On the day I am drafting this essay, I have dinner plans with my friend, a Canadian physician. No doubt our conversation tonight will quickly turn to the recent United States Supreme Court decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. No doubt we will each vigorously defend our opposing opinions about abortion.
My friend, who claims no religious faith, strongly defends a woman’s right to choose abortion. She will talk to me—as she has throughout the 11 years I’ve lived in Canada—about married women who confirm unwanted pregnancies in the ER.
Sometimes, my friend tells me, these patients worry about the economic hardship another child will impose upon the family. Sometimes, having already endured one difficult, even life-threatening pregnancy, they can’t conceive of risking a second (or third or fourth). Sometimes these mothers are already caring for aging parents or a child with special needs and simply can’t imagine assuming responsibility for one more life.
“Many of these women don’t want to have abortions, but they can’t conceive of the alternative,” she will tell me, pleading for me to understand their predicaments. I will listen sympathetically to the stories my friend tells and acknowledge the real fears of her patients.
Whatever a woman’s ethical views on abortion, she may end her pregnancy because she cannot script a story in which both she and the baby flourish. As Lifeway Research reports, nearly 16 percent of all abortions are sought by evangelical Christians, many of whom might see it as a necessary evil and feel like they have no choice.
Whatever the legal status of abortion, our continuous battle is to conceive of a world where abortion isn’t the only option. We can’t simply change laws; we must rehabilitate the national imagination. But that requires sacrifice of all of us.
Perhaps tonight I will tell a story of my own, the story of my friend who immigrated to Canada years ago in the dead of winter while pregnant with twins. At the time, she had every reason to consider abortion as a life-saving measure for her family. She and her toddler were sent away by a husband and father who promised to follow behind—and never did.
Beginning from the cold night this woman and her son left the Edmonton airport—without money, winter coats, proper paperwork, a cellphone, or a place to stay—their hardships were many. But she was a woman of Christian faith and a woman who sought out communities of Christian faith.
And God provided.
There was the church in Edmonton that housed the family of two, then collected funds to pay for their airfare to Toronto where she would fight her immigration case. There was the Christian refugee resettlement agency that provided her temporary housing when she arrived in the city, then connected her to Safe Families Canada, a Christian alternative to government foster care.
A safe family provided a home for her young son in the weeks that followed the premature birth of her twins, then assembled a village of willing hands to meet the practical needs of this young mother and her three young children for years to come.
It was through Safe Families Canada that I became involved in this young woman’s life several years ago. I saw her family’s needs posted to the Safe Families network, including simple requests for diapers and meals.
To my immense shame, my initial thought upon receiving these requests was: I want no part of this complicated story. I feared that bringing diapers and dinner would involve me in ways beyond my capacity. And soon, it did. The point isn’t to rehearse my own reluctant efforts. The point is to say: For as theoretically committed as I have been to pro-life principles, I have still resisted giving time to families in crisis.
Time is the modern widow’s mite, the currency that is incredibly hard to sacrifice. In truth, I could have given money far more easily. But not time. Not interruption. Not long-haul life-on-life investment. Not birthday cakes and weekly groceries. Not monthly trips to the immigration office. Not the time that presence requires.
I’m struck, of course, by the temporal arguments for abortion. Some find it cruel to ask a woman to consider carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term, to sacrifice nine months of her life for the sake of a baby she might abort in an afternoon visit to a clinic. This is likely my friend’s opinion: that I have no right to impose such an obligation on an unwilling mother.
But as a pro-life Christian, I will tell her that I am compelled beyond arguments of efficiency. I want for a world in which we do hard things, even forsake freedoms, for the sake of our most vulnerable neighbors.
And yet I suppose that if we should ask women to give nine months of their lives to bear a child into the world (and the many years to come, should she keep the baby), we must be ready to give that much and more to ensure that child’s well-being. I suppose we will have to confront our own sworn commitments to individualism, this world in which we are never bothered by another’s need.
My friend’s twins recently celebrated their birthday. I showed up with balloons, and soon they were punching them, yelling at the top of their lungs. My friend looked exhausted, and it didn’t help that her doctors had recently diagnosed her with an iron deficiency. “They want to do infusions. What do you think of that?” I told her it’s a good idea, a safe treatment. And she was reassured.
I’ve grown used to these weekend conversations around my friend’s small kitchen table, and for as often as I visit, I wish I’d conquered the resistance to showing up. I haven’t.
But one thing has changed: I have evidence to bolster the imagination for another possible world. A world where the work of many hands makes lighter the efforts of love—for a mother, for her children, and for this noisy gift called life.
Jen Pollock Michel is a writer, podcast host, and speaker based in Toronto. She’s the author of four books and is working on a fifth: In Good Time: 8 Habits for Reimagining Productivity, Resisting Hurry, and Practicing Peace (Baker Books, 2022).