"What do we want? Reverse Roe! When do we want it? Now! Hey hey, ho ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go!"
There were thousands of us chanting in a sing-song fashion, taking direction from our fearless leader: a white woman in her fifties with blonde hair and a megaphone. We were all very organized, with shirts, homemade signs, comfortable walking shoes and plenty of water. I wasn't huge on participating in marches myself, honestly. Partly because I was too young to drive myself to and from political events and partly because I didn't really understand much about politics. I ended up in Austin, Texas that day at a pro-life march because of the one issue that I did understand: abortion. Our church had put a lot of time, effort and resources into telling me and my peers all about the horrific nature of abortion; it was shell-shocking for us to learn about an issue this complex as mere children.
Seared by countless graphic images of botched abortions and traumatic details of what an abortion was like for the fetus itself, I quickly came to believe that abortion was our darkest offense as a nation. My heart was broken for the lost lives of the unborn and I felt a fire in my heart to seek justice for the innocent. It was for these reasons that I was proud to be there that day, marching among this throng of strangers from churches and organizations all over Texas. After meandering through the barricaded streets, we finally found ourselves at the steps of the State Capitol, where we settled in with excited energy to hear the speeches begin.
I honestly couldn't tell you who the speaker was that day, nor could I give you a quote from any of the speeches shared. What I can tell you with certainty, though, is that the leftover weird feelings I have from this event aren't isolated, but have rather been interwoven with so many other moments throughout my life and during my conservative evangelical Christian upbringing. The church I grew up in was a beautiful blend of cultures and didn't have the same earmarks of traditional White Evangelicalism. We were "culturally diverse," or at least we tried to be, and we placed a large emphasis on singing songs in many languages and having equal racial representation. That aside, we were tried and true American conservative evangelical Christians who were biblical literalists, hive-mind thinkers, young earth creationists, prone to conspiracy theories and patriotic to a fault; as such, we very politically active. I could go on, but I think you can paint a clear enough picture for yourselves.
I remember sitting with my family in our row at church one Sunday, the itchy red upholstery from the chairs tormenting the back of my thighs. The services were often long, but my siblings and I tried to avoid complaining about the worship gatherings in that large, 1980's themed sanctuary. In all actuality, I craved that time I spent within those 4 walls each week. I deeply loved my pastor and the families who helped raise me at my church and still do to this day. My respect for them at the time was unmatched by anyone else in my life besides my own parents and God himself, to the point where I actually possessed a deep sense of pride and feeling of superiority regarding our lengthy and passionate church services.
So, despite our uncomfortably scratchy chairs, I sat as attentively as I could in order to soak up every word that was said. That particular Sunday, my pastor set a large white bucket down on the two-tone carpeted stage, his face solemn. Inside the bucket were small rubber replicas of human fetuses, meant to represent the actual size, shape and likeness of a 12-week-old embryo. These replicas were distributed among the several hundred of us in the congregation, each in turn receiving their very own fetus to hold in their hands. Finally, I received mine, small and helpless in my palm. The gravity of that moment hung in the air; I felt sadness, I felt rage. The booming voice of my beloved pastor reminded us that we, collectively as a nation, had murdered countless children -- like the one I held in my very hands -- and that we must put an end to it and seek forgiveness from God. Our country needed to be delivered and healed from its sin and the only way we could do that was by repenting of our wrongs and electing pro-life leaders to course-correct.
We were handed political voting guides from a conservative committee of pastors, each containing the pro-life political candidates that we should vote for in the upcoming election. For me, it was a no-brainer. When I finally got the chance to vote, I was definitely voting for pro-life candidates. How could I not? It felt monstrous to me to even consider choosing otherwise. The way things were presented to me, it all boiled down to one very simple notion: abortion is murder and the people performing those abortions were murderers. There's no other rational way to see this, it's all very clear.
Or so I thought.
