How should Christians respond to Christian women who get pregnant outside of marriage?
The question no doubt sounds quaint to those who are not Christian, but it's a live issue for those who are. And it's important for those who care about abortion: Amy Scheuring of Women's Choice Network told me about a 2015 survey by CareNet that found that 70% of those who were having abortions were Christians, and 43% were attending church at least once a month at the time of their abortions.
There is little question that shame is a big driver of abortion. It is an even bigger motivator among people who go to church. So it seems that the best thing you could do to reduce abortions among Christians would be to tell them that there is no shame in having a baby. This was the common pro-life response to Maddi Runkles, the 18-year-old President of the Student Council and officer in the prestigious Key Club at her Christian high school, Heritage Academy. The student with a 4.0 GPA would be seven months pregnant when she walked across the platform to receive her diploma, and the school wasn't having it. Heritage requires its students to sign a pledge to avoid things like alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs, and to abstain from sex. “When Maddi chose to breach that Bible standard, a discipline plan had to be established,” Principal Dave Hobbs said. So Maddi had a two-day suspension and was not permitted to receive her diploma publicly. (The young man involved was not a student, and so faced no public consequences, to my knowledge.)
“'The school has shown students that it would be easier to choose abortion than to choose life,' said Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America. 'Because she chose to carry her child and courageously made that decision, she’s been punished this entire semester for being pregnant, and that’s just wrong.'"
Ms. Hawkins is probably right, but we can see it from the school's point of view, too: this was not the story of "the woman taken in adultery" (John 8:1-11), who would have been stoned if her accusers had followed the Law of Moses rigorously. (The trap that His adversaries thought they were setting for Jesus was this: on the one hand, He could be accused of ignoring the Torah, the Jewish Law on adultery, if He didn't agree with her stoning, and, on the other hand, if He agreed, He would be going against the Roman law, as only they had the right to put anyone to death. Jesus avoids His adversaries' trap entirely by throwing the question back at them: "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.") So where does this leave us? We are all sinners, it is true, but the school wasn't going to stone Maddi, and it had to maintain discipline. If it ignored its own rules, everyone would see that the administration wasn't serious about abstinence as the goal.
Pre-marital sex is a common phenomenon, in permissive and in rigorous times. In Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, Marvin Olasky estimates that about 30% of American colonial marriages were "shot-gun," that is, the young woman was pregnant and the bride's family forced the issue.) We must recognize the realities here: the God-given drive for sex is a good thing, but it can find its full expression only properly in marriage. Many of us will fail, but that is no reason to abandon the goal, for those who have "fallen" and those who have not. If discipline is necessary, it is still true that none of us is without sin: shame attaches to public things, but the most offensive things to God may be hidden in our hearts. There is no ground for us to pass judgment on others. And women today who don't succumb to shame and abort their babies are oftentimes the courageous and honorable ones.
We (Christians, churches) need to say loud and clear that a baby is no reason for shame. We can and should control our sexual behavior; that's the goal. If the discipline of those who fail is necessary for the sake of other young women and men, then let it be as discreet as possible, and only as obvious as necessary. (Remember Joseph, who, when he learned that Mary was pregnant, "not willing to make her a public example, resolved to put her away privately.") We Christians need to say publicly that, if any of us fails to be chaste, he or she can repent; there is forgiveness, and we can start again.
The mock-ups for ads here make similar points, as simply as we can in a few words, without sacrificing our Christian sexual ethic, our humility as sinners too, or our deep desire that women love the children they carry, no matter the situations in which they are conceived.
Chris Humphrey has been involved in pro-life activity of one kind or another since the late 1970s, when he first looked at the subject of abortion in seminary in Canada. He has an undergraduate degree in English (University of Toronto), and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in religious studies (McGill). He has had a varied career as a pastor, chaplain in a psychiatric hospital, editor of academic and instructional publications, semi-professional photographer, and home renovator. He is a husband of over 40 years to Edith (a Professor of New Testament), father to three girls, and grandfather to seventeen grandchildren. He lives and works in the Stanton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh.