Ed Gaskin

Having Faith in Women of Faith to Make The Right Decision About Abortion

Even those with the most conservative Jewish and Christian prolife beliefs find themselves needing to have an abortion. We should trust these women of faith to make the right decision. 
Even those with the most conservative Jewish and Christian prolife beliefs find themselves needing to have an abortion. We should trust these women of faith to make the right decision. 

During the next legislative session there will be efforts to restrict or ban abortions at the state and federal level, primarily driven by white Evangelical Christians. Who are still getting abortions in secret. 

In light of the recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit some research done a few years ago on Christians and abortion. Many were surprised when a red state such as Kansas voted to maintain abortion access. However, according to Lifeway Research, 70% of the women who get abortions self-identify as Christian. I’ve often said that if Christians want to reduce abortion in America, all they have to do is stop getting abortions themselves rather than trying to prevent others from doing so.

Lifeway’s data on the group that identifies most strongly as being pro-life, evangelical Christians is particularly interesting. In the study, 16% of all women who reported having had abortions considered themselves evangelical Christians, as did 23% of the Christian women who said they had terminated pregnancies.

What most influenced my thinking was listening to the stories of pro-life evangelical women who have had abortions. Despite being conservative Christians who believe the Bible teaches a pro-life position, they each spoke about wanting the child but for one reason or another — primarily medical — needing to terminate the pregnancy. Upon hearing the voices of those women, I knew that the choice had to be theirs.

One woman said when she learned that she might lose her life because of her pregnancy, she had to think about her other responsibilities — her husband and their other children. Two women in similar situations might make different decisions. One might be willing to die, while another might not. One woman might decide to have an abortion knowing her baby has severe birth defects and another might carry the baby to term knowing it might only live a few minutes or hours. It seems wrong to me that the government should be in the position of dictating that decision.

In the Lifeway study, more than half the Christian women who reported having had an abortion said they still attended church at least once a month. A little more than half of those churchgoers (52%) said they had not mentioned their abortions to anyone at church, while a smaller number (38%) said someone at their church knows about their abortion.

What jumps out to me from these numbers is how the church is failing members who face difficult life and death decisions. It’s a fair assumption that the reason many women don’t talk to anyone at their church about abortion is because they are concerned they’ll be judged rather than loved. Lisa Cannon Green’s article, “Women Distrust the Church” based on research done on this topic reports that only 7%  of women discussed their abortion decision with anyone at church.

Lifeway found that only 38% of women who reported terminating a pregnancy believed it was safe to talk about pregnancy options at church. Similarly, only 30% of the women surveyed thought church was a good place to obtain accurate advice about their options if they were pregnant, and only 41% thought it was a good place to receive help with making a decision about an unwanted pregnancy.

Additionally, the study found that 65% of women who had terminated a pregnancy believed that church members would judge single women who became pregnant. A similar number (64%) said church members would be more likely to gossip about someone contemplating an abortion than to offer assistance in understanding the available options.

These women’s beliefs about pastors largely coincide with their beliefs about others at church. Only 43% of the women who reported having abortions said it was safe to discuss abortion with a pastor. Nearly half said that their pastors’ teachings regarding forgiveness didn’t seem to apply to abortion, and only 42% said their pastors teach that God is open to forgiving someone who chose to have an abortion in the past. A mere 39% agreed that pastors are generally sensitive to the difficulties created by unplanned pregnancies.

When responding to Lifeway’s survey, twice as many women said they expected to or did receive a judgmental reaction or condemnation from their church as opposed to a caring or loving one. Therefore, it’s not surprising that only 7% of women who reported terminating a pregnancy said they talked with someone at church about the decision, while 76% said their church did not influence their choice.

If women were afraid to talk to members of their church or pastors about abortion before the Dobbs decision, then they will be even less likely to do so now, especially if abortion is illegal or severely restricted in their state. It seems to me that women now need their community more than ever, whether to accompany them out of state to have an abortion or to watch their kids while they travel out of state or to help with travel costs. It’s times like these, when people have to make difficult decisions, that they most need the support of their faith community — not judgment.

We worship, pray and go to Bible study with these women and trust them to make important decisions about marriage, careers and family planning.  We trust women to have spiritual discernment necessary to make decisions in every area of their life except one. So it seems inconsistent that we don’t trust them to make their own decisions when it comes to abortion. I believe you can be a pro-life evangelical Christian and still support a woman’s right to choose. It just requires “both/and” thinking instead of “either/or” thinking.

We can’t say women don’t have the intelligence, judgment and strength in their faith to make such decisions when women are Supreme Court justices and serve as pastors, elders and even bishops in their churches. We need to have faith in women of faith to make the right choices for themselves when it comes to abortion, and those of us in the church need to do a better job of supporting women as they make these difficult decisions.

About the Author
Ed Gaskin attends Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts and Roxbury Presbyterian Church in Roxbury, Mass. He has co-taught a course with professor Dean Borman called, “Christianity and the Problem of Racism” to Evangelicals (think Trump followers) for over 25 years. Ed has an M. Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and graduated as a Martin Trust Fellow from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He has published several books on a range of topics and was a co-organizer of the first faith-based initiative on reducing gang violence at the National Press Club in Washington DC. In addition to leading a non-profit in one of the poorest communities in Boston, and serving on several non-profit advisory boards, Ed’s current focus is reducing the incidence of diet-related disease by developing food with little salt, fat or sugar and none of the top eight allergens. He does this as the founder of Sunday Celebrations, a consumer-packaged goods business that makes “Good for You” gourmet food.
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