A few years later, I was tossing clothes into the washing machine in my college dorm building, listening to Taylor Swift's 'Red' album and bobbing my head along to the irresistible beat of my favorite song, 'All Too Well.' Luckily, my dorm was just down the hall from the shared laundry room on the first floor and I had my pick of the washers and dryers pretty much whenever I wanted. I sauntered back into my small single room to wait on my laundry and flopped onto the bed to browse Facebook. I had shared a post regarding abortion earlier that day and it was beginning to collect likes and comments. It was then that I saw a message from an old friend from my youth group; we'll call her Anna (actual name changed to maintain her anonymity). Anna and I weren't terribly close, though I did know her well enough to consider her a Christian and a good person. We were casual friends at this point, only connecting here and there through social media, but I would still consider her to be a friend, rather than just a mere acquaintance.
Anna's message was kind and brief, but bold. She admonished me for my post, calling it cold and shame-inducing. She told me that there are many unknowable reasons why women choose abortion, none of which are because they are monsters. She hinted that she was including herself in this group of women who have had abortions, but I was too afraid to ask her directly if that's what she meant. After all, she was a Christian -- and I had never met a Christian who was explicitly pro-abortion. Or at least I didn't think I had. Could such a person exist? How? I was perplexed. It was there, lying on my bed, taking in the growing aroma of fresh laundry, that I first thought to question what I had been taught all those years ago.
There's a notion known as the 'Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon,' in which something that you most recently learned or became aware of suddenly appears everywhere. Following that Facebook conversation with Anna, my new reality was that I would continually come into contact with other Christian women who had undergone abortions or who supported women having them. I certainly didn't go looking for these women, though I did get my hands on more progressive Christian books and articles to try and make sense of it all. I heard abortion stories from several women, accounts of how they faced an impossible decision that they'd never wish on anyone. One woman, already the mother of an energetic toddler, learned that she herself would not survive her pregnancy if she tried to bring her baby to term.
Faced with the choice of either leaving her young child without a mother or ending her pregnancy, she ultimately chose the latter. Though she deeply wanted her baby, she was grateful that abortion was legal and available to her in that circumstance. I didn't even know what to say; in that moment I knew that I couldn't stand there on any moral high ground and try to tell this woman which decision was the right one to make. I mean seriously, how on earth could I? I don't even know what decision I would make in that situation, let alone give advice to someone else. I began to become very disillusioned with the packaged "truth" that I had been handed in my youth. What about these women who have to make a terrible choice? Would God give them a pass, or are they lumped in with all of the other "murderers?" My one question turned into several as I slowly dug deeper. Many have referred to this as the "slippery slope;" it was like I was pulling at a snag on a sweater and watching the whole garment slowly unravel as I kept going. When would it end?
It was about that time that I had decided I couldn't in good faith be completely anti-abortion. While I didn't know fully where I stood, I was convinced that these women weren't murderers. Wanting to defend my church, my pastors and, if we’re being honest...to defend myself, I went off in search of proof that there is nuance attached to our strong anti-abortion stance. I suppose in some small way I achieved that by finding out that some of my conservative elders were okay with abortion in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother...but they were few and it was a hard admission to get out of them. Further complicating things was the fact that the biggest "alternative" to abortion that was preached to many was choosing adoption, but the number of children waiting to be adopted in the United States alone is staggering. If the most important work of the Christian church is to care for the widows and the orphans (James 1:27), then why weren't we doing a better job at that?
It's one thing to fail in attempting to care for orphans, but I felt it was actually pretty arrogant and bold of an organization to demonize someone for choosing abortion...but then not step up for those children in a meaningful way. This is not to say that there isn't a single American Christian doing meaningful work for orphaned children, but the big picture is unbelievably telling. I then decided to explore the more economic reasons why a woman might choose an abortion. Surely there were ways that the church had found to combat this. I knew that there were many churches that would maybe give to a pregnant woman in need, but having a child is an expensive undertaking and goes beyond just a couple warm dinners. Just the medical expenses alone required to have a child can be insurmountable.
