Roe v. Wade Has Been Overturned…What Now?
Ambivalence about the life/choice debate is not an option for a follower of Christ. My position as a minister, a disability and special needs advocate, a former crisis pregnancy counselor, and a husband whose wife experienced miscarriage, have made the subject near and dear to me personally.
In the current cultural moment, which includes ideologues on either side who mostly talk past each other, I have sought to formulate a perspective that is (a) solidly biblical and Christian, (b) protective of defenseless children who have no voice, (c) invested in helping bear burdens carried by women who are under-resourced, alone, afraid, or in crisis, and (d) devoted to the apostle James’ Spirit-inspired vision to care for women and children in their distress (James 1:27), to the exclusion of none.
In forming conclusions, I have also done a lot of homework. My thoughts have been formed first by Scripture (both Old and New Testaments), plus a voluminous amount of research, plus many conversations with pro-life and pro-choice healthcare professionals (including some abortion providers), men and women who have considered or used abortion for birth control, and those who have endured unwanted termination due to a crisis such as ectopic pregnancy.
I have also sought out the perspective of women who have been victims of rape or incest, as well as politicians, journalists, and other ideologues on both sides of the conversation. I am in community with many boys, girls, and adults who have disabilities and special needs, whose parents chose life in spite of advice that some of them were given otherwise. Our community also has many families with children they have adopted or taken in through foster care.
Even though I have been invested in the life/choice conversation for many decades, I do not presume to have comprehensive knowledge of all the complexities that lead women and men to consider terminating pre-born life. This being said…
Some Biblical Factors
Here are a few things that we do know from Scripture:
– All sins, including the unjust taking of human life, can be forgiven in Christ. Remember Nathan’s word to the adulterous, murderous, then penitent David: “The Lord has taken away your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13).
– Furthermore, Christian churches should be havens of grace, mercy, forgiveness, comfort, and care to women and men who are burdened by any guilt, shame, or regret for having chosen abortion. Remember the penitent, incestuous adulterer from 1 Corinthians 5:1-6 (the sin) and 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 (the restoration and reaffirmation of love from the community).
– God alone is the giver of life.
– God alone has the right to take life, and to determine who may take life and for what reason.
– God is deeply affectionate and protective toward children in utero, whom he describes as “fearfully and wonderfully made…His eyes saw our unformed bodies; all the days ordained for us were written in his book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13, 16). Perhaps for this reason, according to Scripture, if a pregnant woman is murdered, the killer is tried for two crimes: the death of the mother and the death of the child inside her.
– The biblical word used for a child in the womb — yeled — is the same word used for a born infant or toddler. There is no word that distinguishes a fetus from a child. According to Scripture, the two are one and the same.
– John the Baptist was said to be “filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb,” a clear affirmation of a pre-born infant’s spirituality and personhood.
– Jesus urged that little children and babies come to him, and that they not be hindered from doing so.
– When a woman and her child are in distress, there is no biblical warrant for tending to one party without also tending to the other. The truly Christian life ethic is not selective as modern political categories are. Rather, it is unabashedly “womb to tomb.”
– Concerning women and children in crisis (as well as those who are poor, disabled, abandoned, or facing other forms of distress), the ultimate consideration is not the quality of life, but rather the value of life. All humans, whether young or old, pre-born or born, are made in the image of God and are therefore of inestimable value. On that note, I highly recommend that you read this related essay by my friend, also paralyzed from the neck down since her teen years, Joni Eareckson Tada.
Some Other Factors
In addition to what Scripture tells us, here are a few more facts:
– Approximately 2 million American households are on adoption waiting lists.
– The abortion industry is very profitable. People make a lot of money terminating pregnancies, thus incentivizing providers not to make abortion rare.
– 66% of abortions are performed on the 30% minority of Blacks and Hispanics. Notably, Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood in part for the purpose of exterminating Black people. Historically and today, there are significant racial implications concerning abortion.
– A disturbingly disproportionate percentage of children with Down Syndrome are aborted, even though people with Down Syndrome are known to be among the happiest people groups in the world.
– 98% of abortions are purely elective due to an unwanted pregnancy in which the mother’s health or life is not at risk.
– 90% of women considering abortion who see a sonogram choose to keep the child. Some possible reasons why? The heartbeat begins at 18 days old. The baby has a sense of touch at 8 weeks old, and fingerprints at 10 weeks. He/She makes facial expressions at 14 weeks, feels pain at 20 weeks, and opens his/her eyes at 30 weeks. But even before any of these milestones occur…
– At conception, the full set of DNA is present—23 genes from the mother, and 23 from the father. Scientifically, an embryo is human from the start.
