Opinion  |  

There’s abortion in your church

‘There are lonely, ashamed young women in our churches, with nowhere to turn,’ says minister

I have been the senior minister at St Barnabas Broadway, in Sydney’s inner city, for six years. Before that I was on staff for another eight.

Advertisement

In all that time, not one unmarried woman has shared that she has fallen pregnant, or sought an abortion.

I fear there is something in our church culture that actually increases the number of women seeking abortions.

This terrifies me. Let me tell you what I think this means. I think – I fear – it means that there is something in our church culture that actually increases the number of women seeking abortions.

Let me explain. No one knows exactly how many abortions are performed in Australia each year, since most states don’t collect the data systematically. However, working from what data we do have gives an estimate of around 80,000 abortions per year.[1]

Women asking for an abortion are one and half times more likely to be in their 40s and late 30s than in their teens.

Every week about 1500 women choose to have an abortion. Who is having abortions? Well, it isn’t primarily teens. Women asking for an abortion are one and half times more likely to be in their 40s and late 30s than in their teens.[2]

But data from South Australia suggests that the largest group, by far, is 20 to 24-year-old women, with over a quarter of all abortions in that group alone.

For some, this freedom of choice is to be celebrated. However, there is an established Christian tradition of viewing the pregnancy, from point of fertilisation, as a vulnerable, emerging human being.

…what I think is happening is that young couples are having sex out of marriage, young women are falling pregnant, and abortions are being procured.

The purpose of this article isn’t to argue this claim, or the case against abortion. Rather, I will assume the arguments of this tradition – that, except in the case of danger to the mother, or in some outlying cases of confirmed foetal non-viability, abortion is both harmful to the mother and unjustly ends an emerging human life.

If the practice of abortion is not, in general, a moral good, then you might think that the fact that I don’t know of any abortions in my church would likewise be a good thing.

…our church culture actually promotes abortion.

Similarly, given that I also hold to a classically Christian sexual ethic, you might be surprised at just how upset I am that I have not become aware of unexpected pregnancies to unmarried women.

Unfortunately, what I think is happening is that young couples are having sex out of marriage, young women are falling pregnant, and abortions are being procured.

Far from limiting it, our church culture actually promotes abortion.

…there are many cultures which place a high moral value on abstinence before marriage. The church is one of them.

In one Australian study, 25 per cent of women applying for abortion stated that it was ‘against their beliefs’ to do so.[3] Why, then, choose to have an abortion? Many women – and their male partners – fear being shamed in their culture. After all, there are many cultures, whether religious or ethnic or cultural, which place a high moral value on abstinence before marriage. The church is one of them.

As a result, young people in those cultures will date but hopefully won’t have an explicit intention to have sex with their girlfriend and boyfriend. But lots of them do, after all, end up having sex.

‘No ethic, not even the most conservative, should be judged by its ability to influence the behaviour of teenagers in the back seat of a car.’ – Stanley Hauerwas

It isn’t that they do not believe in the classical view that sex is for marriage; rather that, just like in the rest of life, many Christians simply fail to live up to their own principles.

This isn’t, I think, a problem with our sexual ethic. As Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas said, ‘no ethic, not even the most conservative, should be judged by its ability to influence the behaviour of teenagers in the back seat of a car.’

Because sex is unplanned, a man is less likely to walk into a 7-Eleven on the day of a date to buy a pack of condoms. Unplanned sex is more likely to be unprotected sex, and therefore the female partner is much more likely to conceive.

What could be more Christian than, having had sex and fallen pregnant, a woman (and her partner) turn to God and find forgiveness, and turn to their church and encounter love, inclusion and support?

Pregnancy carries with it enormous burdens, and raising a child is hard. In a study of 2249 NSW women having abortions, 60 per cent gave as the reason ‘I can’t afford a baby now.’

Another Australian study interviewed 20 women having abortions and all them agreed with the statement ‘continuing the pregnancy would jeopardise my career, study or future plans’.

This is the point at which we might hope the gospel really gets a chance to shine. After all, the church is a community of forgiven sinners.

What could be more Christian than, having had sex and fallen pregnant, a woman (and her partner) turn to God and find forgiveness, and turn to their church and encounter love, inclusion and support?

