Changing the Conversation in our Churches: Why Do Women Have Abortions?

In a recent blog post, we explored how asking a different question to women facing unplanned pregnancy can change the conversation with others in our community.

But what about changing the conversation in our churches around abortion?

Maybe it’s time to start asking ourselves some different questions.

In my observation, many Christian conversations surrounding abortion currently center around two questions: 1.) Is it wrong? 2) How can we prevent women from doing it?

Because these are the questions we ask, our response can often come across as judgmental and harsh. Ask some of your non-church-going friends what their perceptions are and they will probably tell you that Christians are anti-woman, intolerant, and manipulative. Because of this, many women won’t go to a church or even to Christians when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Through our research, we’ve heard women say things like, “A church? Why would I want to go there? They will just judge me.” or “Religious people are no help at all; they will just make me feel worse about myself.”

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The fact that women don’t feel comfortable coming to followers of Jesus is what breaks my heart the most. How can the Church ever be part of the solution if women are afraid to reach out to its people? How can Christians bring the love and grace of Jesus into this issue if they can’t have conversations with women who are considering abortion?

Maybe it’s time to think about what would happen if the Church began asking this question: Why do women have abortions?

When I first started my work with a Christian pregnancy center nine years ago, I asked the leader of a similar organization why she thought women had abortions. She looked at me and said, “Selfishness.” Sadly, that seems to be the general consensus: women have abortions because they are thinking only about themselves and their future.

But our extensive research shows that’s not exactly what is going on. Women consistently report that an unplanned pregnancy initiates such feelings of shame, isolation and panic that they literally think their life as they know it is over – they will no longer be the person they thought they were, and there is no hopeful future either for them or for their child. It’s these feelings that often lead them to believe that their only choices are between abortion and overwhelming struggle as a mom.

When we listen to women’s stories, we can’t help but re-evaluate the questions we ask about abortion. One of our staff said it best after she conducted hours of interviews and research with women: “I used to think, ‘How could a woman have an abortion?’ But after sitting with women, hearing where they are coming from and what they are facing, I found myself thinking, ‘How could they possibly continue this pregnancy?’”

Once we understand what’s really going on, the natural second question we ask ourselves is: What can we do to support women so they don’t feel that abortion or a lifetime of struggle are their only options?

In God’s beautiful way, local churches are uniquely positioned to offer the two things women need most when facing an unplanned pregnancy: acceptance and support. Acceptance and support break the power of shame and fear, giving a woman hope that a positive future is possible for both herself and her child. We are finding it takes very little work for churches to start offering a program to support pregnant women within their existing culture. The biggest challenge is actually changing the questions we ask women so that they can experience empathy and grace, instead of judgment.

If we take the time to look inside at our preconceived notions and dare to ask ourselves some new questions, we find that God can bring hope to women. And when a woman has hope for the future, it can change everything for her and for her child.

By Angie Weszely, @angieweszely