– Well-known people whose parents were encouraged to consider abortion but chose not to include Tim Tebow, Oprah Winfrey, Celine Dion, Steve Jobs, Pope John Paul II, Justin Bieber, Jesse Jackson, Jack Nicholson, Brooke Shields, Cher, Sean Lennon, and others.
Critiques of the “Pro-Life” Movement
Perhaps the loudest outcry from pro-choice men and women against the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is that, according to them, the so-called pro-life position seems focused on only one kind of life: infant life. The question is fairly asked: Why has pro-life messaging not accounted for the following realities?
– That over 60% of women seeking abortion live in poverty and alone.
– That some have been raped.
– That some face an at-risk pregnancy that threatens the viability of mother, child, or both, as in the case of an ectopic pregnancy.
– That many women come into a clinic afraid because they lack adequate healthcare and/or support from spouses, partners, or loved ones.
– That many with the loudest voices about pro-life policies are curiously silent about other measures that could disincentivize abortion such as sex education, pregnancy prevention, post-natal health and childcare, paid maternity leave, long-term care for single-parent, impoverished families, and enforceable accountability measures for men who impregnate women and then abandon them.
If pro-life will not also show up for and help solve these and other, complicated forms of pregnancy-related distress, their advocacy for unborn life loses credibility in the eyes of their neighbors and peers.
Do These Critiques Have Warrant?
I believe that the answer to this question is both yes and no. On the one hand, many pro-life Christians in particular have failed to advocate for much besides the protection of the pre-born. This is partially understandable because the act of abortion is experienced by a pre-born boy or girl as a violent, barbaric assault. Limbs are torn off of the torso, skin and skeleton and vital organs are eviscerated, and life is terminated in what God created to be the safest, most nurturing place on earth: a mother’s womb. In the case of late-term abortions, a scalpel is inserted into the pre-born and viable infant’s skull in a death-inducing procedure that seems merciless.
There is good reason for pro-life men and women to focus especially on infant advocacy, protection, and care. But this should never be to the neglect of the vulnerabilities, pains, sorrows, and fears that tempt many women to make this tragic and irreversible choice.
On the other hand, it is also true that pro-life advocates, especially Christian ones, have historically cared more for their poor, distraught, and/or at-risk neighbors than the rest of the world combined. As secular journalist Nicholas Kristof has written in The New York Times, Christians are leading the world in mercy and justice efforts on virtually every front. This includes providing meaningful support to women and children facing a crisis pregnancy, as well as counseling for those who are facing shame, regret, and trauma after choosing abortion. One such organization is Avail, whose free counseling services are accessible in person and online.
My friend and former Obama staff and pro-life Democrat, Michael Wear, said similar things recently on his Instagram feed:
“I’m all for responsible, honest critiques of Christians, but I’m seeing folks on here literally claim no Christians personally care for an ‘unwanted’ child…about half the refugee resettlement agencies are Christian. Christians essentially invented the idea of a hospital…David Platt’s church literally cleared out the foster care roles in their county…I’ve spent my career pushing Christians who don’t apply their personal convictions…but why the need to tell a demonstrably false story about the church? Hungry kids aren’t getting fed by your tweets. They’re getting fed by a Summer Food program that is largely administered by the government via partnerships with churches and faith based institutions.”
Becoming Consistently and Comprehensively Pro-Life
So then, what to do now since Roe v. Wade is no more? I believe the answer is for Christians to continue the work that so many have already been doing in the quiet, hands-on, grass roots context of their congregations and local communities — and to do so all the more robustly, creatively, and generously.
How to do this?
In short, the answer to what it means to be consistently pro-life includes laying down our own lives for others, just as Christ has done for us. As one of my pastoral colleagues, Russ Ramsey said recently, this would include investing personally in the care of the vulnerable. If the issue of protecting the unborn is truly significant to you personally, then also consider supporting measures that help those with limited resources afford housing, healthcare, and all the costs that go with raising children. Consider sacrificing financially to support women and families in need. Consider fostering a child without a home, or adopting. Give your life away.
Finally, as a Christian physician and friend of mine has said, wouldn’t it be great if communities existed where any mother, married or unmarried, would feel welcomed and loved and known that her needs and the needs of her child would be attended to?
If the Church does what the Church is called to do, then there will be no poor or disregarded or demeaned in our midst. The ideal to aim for is building community and living in a society where abortion, due to the love ready to be given to any child and any mother, is not merely illegal, but unthinkable.