However, this is not the way many women experience the church. As one godly young female leader in my church said, ‘I’m not saying it is a good thing, but if I had fallen pregnant, I cannot imagine telling my pastors.’

Effectively, we have weaponised our doctrine, and the collateral damage is lonely, ashamed young women, with nowhere to turn.

And so, fearful of condemnation and rejection, and facing very real practical difficulties, a woman, often pressured by her boyfriend and sometimes by relatives, has an abortion.

The very sexual ethic that is meant to promote joyful obedience to God has become an instrument of shame by which bad choices are multiplied.

Effectively, we have weaponised our doctrine, and the collateral damage is lonely, ashamed young women, with nowhere to turn.

So what should we do?

There seem to be two main answers among Christians.

Those of us on the Left, I think, can be social justice cowards. [But] on the Right, there is a rush to legislate and make abortion illegal.

On the Left, there is often silence. In order to form collaborations with other organisations – especially secular or progressive groups – on other genuinely important issues like climate change and domestic violence, Christians on the Left tiptoe around abortion.

As a result, their policy platforms sometimes appear indistinguishable to those of non-Christian groups, and are welcomed in the inner city with very little of the outrage that Jesus seemed to cause.

They aren’t pro-life. They are just pro-birth.

Those of us on the Left, I think, can be social justice cowards.

On the Right, there is a rush to legislate and make abortion illegal. In the US, many conservative Christians cannot stand Donald Trump. Nonetheless, they were urged to vote for him so that conservative judges might be appointed to the Supreme Court, the Roe vs Wade case overturned and abortion criminalised.

The problem is that these laws target women and don’t make provision for support for single mothers, extended paid maternity leave, affirmative action or other initiatives that might make parenting possible.

They aren’t pro-life. They are just pro-birth.

We need to ask: what will make it possible to have an unexpected baby?

Recriminalising abortion will only return us to the days of the backyard abortion industry, and courts refusing to pass judgment on doctors out of concern for the safety of women.

If you gave me the keys to parliament and the power to pass just one piece of legislation – to recriminalise abortion – I’m not sure I could do it.

In fact, I don’t think either of these avenues, Left or Right, offers a solution. Instead, we need to ask, what will make it possible to have an unexpected baby?

And this means dealing with our culture of shame and hidden sin, and changing the material options. It means creating possibility and choice where there appeared to be none before. And this means beginning with the church.

…our secular society does not have the resources on its own to create options.

Women seeking abortions from a range of backgrounds have described experiencing only two options: either ‘my life is over’ or ‘the life of this new child is over’.

The women surveyed in one study of attitudes in the United States agreed that abortion was taking a life, but also that God would forgive them, ‘because a woman in such a crisis has no real choice.’[4]

The simple reality is that our secular society does not have the resources on its own to create options. It lacks the imagination to conceive of solutions beyond the usual scarcity-driven economics.

We are not primarily a moral community; we are a forgiven community.

The church, however, draws upon the imagination and provision of God. The church is called to embody a different set of possibilities – older families taking responsibility for financial provision for young unwed mothers, while they train for a trade or complete uni; young men challenged to take responsibility for the outcomes of their sexuality and finding fulfilment in parenthood rather than international travel; a recapturing of the central Christian doctrine of adoption and prizing entering a family by gift above entering a family by birth.

And above all, the church is called to embody grace. Not licence, and not an abandonment of God’s good vision for sexual flourishing.

I hope to see more babies born to unmarried Christian women than in the world around us.

We are not primarily a moral community; we are a forgiven community, and we are called create spaces where forgiveness of the repentant is assured.

I hope to see more babies born to unmarried Christian women than in the world around us, because it is my prayer that they will not abort their children.

I hope that the church will celebrate the birth of every one of these children and we will celebrate the courage of every one of these women.

Because this is who we are.

Mike Paget is senior minister at St Barnabas Broadway, Sydney.

 

[1] ‘Briefing on Abortion Legislation for Standing Committee – May 2009’, Social Issues Executive, 5
[2] ‘Economics as reason for abortion’
[3] Ewing, Women and Abortion, Women’s Forum Australia: 2005, 6
[4] Paul Swope, ‘Abortion: A failure to communicate’, First Things

(Visited 3,296 times, 1 visits today)

Book Icon

Related Reading

Related stories from around the web

Eternity News is not responsible for the content on other websites

Comments

More