roe vs. Wade case. Why do women feel that abortion is their best choice? [Can’t afford the baby, don’t want to give up their career and freedom, unmarried teens are ashamed of getting pregnant, don’t have a supportive family or spouse, don’t feel mature enough to raise a child, etc.]
Most women do not take the decision to abort lightly, though they often feel they have no real choice in the matter in the face of social and economic pressures. Part of this pressure comes from not knowing the truth about abortion and its effects. After all, it is difficult to find truth behind the passionate shouts and political speeches, when we must look to our heart and to our God for insight.
Making life and death decisions is like playing Truth or Dare, we have to face the truth and deal with the consequences. The three groups are three teams. Give each group a statement which they must decide whether it is true or false.
If a team gives the right answer they get the point but you should ask them why and then give the leader’s guide answer in addition to their own. If they are wrong the next team can try to answer by giving the reason why the statement is true or false. If they cannot answer they may pass to the third. A team that gets a question right gets to hold onto the card (cards=points).
The first team to get three cards or three statements right gets to turn in their cards for a Dare card. They can then pick which team must take the dare. Dare cards are story problems which they have to solve to the best of their ability. If they complete the solution checklist, play begins with the dared team getting the first new true or false question.
Try to insure that each group fulfills the “Dare Checklist” guidelines (on the sheet) when given a dare. They should be as concrete, specific, and realistic as possible. You may find it useful to research what resources are available in your community such as crisis pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, etc. and provide this information if a group suggests it.
If you run out of True and False statements, and still have a number of Dare cards, you can finish by giving a bonus round of Dares. If only one card remains, give the group with the most points a dare to do themselves. Otherwise have a show-down where the best solution wins the bonus round. Make each dare worth up to three points. Provide a reward for all participants, in addition to the “winner.”.
Leader’s Guide for Truth Questions:
You can’t legislate morality. [False: That’s what the law is for.]
Scientifically and medically speaking, a new and unique human life begins at conception. [True: a new genetic code is established which is unique. The foetus develops at an incredible rate and can survive outside the womb in some cases by 5 months, illustrating that it is more than the “potential” for life.]
Abortion is an alternative to pregnancy.[False: abortion does not change the fact of pregnancy. It provides the alternative of having a dead baby instead of a living one.]
A foetus is not really a distinct life form but a type of parasite because it depends on the mother for shelter and nourishment. [False: This argument suggests that a foetus is not really alive, contrary to both a religious and scientific view of life. Would you say the same thing about an infant or a toddler which also relies on a parent for life? ]
The right to choose what happens to your body is the foundation of all law. [False: We are not allowed to choose drug use, prostitution, or even suicide. We may not use our bodies to hurt others, either.]
Abortion is legal all nine months of a pregnancy. [True: a woman has the right to abort at any time during her pregnancy. Most clinics will not perform abortions past 20 weeks.]
50% of all pregnancies end in abortion. [False. 50% of unwanted pregnancies end in abortion, which is about 50% of all pregnancies. Therefore, 25% of all pregnancies end in abortion.]
A woman has the right to control her own body.[True: a woman has the right to control her body before conception by using contraception and abstinence. From a Christian perspective, she does not have the right to “control” her baby’s life while in the womb. Legally she does, however, as long as abortion is legal. A Tricky one.]
Polls show that most Americans favor abortion on demand. [False: In the poll that this claim was based on, 70% of those polled repudiated abortion for reasons other than rape, incest, or a health threat to the mother’s life.]
The majority of women who have abortion are pregnant, unmarried teens. [False: 2/3 of women who abortions are unmarried, but only about 22% of abortions are cases of teen pregnancy, but 55% are at least under 25. 4 in 10 pregnancies end in abortion, however. Also, 43% of American women will have had an abortion by the time they are 45.]
A woman’s religious affiliation is not a significant factor in their choice to have an abortion. [False. Women who report no religious affiliation are 4 times more likely to have an abortion.
The pro-life movement is made up of rich white men who can afford to make moral judgements. [False: 80% of pro-lifers are women. The majority of pro-lifers are also from lower and middle-class income brackets. Men support abortion more often than not because it provides an escape from the responsibility of child support]
Pro-lifers only care for unborn children, not mothers or infants. [False: Women are often misled into thinking that they have no other choice. Pro-lifers also support crisis pregnancy centers which help mothers find jobs, housing and other help. The majority of women who have had an abortion suffer from psychological illness after the procedure which may even take 8 to 10 years to appear. 73% report flashbacks of the operation, 81% report a preoccupation with the aborted child, and 96% consider in retrospect that abortion takes a human life.]
More often than not, abortion is used as a means of birth control by people who cannot afford or do not want to use contraception. [False: 58% of women who have an abortion report the failure of their contraception method.]
97% of legal abortions since Roe vs. Wade have been performed for social and economic convenience. [True. Only 3% have been performed for reasons that the public generally supports, such as in the case of rape, incest, and danger to the mother’s life. This is about 15,000 per year in the United States.]
