January brought us the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and with it, an opportunity to reflect and ask God what he thinks about the current Christian response to abortion. Through the past several decades, we have seen countless articles on the morality of abortion and whether or not it should be legal, but as the president of a non-profit dedicated to helping women face unplanned pregnancies, there is one question I rarely hear asked or addressed: Why? Why do women have abortions?
And this is the question at the root of it all. If we can understand the reason behind abortion, we can pursue many more paths to help women and children—and then legislation will no longer seem like our only way to address this issue.
When I first started asking “Why” for myself, I took this question to some other people. I remember talking to the leader of an organization whose mission was to serve women who were at risk for abortion. When I asked her why she thought women had abortions, she answered, “Selfishness.”
I continued to wrestle with this question, until social science researchers interviewed our clients. What I discovered through that research has changed me and my perspective on this issue. It turns out the reason most women have abortions is actually survival. Here is a synopsis from that research:
Due to cultural and familial influences, the strongest mental frame of reference is deeply and singularly negative for women facing unplanned pregnancies. It threatens their self-identity, their social status and their very lives. Their self-worth, self-esteem and self-image are all in jeopardy of being exposed and forever damaged, if not destroyed. From the moment of a pregnancy pronouncement, the person they believe themselves to be no longer exists. This trauma is beyond description and everything in them cries out for a way to avoid the possibility of losing themselves forever. The depth of these feelings drives an intense and relentless emotional focus from which they are incapable of seeing or thinking about anything other than themselves. This goes to the deepest of all human emotions – in their minds, this is about their very survival.
At this time, women feel incredibly alone and isolated. They can only hear and internalize messages that help them resolve their fear of loss of self. This emotional barrier makes women facing an unwanted pregnancy largely incapable of hearing appeals to sacrifice their identities to save the child.
The “Why” question is so important because it colors the way we look at an issue and it directs the way we choose to bring change. If we think a woman has an abortion out of selfishness, we might try to inform or persuade her. If we think a woman has an abortion because she feels she can’t survive otherwise, we will take an entirely different approach.
So if a woman has an abortion because she’s afraid her life is over, what type of Christian response will make a difference for her and her child?
At Caris, we’ve found that there are three key things a woman needs to restore her sense of identity and give her hope for her future and the future of her child.
Acceptance can break the power of shame and change the way a woman sees herself. When a woman fears that her identity will be forever changed because of an unplanned pregnancy, abortion can look like the only way she can become herself again. Empathy and acceptance can open her up to the idea that she’s not so different from the rest of us. Brené Brown, author and shame research expert, says that when you douse shame with empathy, it cannot survive. The most powerful words we can say to someone struggling with shame are, “Me too.”
The reason we can say, “Me too” even if we’ve never faced an unplanned pregnancy is that we’ve been forgiven by a Savior who says that lust is the same as adultery and hate is the same as murder (Matthew 5:21-28). We all stand equally in need of God’s grace, because he doesn’t elevate one sin over any other. It took the blood of Jesus to pay for them all.
Three out of four women state that a main factor in terminating a pregnancy is that they can’t afford a baby right now. And 61% of women who have abortions already have at least one child.
The lack of resources and practical support can make a woman feel as if she needs to choose between abortion or resigning herself to struggle as a mother. But support can break the power of hopelessness and change the way a woman sees her future – and the future of her child. Knowing there are resources available and people who will support her through her pregnancy and beyond can make all the difference.
When we dig deeper and ask “Why,” we find there is a lot we can do to express God’s heart and bring hope to women and children. We don’t have to spend every anniversary of Roe v. Wade wondering if anything will ever change. Sure, the politics around abortion seem to be at a stalemate. But maybe this will force us as Christians to ask God for a solution that accurately reflects His heart. After all, a political platform can never fully articulate the depths of God’s compassion for both the woman and the child impacted by an unplanned pregnancy. That is up to us, the body of Christ.