When I was 16, some friends and I were walking around a neighborhood late at night when we spotted a stranger following us in the shadows. As we looped around an isolated lakeside path, we helplessly looked back as he crept a little closer every few feet. Fortunately, we stumbled across a neighbor who had had stepped outside with her dog, giving us the chance to dart into her yard and out of the dark path. The stranger behind us turned around and went back in the direction he came from.
When I got home, I was still shaking as I told my dad what happened. He could have responded by telling me how foolish I was for taking that walk in the first place. But instead, he let me know I was safe.
In my work at a pregnancy clinic, I’ve often seen a similar look of panic and fear in the eyes of women who have just found out that the pregnancy test came back positive. Not the excited, nervous, butterflies in your stomach kind of fear, but rather the fear that this could be the end of her relationships, her future, her life.
It’s in this moment of fear that a woman is faced with a pregnancy decision that will change her life forever. She can continue the pregnancy, either parenting or placing for adoption, or she can end the pregnancy by way of abortion.
Today, the Supreme Court will hear Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, its first case on abortion in more than 20 years and one that could set a nationwide precedent. In 2013, the state of Texas passed HB2, a law placing specific medical and safety requirements on abortion clinics. As a result, many clinics have closed their doors, unable to meet the law’s specifications.
Advocates of the law say it protects women’s health by requiring clinical standards comparable to hospital surgical centers. The plaintiffs of the case say the law limits access to abortion services and places undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to end her pregnancy.
When we hear the word abortion, and of cases like this one, we tend to think of a political issue, one to be “solved” with laws and restrictions, protests and rallies. But at the root of it all lies something very personal to perhaps more people than we realize. The issue of unplanned pregnancy is one that touches nearly all of us in some way, shape or form.
It can be all too easy to distance ourselves from the issue of unplanned pregnancy because, well, it feels like someone else’s problem. She made the mistake, right? Doesn’t that mean the consequences are hers to own? Unless of course, the frightened woman is considering abortion. In which case, some feel a moral obligation to advocate for the child. After all, the child didn’t do anything wrong.
I naively assumed for too many years that my life was mostly unaffected by the reality of unplanned pregnancy. And then, a close friend who I happened to be living with at the time sat me down and shared her abortion story. Now that I work at a clinic with women facing unplanned pregnancy, friends, acquaintances and even strangers open up and share their personal stories with me every day. Often, they are stories I never would have guessed at from the outside looking in.
Usually, these stories are shared in whispers, or huddled over coffee in a quiet place. Sometimes, I hear them in panicked phone calls or in a late-night text. The stories are personal, often complicated, and they are never the same for any two individuals.
While we don’t often hear it spoken aloud in public, unplanned pregnancy is an incredibly common experience. In fact, about half of all pregnancies in the U.S. every year are unplanned. Of these pregnancies, about 40 percent result in abortion. These numbers show that preventing abortion starts not with laws and rulings about access to abortion, but with dealing with the issue of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
These numbers also tell us that unplanned pregnancy is not simply a problem we can ascribe to an imaginary “her” that we can comfortably keep at arm’s length. It’s an experience that collectively belongs to all of us. Regardless of our personal story, chances are, someone who has impacted our life has walked this road, probably in fear and confusion.
If we truly want to advocate for the lives of the unborn, we have to start by advocating for the women right in front of us—our moms, wives, sisters, best friends, mentors and neighbours. We must learn to listen without shaming, to encourage, to promise help beyond just the stages of pregnancy and birth. We have to acknowledge that men are affected by this issue as well. It’s not “us” versus “them.” These women and men are a lot like us, maybe they are us.
As the Supreme Court hears Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, I hope we’ll all lean in and listen. Not simply out of political motivation, but rather out of an understanding that the results of this case will impact our friends, our families and our communities just as unplanned pregnancy does every single day.
When we allow this issue to become as personal as it really is, instead of picturing a panel of Supreme Court justices on Capitol Hill, we’ll picture the faces of women who are nervous, confused and afraid, because many times, they feel all alone. And we’ll begin to let them know that they are safe.
That’s the Gospel that Jesus lived out for us. And this is our chance to love more like Him. He tells us that perfect love drives out fear. So now the opportunity belongs to us. Advocating for women and the unborn in the midst of unplanned pregnancy starts by scattering fear. And the best way to do this is by demolishing the distance that we place between ourselves and the woman who feels like she is walking a scary path alone.
Remember the last time you felt afraid and all alone? Now you’re ready to come alongside someone who might be feeling that very same way. Unplanned pregnancy might just end up hitting closer to home than you expect. So, as we advocate for the unborn, let’s allow our communities and our homes to be beacons of hope for the countless women experiencing unplanned pregnancy every day.