Abortion preserves relationships that would otherwise end under the strain of an unwanted child. [False: Over 70% of unmarried relationships in which an abortion occurs end within one year.]
If abortion is banned, there will not be enough people to take care of the unwanted babies and it will be a great strain on the taxpayers and welfare system.[False: In areas where parental notification is required for minors to have an abortion, the teen pregnancy rate drops 75%. There are also many people waiting to adopt babies, including “hard to place” cases.]
Limiting or prohibiting abortion will increase child abuse as most abused children are the result of unwanted pregnancies. [False: 97% of documented child abuses cases involve wanted children of planned pregnancies. Since Roe vs. Wade, reported child abuse has increased 700%.]
Limiting or banning abortion would mean thousands of women dying from back alley abortions as they did before Roe vs. Wade. [False: In the year before Roe vs. Wade, 39 women died from abortion. The abortion rate has since increased by 1000%. However, the chances of dying from a legal abortion is lower. There are no regulations concerning reporting the death of women due to 1st trimester abortions. More unqualified physicians are performing the operations today than ever because of government protection from regulation.]
The Virgin Mary had the right to an abortion: [True: abortions were permissible by Roman law, if not by Jewish law. Mary made the choice for life by saying yes.]
Christian opposition to abortion is a new movement [False — The earliest Christians and the Jews both opposed abortion which was legal in the Roman empire. St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. Barnabas, and St. Clement of Alexandria all wrote against it.]
If a person has an abortion, they have no chance of salvation and are going to hell. [False: Abortion is a sin on the magnitude of murder. However, Christ is a forgiving God and calls us to repent of all our sins so that we may be reconciled to the heavenly kingdom. Our Church prays for those who have had an abortion in the hopes of their salvation.]
After the game, close with following:
It should be not be too surprising to find that the Church is against abortion. The Church teaches us to value every human life, even the small and helpless. What would have happened if the Virgin Mary had decided to have an abortion? Was she was faced with the stigma of an unmarried pregnancy, the worries of being rejected by Joseph, the fear of being unable to care for the child? Probably, but the faith she had in God and the willingness to follow His will and accept His gracious care outweighed those fears.
The Church celebrates the conception of not only Christ but of the Virgin Mary and the Forerunner, St. John the Baptist. The pains of childbearing have become a part of the eternal wisdom, of the history of our salvation, and have become an essential part of what it means to be human. When we remember that God Himself became an unborn child, a foetus, we can see the value of all human life.
V. Activity #3: The meaning of Sacrifice
Time: 15 minutes
Participants will need to have done activity #1 and have their “four most valuable things” sheet nearby.
We have just been discussing abortion in the context of “truth or dare”. Now, what do you think is Truth — that is, the ultimate, capital “T” Truth?” [God, Jesus Christ, Love, a mystery, unknowable, all of these are correct!]
The ultimate Truth is to say the least, not easy to put into words, and when we can, it leaves a lot of room for wonder and mystery. Many people today believe that all truth is relative — and in fact many so-called “truths” are relative and depend on our perspective. But then we come to “Truth”, the ultimate, the final, the absolute, the buck-stops-here-no-kidding-around-now Truth.
Some may say there is no such thing, in which case they now believe that the Nothingness is the ultimate Truth. Like Pontius Pilate they scoff and say, “What is truth?” But we, as Orthodox Christians, have to realize that there is Truth which, while beyond understanding, is not beyond experiencing. Our whole spiritual life is about coming to partake of the Truth. This is why we are told to approach with fear, faith, and love — the Truth is a pretty big deal!
Take out your sheet with the four most valuable things. Take a look at them. Are any of these things the ultimate Truth? What place does the ultimate Truth occupy in your world? Pause. Ask everyone to stand up and get into a circle.
Time for Truth or Dare. Or perhaps, to dare for Truth. What would you be willing to do for the ultimate Truth? How far would you be willing to go? If all other truths are relative and last only as long as the grass that withers up and is blown away, what are you willing to do to find the ultimate, eternal, ever-lasting Truth and make it a part of your life? Pause.
Look at your fourth most valuable thing. How important is this? What truth does it really represent to you? Pause. Bring out a small ornate box or bag, a container which you can close and will hide whatever you put in it from view, with an air of mystery.
Would you be willing to give up this thing for the Truth? In giving it up, you don’t know if you will ever see it or have it again, you might, you might not. Are you willing to let go of it? If you are willing to give up your fourth most valuable thing for the ultimate Truth, tear it from your sheet and place it in this (box/bag).
Remember, this is only your fourth most important thing. You still have the first three. If you do not want to give up your fourth most valuable thing, whatever it may be, you may sit down now, with no penalty, no embarrassment, no hassles, no loss. Go around the room and accept people’s sacrifices. Many people are willing to give up their fourth most valuable thing if they know they still have three left. If anyone does sit down, they are out of the game and should sit quietly and wait. Continue with the rest.
Very good. You have taken your first steps towards Ultimate Truth. But we are not there yet are we? Take a look at your third most valuable thing? How important is this to you? What truth does it represent? Pause.
