The sad necessity of abortion: how can the church lead the way?

The sad necessity of abortion: how can the church lead the way? June 27, 2016

The sad necessity of abortion kept alive by the Supreme Court of the USThe news hit early today: the Supreme Court struck down the law passed by the Texas Legislature that placed extreme restrictions on abortion access in Texas, particularly for poorer women in rural areas. The Supreme Court action, called the Whole Women’s Health Ruling, can be found here.

I am relieved at the awareness shown by the justices of the unfairness of the laws. I grieve that we need abortion clinics and providers.

But we do.

In our unjust, deeply broken world, human embryos that should be celebrated from the moment of conception, precious beginning of lives ideally planned and anticipated, may instead put women in an impossible, desperate situation.

Entirely too many babies are conceived by acts of violence and coercion. The woman, the one privileged to bring life into the world, also pays a price that never ends for that privilege. But putting even those tragic means of conception aside, too many other babies are conceived thoughtlessly.

These could be prevented by open and free access to effective birth control.

But we don’t have that in Texas, nor it is available freely in many other places in the US.

And the church, by its silence on today’s sexual realities, has probably made the situation worse. Far worse.

The church’s main contribution to sexuality issues is “don’t.” That’s it. Just one word.

Easier to say in days when girls were married off as soon as they gave proof that they had reached adequate sexual maturity to bear children.

Nearly impossible today. Plus the same restrictions have never really been placed on men. In today’s increasingly equal society, that double standard no longer flies.

The only sex education allowed in Texas schools (any many other states) insists on “abstinence only”  as the one acceptable means to prevent pregnancy.

Unfortunately, such education doesn’t work to prevent unwanted pregnancies or too soon sexual activity. Study after study show its failures. This link will take you to one of many scholarly articles that evaluated research on abstinence-only education effectiveness.

It has been an utter failure as a preventative of teen-age sexual exploration and activity.

The only way for abstinence to work today is for the Christian church, the predominate religious force in the US, to start advocating that we again seclude girls until puberty, making sure they are kept at home and hidden from sight. At the moment of sexual maturity, parents immediately marry them off, making sure to inspect the bedsheets the morning after her husband rapes her for the first time.

Such actions will further regulate the message of grace, hope, forgiveness, holiness of habit and heart and reconciliation to God to the dustbin to total irrelevancy.

We cannot and should not do this.

What we can and should do is look at our current reality: increasing early puberty for both girls and boys (sometimes as young as seven), and increasingly delayed marriage in order to facilitate educational and vocational challenges and pursuits.

The church must address those years of peak sexual interest with honesty and integrity. We must teach our young people how to deal with sexual desires in a way that is responsible and healthy. We, as a church, need to advocate at state levels open access to effective birth control methods that girls and women can use to protect themselves.

Yes, condoms are helpful and useful but they are entirely too dependent upon the male’s willingness to use them. Furthermore, males are not those who pay the big price for bringing on a pregnancy. They do not have nearly the stake in preventing pregnancy as women do.

Women who are empowered to know and honor their own bodies are far less likely to get pregnant than those kept in ignorance and shame. They are far more likely to insist on consent, to be able to say a firm “no” to unwanted advances and to recognize the danger of too much alcohol.

It’s time. Please, let’s really talk about sex. And in the meantime, stop laying heavy burdens on those who are poor and without any slack in their lives at all.

Like it or not, we live with the sad necessity of abortion. However, we cannot regulate the practice out of existence without dealing with the far more complex issues underlying unwanted pregnancies.

Church, step up to the plate. Quit burying your head in the sand with your anemic “don’ts.” Look hard at the complex lives of today’s young adults, teens, and preteens. Be real. Sex happens. Women are not irretrievably stained by having sex. Pregnancy is not a punishment for their inability to keep their legs closed. It’s a part of life.

Please. Speak up and help here. Let’s stop abortion the only way possible: by empowering women to fully own their own bodies and their own sexuality and by teaching men to fully respect those who have the privilege of making sure the human race continues.

Photo credit: Wikipedia, Public Domain

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  • jekylldoc

    Sad that so many Christians think our work of mission and good news ends with “don’t”. I absolutely agree with your admonition to deal with the complexities of real life.

    I would add that this may be a neglected principle in other areas. We Progressives think our work on racism is done if we shudder with horror and say “don’t”. Most of us deplore porn (but most of us men use it) but there is little exploration of the complexities – just a polarization between “Don’t” and “Why not?”

    And then there is economics.

