Abortion: Moving From Rhetoric to Compassion

What would happen if we all stopped screaming about abortion and started listening to each other? 

With the Women’s March and the March for Life bookending this week, I decided to find out. 

First, a Little Background

I’ve identified myself as “Pro-life” since I was old enough to know I needed to “pick a side.” I had many debates in high school classes with “pro-choice” people, arguing adamantly that abortion is always wrong, and it should be illegal in all circumstances because it’s killing an innocent baby. My Christianity also informed my decision — I know you’re shocked.

I never understood the concept of “You can’t tell me what to do with my body.” My response, which I believe is a common one, was “It’s not your body! It’s the baby’s body.” I also never understood why people would want to put the rights of the mother to decide what happens in her body over the rights of a child to live.

Turns out it’s a lot more complicated and nuanced than that. I can hear some of you indignantly saying, “No. It’s not.” I would simply ask you, for the sake of the Gospel, to stay with me through the end of this post.

As I got older, my perspective started to shift. What once seemed so black and white started to turn grey as compassion began to flood my understanding of Jesus. Is it possible to have both compassion for the unborn and compassion for women who find themselves in desperate situations?

Jesus doesn’t limit His compassion, and neither should we. Can we move away from politicking and move toward helping both women and babies? 

Legislating Morality Doesn’t Work

What if I told you we can’t expect non-Christians to follow our religious beliefs? And what if I told you Christian “purity culture” sometimes actually leads Christian girls to have abortions to avoid being shamed for getting pregnant? 

People don’t start relationships with Jesus because they were screamed and shamed into it. People start relationships with Jesus when we show them love and compassion. 

Maybe it’s time to stop focusing “pro-life” efforts on making abortion illegal and defunding things, and start focusing our time and energy on helping women and babies. Let’s actually be “pro-life” rather than just “pro-birth.” 

We’ll get to what that might look like in a minute. 

But first, I didn’t want to assume anything about what “pro-choice” people believe, and I honestly still had a lot of questions. Plus I thought, maybe if we work together we can find solutions.

Honest Conversations With “Pro-Choice” Friends

I spent some time this week talking with, mostly listening to, my friends Kelly Taylor and Sara Leady.

Kelly is pro-life for herself and pro-choice for everyone else. She personally would not have an abortion, but she does not believe it is her right to tell anyone else what to do with her body.

Sara is pro-choice and feels that because of her own life threatening medical condition bringing a child into this world would not be fair to the child. 

Neither of them are “pro-abortion” (a mythical concept of what it means to be “pro-choice”), and they do not like the idea of using abortion as a method of birth control.

I had a lot of questions. 

I’ve often thought the fundamental difference between “pro-life” and “pro-choice” was when we believe life begins. But that does not seem to be the issue. 

Kelly said that part of her does believe life begins at conception, but she hasn’t read up on the medical journals lately to have up to date information about that. But for her, “the abortion issue is not whether or not you’re actually killing a baby. But you have the right to choose whether you can bring that child to term.”

It didn’t seem to be the issue for Sara either. 

Which brings me to my next questions: You say we can’t tell women what to do with their bodies, but what about the baby’s body? And, aren’t “pro-choice” people putting the rights of the mother over the rights of the unborn baby? As I was asking that question I also realized “pro-life” people are doing the opposite. 

Here’s what Kelly had to say about that:

“It is her body. The child is a body within her, but the body is hers. The child is in her body. Your right to choose for your body should not be taken away.”

“They are elevating the rights of a person who is living and breathing over the rights of a baby that is not. A lot of people on Facebook put the rights of an unborn theoretical child over the rights of a living mother.”

Sara had an interesting perspective as well. She told me about a Facebook post she saw recently regarding the concept of bodily autonomy. After we spoke she sent it to me:

In case you can’t read it well, here’s what it says:

“There’s a concept called bodily autonomy. It’s generally considered a human right. Bodily autonomy means a person has control over who or what uses their body, for what, and for how long. It’s why you can’t be forced to donate blood, tissue, or organs. Even if you’re dead. Even if you’d save or improve 20 lives. It’s why someone can’t touch you, have sex with you, or use your body in any way without your continuous consent. 

“A fetus is using someone’s body parts. Therefore under bodily autonomy, it is there by permission, not by right. It needs a person’s continuous consent. If they deny or withdraw consent, the pregnant person has a right to remove them from that moment. A fetus is equal in this regard because if I need to use someone else’s body parts to live, they also can legally deny me their use.

