A woman is standing in the bathroom, staring at the white wand in her shaking hand. Her disbelief gives way to anger, then despair. She has five children. She can't afford childcare—she'll have to quit her job. Her house is too small for another child. Her family's business is under threat, and her husband will be traveling more than ever. She's just come through another unplanned pregnancy. She is well past 40. How can she be pregnant at this age when using birth control? How can she go through another pregnancy, another birth? How can she raise another child?
Then a thought comes: This could all just go away. No one would know. She feels a lift. There is a way out.
That woman, of course, was me. Never did I imagine I would consider abortion, even for a few seconds.
Reading this, some will write me: "How could you even think that? You're a terrible mother. Don't you know every child is a blessing?" I know because I got some of those e-mails when my book Surprise Child came out a few years ago.
I'm thinking about all this again because we are facing an election cycle in which life-ethics issues are almost daily news, and because January 15th is National Sanctity of Life Sunday.
Those last unexpected pregnancies jarred me awake in so many ways. I discovered that 20 percent of all women obtaining abortions self-identify as evangelical, charismatic, fundamentalist, or born-again, according to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute. That's somewhere around 200,000 believing American women a year ending the life of their child.
Can this be true? While I was speaking on a talk show about the topic, a woman called in and said, "I work outside an abortion clinic, trying to save lives, and you wouldn't believe how many cars in the parking lot have Bibles in their front seats and Christian radio stickers on the back. The women are almost always alone, and they're really scared."
I understand that fear. And I think local church culture bears at least some responsibility. We've so spiritualized the fight for life, we may be losing lives because of it. We know God is the maker of every human being. We know that premarital and extramarital sex is contrary to God's Word. Our beliefs on this front are passionate and unbending, and they should be. But I fear that our conviction and certainty can lead to lack of compassion when women make mistakes.
I attended a church a few years ago whose (male) leaders would not support a church-sponsored baby shower for a pregnant teen unless she repented of her sin—publicly. If there is no room for error, no message of grace, women in crisis will continue to drive out of church all the way to abortion clinics, their Bibles on the front seat, scared toward death.
I fear as well that the politicization of "pro-life" has desensitized us to seeing the people involved. We speak in military terms: the "fight for life." We draw battle lines and launch campaigns. We objectify mothers and are so focused on saving the fetus that we neglect the mother. Though evangelicals have over the past decade become more convinced of the importance of supporting unwed mothers, many of us still labor under the idea that once the baby is born, we've won the fight and can move on to the next one. But where does that leave mother and child?
As I struggled wearily through my last two pregnancies, I learned that "pro-life" was far more than a cause, a box to check off on a ballot. I was acutely aware that I was not gestating a political platform, a point of theology, a spiritual or moral issue: I was growing within my own body a human being with a body—and that is where I needed to be met. Every day.
The great good news here is that U.S. abortion rates are at their lowest level since the 1970s. The disastrous news is that child abuse rates are exploding and are considered "epidemic." This does not warrant or buttress a common defense of abortion, but rather supports the argument to widen our concern for life, beyond the baby and birth itself to the whole family and every member thereof.
In this election season, the "pro-life cause" can trick us into thinking that our duty is done when we check the box beside the right name. I'm glad for those in my church who knew it wasn't, who brought meals and gifts before and after Micah was born, who loved an overwhelmed woman so she could begin her real pro-life work: the lifelong work of loving another.
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Previous columns by Leslie Leyland Fields include:
Intercultural Fiesta Fail | 'We are all alike!' doesn't fly in a fly-infested hut in El Salvador. (November 21, 2011)
A Wordless Presence | Where spit, blood, and sweat are to be found, so is God. (September 14, 2011)
The Power and the Glamour | Searching for Beauty amid Hollywood's beautiful people. (July 25, 2011)
People of the Nook | What Bible smartphone apps tell us about the Book. (May 16, 2011)
A Feast Fit for the King | Returning the growing fields and kitchen table to God. (November 5, 2010)
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