Listening to Abortion Stories

If Jesus lived in America today, how would he engage the abortion issue?

We have stories in the gospels that give us clues, based on how he engaged social issues of his day. For instance, how did Jesus engage the tax collector issue–the fact that Jewish men sold out their nation, sided with the Romans, and gouged their own people with high taxes by force? How did Jesus engage the prostitution issue–the fact that Jewish women went against the standards of Torah and sold their bodies to provide for their needs? Two things stand out in Jesus’ response: he called sin “sin” and he spent time with sinners. The second part infuriated the Pharisees, who saw Jesus as guilty by association. When they asked, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31–32).

Applied to the current abortion debate, we must be both/and people like Jesus modeled. We must call abortion what it is: the termination not of a “pregnancy” but of a life. This is morally wrong and sinful. Indeed, it is one of the most heinous injustices possible considering how powerless the victim is. Yet if we are to follow Jesus’ way, the black-and-white nature of this issue (like, for instance, tax collecting in 1st century Israel) must not affect our willingness to get into the lives of others. One in three women in our country has an abortion by the age of 45. We cannot see ourselves on one side of a line with the good and right people while 1/3 of American women stand on the other side of the line. We must walk over the line and, if nothing else, be willing to listen to their stories.

This week’s cover story of New York magazine gives space for 26 women to tell their abortion stories. A few of them convey the type of sickening self-centeredness that drives some women to this decision. “From the time I was a teenager, the idea of having an abortion if pregnant was a no-brainer. I had this idea you can’t let life get in the way of your plans.” Or the wealthy family with a 1- and 3-year-old who “hadn’t envisioned having more.” As the husband and wife sat in the waiting room to have the abortion the husband asked “Where do you want to go on vacation?” They booked a trip to Spain.

But these are the exceptions of this sampling. Most stories involve deadbeat boyfriends–one who never went to doctor appointments because of football practice, another who terrorized his now-pregnant girlfriend, the homeless boyfriend, the high-school dropout, and the Call of Duty addict who said “I don’t have to worry about it until it pops out.” The women carrying these men’s babies record their heart-rending decisions. “I just had to shut my conscience down,” one said, “It’s almost too much to open the door of guilt and shame because it’ll all overcome me.” Another reported that “during the ultrasound, I shouted, ‘We’re not keeping it!’ It was a way of not acknowledging the life-form.”

The abortion providers do not emerge as heroes of these stories. “The doctor was grotesque,” one woman shared, noting that the doctor whistled show tunes while performing the operation. Another doctor “acted like it was assembly-line work.” One woman remembers, “The staff was very matter-of-fact, no kindness. A nurse said, ‘It looks like it was a girl.’”

But neither does the pro-life side emerge in a positive light. Stories of misinformation, hateful picketers, gruesome images, and condescension surface throughout the stories. One woman who decided to parent her son rather than abort lamented, “Those people weren’t there after I lost my job and couldn’t afford my COBRA, utilities, rent, food.” Another, wrenched with pain, shared, “The only people who would listen to me say I had any emotions were people who wanted me to fall down on my knees and ask for forgiveness. I saw a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center, but she gave me an icky feeling. There’s no room to talk about being unsure.” Another post-abortive woman gave this advice: “Truly pro-life people should go light on the judgment, because shame motivates abortions.”

I encourage you to read these stories. Some are difficult to read; some are infuriating; some make you weep; some include profanity and uncomfortable details. But they are not gratuitous. They are real. I believe Jesus would sit down with these women and listen to their stories. Then he would tell them about his Father, about his kingdom, about true family, about freedom from sin, about his death for them (and their sinful decisions), and about his resurrection to open up eternal life for all who trust him.

May we learn to minister like Jesus,

Pastor Chris


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