So now it’s official. The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization quashed Roe v. Wade, and the legal question of whether and how to restrict abortion was left to the states.
I can’t imagine how much this is going to be discussed in the days, months and even years to come – from every angle imaginable. Additionally, many states will become legal and political battlegrounds for this issue. This includes my own Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Dobbs shifts and even escalates the struggle between pro-life and pro-choice, but that certainly doesn’t end it.
Yet those who have championed the pro-life cause, many of us for decades, have much to be grateful for. Among them are the many evangelicals and Catholics who fought for life, voted, lobbied, picketed, appealed, funded, managed legal organizations, lobbied and educational organizations focusing on state efforts and the federal government, and much more. We stayed in the fight and saw a magnificent victory.
However, a major concern that I have had for a long time is not so much political as pastoral and personal. This includes what will now be a growing need for care for pregnant women in difficult circumstances before and after giving birth. It includes a compassionate ministry for postabortion women and others, such as the biological fathers of these aborted babies and the families of these women. and that last thing includes, for too many people who were comfortable with this decision to have an abortion, helping them see the sin of abortion, encouraging confession and spiritual restoration. We have done a lot and now we must do more.
Which brings me to one of the issues I touched on in my recently published book, “After the Revolution: Sex and the Single Evangelical.” That is, the degree to which abortion is far more common among believers associated with conservative churches that overwhelmingly oppose it than most people realize or want to know.
Consider the two most recent versions of the large and prestigious National Family Growth Survey, which is an undertaking of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among middle-aged women 35 to 44 who have been pregnant, 13% of Evangelical Protestants and 12% of Roman Catholics have had at least one abortion.
Their level is not significantly different from that of mainstream Protestants, although many, if not most, churches do not oppose abortion and many support it. They certainly fare better than those with no religious affiliation, 29% of whom had an abortion at this age. But stay.
And for too many, it’s not a single abortion. Of those respondents, among those who had ever had an abortion, a third of Evangelicals and Catholics had more than one.
A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine shows that things are actually much worse. Despite the anonymity and professionalism of the NSFG, women interviewed tend to significantly under-report abortion. As many as half or more of women who reported not having had an abortion actually had one. This problem is probably worse for religious women because they are more likely to feel guilt and shame when they have done this than non-religious women.
We Evangelicals and Catholics must face the reality that we have a serious pastoral problem on our hands. Shepherds of Christ should not focus so much on the larger political and cultural scene that they end up ignoring the wounded people who need their care.
Sound teaching about all that is meant by the sanctity of human life, rooted in the larger themes of Christian theology and anthropology, must characterize our churches. Too many pastors and priests rarely, if ever, address this sensitive issue, from the pulpit or other teaching ministries.
But we must also uncover and confront the scourge of actual abortions, and their effects, in our own spiritual homes. The heated abortion debates in the days, months and years to come will open more raw wounds than we realize. How many of these women have never confessed this sin? How many suffered from it but continue to suffer from it, even years or decades later? and what about others in their inner circles?
When I read the Gospels, I see a Jesus who, although perfect and without sin, approaches sinners with compassion, person to person, without ever diluting the truth. As he did with the Samaritan woman at the well or the weeping prostitute, he laid bare the reality of their sins, realizing that they themselves were usually aware of them. But He never did it in a way that humbled them or left them hopeless.
Religious people, let’s be honest about the amount of abortions that have happened in our own churches. Let us redouble our efforts to teach the people of God. But let us also draw those who have sinned, however terribly, into the healing light of God’s grace and love for his people.
Dr. David J. Ayers is a Marriage and Family Fellow at the Institute for Faith and Freedom at Grove City College. Her latest book is “After the Revolution: Sex and the Single Evangelical”.