    • You are right–our silence and inability to move past the “don’t” on mulitple issues has not proved helpful to entirely too many people.

  • Guthrum

    We need our leaders to speak up and support alternatives to abortion. This Supreme Court decision is certainly no cause for happiness and celebration.

    • Again, I don’t celebrate abortion. But the Texas law created an even deeper divide between the wealthy and well-connected and the least among us. I’m more than sure that the daughters of the legislators who unexpectedly found themselves pregnant and wanted to terminate those pregnancies found no obstacles. No so with the poor, rural woman.

  • Old Woman

    Not all abortion is about unwed girls who don’t want babies. Married women who want babies sometimes abort too. A young couple last year trying to start a family aborted their baby when the brain was growing outside the scull. They are pregnant again this year but losing the baby to abortion last year was a choice they made. My coworker in the 70s was married, she and her husband were professionals and had decided to have a large family. She got vaccinated against German Measles then thought she was pregnant. She wasn’t but they had decided if she was they would abort since it could be born with really bad defects and they wanted lots of kids so a special needs child might be an only child. She had been dead set against abortion before that scare.

  • Annabel Smyth

    Watching from the perspective of a country where abortion is legal, safe and not an issue, it does seem to me that many in America are “pro-birth” rather than “pro-life”; if you are going to insist women have babies, come what may, how are you going to support those women and help them raise and educate their children?

    I also wish one wasn’t forced to choose between “pro-choice” and “pro-life”; one might hate the thought of abortion and never choose it as an option for oneself, but that doesn’t stop one wishing to support those who, for whatever reason, have had to make that agonising choice.

    And women have always sought abortion, and always will. The least we can do is see to it that the procedure is safe and hygienic!

    • Michael

      The position you laid out is itself “pro-choice”.

      • Annabel Smyth

        No, because as I understand it, “pro-choice” people would like any woman to be able to have an abortion at any time; I would really rather they didn’t but will support them if they are determined to do so.

        • Michael

          Not all. Some oppose abortion personally, but don’t want it banned and support a right to choose that, which seemed to match your view.

          • Annabel Smyth

            That does indeed match my view, but it appears to me (and again, I’m writing from a country where this is not an issue) that the “pro-lifers” assume that people who are “pro-choice” want abortion to be a form of birth control, if not compulsory!

          • Michael

            Why is this not an issue in your country? I’m just curious. That may indeed be an assumption many pro-lifers have, though not all I’m sure. However I’ve never found it is the case. Certainly making abortion compulsory would not be pro-choice. The pro-choice side is usually very supportive for contraception over abortion, the pro-life side usually against both in my experience, though again exceptions do exist.

          • Annabel Smyth

            It is not an issue in my country as for the past 50 years (49, actually, but who’s counting?) it has been legal and safe, and nobody, as far as I know, wishes to change the status quo and return to the days of the “backstreet abortionists” who were not able, often with the best will in the world, to offer safe procedures, and many girls and women died.

          • Michael

            Would that it was the case here. Many people assume that outlawing abortion will make it go away, but this is not the case at all.

  • Bk Bk

    The word of God teaches against abortions (Proverbs 6: 17). The local churches should teach against abortions, and Christians individually should not approve or practice abortions.

    • Annabel Smyth

      Are you yourself bringing up a child or children whose natural mothers might otherwise have had them aborted (serious question – I know at least one person who is, including a very severely disabled child)? How much of your tithe goes towards supporting and educating such children? If none, then aren’t you being a bit like the people in James’ letter: ” Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What
      good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat
      well!”—if you don’t give them the necessities of life?”

