Recap of April 21, 2022 Abortion Healing Provider Webinar
“Allow men the opportunity, to be honest, transparent, and safe,” Pastor Stevie Burke advises, “Protect their vulnerability and allow them to expose themselves completely – hear their heart without pointing fingers. Just hear their heart.”
During the April 21 Abortion Healing Provider webinar hosted by Support After Abortion, Pastor Stevie shared the beginnings, growth, and approach of a weekly men’s program he has been leading for 14 years and how it dovetailed into abortion healing.
Fourteen years ago, Pastor Stevie was the first member of the church he now pastors. At that time, they organically decided to have an open conversation with some men. By the third meeting, he felt called to share his own trauma experience of being raped for two years by his father’s brother.
“Black men don’t talk about being raped. It made them suspicious, but after the dust settled, the feeling was ‘If he can say this, then I can say that.’” Pastor Stevie remarked, “It felt like a safe place to talk about things. Men could come in and unload their trash without worrying about being gossiped about.”
Pastor Stevie said that men have a number of problems they haven’t spoken about with anyone and the group talks about everything that men contend with. Over the years, the group grew by word of mouth. During the coronavirus pandemic, the group shifted to virtual, which enabled them to go national, then international.
What types of ground rules help create a safe sharing space in your group?
Pastor Stevie shared the Ground Rules for Healthy Group Conversations that his men’s group practices:
- Meet prospective participants before allowing them to join the meeting. Explain the ground rules, what we do and stand for, and ensure that they understand and fully agree to abide by the rules.
- Promise never to repeat any of the participants’ stories.
- Allow men to say what they want to say in the way they want to say it.
- Don’t ostracize men for their language, appearance, education, etc.
- Don’t use any titles – it’s all about relationship, not position.
- Keep conversations and discussions non-political.
- Give people the freedom to speak even if it’s off-topic.
- Allow each man to speak freely about his pain.
- If someone violates a rule, they can’t return. The safety of the men is most important.
Pastor Stevie shared that while he announces each week’s topic in an email blast, “nine times out of ten, there’ll be a man there hurting in a different space than the topic.” His approach is to always meet men where they are and allow space for that sharing. “What I want to say isn’t as important as what he needs to say. I want to make sure he’s not ashamed to be emotionally naked and vulnerable.”
How has Support After Abortion equipped you to have broader, deeper conversations?
Pastor Stevie’s heart was moved during an event when he heard about Janine Marrone (Support After Abortion Board President) and Lisa Rowe and Support After Abortion’s focus on men. After the conference, he introduced himself to them and shared his thoughts. They introduced him to Nathan Misirian, Chair of the Support After Abortion Men’s Task Force, who became a conduit of learning for Pastor Stevie on men’s experiences and abortion healing journeys.
“I am grateful to them for the opportunity to hear me, which allowed me to have relationships with them to where I can hear them now,” said Pastor Stevie, “and I can take their communications to my neighborhood where this is not talked about.”
“In 13 years of weekly meetings, we never once discussed abortion – it never came up in any topic,” Pastor Stevie said.
After his interactions with Support After Abortion, Pastor Stevie began to have conversations about abortion. They began to talk about it in general, trying to figure out how to help men recover from the pain of abortion “because we don’t talk about it in our community. But, we’re going to talk about it a lot more because now I’m an advocate on this topic.”
How can you get past the taboo of talking about abortion?
With his heart atuned to helping men open up and then heal from abortion wounds, Pastor Stevie shared his own story of abortion with the group – that as a married man he got another woman pregnant and she had an abortion.
Pastor Stevie said the “leader has to be vulnerable and most transparent – that’s why I told my story.”
After he shared his story, it was “a domino effect of men sharing their abortion experiences.” He described how men cried while telling their stories for the first time ever. Even gentlemen in their 80s spoke “who had never shared their pain about being a contributor to the abortion of their child.” The men have since engaged in a lot of dialogue about abortion.
Pastor Stevie remarked that it was “rewarding for me to share my story and get that weight off me and help them get the weight off them.”
What might surprise people about a man’s reaction to and feelings about abortion?
“Crying. A lot of crying,” Pastor Stevie responded. “The narrative that’s been painted is that men don’t care – and that’s not true. You can’t say that about every man who’s been caught in this situation of not being able to have that child in his life.”
