There is a good chance that this post is going to offend many of you, perhaps even all who read this, so my humble request is simple: please read, pray, think, pray some more and think some more before you come to any conclusions. The thoughts represented here are from over a decade of thinking about the topic of abortion. For the sake of clarity, I do not like the terms pro-life and pro-choice, so I will be using the terms pro and anti abortion, and in the interest of full disclosure, I am firmly anti-abortion.
Nausea comes before the first kicks, your breasts grow before your belly does, the inconsolable tears will be yours first before it is baby’s, and the incomprehensible exhaustion hits before you ever have a sleepless night with a newborn. Pregnancy is a potent cocktail of physical and emotional insanity, and when you experience it for the first time, you will not ever know what hit you. I certainly did not when the first two lines appeared and whispered Small One was alive inside of me.
What followed were weeks of nap taking, fighting nausea, daily tears that seemed to come out of nowhere, trying to understand how my body was changing and why I felt the way I did, excitement about the future but also crippling fears about whether or not I could parent, how this would affect our marriage, our dreams, our plans, our future. And we wanted children, our wedding vows included a part about them: “I commit my heart and my life to welcoming children into our home, seeing them as welcome gifts from God to be treasured, enjoyed and taught.” I said those words on July 12, 2010, and September 17, 2010 began the testing process of whether or not I would live those words.
Then came the doctor’s appointments, from six weeks to eight to 12 to 16 to 20 and so on. The experience of being examined, ultrasounded, weighed, my body discussed like it was medical matter was not the supposed sacred experience of carrying a child.
It was my first pregnancy that led me to this truth – pregnancy integrates a woman’s physical body, her emotions and her spirituality, and yes, it is a deeply profound experience, but it is also a tender, fragile, fearful and vulnerable time.
And it was this way for me in a loving, secure marriage where children were desired, we have a secure life in Geneva, and all of our medical care was more than taken care of in the most luxurious way possible.
I cannot imagine the crippling fear that a woman would have when she sees a positive pregnancy test if she did not have a committed partner or does not want a baby. Add to that the way her body is changing and in full pregnancy mode, the emotions involved, and the shattering she must see as she looks into the future. I know because in small measures I felt these things, but I felt it in a safe cocoon of Husband’s love.
It wasn’t until I experienced pregnancy that I realized to be genuinely anti-abortion you need to be more than pro-baby, you have to be pro-woman. This is the problem I have today with the large political operation of the anti-abortion movement. It is full of pro-baby activists, pro-baby arguments, pro-baby policies, but there isn’t a lot for women.
(I’m aware of the work done by thousands of crisis pregnancy centres in the United States and elsewhere with dedicated and compassionate volunteers, so I am not talking about this part of the anti-abortion efforts, I am specifically referring to the political and religious aspect of these conversations.)
1. We need to face abortion’s realities
Abortion legislation is not the problem. Abortion is, and it will not go away with a piece of legislation just like it did not come into play with a piece of legislation.
Roe vs. Wade did not start abortions in the United States; it legalized abortion. The process of terminating pregnancies existed prior to that. As a small personal example, in my History of the Middle Ages class in university, I read a first-person account of life in Rome (a book I cannot remember now), and it included the story of a woman who reportedly had multiple abortions. This was between 500 AD and 1000 AD. My cousin is a doctor who used to work in Sri Lanka, where abortion is illegal and a prosecuted crime, and she told me that in the one ward of the hospital she worked in, every week there was a woman there because of a botched abortion.
I am not saying that legalizing abortion makes it safe for the women who want them – I am not saying that at all. I am only saying that abortion legislation is not enough. If you consider yourself to be anti abortion and think that electing officials to any level of your government is enough to take abortion away from your community, you are completely and totally wrong.
Legal or not abortion is something we will all have to deal with for the rest of our lives.
2. The people who form the anti-abortion message need to change.
To put it simply and straightforwardly – why is it that Christian men need to be the ones forming the anti-abortion message? The conversation about abortion needs to take place between women. I think that the strong message of “protecting the life of the unborn” comes out of the natural male instinct of protecting their spouses and children even though it is also espoused by women in the anti-abortion movement.
I appreciate and thrive partly because of Husband’s protective nature toward Small One and I, and in the context of our marriage, it’s a wonderful thing.
But when it comes to the broader topic of communicating our perspective on abortion to the world including and most importantly to women who are considering an abortion, our first message needs to be to her. About her. For her. It needs to be crafted with sensitivity to the personal and private experience of pregnancy, to the deep, intimate feelings she is experiencing, ministering to the tragic losses that are ahead of her. Before she can even begin to consider having a child (and/or keeping a child), she needs to be able to come to terms with what she is losing in the process.
Can I just say it again – I was in the best possible situation to be pregnant, but I had huge concerns and fears about my own life and how it was about to change, concerns that far outweighed my concerns for how our little baby was progressing. If you’re about to write me off as a selfish, uncaring mother, you go right ahead and do that, and if you want to write of women who consider abortions when pregnant as selfish, you go right ahead and do that. While you do that, please keep in mind that you won’t be saving any lives – women’s or baby’s – in the process.
If we ignore the deepest concerns a woman has when she is pregnant and considering an abortion, we will lose our window to speak into her life about the negative impact an abortion can have on her life and her baby’s.
A new message needs to be created by Christian women for all women.
“I had six children when I sinned.” And I turn, wrap an arm around her shoulder, draw her in.
“I had an affair…” Her words snag and tear and I hold on to her as she starts to give way. “I got pregnant. And I couldn’t handle what I had done.”
I try to swallow, all my sins stuck and lodged and burning there in my throat. Oh, sister. The sobs wrack and we are two women caught in the act of living and sinning.
“And the day I was going for the abortion, a friend gave me this.” She nods her head towards that book with the nest on the cover.
“She gave it to me — and she said what I couldn’t handle… was actually a gift.” And I can hardly take this, have to look away, take my shoes off, tear my coat, beat my chest.
“And I read and I agreed with God and he is.”
And there on the screen of her phone – she offers this picture of a smiling baby boy.”
It is graceful, sensitive, tender, empathetic and compassionate. And this is what women need to hear when it comes to the topic of their body. They do not need to hear that it’s not their body (it is their body). They do not need to hear that it’s not their choice (it is their choice). They do not need to hear that the baby is more important (it’s not).
Can I make a suggestion for the male Christian leaders out there who feel the need to protect the lives of the unborn? Why don’t you talk to the men in your congregations? You don’t think they need the message? Read this and guess again (What every pastor should know about sex and abortion in their church). And let’s not forget men in general, what about them? Why isn’t anyone talking to them? Pregnancy is not a one-woman operation; no woman gets pregnant on her own. For every abortion that the anti abortion movement blames on legislation and women, there’s a man somewhere who is equally culpable.
Yes, it’s unfair that men don’t get a say in a woman’s decision to abort. Yes, I am more than certain that there are hundreds of guys out there who are heartbroken because their partner aborted a baby they wanted to keep and others still who never even knew about the life they fathered.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the abortion message to men from Christian leaders is virtually nonexistent.
Dear Male Christian leaders and pastors, please devote your passions and energies to communicating to men about the impact of their sexual choices on women, on babies, on culture. Create a message for men about what they can do in the face of an unexpected pregnancy. Counsel them to be supportive fathers, financially and emotionally. Counsel them to stick around if their partner gets pregnant. They don’t need to be told to get married, indeed that could be the worst advice of all, but teach them to take personal responsibility for the children they father whatever their age may be. And tell them that if they’re going to be sexually active, they need to include fatherhood as part of their plans.
Leave the abortion discussion with women to us women.