Planned Parenthood recently announced a move away from the label "pro-choice," following survey results showing nearly 25 percent of voters do not identify with traditional abortion labels and another 25 percent do not have strong associations with a political platform.
On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, this is where we find ourselves. While most of us have strong opinions on abortion, the political framing of the issue remains polarizing and unable to fully communicate what we believe and feel. We've become strangely disconnected from such an important issue.
Since we don't often think, talk or pray about abortion outside of politics, we also can't expect much to change. The survey results led me to ask: Is God calling his people to move beyond a political platform on abortion and offer a complete expression of his heart?
Most Christians agree that God creates all life, beginning at conception. Psalm 139:13-18 paints a vivid picture of a loving God being intimately involved in forming each of us, with a specific plan for our lives. He could have chosen to bring us into the world in any number of ways, but his design is pregnancy. Pregnancy has to be a major part of our theology when we look at abortion. It's a time and an experience like no other: for nine months, the welfare of the child and the woman are intertwined. Everything done to one impacts the other.
Political platforms fail to offer a complete expression of God's heart because each side chooses one individual's needs to focus on. Pro-life focuses mainly on the needs of the child. Pro-choice focuses mainly on the needs of the woman. God wants to meet the needs of both. We must engage in work that addresses the needs of child and mother, creating an environment that supports both during and after unplanned pregnancy.
A single woman often experiences an identity shift during an unplanned pregnancy that leaves her believing she has become "that girl." Research at the pregnancy center I lead in Chicago shows how a single woman expects shame and judgment on such a scale that life as she knows it will be over. She feels she either has to have an abortion to try and become herself again, or she has to resign herself to overwhelming struggle as a single mom.
We've also found that when we show grace to a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, when we offer acceptance and support, it can change the way she thinks about herself, her future, and the future of her child. There's not a lot of grace in our culture for a single woman who gets pregnant unexpectedly. The standard wisdom is that she has just wrecked her life, de-railed her future. And yet we expect these women to go ahead and have their babies without outside support?
I've heard accounts from single women whose churches would not hold baby showers for them when they were faced with unplanned pregnancies. A Christian response of grace, acceptance and support would look more like this:
- We can acknowledge that pregnancy is not a sin. Rather, sex outside the context of marriage is the sin. We can also acknowledge that many more Christians are engaged in sexual immorality, including pornography, than just women who get pregnant. We must talk about our theology of sexual purity all the time and with everyone involved, not just women facing unplanned pregnancy.
- We then can apply grace. We all need God's forgiveness through the blood of Christ, and grace offers us the path towards transformation through the power of the Spirit.
- We can commit to supporting women, both emotionally and practically, regardless of whether the pregnancy is planned or unplanned. This can include holding baby showers, counseling a woman throughout the pregnancy, or reaching out to single moms.
If we don't know of any women facing unplanned pregnancy in our churches or in our lives, it may be because they are afraid to admit the pregnancy. According to data from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 30 percent of unmarried evangelical women ages 18-29 have experienced a pregnancy. Another study reports that 32 percent of unplanned pregnancies among self-identified evangelicals end in abortion.
As we talk about unplanned pregnancy and abortion through the lens of grace and acceptance, we can create a culture where women won't feel they have to end a pregnancy because of the shame they fear they will experience within their faith community.
When Christians step in and offer a countercultural message of radical acceptance, miracles happen:
"Instead of asking me what I was going to do – that's what everyone was asking me – she said, 'What do you need?' When she started giving me resources, I didn't feel alone anymore." "I can't believe all these people give money, give baby items – just for us. It makes me want to do better, knowing people believe in me. Like I have more hope because they have hope for me."
As Christians, we don't have to settle for the limitations of politics. We don't have to rely on government alone to bring about social change. We're holding a key much more powerful than any political platform. We are in relationship with the Savior, who came to "bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives... comfort all who mourn, to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes" (Isaiah 61:1-3).
Jesus can give us a Christian response to unplanned pregnancy and abortion that transcends the political debate. He can give us solutions to work for the dignity and welfare of both the woman and the child.
When we first ask the pregnant women in our groups if they would consider going to a church for support, they almost always say absolutely not. Here are a few comments we've heard recently:
"I know what the people of the church will think of me; I don't need to be around that" "I don't want to hear about religion; that just makes you feel worse."
But after they see Christians demonstrate God's love by donating items, volunteering with our organization, or opening the doors of their churches, women start to take a different view.
"I was like, 'Who does all this for pregnant women?' When I found out it was people associated with a faith, it made me want to check out church for the first time." "My perception of Christians has changed since coming here. I used to have a negative opinion, but now I think I would consider going to church."
This year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, instead of simply being vocal in the political debate, we can ask God to overwhelm us with his heart of compassion. Instead of focusing on people we disagree with, we can turn our attention to making ourselves and our churches more supportive for women facing unplanned pregnancy.
God's grace has completely transformed my life, and it's God's love that motivates me to want the best outcome for every woman and child impacted by unplanned pregnancy. That's one thing all Christians can agree on, whatever our politics. God can show us how to bring light and healing into an issue that's been broken for way too long.