If women were never left shamed, isolated, unsupported and under-resourced, would abortion still exist?
Core to the messaging of Both Lives Matter is that it is not good enough to simply be anti-abortion. There are at least two lives in existence in every pregnancy and we must be pro-both: the unborn baby and the women who carry, give birth to, and raise them.
I heard an interesting phrase recently – someone said, “the unborn baby now advocates for itself”. There is much you could argue with in that sentence, but what they meant by it was this: scientific advancements have come so far, and medical imaging is so good, that no one, not even abortion providers, can deny the fact that when you end a pregnancy you end a life. The question now on the table is largely about the right of the woman to decide if that life has value and to decide if she is in a position to raise her child.
That is why, when it comes to advocating for the life of the unborn, I believe our focus should be advocating for women who are fed the lie that abortion is their best or only option. I believe women deserve so much better.
There are many people of all faiths and none who believe that both lives pre- and post-birth matter. However, Christianity has a unique understanding of inherent human dignity and worth, which begins in the womb and lasts until a person’s final breath, that we are each made in the image of God. This good and beautiful truth dignifies and gives value to both lives. However, it isn’t always lived out by those who claim to know and follow Jesus.
Rebecca Mclaughlin, in her apologetics book Confronting Christianity, calls out the hypocrisy of those who advocate for the unborn but neglect the life of the vulnerable. She argues that the “blame” for abortion doesn’t lie primarily with women who make a “choice in desperate circumstances but rather…all of us who are part of a society that separates sex from commitment, created an ecosystem of unplanned pregnancy, and fails to support women who find themselves in that situation”.
Rather than pursuing a world where no children are lost to abortion by casting guilt and shame on women who feel as though they are trapped, I believe we should predominantly seek to tackle the pressures that put women in a position where they feel they have no other option.
Advocating for change
According to UK government statistics, 82% of abortions in 2021 were for women whose marital status was given as single, a percentage that has remained fairly consistent for the last 10 years. Women living in the most deprived areas of England are more than twice as likely to have abortions than women living in the least deprived areas. This tells the unsurprising story that a woman is more likely to seek an abortion when she feels isolated, unsupported and under-resourced to cope with a child.
This means advocating for better access to childcare and for equal paid parental leave for mothers and fathers across industries. Many women are also asking for fewer barriers when they seek to return to the workforce after caring for children, or that leave them feeling as though they must choose between career and motherhood.
For example, in the most recent UK government budget, the 30 hours of free childcare that working parents are entitled to has been extended to cover children from the age of nine months, and Universal Credit support for childcare costs will be paid upfront, rather than in arrears. This will be helpful for many families, but is just one small step in the right direction –a holistic plan of care for children and mothers is needed.
The church: loving the outsider
Jesus says His followers are the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). The way we live and love one another should point the watching world to the One we worship. It’s important that we think through what message the church lives out in regard to women and unborn children.
In God’s word, we find the most compelling arguments for fiercely protecting the dignity, safety and freedom of women, and therefore, Christians should be known for honouring women in a distinctive way. It should be in the fabric of our churches and the rhythm of our lives. Faith in Jesus should never, ever, be used as a justification to treat women as any less than equal to men, but rather embolden our passion to do so.
As Jesus gave onlookers a taste of what that kingdom would be like, He challenged societal norms and began teaching women and championing them as valued partners in His work. He took the most oppressed and the most despised women and called them daughter, sister, and friend. What would it look like for our churches to do the same?
The church: loving our own
At my church, whenever a family is expecting a new baby, it is announced at the start of the Sunday service and our entire church family claps and cheers, celebrating the life that has been created and eagerly anticipate their arrival. I have been wondering recently, would we celebrate the same way if it was a child who had not been planned, growing inside the womb of an unmarried woman, in less than perfect circumstances?
A crucial aspect of discipleship in the Christian life is to talk about God’s good design for sex. That it is for the enjoyment of a married man and woman, whose relationship reflects that of Christ and the church. That this is the only good place for sex and therefore the best place for children to enter the world.
The goodness of God’s design is reinforced by findings in the September 2022 report from the government’s children’s commissioner, Family and its protective effect, which found that “children whose parents separated are more likely to be disadvantaged across a range of outcomes including emotional well-being and education”. Teaching Christians these good truths and encouraging them to live this out is an important responsibility of the church.
But how do we uphold this teaching unashamedly and unwaveringly, without inadvertently giving the impression to women that, should they find themself pregnant, it is better to have an abortion than face their church family? Similarly, how do we avoid excusing men from the conversation and enabling their abdication of responsibility in how they regard and treat women? How do we ensure that their part in the creation of new life is taken just as seriously as that of women?
How do we instead assure all our church families that sin will always be met with grace and that any life, whether planned or not, is a precious gift from God? The journey to becoming a church family who holds these truths together, and speaks and lives out the truth in love, is not easy but that doesn’t mean it should be avoided.
Are we ready in our church families to live out the message that both lives matter? Will we welcome the single mother, pregnant teenager, unplanned or crisis pregnancy in our churches? Will we love those women and make them feel like an equally valued part of our church families? Will we celebrate the lives of those children wholeheartedly, whatever the circumstances of their conception may be? Will we offer support, not just in prayer, but in meals and care and as an extra pair of hands?
Will we live out the truth that both lives matter to God?