The Other Face of Abortion

She has a heartbeat. She has a face. She is being knit together in her mother’s womb. Can you see her?

Few social issues are as polarizing in today’s culture as abortion. Either side you fall on the subject, your conviction is probably set and your feelings are probably strong. Both sides have their slogans, signs, bumper stickers and t-shirts, all expressing their unyielding opinions. Despite an encouraging recent decrease in overall abortions, pro-life believers – for all their passion for the rights of the unborn – still seem to be fighting an uphill battle. While we might think that we need more campaigning and rallying, more billboards picturing an unborn child and evidence that the fetus is truly a baby, these efforts don’t seem to be as effective as we would hope.

In fact, one study* showed that the pro-life movement’s usual strategies may be part of the problem. Research showed that by emphasizing the life of an unborn child, rather than the mother, a woman is more likely to tune out and resent a pro-life message. She will likely agree with you that abortion is killing a baby and that it’s wrong, “but that is the price a woman in that situation is willing to pay in her desperate struggle for what she believes to be her very survival.” A phrase like “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart,” only confirms her feelings that a pro-life person is ignoring her situation, further pushing her into isolation— the very emotions that drive her towards an abortion. Pro-life ads that focused on a mother’s alternative options were much more successful in decreasing the abortion rate than ads that focused on the moral dilemma of an unborn baby’s life.

An impassioned argument for a child’s right to life isn’t as effective as being the mother’s advocate and showing her that abortion isn’t the “quick fix” she believes it to be.

She has a heartbeat. She has a face. She is alone in the waiting room. Can you see her?

The vast majority of women that end a pregnancy do so because they are convinced that there is no better option. An unplanned pregnancy is often perceived as a “death to self.” The high school junior’s entire social and family relationships would radically change if anyone knew she was pregnant. The college sophomore would have to drop out of school and lose her scholarship if she carried a baby to term. The successful twenty-something’s career would come to a halt if an infant entered the picture. And the low-income mother of six children wouldn’t be able to feed and support a seventh. “Given this perspective, the choice of abortion becomes one of self-preservation…Her central, perhaps subconscious question is… ‘How can I preserve my own life?’”

According to Michelle Bowers, of the Fort Worth Pregnancy Center, women who are Christian and single are most vulnerable to having an abortion. Since they usually have a moral conviction to practice abstinence, an unplanned pregnancy could mean an unbearable shame. “She will lose her life as she knows it. She does not believe in abortion, but she never imagined she would find herself so trapped.”

She has a heartbeat. She has a face. She is sitting in the church pew. Can you see her?

Abortion affects more women in the Church than many of us may realize. As Bowers explains, “Churches do not purposefully intend to isolate the very mothers of the children they are so desperate to rescue. We tend to think that the 1 out of 4 post-abortive, church-attending women does not sing in our choirs, attend our women’s luncheons, volunteer in VBS, or sit beside us each week in Sunday School. There is a denial of the presence of abortion wounding Christ’s Bride.”

After working at a pregnancy center for a season, I was able to put faces to the statistics. During a conversation with a young lady that was facing the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy I failed to show compassion. I was so focused on being right, that I was not loving. The life-choices that lead a woman to having an abortion are no less offensive to God than the pride that keeps me from seeing a person’s true need. I sounded less like a messenger of God’s grace and more like that Pharisee who thanked God that he wasn’t as sinful as another (Luke 18:11). It was heartbreaking and humbling as I remembered Jesus’ command to, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13)

Perhaps it is this same outlook – justice lacking compassion; truth lacking love – that has led some to a callus attitude toward post-abortive women.

Perhaps in our zeal for defending the rights of the unborn we have communicated a cavalier disregard for the woman who feels trapped in her situation. Who would believe our message of God’s mercy? Who would even believe that the two attitudes could coexist?

While we, as believers, most certainly have a responsibility to be salt and light in society (Matt. 5:13-16)– to vote pro-life, be advocates of moral values and work for cultural reform – even the most biblical laws will not change a person’s heart or abolish sin. Only Jesus can do that. Could it be that we have forsaken our responsibility to both the unborn and the mother by relegating abortion as merely a political issue to be solved in a voting booth or court bench?  Could it be that some of us within the Bride of Christ have exchanged our call to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18) for yelling in a picket line? Could it be that we have blurred our spiritual mission with social change and confused being Christian with being conservative?

If today’s community of believers would ache with another’s consequences as much as we curse their darkness, be merciful as our Father is merciful (Luke 6:36), clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12), and work to bring healing rather than simply to be heard, perhaps we would finally cripple the runaway injustice of abortion.

To the woman reading this who has had an abortion: Please know that there is grace greater than your deepest shame at the cross of Christ. He already knows about it and He is still ready to forgive the one who comes to Him in faith.

To the body of Christ advocating the sanctity of every human life: We may or may not be able to deter a woman from getting an abortion by our outward statements, but there are things we can cultivate in our churches and communities to reach women that are vulnerable to or have had an abortion.

1. Pray for an increased sensitivity toward post-abortive women, for God to move through His Church to end the evil of abortion both legally and culturally.

2. Consider how your public stance is perceived by the world. It is godly and noble to identify yourself as being pro-life. But perhaps the statements made would push a woman away from pro-life ideas rather than draw her to the hope of Christ.

3. Go! Get connected with and volunteer at a Christian pregnancy center. Build relationships with the people that work there and (if it’s accurate) let them know that your church is a safe place for post-abortive women to heal and be nurtured in their relationship with God. If a person comes to Christ at a pregnancy center, your women’s ministry could reach out to her and connect her with Christian women.

4. Give – Many women have an abortion because they do not believe they can financially support the rearing of a child. Perhaps your church could start a resource closet of supplies for new mothers and their babies to give away when they come to a Bible study. Maybe you could help a woman find a job or fund the training she needs to qualify for better employment.

5. Give up – What would happen if the average women’s ministry would forego one annual event, women’s conference or retreat, and apply that money to a pregnancy center or paying the month’s bills for a financially struggling mother?

She has a heartbeat. She has a face. Her Creator sees her…

He formed her inward parts (Psalm 139:13). He knit her together in her mother’s womb (v. 14 ). His eyes saw her unformed substance (v. 15). She is wonderfully made (v. 14). She is a heritage from the Lord (Psalm 127:3).  She is created in His image (Gen. 1:27). She is the unborn baby. And she is the post-abortive woman. May mercy triumph over judgment as the Bride of Christ battles for them both (James 2:13).

*Research from the article, “Profile of a Woman with a Unplanned Pregnancy”

Katie McCoy is pursuing a Doctorate in Systematic Theology at Southwestern Seminary. When she’s not studying for her classes (a rare occasion!), she loves hanging out with friends, eating sushi, learning new words and is currently a political news junkie. Connect with Katie on Facebook or Follow her Twitter!

Editor’s note: This weekend, as we celebrate the value of human life on “Sanctity of Life Sunday” and remember the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we pray this week’s contributions to Biblical Woman stir your heart toward justice for the unborn and compassion for the mothers who carry them.