  • Ardee Coolidge

    I appreciate your desire to dialogue on topics that are quite contentious both within and outside our congregations. You have spent your life in the church as have I. It is then with the same spirit of dialogue or as Isaiah would say. “reasoning” that I offer the following questions. I sincerely hope you will consider them and this vital conversation can continue. Why do you call it a “sad necessity?” It seems that the crux of this debate over abortion and the church’s response to it is over the question of personhood. If the unborn child, the one who is being aborted, is an “it,” not a person, then there is no reason to call it a “sad necessity.” In fact, as leaders of churches, we should then be in the business of providing abortions to those in “need” as part of our Christian mandate. How dare we after all refuse the cup of cold water in our hand (the abortion) from those dying from “thirst.” However, if it is indeed a person, than no amount of justification on our parts would enable us to escape the biblical commands to not murder, to lay down our lives for another, and to demonstrate the love of Christ to the least of these. Since this is THE most important question in the discussion over abortion, do you believe it is a person? If not, based on what logical foundation do you arrive at that conclusion? Is it based on development? If so, what level of development causes that human life to become a person? If the 26 week old infant laying in the NICU after being born prematurely deserves our love and care as the ambassadors of Christ, doesn’t the 26 week old in the womb? What about dependency. The child in the NICU is far more dependent than the one in the womb as thousands of dollars per day are being spent by society to care for it. Obviously, location should not determine personhood. So then, what does the distinction rely on? And if there is no distinction in the personhood of the unborn, if that is the reason you refer to it as a “sad necessity,” than why is it “loving” to support a woman’s decision to abort her child and not “loving” to support her decision to kill the one who has been born? Why does birth suddenly transform a sad, but defensible decision, into infanticide? Something that the church has ardently opposed since its earliest beginnings in the book of Acts. I guess why I am having difficulty with your post is because I feel like if we were to substitute any other group of people, your post would obviously never be written. We would never say, “many large families exist in third world nations, these families are in poverty, so infanticide is a historically practiced and sad necessity to control population and promote human flourishing.” I do hope you will consider these questions and I look forward to continuing the conversation. Ardee

    • Annabel Smyth

      Doesn’t it depend on whether you look upon personhood as a process or a status? Is the fused ovum and sperm a person? Many would say not, although it has the potential to become one. Is the ball of cells that embeds in the cell wall a person? Is the fetus not a person one day and a person the next? Or does it grow gradually into becoming a person, rather as the newborn infant grows gradually into the adult? I don’t know the answer, incidentally – I tend more towards a “process” point of view, though.

      And, sadly, I believe infanticide is discreetly practiced in some cultures when the new baby proves to be the “wrong” sex or is badly handicapped….

      But what I do know is that, while God’s heart may break over babies who die, whether before or after birth, God still loves each and every one of us. And do you not hear the voice of our Lord: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more!”

      • Ardee Coolidge

        If personhood is a process, by which a living genetic organism slowly becomes more and more of a person at the beginning of its life, then logically, said organism would slowly become less and less of a person as it reached the end of its life. To put it plainly, if the growing human embryo slowly develops into a person, than the elderly human being slowly devolves out of being one. Obviously, no matter how deteriorated the health and body of an elderly person may become, they never become less of a person and should never lose the rights inherent in personhood. Practically speaking, a culture that says “personhood is a process” and “we don’t know when it begins or ends” is one that will inevitably harm and destroy human persons, either by setting the starting point of personhood too late or the termination of personhood too early. Additionally, such a culture could easily set standards of personhood that would exclude the infirm, racial minorities, handicapped, etc. The last two centuries are rife with examples of such definitions of personhood. If life is truly valuable, society should guard it from its earliest possible moment to its last. Otherwise, we would be callous in our treatment of it. As for Christ’s command, living it out first requires recognizing some actions as sinful. Furthermore, the discussion inherent in this article is whether or not Abortion is a “sad necessity,” not how one should treat those who have committed abortions. Scripture is clear on the latter. Women who have had abortions deserve compassion, hope, and help, not the Church’s condemnation. Living out such love does not require the church to affirm abortion any more than it required Christ to affirm the woman’s adultery and call it a “sad necessity.”

        • Annabel Smyth

          I do take your point, but if we say that human life begins when a viable baby is born, then we don’t have the problem at the end of life.

          I believe abortion is a “sad necessity”; not that the church should either condemn or affirm it. In my country, it isn’t even a question, and hasn’t been for nearly 50 years. But if the church *does* condemn abortion, then logically it must provide an alternative. Catholic churches have historically had their orphanages – but the others?

