When MTV published their article last week on our abortion research, the article was forwarded to me, and I was a bit taken aback. The headline is certainly a shocking one, and it makes Christians out to look like the hypocrites many non-Christians see them to be.
Here is a bit of what MTV wrote in its analysis:
The survey, which polled 1,038 women who’d had abortions from across the U.S., found that almost 40% of those women were attending a Christian church once a month or more at the time of their abortion, but that a majority of the women who attended church regularly kept their abortion a secret from their church community, mostly out of fear of being judged or condemned. Almost half of the women agreed that “pastors’ teachings on forgiveness don’t seem to apply to terminated pregnancies,” and 54 percent agreed that churches “over-simplify decisions about pregnancy options.”
Even sadder? Sixty-four percent of the women agreed that “Church members are more likely to gossip about a woman considering an abortion than help her understand her options.”
So, some who are not fans of Christian churches have leveraged the facts in the abortion data to criticize these churches. Fair enough. In some ways, it is deserved. The ways these women perceive the church are real, and many churches have earned the reputation. We must find ways to openly and honestly love women who have had abortions more than we already do.
The research confirms that many abortions occur among women within churches, after all, when measuring by self-identification, Christianity is by far the largest religion in the U.S. But be careful how you interpret their current religious affiliation. 70% of women who have ever had a pregnancy termination/abortion indicate that their current religious preference is Christian. The study did not ask their religious preference at the time of their abortion.
Furthermore, the fact that 70-75% of Americans self-identify as Christians means you would expect most abortions to come from women who self-identify as Christians. (And, as my colleague has shown, self-identification is not always the best way to identify—since Christians come with different levels of commitment: cultural, congregational, and convictional.)
Furthermore, because religious preference is asked at a different point in time, it is worth noting that 70% of women who have had an abortion are willing to be called a Christian today. Nothing in the choices they have made or the reactions of the church to them has led them to choose a different or no faith. And some may have become Christians after their abortions.
The study did ask one measure of whether the women were practicing Christians at the time of their abortions. Forty-three percent of women were attending a Christian church once a month or more at the time of one of their abortions. Again, that means a lot of abortions occur among women within Christian churches.
The data also shows us that gossip and forgiveness regarding those who have had abortions must be addressed, and the teachings of the church about grace, mercy, love, and the like must be backed up with actions. It seems that, too often, churches preach a gospel of grace, but forget how that gospel applies to women who have had abortions, and that's not good.
So, while MTV's article (and headline) may be a bit shocking and a little exaggerated, the fact that churches must change the way it treats women who have had abortions remains true. Christians and their churches have much work to do when it comes to welcoming women who have had abortions.
Christians must learn how to be both pro-life and pro-women. Those two values are not mutually exclusive, so we must pursue them both.