The Stigma & Shame of Abortion
It's been a painful couple of days on social media, with the visceral outcry from many regarding the latest Reproductive Health Act coming out of New York. Even though it makes official in our state, what is already reality at the federal level, it has inspired an onslaught of posts, and comment section fighting, and if you share my experience, great pain and sorrow. There is no way for us to agree about everything we think and believe, but this does create an opportunity for us to dive deeper into the conversation.
There are photos of premature baby hands holding an adult finger, pregnancy photos, newborn baby photos, along with statistics that generally encompass only one side of the reality in America, and to be honest, most of the posts feel accusatory in nature. For many of us, it seems as though the Christians who have decided to speak up about this issue, have refused to speak up about the border crisis, the killings of unarmed black people in America, the modern day issue of slavery in our own backyard (be it sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and yes, mass incarceration), maternal death rates in America (especially for black women), the education and housing crisis, the growing wealth gap, our utter forsaking of the elderly in our midst, and so many more issues, are filling our feeds with triggering images, and shaming, blaming language.
Unfortunately, it can feel like too many Evangelical Christians want us to recognize the personhood of a baby in the womb, while they simultaneously reject the full personhood of others, like immigrants, people who were formerly incarcerated, and of course, women. And while a room full of men at the federal level is still making decisions about our reproductive health and our healthcare in general, without our input or wisdom, are we fully free here? It bears us asking, why does everyone care to weigh-in on this topic, but remain silent while unpaid maternity leave is still our reality? Why does posting a photo of your pregnant belly absolve you of the responsibility to advocate and vote for candidates who are advocating for equal pay for women, family services in communities that lower abortion rates, and education that would enable families to flourish in America? Because as the policies currently stand, we are pro-birth, and not pro-life. Please, please remember that policy breaks down to a person.
Will we continue our legalism and license, or will we work together for the greater good? Because red and blue divides are not helping us (especially in the church) and no political party is the Christian one; they are institutions created to govern constituents under their leadership, fairly and justly. As followers of Jesus, the moment we decide to align ourselves with a political party to enact our Christianity, we are not only going against the constitution of the United States that offers us freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but we are becoming Nationalists. And nationalists are not Christians. We'd do well to remember that in the days we are living in.
I am a Christian. I have had an abortion. I am pro-life.
Pro-life, not just for babies in the womb, but also for mothers with mental illness and serious health risks; for mothers who have to give birth in handcuffs and chains in jails all over America; for asylum seekers; for teenagers; for men who are not taking responsibility for the millions of abortions in America (do not forget that the sole brunt and weight is still on the female - there is no law anywhere that holds the person who impregnated accountable the way the impregnated is held accountable - he will never go to jail - he walks away risk free, always); for our brothers and sisters who were formerly incarcerated and are denied basic rights like the RIGHT TO VOTE; for women who have to go back to work four weeks after they give birth, because they are not in economic situations that give them time to heal and adjust; for women who are dead now, because the hospitals will not overhaul basic care; for aging people with incredible experience and wisdom, who are struggling to keep jobs due to agism; for those nearing end of life alone and receive little money or help.
All of this and more informs the way I think about my place in society, how I use my voice and my vote.
Christian clergy leaders, and people of Christ, we are losing our witness. Our nationalist expectation that falsely believes legislators should act only through what they say is a Christian lens, is selfish at best, oppressive at worst (but usually both at the same time). The way we spew off collectively, as if we have diarrhea of the mouth, is a monumental failure. What exactly do we think we are accomplishing? The majority of white Christians specifically want to talk about abortion and taxes all day, but refuse to address racism, sexism, agism and any other ism, and because we are indoctrinated with the personal salvation narrative, we forsake God's instruction to live as ambassadors of heaven, who are citizens on this Earth.
Driving through my hometown right after I had an abortion, I passed the lawn of City Hall, which is right across from the High School. In perfect formation, were small white crosses, that represented the abortions in our city. This forced me further into the silence of shame, and affirmed what I already believed: I was unworthy of God's love, and unwelcome in the church. With the grace of hindsight, I also see how the city's partnership with a sect of the Christian church, alienated and othered people, leaving a lack of security and safety for those who believed differently.
In my upcoming book, which will be released in October of this year, I detail my story, and share how I discovered I was pregnant, and how I made the decision to abort my baby. This is the only time in my life that I struggled with the will to live. Every night, I prayed God would not wake me up. In my journals at the time, I wrote about my desire for heaven, and wrestled with taking a life. Through a long recovery process, I accepted the reality of what I had done, received God's forgiveness, and began to advocate for women, to create safe space for healing and recovery for others. Had I not done this work, these posts of babies, aborted babies, and all the other inflammatory, painful images from Christians this week, I am confident, I would have sunk deeper in my sorrow and hopelessness. My heart is with those who are struggling, who are tender, and feeling at the end of yourself today. God is grieving with you Beloved, hold on to hope.
