She looked at me with tears in her eyes. “I’m pregnant,” she said, “and I’m scared.”
Tears filled my eyes too, as I knew her options were few.
Kiana was only 17, living with her family who struggled to make ends meet.
“I don’t believe in abortion,” she told me, “but I don’t know what to do.”
It took a few weeks of calls, appointments and paperwork, but we were finally able to help Kiana find an organization that would help her with prenatal care. Days later however, they called to tell her they were at capacity and couldn’t serve her after all. So she made the appointment to get an abortion.
The appointment came and went—she couldn’t go.
I promised to walk with her, to do whatever I could to help find a clinic that would see her. After several attempts, we finally found a place that was open to giving her care; it was Planned Parenthood.
I walked into the waiting room with her apprehensive—I’d been raised my whole like hearing how awful Planned Parenthood was. “They are the baby-killing factory,” I thought. But they offered to help. They provided everything she needed to safely stay pregnant, including vitamins and follow-up appointments. And then their funding got cut.
For as long as I can remember I was told that to be a Christian meant to be pro-life. As a kid I marched in anti-abortion rallies and firmly held the belief that terminating a pregnancy meant murder. I held strong to the notion that women who committed such atrocities were heartless and selfish. I even went so far as to audition with a speech on the topic for my fifth grade graduation. (It should come as no surprise when I tell you I was not chosen.)
While I still hold to my pro-life convictions, I’ve come to learn that the topic is far more nuanced than I’d once held true. As Christians we have a responsibility that is far greater in the matter than simply branding a woman and picketing her decision.
This last week the Alabama Senate approved a measure on that would outlaw almost all abortions in the state, setting up a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the case that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy.
“I had to do it,” Kiana told me. “Ultimately I was the one who made the choice, but I think about that baby everyday and it hurts. I felt trapped and like it was my only option. My parents told me if I had the baby they would kick me out—and I had nowhere to go. And now with this new law and all the yelling on the internet I keep seeing, it feels like everyone is stabbing already broken women, reminding us that we are bad. It’s easy to point fingers, to tell me I was wrong and going to hell—which half the time I already believe myself because the guilt is so bad—but then there’s this other part of me that wants to scream back, ‘How can you judge me when you never offered to help me or anyone else in my shoes?’ I tried to find help and in the end it just wasn’t there.”
Unless we are willing to address some of the major factors that lead to abortions I am not sure we are justified in calling ourselves pro-life at all.
Pro-birth, perhaps—but not pro-life.
For the last 10 years I have worked with various homeless and marginalized populations. Both professionally and personally I’ve walked with several women after they have chosen to terminate pregnancies because they felt as though they had no other options.
My friend Lisa explained it to me this way, “Having an abortion was not something I wanted to do, but I knew I couldn’t care for a baby while living on the streets. I know people always say that adoption is an option, but the reality is, there are thousands of babies and kids in the system, waiting to be adopted who never will be—I was one of them. I couldn’t in my heart have a baby who I knew would end up custody of the state, in an unsafe group home or on the streets, wondering if they were loved, like I was.”
To be pro-life we must deem all life as valuable.
If we are going to choose to be pro-life we must not stop advocating once the baby leaves the delivery room. It means we must be willing to enter into the lives of the least of these; either offering resources to mothers who desire to keep their babies, reforming our adoption and foster care systems or partnering with and defending organizations serving those in need either with our vote, our finances or our time.
To be pro-life we must believe that all life is valuable; including those of mothers who are contemplating or have chosen abortions and caring for them as such. It means that instead of picketing and screaming; instead of focusing on laws to shame women for their choices we need to consider how to better enter into the lives of our sisters who are hurting, caring for both them and the unborn little ones in our world.
To be pro-life we must also be in support of working women.
Another friend explained her decision to me this way, “I had finally reached a point in my career I was proud of. I’d fought long and hard to get where I was, both finally getting to acknowledgment and position I’d been most qualified for, for years and financially I was finally able to make ends meet without major stress. I knew if I had a baby that would all change. Was it selfish? Yeah, maybe so, but I felt stuck.”
It’s often assumed that to be feminist; to believe in equality for women one must also be pro-choice. In fact, the opposite is true. Revered suffragist Alice Paul said, “Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women.” It is the assumption that a woman must choose between career or family. It is the assumption that to “make it” in the working world a woman must give up success or reroute her dreams in order to be a good mother. Through lack of of options, our society often tells women that to pursue her goals in the workforce she must remain childless.
If we want to truly be pro-life we must look at the factors that contribute to this assumption; lack of affordable childcare, the wage gap and lack of policy concerning maternity leave. To be pro-life we need to support women in the working world, as opposed to creating further obstacles to overcome once she conceives. We need to celebrate the unique ability of a woman to carry a child and not penalize her career for it.
Please hear me, I am not trying to shame anyone on either side. I still cannot fathom the idea of choosing to terminate a pregnancy without it turning my stomach and bringing tears to my eyes. But I also can’t imagine the difficult decision to raise a baby in a place in which there is so little support for single mothers, working mothers and unaccompanied children.
We HAVE to do better, pro-lifers. We have to be willing to reform systems and care for babies, children and their mothers after birth. We have to be willing to use our resources—our political backings, our money, our time and energy into caring for those who this issue impacts most, not simply sitting on our pious high-horses, claiming to care and doing nothing to show it, but yell on the internet.