Lori Szala’s recent op-ed in the New York Times tells a beautiful story. When she became pregnant as a senior in high school, she decided to keep her baby despite intense pressure from many around her to have an abortion. Having a child wasn’t economically viable or socially responsible, she was told. She went so far as to schedule the procedure, but when a friend who’d previously had an abortion told her of the depression and suicidal thoughts she experienced afterward, Szala canceled the appointment.
That’s when her family and community stepped in. With daunting challenges facing her as a young mom—finishing high school, enrolling in college, and supporting herself and her new son—caring people came alongside her to help weather the challenges. “While my time as a single parent was not easy,” she writes, “we got by, and today my life is nothing like the one predicted by that chorus of pessimism 29 years ago.”
Szala shared her story with the Times in response to the current debate within the Democratic Party over whether a candidate can support income equality without also supporting abortion rights. The argument, according to the Times, is that “women on the margins need abortion so that they can scramble up the economic ladder without children holding them back.”
As Szala rightly notes, this line of reasoning is “dehumanizing. … It’s also patronizing and patently dishonest. Of course unplanned pregnancy presents challenges. But it doesn’t have to lead to economic failure. Abortion is society’s easy way out—its way of avoiding grappling with the fundamental injustices driving women to abortion clinics.”
I’m so glad that Szala withstood the cultural pressure to terminate her pregnancy, and that she found support and nurture from the caring people around her. If only every woman in her circumstance received such backing.
Every day, vulnerable, underprivileged women find themselves pregnant, look around them, and feel as though there’s no one there to help. No one to help them navigate their pregnancy. No one to help with childcare, finances, job training, and a thousand other necessities after the baby arrives. And in this void, they turn to the abortion clinic, because they feel like it’s their only option. The economic concerns around raising a child are real and can prevent reluctant women from seeing motherhood as a viable possibility.
This is where the church can and must step in. Thousands upon thousands of women like Szala don’t have a support network in place as they consider the ramifications of an unplanned pregnancy. They see no way forward—economically, socially, professionally—as single moms. They don’t even see someone willing to walk with them through a pregnancy ending in adoption. And so they make a pragmatic decision and schedule an appointment at an abortion clinic. Many of them will regret it for the rest of their lives.
Many church-based groups and Christian organizations dedicate themselves to the gritty work of surrounding single moms with love and support for the long haul. Texas-based Embrace Grace is committed to equipping churches to provide “emotional, practical and spiritual support for single, young women and their families who find themselves in an unintended pregnancy.” Mary’s Home, part of the Dream Centers initiative in Colorado Springs, makes a similar investment in long-term care for at-risk women and their children. And there are many pregnancy resource centers across the country making a noble effort to offer critical aftercare for moms and their babies. Meanwhile, the Christian Community Development Association is embedded in many communities to address the systemic injustices, including chronic poverty, that drive young women to consider abortion in the first place.
But even with all the good work groups like these are doing, countless women simply slip through the cracks. For churches to truly make an impact, we need to embrace a holistic model of care for abortion-vulnerable women. We need such ministries in every community.
We’re missing a critical element of what it means to demonstrate Christ’s love if we don’t employ a comprehensive pro-life approach. Saving a child from abortion is the first step in a journey of many steps. We need to invest in the health and well-being of these mothers—and be prepared to do so over months, years, and maybe decades in almost every situation.
We can’t simply stop and wish them well following the birth of the baby. In fact, the apostle James addresses this very issue: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15–16 ESV).
Like so many pro-life Christians, I long for the day when Roe v. Wade is overturned. But sometimes I wonder if we’d be ready. What if Roe were overturned and abortion were outlawed in some states today? We would rightly rejoice over the many young lives spared. But would we be prepared to assist the hundreds of thousands of young moms for whom abortion is no longer a legal option? Would we have the resources and infrastructure in place to truly minister to them at their point of need? Would we be ready to enmesh our lives with theirs, offering the kind of loving, supportive, long-term care that Lori Szala received?
The changes necessary must be systemic. We need to re-think the way we “do” ministry as churches. We need to be willing to embrace young moms, invite them in, and then be prepared to walk with them every step of the way. Any parent will tell you that raising a child over a period of 18 years is daunting. But what if you’re facing that prospect as a young girl who hasn’t even graduated from high school yet? It’s not surprising why so many young women choose abortion. It’s not surprising that they feel like they have no other options.
In a small town in Wisconsin, my mom found herself in Szala’s shoes. She was 16, unmarried, and pregnant with me. She was vulnerable to shame and economic hardship, and Roe was not yet the law of the land. But supportive parents and extended family rallied around her. And that’s why I’m here to write this.
The cultural elites will continue to tell vulnerable women that abortion is the only solution to their “problem.” That the only way they can advance in life is to rid themselves of the distraction and burden of childbearing.
God’s people have the chance to prove those voices wrong. We can show that there is a better way: one that upholds the sanctity of human life and also provides vulnerable moms with a path forward—into possibility, opportunity, and thriving. That for every mother facing an unplanned pregnancy, you’d find a community full of love and support that’s in it for the long haul. That’s a vision we can get behind.