By Danae King, The Columbus Dispatch

The half-dozen religious leaders stood under the awning of the abortion clinic, wearing collars and stoles, hands upraised as they prayed for the people who sought services at the facility, its staff and society.

The group assembled Friday night to “bless” Your Choice Healthcare, a non-surgical sexual health and abortion clinic on the Northeast Side that opened in July.

“We want to show there are people of faith who support bodily rights,” said Elaina Ramsey, executive director of the Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which hosted the event, “Holy Ground: Blessing the Sacred Space of Decision.”

The blessing was the first of its kind in Columbus, though there was one last month at a clinic in Cleveland. The coalition plans to bless the other six abortion clinics in the state next year, Ramsey said.

“It’s just a way to shift the message and stigma around abortion to one of love and respect around reproductive freedom,” Ramsey said. “Especially because so much of the opposition comes from religious groups.”

About 20 people joined the six clergy outside the clinic. A group of about two dozen protesters, many of whom identified as Christian, stood on the sidewalk by the Karl Road entrance to the clinic, with signs opposing abortion. A few Columbus police officers were on hand in the event of any problems.

Sarah Cleveland, of Cardington in Morrow County, calls herself an “abolitionist,” saying she believes in an ideology known as “abolish human abortion.” Cleveland said people came from all over Ohio to protest the blessing ceremony.

Darleen Moss, of Canton, said she came because she has seen women hurt by abortion.

“I have seen women weeping and crying over their lost child ... thinking they have no other choice,” Moss said.

Speaking during the event were three women who made the choice to have an abortion.

Angie Luna, 24, of Cleveland, drove to Columbus to tell her story of the two abortions she chose to have at ages 18 and 19, after considering carrying the babies to term and putting them up for adoption. Luna, who is Catholic, was in an abusive relationship and said she felt lost when she decided to have an abortion.

Though she worried at the time that God would punish her, she said she now realizes that she felt his presence with her when she had the abortions.

“I have been blessed by God in so many ways,” Luna told attendees. “I have grown to be bold and unapologetic about my abortions. I share my story so other women in this situation know they are not alone.”

“God loves you regardless of what you do and God’s there with you.”

Several clergy offered prayers and blessings and each attendee was given a rose and asked to distribute the petals around the area to symbolize promise, hope, protection and God’s presence.

The Rev. Emily Corzine, associate minister at First Congregational Church United Church of Christ, Downtown, said a prayer for people in times of decisions.

“Blessed are you, creator of us, who sustains us,” she said. “You have made it possible for us to consider with wisdom our lives and the lives of our loved ones ... You have empowered us to make decisions. Help us to remember that because we are created in your image, we are required to attend with care to our health and well-being.”

Ramsey said the blessings are intended to show public support for care offered by abortion clinics.

“There are people out there who will walk with you,” she said. “We are here to journey with women.”