Looking through the main website of a Christian medical bill sharing group, I searched for the maternity and pregnancy policy to see what support options they offered for women who may find themselves considering abortion. I was shocked to learn that, while being staunchly pro-life, this group also explicitly stated that it would not cover any OBGYN medical expenses for women who became pregnant but are unmarried. This ministry's policy literally alienates women who may need the church's assistance the very most. In a growing trend of backwards ideals, I grew more and more frustrated at the mindset of the American Christian Church regarding this issue. If our nation as a whole was guilty of a communal sin, it would seem to be the fact that women seeking abortions find no meaningful help from the church, not the actual abortions themselves. If this knowledge path I was on was supposed to lead to confidence in the Church, I certainly wasn't finding it.
So where did that leave me? I didn't want to be a part of an organization that chose to cast shame on desperate women in the name of God. I was losing sleep over that. I also sincerely wanted the need for abortion to become a thing of the past. In the years that came and went after my initial search for truth, I did finally find that there is a nuance that exists here. There are faithful Christians who support women needing abortions. There is a way to lower abortion rates by getting involved in politics; after all, the politicians with policies that lowered the rates of abortions across the board all considered themselves to be pro-choice. These things were wrapped in packages that I didn't expect and existed contrary to everything I was told as a child. The most life-giving, dignified, gracious, inclusive offerings for women in healthcare that I had ever seen were actually found within the walls of a Planned Parenthood clinic. There is a safety and service there that is not found in many churches, along with real solutions and support. It was here that I was finally brave enough to accept the truth of what I had been gradually realizing. The whole world of black-and-white certainty that my church had handed me throughout my entire childhood was being called into question and proved itself to not be as straightforward as I thought. There are indeed faithful Christians who support women needing abortions, and I had become one.
I can't pretend that I have all the answers in faith or in politics. Anyone who does is probably not being truthful with you. Here's what I do know: my faith has grown tremendously once I dared to let my God out of a confined box and allowed myself to realize that the work Christians are called to do may very well look like providing safe abortion care to desperate women. I know that my church experience growing up was valuable to me, despite the itchy red chairs and rubber fetuses. I know that we live in a society with unbelievable amounts of pain, struggle and nuance, and we have a responsibility to try to understand and support each other while we are here together on this planet. When Jesus walked on this earth 2,000 years ago, he fed everyone who showed up to eat. He didn't ask their motives for needing food, nor did he make them earn their meals, he just fed them. Our work as Christians in response to women and healthcare today isn't too far off from what Jesus modeled for us back then. When women need help, we can just help them. We don't have to question their motives for needing help, nor should we make them earn it, we can just simply help them.
As you know, we have a very important election only a week away and there's a lot at stake for so many, especially with this issue of abortion at the forefront of our minds. After the passing of the late great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there are some swift changes in motion that can massively alter the course of women's healthcare (and healthcare in general) in this country. We already know the overturning of Roe v. Wade won't stop abortions, it will simply cause women to have unsafe and riskier abortions. Overturning Roe v. Wade will also put all pregnant women at risk (do some research on miscarriage investigations). I used to want to overturn Roe v. Wade badly, but now I'm praying that we can do what we can to protect it.
If you're a Christian reading this, don't worry, I'm not going to tell you how to vote. But I will tell you this: I wrote this article in hopes that you will see my journey and understand that you're allowed to question the absolutes you've been given. You're allowed to vote with your neighbor in mind. You're allowed to vote with your conscience intact. You're allowed to consider a world where we don't have to choose between our faith, our politics and social justice. If you're in your dorm room right now waiting on your laundry, listening to Taylor Swift and pondering who you'll be voting for, please hear me. You're allowed to be a Christian and be pro-choice. Give yourself permission to think with your heart before you vote.
- Carly (@cgreenbartlett)
You can listen to Carly each week on the One For The Girls Podcast (@1ForTheGirlsPod) here on the FTF Media Network