We are all worthy of God's love, and we are all welcome in the beloved community He is building. Anything else makes a mockery of the cross, and denies the reckless love of God we love to sing about on Sundays.
This particular issue has its roots in a deeper history, that surprises most Christians, based on one sole issue: Segregation. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention held no issue with Roe vs. Wade, calling the decision a private matter between a woman and her doctor, and supported the need for abortion should the mother's life be threatened, or rape and incest was involved. There were no speeches, or factions of evangelical Christianity, at the time Roe vs. Wade was passed in 1973, that made this a broad sweeping advocacy issue for white Christians in America. Until the United States came after the tax exemption status of all white, private universities and schools, in 1975, and in 1976, Jerry Falwell Sr. gave his first anti-abortion speech. The religious right organized around the issue of abortion, and in doing so, were able to elect officials to continue policies that hurt communities, fostered segregation, and hindered the community resources necessary for women to flourish in society. As long as a candidate was anti-abortion (and caucasian), he could hold every atrocious belief about women, non-caucasian people, children, the environment, and how society as a whole should operate, and people would still be willing to vote for him.
"Protection for the unborn, at the expense of everyone else," is rhetoric from believers that still influences elected officials, and therefore, the policies that govern our society, today. I personally remember a pastor asking me my stance on abortion during the McCain and Obama election, and when I didn't have a one-word answer, but began to unpack to her my history, how I became pro-life through that experience, and why we have desperate need for community resources, she cut me off, and said, "My heart will always be for the most vulnerable people, and that means the unborn. And we need to be thinking about that." What she meant was, "You need to be thinking about that," and "You should vote red."
As a critical thinker, and responsible citizen, it wasn't that black and white for me. Thankfully, I wasn't raised in the purity movement culture, or in a church that told us what to think and how to vote (even though we were Southern Baptist). Our family did not exist in an upper class, homogenous cultural experience, nor was I shamed for speaking up, and voting as my convictions led me, and perhaps that's why it felt easier to navigate nuance, and separate my religion from the larger needs of society and freedom for all people to choose their way forward.
I agree that the RHA bill has gone too far. It needs revisions, as most laws do. As a help to those processing this news, 1.2% of all abortions happen after the 20-week mark, and even in states where third trimester abortions are legal, this is a very rare choice and circumstance for women. The New York bill moved abortion from the criminal code to the health code. This is helpful for women nationwide, because one in four of us, has made the decision to have an abortion. The Ohio House of Representatives just passed a bill in November of 2018, that will criminalize abortion, even in the case of rape or incest, and with little room for doctor's to save a mother's life, if necessary. The woman would be given a $2,500 fine or up to one-year in prison, and if you're paying attention to the criminal justice system in America, we know which women will get a fine, and which women will go to prison. Here is where I remind you again, that the male in the partnership suffers absolutely no consequences.
Many other states are preparing similar legislation. Is this what Christians in America want for women? Do one in four women need to go to prison? Did I need to go to jail as a 20-year-old for penance for my sin? Sidebar: Am I in an episode of Handmaids Tale?
I am weary of portions in the faith community addressing abortion without tackling the reasons for the decision. Christians who "should" all over people publicly, but lack understanding and information that would better equip them to both speak and to serve. Exhausted with those who relentlessly preach the importance of family, but will not fund clinics, advocate for maternal care and paid leave, volunteer their leadership to parents, hold men accountable for their actions as well, or provide healing spaces for people to recover, are not embodying the incarnational presence and power of God in Christ.
The love of Jesus compels us to act; compassion is a guttural response to pain.
Now is the time to ask ourselves hard questions, and interrogate our public witness, because people are leaving the church. I don't blame them - I've been "them". Twice. But I've found that people are not leaving Jesus, because He's good, and His love is unfailing. He doesn't base His presence on our goodness, but on His grace, which is sufficient in every weakness.
May we be ever mindful of the power of our words. May we consider all people as made in the image of God. May we fight for a more just society for all, and not just for ourselves. May the grace of God, and the message of the gospel sustain us and empower us toward righteousness and justice.
In New York? I am hosting an Abortion and Miscarriage Recovery Course starting in February 2019. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Best Podcast I've Heard on the Supreme Court (and therefore covers abortion): Freedom Road US
My favorite social media post this week: Trish Shrader's Response
Articles (many are also hyperlinked throughout this blog):