The issue of abortion used to be fairly simple: either you were for it or against it, and both sides had a pretty clear understanding of what they stood for. Not so today, where much of America has stopped asking this question at all, leaving only the politically inclined to speak out, using the same arguments they always have.
But other, quieter Christians are still working for the sake of life in ways the rest of us would do well to emulate.
“If the body of Christ were more involved in people’s lives, we wouldn’t be dealing with abortion like this,” said Shelley Herndon, director of New Hope Pregnancy Center in Albany, Ore. “If we helped women understand their value, the crisis wouldn’t exist. We need to be about caring for people.” Herndon was pointing right at my own misunderstandings—my tendencies to look past people as I search for the quantified, black-and-white answers of pop-rhetoric and debate.
Ten years ago I placed third in a statewide right-to-life oratory contest. I wrote a poem called "And the Band Never Played," which was supposed to allude to "And the Band Played On," a short story about AIDS. I was trying to highlight the fact that babies who aren’t born don’t get to play music at all, much less be in a band or speak about their plight or make TV movies.
I don’t think many people made the connection because I don’t know many Christians who concern themselves with AIDS.
The boy who won the contest and the girl who took second were both very passionate. They talked a lot about the evil Supreme Court that had allowed abortion be legalized and the murderous doctors and would-be mothers who hated life and the corrupt liberal media, which propagated lies about freedom of choice and women’s rights.
It’s too bad that none of our speeches dealt with the misnomer of “Pro-Choice,” because women too-seldom have any viable choices in our quick-to-judge society. It’s abortion or raising the child alone, often in poverty.
When I went to visit Herndon, I knew she would be able to offer far more insight and experience than stale arguments or cold statistics might show. I wanted desperately to find a workable alternative to picket signs and protest.
I sat down in Herndon’s office, and we began to talk. “I’m not very current on the state of national abortion issues,” she first confessed. It seemed a little refreshing. Her face was sweet and kind, but her eyes carried the weight of too many tears, and even in laughter the sadness seemed to linger. I wondered about the stories she had heard and the lives she had loved.
“Today, one in six abortions are by Christians,” Herndon began again, and though her information was practiced, it resonated with sincerity and heart. “Most women, even those who have abortions, don’t think it’s a good thing. But they are trapped in the immediate crisis. The attitudes and environments in America have changed.”
She explained that even for many in the Church, abortion is being viewed as a necessary evil. If such tendencies continue, then the rightness or wrongness of the issue will be almost irrelevant for efforts to reduce pregnancy terminations in America.
“The Pro-Life movement did itself a real disservice by focusing so much on the baby’s life and whether it was life at all. The life of the fetus is not even a medically debatable question any longer. Science proves that it’s a life, but that hasn’t changed people’s attitudes. We were focusing on the wrong questions.”
I clarified, “Is the panic, the immediacy of a crisis pregnancy what makes the question of life less relevant?”
“I think so,” she answered.
I asked what else makes the current environment different. “Well, it’s easier to talk about these days. The subject is open; it’s in your face. Even young men come into the clinic to talk about what they’re going through. That didn’t happen 10 years ago. But while abortion numbers have gone slightly down, those considering or seeking abortions are increasing.”
“What can we do?” I asked. “Do we take picket signs to the capitol building? Does that really do anything positive?”
“I think there’s a place for that, but I’m not political,” she said. “I’m not part of the Pro-Life movement. I support them, but we are called to do different things. I think that we, the Church, everyone needs to get into people’s lives and love them. It’s all about relationships. I even think there is common ground for both sides. Those who are Pro-Choice have the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence and other organizations, which take care of women. When we take care of people, love them, meet their needs and give them worth, the abortion problem gets much smaller.”
And the problem desperately needs to get smaller, but not just for the unborn child. Too often we overlook the precious lives of the women who are so desperate for a solution. We condemn but leave no alternatives.
I have a friend who had two abortions during college. Her name is Annie, and her boyfriend wouldn’t wear condoms. The truth is, I don’t know if her self-esteem kept her from saying “no,” if her religion told her to submit or if she simply didn’t think about it. But she wasn’t on birth control at the time, so twice she and her mother made the terrifying trip to a local clinic.
I asked about her memories. What was it like? How did she come to the decision? “It was terrible,” Annie said. “I felt like a murderer, but I wasn’t ready to be a mom. He wasn’t ready to be a dad …”
Most of my Christian friends become very condescending when I talk about Annie. They roll their eyes and scoff at such poor decision-making. They say, “That’s ridiculous! I don’t have any sympathy. She should have been on birth control if she was going to have unprotected sex.” And I guess they’re right, but their judgment doesn’t do much for my lonely, hurting friend who shares the same guilt as you and I: imperfect decisions in an imperfect life.
Maybe Annie carries even less guilt than you and I, because maybe we could have helped her but didn’t.
After my Pro-Life speech contest all those years ago, I remember wishing I had focused more on demonizing the Pro-Choice movement. It may have helped me inch ahead with the judges. But while that tactic might have worked back in 1995, the climate in which abortion exists today is increasingly different. The black-and-white truth we once stood on exists now only in an ideal moral theory. We can still hope and pray for those ideals, and as Christians we should, but the inevitable failure of human righteousness must remind us, with broken hearts, to function in the dirty grays of compassion.
Until the people of God rise up and give practical hope and realistic solutions to the women of America, abortion will continue. We cannot value the children and leave our women alone in the streets, hiding in the shadow of unsympathetic judgment.
It is time to drop our pretenses, rediscover a painfully real love and start getting into people’s lives.