As a pastor, today I am grieving. I’m furious and heartbrokenly grieving because of the efforts in Alabama, Georgia, and elsewhere to pass draconian laws to stop abortion, and because of the enormous human and social costs incurred whenever reproductive injustice rules the day.
Today I am holding the abortions stories of all of the women I have met (and those I haven't) with tenderness and compassion. I am remembering some of the women I’ve met while working as a volunteer chaplain at Planned Parenthood. Women who spent much of our conversations talking about how much they love their children: showing pictures, telling stories, sharing the details of who was watching their kids while they came in for their appointment.
Many of these women are surprisingly gracious even at the end of a very long day. Some talk about the protestors they had to wade through before getting to their appointment: angry folks who yelled, belittled, quoted (and misquoted) scripture attempting to intimidate them with promises of hell and damnation. But more often women focus on the kindness of the staff who have walked with them throughout the day, listening, affirming, making their hard day that much easier.
Some women have talked about how hard it was to know that they can't care for another child right now and still be a good parent to the child(ren) they have. Some have shared stories about the challenges of being a working parent struggling to make ends meet. Some have experienced contraception failure. Others have conceived postpartum, before they were aware that their cycle had even returned. Still others are there for miscarriage support after a loss or following devastating screening results. Some women come with supportive partners and others come alone (sometimes after difficult conversations with sexual partners who have made it clear that they don't want anything to do with parenting).
By the time I meet them, these women have already done the hard work of weighing the many life variables that led to this decision. Most of the conversations I have are light: the weather conditions, how far they traveled or how long they have been fasting (prior to the procedure). But there are other times that I struggle to keep my face neutral as I listen, wanting to weep or scream about the injustice of them being there alone, bearing the financial and emotional weight by themselves.
I regularly want to launch into a manifesto about how broken our system is (unwilling to invest in caring for children through access to low-cost childcare, parental leave, living wages etc., etc., etc.). Most often I just awkwardly hold space or bring another glass of water while hoping that a compassionate spiritual presence might be a comfort (though the reality is that the staff has already provided remarkable care throughout their time at the health center).
I know that the aspect of the Alabama law getting the most press attention is the lack of exceptions even in the case of rape and incest. This piece of the law is horrifying and deeply cruel. At the same time, most abortions are not a result of those worst-case scenarios. They are decisions made by women who are looking at the complexities of their lives: their family finances, the other children and dependent family members in their lives, their support systems, their careers, their health, their partners and families (or lack their of) and, in the midst of it all, making the best choice for their lives and their ability to parent with integrity at that moment.
It is easy to judge; it is easy to point a finger and decide how you would be better at living someone else's life. The much harder and more critical work is the work of imagining and helping to build a society where every child born will be supported and cared for-- if not by the person who birthed them, then by a compassionate culture with the resources allocated to be sure they won't fall through the cracks.
No matter on which side of the abortion debate you stand, we have work to do. And the good news is that there are many places where folks along the moral and political spectrum could overlap and become partners in change. There are so many proven ways to both support women and reduce unwanted pregnancies.
If you truly value life (not just birth), if you are truly invested in reducing the need for abortions, I invite you to join me in advocating for comprehensive sex education, universal access to birth control, and financial support for people struggling to parent.
Join me in a commitment to nurturing and raising young men who see pregnancy as just as much their concern as that of their partners.
All of these are positive ways we could make meaningful social change and reduce the number of folks seeking abortions.
The Alabama legislation will not reduce abortions or insure that children are cared for. What it will do is punish healthcare providers who trust women to know when they are ready to parent or not. And it will disproportionately punish women who don't have the means to go elsewhere (out of state) and seek those services.
Today I lift prayers for all the women who have made informed decisions about parenting and to all of the providers who have faced stigma, fear, and threat to support and trust those women. But, above all, I pray that people of good will with a diversity of opinions might find common ground and start working to build that more compassionate society. God knows we need it more than ever.
Tags: Abortion restrictions