Would you be willing to give up your third most valuable thing for the Truth? Not knowing if you would ever see it again, if it would be lost forever, would you willingly let go of that thing for the Truth? If you are, tear the third most important thing from your sheet and place it in the box. Again, if you would rather hold on to your third most valuable thing, you may sit down now with no loss, penalty, embarrassment. Go around and receive the next sacrifices. A few more people may sit down.
So we have some dare-takers left? We have some who hunger after Truth! Are you really sure you want to know? What if there really is no truth, like some say? Look at your second most valuable thing. Is there truth in this? Is it worth holding on to? Is it really worth giving up?
Would you be willing to give up your second most valuable thing? As far as you know, the other two are gone for good. Will you let go of this second most important thing? After all you still have the first to fall back on. Or you could stop now, with no more risk, no more wondering, no more doubts. If you are willing to let go of your second most valuable, important, cherished, special thing, tear it from your sheet and place it in here. Go around again with the box/bag. Shake it to show how heavy it is getting! The standing people may begin to thin.
And then there were (# of people left). They have dared to give up almost everything. But two things still remain, your most important and valuable thing, and the ultimate truth. What is so important about your most important thing? What truth does it represent to you? Do you think it is your ultimate Truth?
Are you willing to let go of your most important thing? Knowing that if you let it go you might be stuck with nothing? Is there any fear, or faith, or hope left? If you stop now, you have something left at least to start over with. If you let it go, who can know what will happen? Is the Ultimate Truth worth it? If you think the your last most important thing is in fact already the ultimate Truth, are you willing to let go of your “concept” of the Ultimate Truth, in the hope of one that is beyond all other concepts? If you are willing to let go of your last most important thing, place the rest of the sheet in the box/bag. If you want to keep it, sit down now, with no loss, no penalty, no embarrassment. Go around. Let the last people put their sacrifices in the box. Do it slowly. Then quietly, soberly, and without a word, take the box or bag to a trash bin or fire and dump the contents before everyone’s eyes. Then take a moment to continue silence, letting the drama subside and calm. Then tell the last people standing to sit.
Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” For the Truth, he was sacrificed and is sacrificed in each of us and at every liturgy. This exercise was just a look into ourselves and into the meaning of sacrifice. Even if we sacrificed all four, we still have all, the other things in our life that we hold on to every day instead of God. Our life is a continual process of growing in faith and in Truth — these were just a few baby steps in the big picture of spiritual life.
In groups, have them share their experience, then discuss as a whole the following questions:
Based on the exercise, what do you think is the meaning of sacrifice? [Letting go, giving to God the best things, trusting in God to take care of you, a real feeling of loss, etc.]
How did it feel to be willing to give up one (or more) of my most valuable things? [painful, liberating, scary, easy, etc.]
What was most difficult about my sacrifice? [not knowing if it would be gone forever, not knowing exactly what I was doing it for, not knowing if there was going to be an ultimate truth.]
How can I relate my experience with the exercise to my relationship with God? [I am not as willing to make God a part of my life as I thought, I have been keeping the wrong priorities, My faith is stronger now, I have a new appreciation of what Christ and His saints have undergone, etc.]
How can we relate this exercise to life and death decisions such as abortion, euthanasia? [What do we consider more valuable than doing what is right and True? What are we giving up and what are we giving it up for? In abortion and euthanasia, a person is willing to sacrifice the wrong important things for what they think is most important.]
How can I apply this experience to my life from henceforth? [Be more willing to give up the lesser truths I put my faith in, reevaluate my commitment to Christ, think about what’s most important more often, etc.]
As we leave this exercise, we should all go away with a sense of the difficulty of making hard decisions and the challenge of giving our lives to Christ. It is never easy and this is why we are called to work at our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12) not because we are afraid of God’s punishment, but because sacrifice calls us to challenge our most cherished, inner commitments to the world and our selves. When we have some humility about this life and its struggles, we can better avoid the mistakes of making unhealthy life and death choices and judging other who do when we do not.
VI. Session Conclusion
1. What are some common myths about abortion?
2. What are the effects of abortion, in addition to ending a human life?
When making a choice in a matter of life and death, we must ask ourselves what are we really holding as most important in our life. Are we seeking continually for the Truth? Are we growing towards God? Are we keeping our hearts open and trusting in God’s love for us, or are we making choices out of fear — the fear of loss, the fear of suffering, the fear of sacrifice?
Through the model of the martyrs, we saw how suffering ca be made meaningful and able to transform lives. Now we are called to see how suffering through the sacrifice of our own comfort and the pains of childbirth can be a path to salvation. Thus our Church sings when celebrating the Conception of the Virgin Mary: (tone 4)
The barren Anna leaped for joy when she conceived Mary the Virgin,
Who in turn will conceive in the flesh God the Word.
From the fullness of her joy she cried out:
Rejoice with me, all you tribes of Israel,
For I have conceived according to the will of God my Savior.
He has answered my prayer and ended my shame,
In fulfillment of His promise, He will heal the pains of my heart,
Through the pains of child-bearing.
VII. Closing Prayer