Scrolling through Facebook recently, my uncle complained about a relative of ours who had just posted photos of her lavish baby shower. He shook his head and then mumbled, “She’s not even married, but she’s parading around her pregnancy for everyone to see. Does she not have any shame?”
Hearing him speak so harshly was a bit like watching someone fall in front of a crowd of people; it wasn’t happening to me directly, but it still caused me to wince on her behalf. It was the same feeling I felt when the cashier in Target eyed my ringless finger as I juggled groceries and a friend’s child I was babysitting in both my arms.
Shame is a close cousin of guilt, but there is an important difference. Guilt is often inspired by conviction, empathy and likely a response to a specific act (i.e. I should have put some change in that homeless woman’s jar). Shame is a deeper emotion inspired by a feeling of worthlessness or judgment and reflects how one feels about themselves (i.e. I never help anyone; I’m not worth anything).
In a world where the issue of abortion is such a sensitive topic, the subject of shame is one I think about often.
Finding common ground.
An easy assumption is that individuals who are firmly in the “pro-choice” or “pro-life” camps don’t have ground to agree on surrounding the issue of abortion. However, as a California transplant with Southern roots and friends who vote across the entire spectrum, I know that is simply not true. Most people in both of these camps—particularly those of faith—are interested in eliminating abortions, as well as the reasons a woman may feel compelled to have one.
Where the two groups tend to disagree is how to do it. Those who support making abortion illegal point to the fact that a fetus has a heartbeat at six weeks, and therefore, the termination of a pregnancy is the equivalent of killing a person. Proponents for anti-abortion legislation believe they are reduced when our legal system makes them harder to obtain. Proponents for an individual’s reproductive rights support data suggesting comprehensive sex education and birth control reduce abortion rates when young people have access to them.
Regardless of the legislation we support or what we believe is our civic duty is, our first obligation (after our relationship with Christ) is our responsibility to each other (1 John 4:21). It is our responsibility to love and care for those who Christ calls the “least of these”; this includes women who are facing the difficulty of an unplanned pregnancy and uncertainty about what to do next. In a sermon, Pastor Judah Smith shared that, “God’s plan for our life is always people and it is always right now.” A study of Jesus’ life on earth showcases this truth.
Love in action.
When I first read about the bill proposed in Texas that would require fetal remains to be buried or cremated after miscarriages or abortions, my first thoughts were, “How does this help people? Does this actually reduce abortion? What is the likely result of this bill?” Supporters of the law state the purpose is to “provide dignity for ‘unborn infants.’” However, a lead proponent of the law, Mark Harrington of Created Equal, has also made it clear that the true motive of many of the law’s supporters is for women to realize “it isn’t just a blob of tissue” if they have to deicide whether to bury or cremate the remains.
The legislation, which was drafted by the Americans United for Life explicitly includes several provisions that require fetal death certificates, proper burials and fetal death reporting. By creating a blanket requirement for all fetal death experiences ranging from miscarriage to abortion (as opposed to making these provisions an option), this bill attempts to force women into a belief they may not espouse.
Moreover, it can feel like an added punishment for a woman who is already in the midst of either a soul-crushing abortion or miscarriage. This roundabout method of preventing abortion risks induces shame for the women who find themselves in this circumstance, and there’s no data to suggest that it will effectively reduce abortion.
A federal judge has temporarily issued a restraining order blocking the rule from going into effect on December 19, but this law (and several other similar restrictions proposed) present an opportunity for Christians to look closely at the issue and consider what role we play and how we can serve women.
How to help.
Do we promote the use of shame or intimidation to prevent abortion? Have we considered trying the methods Jesus Himself employed when faced with women in the midst of tough circumstances, even of their own doing? In John 8, we learn the account of Jesus telling an adulterous woman who legally should have been stoned “[I] do not condemn you; go and sin no more.” In 2016, as we consider the woman with the unplanned pregnancy, the single mother or the woman who is at risk for having an unplanned pregnancy, we know from Jesus’ example that condemnation and shame is not the answer.
A hand that offers practical support, a listening ear, words of advice when the Spirit guides us to share it, and the revolutionary acts of love that hold people accountable while also letting them know that you are with them through it all are what we should display.
I find that as Christians, it is important that women with unplanned pregnancies know that God loves us, no matter our station in life and so do His children; our value is not tied to our sexual history, abortions or pregnancies—planned or unplanned; our value does not change because we may be raising a child alone and we are never truly alone. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
If we force women who elect to terminate their pregnancy, or arguably worse, women who have lost their child due to a miscarriage to decide on a cremation or burial for their children, have we done anything to reduce abortion or have we just made a heartbreaking decision or experience that much more distressing?
Energy expended on attempting to shame a woman who has made that difficult choice could be better spent following Christ’s example.
As Christians, we can encourage women to abstain from premarital sex while also being realistic about the choices men and women will likely make. We can talk about what we’d like to happen in an ideal world, while also acknowledging the real world and supporting folks who may have followed a path different than what we’d prefer.
This means actively loving and being a support system to pregnant women and single mothers. Single mothers likely know the struggle of raising a child alone; there’s no need to remind them with a condescending glance or sermon meant to induce shame. We are called to meet people where they are, not where we’d like them to be.
Christians may not all be able to agree on whether abortion should be legal, but we should be able to agree that shame is not a feeling we should seek to induce, at the legislative level or elsewhere.