          • Ardee Coolidge

            I am glad to see that we agree that tying personhood to a process has dangerous implications for the valuing of life and that you now believe it should be tied to a specific point in time. In this case, you argue it should be tied to viability and birth. This brings me back to the original question I posed to Christy Thomas. Upon what logical foundations do you base your assertion that viability and birth determine personhood. After all, if a child is born and later develops complications harming its viability, we would never say that it was less of a person, would we? After all, viability is impacted multitudinous ways throughout our lives and is dependent on countless variables. A cancer victim told by her doctor that she only has six months to live is not viable if one defines viability as able to survive seven months. Is she then less of a person? As for tying personhood to birth, how do you avoid the logical implications of that position that I already outlined in my original response to the article? What logical difference is there in the child that makes it more or less a person based on its location within or outside the womb? This is why I am trying to keep this discussion on the central point of our definition of personhood. Everything flows from it. Now as to the red herring you introduced implying the church has no right to call abortion sinful because it has been practiced for thousands of years and too few Christians offer women alternatives, I will briefly respond. Many Christians do offer alternatives to women facing abortion. The organization I work for, Care Net, provided more than $56million worth of assistance to women before, during, and after their pregnancies in 2014 alone. For the sake of the argument, even if they did not, even if 90% of those who were pro-life refused to help those in need, it would not change the moral reality of abortion. I have seen posts on this blog discussing Donald Trump’s rhetoric against Syrian refugees. Christ calls us to love the alien and the widow. One does not need to adopt a refugee or pay for their save passage over the Mediterranean in order to say Donald Trump’s position is incorrect. Finally, adultery is known as the “oldest profession,” murder was performed by the eldest son of Adam and Eve, and Rape occurred in Genesis. The longstanding practice of these actions did not cause Christ or His Apostles to affirm any of them. Rather, they rightly called sin sinful.

          • Annabel Smyth

            I am delighted to hear that your organisation offers alternatives to women seeking abortion. I don’t believe I know where in the Bible it says that abortion is evil, unless you are saying it is tantamount to murder. And, obviously, if you believe that a fertilised ovum is a person, you can take no other stand.

          • Ardee Coolidge

            Once again, we seem to be sidestepping the question I have asked since the beginning of the conversation. When does personhood begin? So far, no one has answered that central question. If the unborn child is just that, a person and not a mere clump of cells, than clearly many scriptural commands would come to bear on the Church’s response to it. (Love your neighbor as yourself, thou shalt not murder, etc). Notice I said that this would have bearing on the church’s response to these actions. The church has long decried adultery and rape while also being required by Christ to offer compassion and love to those caught in them. Christ Himself demonstrated such love when he showed compassion to the murderers crucified with him and to the woman caught in adultery who was brought to His feet. If abortion results in the unlawful killing of a human life, the church would still face the the same scriptural mandate of loving the woman caught in it. Finally, let us not forget that in the same Old Testament law as the Ten Commandments, a person who killed a pregnant woman was held responsible for two crimes, not one (obviously indicating a valuing of personhood for the unborn). I do hope we can move beyond these constant red herrings and discuss the root question because if we don’t, we will never have a hope of arriving at any meaningful conclusion.

          • Annabel Smyth

            I don’t see that we are sidestepping this; from your posts, I understand you to believe that personhood starts at conception. I am not sure that I agree; a fertilised ovum is a potential person, but not a viable one. I do not know where personhood starts, other than at birth (whether that birth is at term or premature).

          • Ardee Coolidge

            Thank you for taking the time to dialogue with me on this topic and not resorting to name calling or other forms of ad hominem attacks. Such conversation is vital and appreciated. I also thank you for providing a definition of personhood (viable birth). This now leaves just two questions as outlined earlier. First, what logical foundation do we have for tying personhood to two transient points (viability and birth) and how do you address the logical pitfalls of such a definition of personhood (pitfalls like I laid out in my earlier response). I will also note in passing that birth can happen at any point in a pregnancy and viability is only truly determined after a person survives beyond his or her medical diagnosis. For example, a baby that is born seemingly healthy could be pronounced viable only to develop a complication a few hours later that takes its life. Said child would ultimately prove to be none-viable, but no one would have the audacity to tell the parents that they did not lose a person, but rather only a potential one. Likewise, none of the women in my life who have suffered miscarriage have ever referred to their lost baby as anything but a person that was lost. Indeed, the medical professionals referred them to grievance counseling so that they could deal with the ramifications of a lost person, not the loss of a potential person. Finally, why then do you consider abortion “sad.” Logically, the mother did not want the fetus, the fetus, according to your definition of personhood, is not a person, and ultimately the mother and by extension society is better off without it. So why we would have any logical or moral foundation for calling it sad which is, by the way, a moral judgment on our parts. Once again, thank you for taking the time to engage these questions.

          • Annabel Smyth

            There is a difference, surely, between a woman who loses a much-wanted pregnancy and one who chooses to terminate (for whatever reason) – and I am given to understand that in most cases such a decision is not made lightly and the mother also experiences a very great deal of grief.

            As for viability, I think we may be using the term in two different ways, which accounts for the confusion. For me, viability is a technical term about whether or not a fetus (human or animal, come to that) can survive outside the womb, whether naturally or as a result of terrific medical intervention such as would have been unthinkable a generation ago.

            I think, possibly, one’s definition of “personhood” varies according to one’s relationship with the baby!