“By saying a fetus has a right to someone’s body parts until it’s born, despite the pregnant person’s wishes, you’re doing two things.

“1) Granting a fetus more rights to other people’s bodies than any born person.
“2) Awarding a pregnant person less right’s (sic) to their body than a corpse.”

 

This is definitely a new perspective for me, and one that I think deserves consideration.

It really does come down to whose rights matter more. Either way you are putting the rights of one above the rights of the other. 

In America, the legal decision has already been made. 

Overturning Roe vs. Wade is probably not going to happen, and if it does it would likely make things worse and not better. It would not make abortion illegal in this country, it would turn the decision over to the states. So you’ll have some states where it’s legal, some where it’s not. And you’ll have women in desperate situations with not a lot of money doing whatever they can to cross state lines to get an abortion. Or they’ll be having unsafe “back-alley” abortions. Or worse harming themselves in order to try to end the pregnancy.

This is where compassion for the mother comes in. I honestly believe the less we yell and try to legislate, and the more we show compassion for women whatever situation they are in, the less abortions we will see.

Most people are not saying, “Have all the abortions!” Most “pro-choice” people want abortion to be legal, safe, and rare — a last resort, not a birth control option. I wonder how many lives we’d save (both babies and mothers) if we realize we’re all after the same goal and start working together.

What Can We Do to Reduce the Number of Abortions?

So I asked my friends if they have any thoughts on how to reduce abortions. They have some great ideas. 

Both Kelly and Sara talked about the importance of education. We need to educate girls about sex, their bodies, birth control, and STDS. Both told me stories of girls they know who believed that “pulling out” is an effective method of birth control and that you can’t get pregnant while you have your period. Of course, neither of those things are true. I’ve heard rumors that you can’t get pregnant if you have sex in certain positions, or that you’ll be OK if you get up and jump afterward. 

We have to get past the idea of abstinence only education. It doesn’t work. Of course, it’s best to wait. But again, we can’t expect non-Christians to follow our “rules.” Oh and ya know, “good Christian teens” end up having sex too. I did. It’s not enough to just say, “Don’t do it.” We need to teach them how to protect themselves, and give them access to that protection. We also need to teach them that it’s OK to say no, and how to decide when they are ready (again not everyone is going to follow Christian belief systems, and we live in a democracy not a theocracy — but that’s for another post).

Kelly talked about her time serving in missions in Kenya with 410 Bridge. One of the things she got the opportunity to do was help educate women about their bodies, hygiene, birth control, etc. She thought it would be a great idea to have a community based program for women to receive this type of education in the US. I agree. 

Sara talked about not just the importance of sex ed, but also teaching girls that their worth doesn’t come from sex or their bodies. When a boy tells you that you gave him “blue balls” and now you have to fix it, that’s a lie. When he says, “If you love me you’ll do it,” that’s a lie. She stated the importance of having these themes in the media — books, movies, TV. Let’s have characters have real conversations about sex and protection. Let’s show girls who understand their own worth and don’t succumb to pressure. 

I think that’s a wonderful idea, too.

Christians, we have to do a better job of this. We, of all people, should be on top of teaching girls that their worth and identity don’t come from boys or from sex. When the culture objectifies girls’ bodies and the church tells girls their primary purpose in life is to get married and have babies, it’s no wonder we have so many girls doing whatever it takes to keep their boyfriends. 

Alright, so we’ve talked about preventing the pregnancy in the first place. But what about when a women does get pregnant? How can we show compassion and help her? 

We have to stop the shaming. A scared pregnant girl is not going to come to us if she thinks we will yell at her or belittle her. 

We need to show compassion and be willing to walk with girls and women through their pregnancies, help them get prenatal care, and prepare for the baby. Then we need to continue to help them after the baby is born. 

We cannot be “pro-life” and “anti-welfare.” That’s intellectually dishonest, and not very Jesus-like. If women know there is a safe place to get help without being shamed, and that they will have help and support then maybe they will be less likely to have an abortion. 

We also have to take a serious look at our adoption systems and foster care. If more women are going to birth their babies, there will be more women who choose to place their child for adoption. Are we willing to take care of those children? Adopt them? 

And there still will be women who choose to have abortions for whatever reason, rape, life of the mother, or any other reason. What do we do then? We show compassion and we love like Jesus.

What are your thoughts? How can we reduce the number of abortions and do a better job caring for mothers and babies? I want to hear from you.