Nathan pointed out that we all need to watch out for stereotypes and that it might surprise people that a man might react first with tears, not anger.
Pastor Stevie shared some of the common reactions men communicate, such as:
- I never wanted my child to be aborted, but I didn’t have any choice.
- I wanted the child, but couldn’t convince her, so I had to go with the program.
- I would have kept the child, but there was no advocate for me to have the child be born.
- It’s her body, she can do as she wants to with her body, but that’s my baby.
- I don’t have a say in the survival of my child because she chooses to take my child.
“Hopefully you can hear my heart,” Pastor Stevie said, “and know that we too struggle.”
How can women speak to men about abortion?
Noting that many of the webinar attendees were women, Nathan asked how they can effectively speak to men about abortion. Pastor Stevie explained that men react, think, feel, and sound differently than women.
He noted that “Society allows women to talk about this in a way that doesn’t give men the opportunity to do that. So, we’re told to just deal with it and keep moving forward. But, men have a lot of pain when it comes to having lost a child and not having the privilege to have a conversation around that. She says it’s her body, she can do what she wants to with it and she does, so we’re left holding our own pain and we have nowhere to dispose of it. We need to provide the opportunity for men to tell their story.”
“Men need safe places,” agreed one participant, “After my speaking events, they have wept on my shoulder over and over because no one before had given them permission to grieve. Giving men the space to be honest with you will change your experience of healing after abortion.”
“My husband and I have abortion in our past separately,” shared another participant, “His story is so different than mine and I had no idea until he told me about his lack of choice how men really felt.”
Pastor Stevie shared that a man speaks honestly when he believes he’s found a safe place, so he encourages women to be that safe place. He advises women to give a man the opportunity to be completely honest and to say exactly how he feels in his own words without criticizing. He said, “If you allow us to feel and express it the way we do as men, we’re going to be more forthcoming with a lot more than you would think we would.”
Talking about Abortion with Men of Color
Pastor Stevie shared, “As a man of color, whenever someone who doesn’t look like us talks to us about abortion, we get offended by that. Because the problem that we have is that you care about this, but you don’t care about that (other issues)… I believe the answer lies with a lot of you. But, if all you’re coming to me about is abortion, and not about being hungry, it’s hard for me to hear you talk about a baby if I can’t eat.”
He said by focusing only on abortion when communicating with men of color, the men are less likely to engage. He emphasized the importance of relationships, listening, and sharing stories.
Through building relationship with the Support After Abortion team, Pastor Stevie now recommends Support After Abortion as a resource for his members.
“I have an off ramp for you called Support After Abortion,” Pastor Stevie shares with the men, “let me introduce you to some people who can help you.”
He explained that “they’re going to trust me because I look like them, I’m from the same neighborhood, I speak the same language, and I have the same story. So, I can bring them to you, and they’ll trust you because they trust me.”
Perceiving through the lens of dysfunction
Lisa wrapped up the webinar acknowledging her own tendencies, as a recovering codependent, to not be ready to hear the truth. She explained that “clients’ belief systems are often rooted in such dysfunction that they manifest their own experience with men. They perceive men’s inability to speak up or the inability of a man to share with courage and strength about their unexpected pregnancy as rejection because it reminds them of previous trauma. When in all reality it isn’t that, but they can’t see anything different because they are often viewing and trying to make sense of this situation through the lens of childhood dysfunction.”
Have conversations. Build relationships. Help change hearts and minds.
Consumer research shows that 44% of men impacted by abortion said they didn’t have a choice or didn’t know they had a choice.
“Men are hungry for healing,” Lisa said, “but they don’t know where to go. I hope this inspires you to dig deeper into your own stereotypes, your own understanding, your own service model and to be patient with yourselves and caring for yourselves in order to be able to meet people like Stevie right where they are.”
Lisa closed by challenging participants, “From here on out, we need to make sure when we’re speaking about abortion, it’s not just a woman’s conversation. Make sure we are including men in the conversation. Let them know we are not making them the villain, we know they have a past, too, and there is somebody who can meet them right where they are, as well. We want you to replicate this in your communities, within your sphere of influence, among your family and friends. Have conversations. Build relationships. Help change hearts and minds.”
If you would like to connect with Pastor Stevie or Support After Abortion, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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