Earlier this year, I watched a video of women ages 15 to 50 saying the first thing that came to mind when they heard the word “abortion.” Even in their quick explanations, they referenced common thinking in the abortion debate: that the pro-choice cause focuses on what’s best for the woman.
“I feel like when people think of pro-choice, they just think of the mom,” said a 20-year-old. “They don’t think about the life that inside of [them].”
Other respondents said, “A woman has the choice, “ and, “At 1 week or 20 weeks, it’s up to her.”
Despite our shifts away from pro-life and pro-choice labels, many Americans essentially conceptualize the issue the same way, with abortion rights seen as favoring the woman and restrictions on abortion as favoring the baby. But we’re hearing more from Christian women who challenge this false dichotomy, as well as the notion that to be liberal, progressive, or feminist, you must also be pro-choice.
They say it’s out of concern for women—for their wellbeing and empowerment and place in the world—that we can seek better options than abortion. To put it simply: To be pro-woman is actually to be pro-life.
This idea isn’t new. Feminists for Life has been around for decades, and some say that earlier generations of feminists would’ve lamented the rallying around abortion access today. Still, it’s refreshing to hear Christians from across the theological and political spectrums speak out against abortion. Their perspectives bring another dimension to the pro-life cause as it reemerges with the controversy over the recent Planned Parenthood clips.
Take Sarah Bessey, the charismatic Canadian author of Jesus Feminist, who declared herself “a pro-life Christian feminist.” From her blog post:
Because of both my faith and my feminism together, I believe in advocating for life, more than ever…. I want women to be safe and I want babies to be born. I want all of the reasons why women abort to cease, to be healed, to be legislated right out. So I want equal pay and decent healthcare for low-income women that includes contraception and supportive partners and a wide availability of midwives and supportive birth environments and real material support for children who are differently abled in mind or body and at least a year of maternity leave and on and on and on.
Abortion is a sign that we have failed women somehow, I think.
And Kirsten Powers, a convert to evangelicalism and Fox News’ liberal commentator, who has been an unapologetic and outspoken critic of the abortion provider. When questioned about her response given her liberal politics, she shot back: “Explain how it's not liberal to condemn the barbaric crushing of pre-born infants.” From her op-ed in USA Today:
This is stomach-turning stuff. But the problem here is not one of tone. It’s the crushing. It’s the organ harvesting of fetuses that abortion-rights activists want us to believe have no more moral value than a fingernail. It’s the lie that these are not human beings worthy of protection. There is no nice way to talk about this. As my friend and former Obama White House staffer Michael Wear tweeted, “It should bother us as a society that we have use for aborted human organs, but not the baby that provides them.”
Hillary Yancey, a Christian doctorate student studying bioethics, recently shared her response to the videos on Rage Against the Minivan. Yancey herself noticed the shift from doctors talking about her “baby” to her “pregnancy” once they discovered her unborn son has a facial cleft.
It strikes me that our surprise [over the videos] is a consequence of the fact that we hide from ourselves the reality that pregnancy is embodied, is a work primarily about the body. Is it surprising to us that something has to be taken out of the pregnant body in order to no longer be pregnant? Is it surprising to us that, at 20 weeks or more, there are bones, muscles, brain and heart that must be stilled, in order to make the pregnancy (the thing we insist is about the woman, her body, her choice) disappear?...
The revelation about Planned Parenthood should make us reconsider the language we choose around abortion. At the very least, it ought to force us to confront the reality that the baby is not a byproduct of the condition of pregnancy, but its very essence and nature. This baby, heartbeat, gallbladder, lungs—this is a baby, fully alive—this is what we terminate.
I am a progressive Christian, and I am not silent. I am horrified. I am grieved… I am pro-life. I love babies. I love women. I love life. And even harvesting "fetus" parts horrifies me.
Rachel Held Evans has also written repeatedly about abortion, birth control, and women’s health, continuing to identify as pro-life. Here’s a passage from a blog post a couple years ago called “Why Progressive Christians Should Care About Abortion”:
What frustrates me about the pro-choice movement is the lengths to which advocates go to de-humanize unborn children and sanitize the abortion procedure, reducing life to nothing more than a cluster of cells and the implications of pregnancy to little more than a choice. The word “fetus” is used instead of “child.” Efforts to encourage women to receive counseling prior to an abortion are stubbornly opposed. The argument is framed around the woman’s body exclusively, as if the fetus is inconsequential, and pro-life advocates are characterized as being “against” women’s rights. (Frankly, as a woman, and a feminist, I don’t like people invoking my “rights” to unilaterally support abortion.)
In recent years, some of the silence around abortion has gone away. The church has worked to remove the stigma around the word and provide support for people still struggling with forgiveness and healing. In broader society, the move to showcase abortion stories for the sake of solidarity, transparency, and perhaps normalcy has ultimately reminded us of the heartbreaking effects. As the conversation continues, despite our approaches or affiliations, may we increasingly find common ground in affirming the value of life.