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"It's different than a doctor saying 'You're making the right choice'": a qualitative study of chaplains' experience caring for patients undergoing abortion in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

Contraception 2024 March 19
OBJECTIVES: Healthcare chaplains are faith providers with theological education, pastoral experience, and clinical training who provide spiritual care to patients, their families, and medical staff. This study sought to characterize chaplains' experiences providing spiritual care for patients experiencing abortion and pregnancy loss, and to explore how chaplains gain competency and comfort in providing pastoral care for this patient population.

STUDY DESIGN: Researchers conducted in-depth, semi-structured, qualitative interviews with currently-practicing chaplains recruited via convenience sampling in the Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia region. We analyzed interviews using directed content analysis and coded using both inductive and deductive coding.

RESULTS: We interviewed 13 chaplains. The majority were Protestant and identified as Democrats. Participants often personally struggled with the acceptability of abortion, but emphasized the importance of spiritual care for this patient population. They recognized that religious stigma regarding abortion prevented referrals to chaplaincy. Though desiring to contribute, chaplains reported little formal education in pregnancy support counseling. They relied on foundational pastoral care skills, like holding space, values clarification, connecting with patients' spirituality, words of comfort, ritualistic memorialization, and resource provision. All desired more training specific to abortion and pregnancy loss in chaplaincy education.

CONCLUSIONS: Chaplains from varied faith backgrounds have a diverse set of skills to support patients experiencing abortion or pregnancy loss, but feel underutilized and lacking in formal training. Though not all patients require pastoral support, chaplains can be critical members of the care team, particularly for those patients experiencing spiritual distress.

IMPLICATIONS: Chaplains have a paucity of training in supporting patients experiencing abortion and pregnancy loss. Chaplains want to be involved with patients experiencing abortion, but feel excluded by both patients and practitioners. Standardization of pastoral care training is important to ensure adequate spiritual support for patients who desire such services.

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