I was always personally pro-life but politically pro-choice. Now, I'm ready to drop the pro-choice label.
Editor’s note: This article is part of The Conversation with America Media, offering diverse perspectives on important and contested issues in the life of the church. Read other views on abortion and the reversal of Roe v. Wade, as well as news coverage of the topic, here.
I was taught at a young age by a Pentecostal pastor that abortion is immoral. As I grew up, I maintained this position, but it was not from a place of naïveté. When I was 7, my dad left my mom alone in the struggle to raise four kids. When I was 12, my 15-year-old sister became a mother herself. Beginning in elementary school and all through high school, I knew kids living in foster homes. I understood then and I understand now that imperfect upbringings far outnumber perfect ones. Yet I did not believe any circumstance, regardless of its shortcomings, made abortion ethical.
In the following years I learned all I could about fetal development and later how abortions were performed. I debated anyone who would listen, seeking to change one more heart.
During my senior year of high school, when my government teacher asked us to pair up and choose a major societal crisis to address, I knew immediately I would focus on abortion. My partner and I studied the abortion statistics and researched Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood, crisis pregnancy centers and post-abortion healing. Our paper outlined three strategies for reducing abortions: comprehensive sex education, more generous welfare programs and targeted support to mothers on college campuses.
I questioned why mothers in the socioeconomic elite demanded abortion rights so vocally when they are unlikely to have abortions themselves.
But I never considered outlawing the practice; after all, I thought at the time, no one wants to go back to coat-hanger abortions in dirty cellars. I began to think of myself as a pro-choice pragmatist who is personally pro-life. As the years progressed, I became an outspoken advocate for abortion rights, going as far as co-authoring a piece called “Women v. The World: The Conservative Attack on Reproductive Rights” in 2011.
But in 2018, something shifted. I became a mother, fiercely protective of the fetus growing within me. I gave up cigarettes and wine, modified my yoga practice, and examined every box of herbal tea to ensure there was no licorice or papaya or anything else my midwife warned me against. The abortion debate became personal, and I became more quietly pro-choice. I questioned why mothers in the socioeconomic elite demanded abortion rights so vocally when they (statistically speaking) are unlikely to have abortions themselves. I learned how many poor women of color feel pressured into having abortions they don’t want.
There is a scientific consensus about the start of human life: 95 percent of biologists agree that it is at fertilization. Whether or not a human embryo deserves legal protection may be up for debate; whether or not it is a living human is no more debatable than the existence of climate change. But when it became apparent that the Supreme Court would send Roe v. Wade the way of Dred Scott v. Sandford, the pro-abortion lobby came up with talking points so alienating that I am finally ready to jump off the pro-choice ship.
The fact that nearly a quarter of the women in the United States have had abortions is a sign that society has failed us.
I have seen outrage expressed at the idea of a ban on abortion after 15 weeks. In two-thirds of the countries where elective abortion is legal, it is illegal after the first trimester (with some exceptions, depending on the country), and this is not considered an unconscionable power grab over the female body. But I heard one pro-choice advocate on “1A,” an NPR podcast, say that the 15-week bans are cruel because women will no longer be able to choose abortion after routine screenings for genetic abnormalities. In other words, these laws would prevent the practice of one form of eugenics: the routine use of abortion to deny life to those with disabilities. And the laws are being framed as an assault against women, as opposed to a form of protection for people that society deems undesirable.
Nobody becomes pregnant in order to experience abortion. Women have abortions when they feel it is the best or only choice available, and a majority of women who receive abortions in the United States are already mothers who need more support. This is why women living below the federal poverty line have abortions at a rate almost six times higher than women with incomes at least two times the poverty level.
In other words, in one of the richest countries of all time, a lot of mothers feel they can afford to give birth to and raise only some of their children. Many politicians and pundits now promise “abortion sanctuaries,” as if these places were God’s gift to women, when the fact that nearly a quarter of the women in the United States have had abortions is a sign that society has failed us.
We now live in a “shout your abortion” nation, and a message that crass will never be embraced in more conservative parts of the United States, nor should it be.
I have always agreed that abortion should be legal in some circumstances so fewer impoverished women die tragic deaths. And I long hoped that before abortions were outlawed in any state, our nation would have more affordable housing, better prenatal care, comprehensive sex education, prison reform, a higher minimum wage, safe places for children whose parents cannot care for them—and less rape! We are far from that point, but now, as I receive text messages to join the pro-choice protests, I find I cannot stomach them.
Why? Because the half-century since Roe v. Wade has proven that abortions will not end childhood poverty, close the wage gap between men and women, or liberate our culture from misogyny. Because the pro-choice message has shifted from the “legal, safe and rare” rhetoric of my youth. We now live in a “shout your abortion” nation, and a message that crass will never be embraced in more conservative parts of the United States, nor should it be.
I cannot in good conscience protest the efforts to try something different. I am ready for abortion to become a state issue. My prayer for states that outlaw the procedure entirely is that God may grant them the moral development to do so justly.