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How we answer abortion advocates matters

A call for compassionate pro-life engagement

Haunted. 

This is the word many women use to describe their day-to-day experience after having an abortion. Their haunting includes fear, guilt, shame, confusion, but most of all, the memory of the life that was—and could have been. 

Countless women bury these memories deep within. One woman, Elizabeth, recalls being young and poor, with two small children. As a single mom, she worked night and day just to feed her little ones. When she found herself with another positive pregnancy test, fear and insecurity welled up within her as she prepared to tell her then-boyfriend. She expected him to show support and to commit to being there, both for her and for their baby. She hoped he would marry her, that he would father her three children, and that they would live happily ever after. Instead, he rationalized: “Now is not really a good time. I think you should have an abortion.” After seeing her through the procedure, he abruptly ended the relationship. She was devastated and left to mourn her losses. 

Another woman, Lydia, shared her story of teenage pregnancy. Lydia’s family was church-going, but not a Christ-centered household. Alcohol consumed her father, and her mother was emotionally absent, so Lydia began looking to young men for love and attention. At 16, she found herself pregnant, and thankfully, her son is with her today. But when she became pregnant a second, and then a third time, Lydia’s mother forced her to abort. She still weeps over the loss of her beloved babies.

Stories like these echo the accounts of many of the million or so women in America per year who receive an abortion. Though their backgrounds differ, their cries resound with the same grief, the same remorse, the same guilt and shame. Many hope deep down that someone will affirm what they know to be true in their hearts—that abortion is taking the life of another person. They long for someone to reassure them that there is another way forward. And if they did not feel this way before the abortion, they certainly do afterward. 

While political campaigners and lobbyists tout the tagline that a woman has a right to choose to do with her body whatever she wants, arguments abound against such an appeal. Not only is abortion a death sentence for the unborn, it also leaves scars on the woman that last a lifetime—some physical, others emotional. For many women, it takes several years before they are able to tell their stories. Each of the women above has experienced redemption—indeed God forgives all things [through Christ] (1 John 1:9). But they openly admit that their pain has remained with them. It never goes away—not entirely. If only we could save the lives of these millions of unborn children. But an equally important mission is to rescue women in crisis, to help prevent the nights of tears and sleeplessness, and to spare them from the path of shame and guilt.

The culture war

If abortion is distressing to the lives of individual women, it has wreaked similar havoc on our contemporary public discourse. Abortion has been and remains a hotly contested issue in American society, such that simply discussing the morality of abortion elicits passionate opinions on all sides of the social and political spectrum. This is due, on the one hand, to the very personal nature of the issue. Freedoms hang in the balance, and people will fight tooth and nail for the lives and liberties they seek to preserve. Still, abortion in America has become far more than a stand-alone issue. Our country is caught up in a contest between ideologies, in what some have called a culture war, and the abortion debate lies squarely at the center of the conflict.

How can Christians who believe that Jesus became human in order to redeem [humanity] relativize the worth of the most vulnerable to the point where it is “morally acceptable” to terminate unborn lives? How should those who believe the biblical teaching on the sanctity of life answer the claims of their pro-choice peers? And how should believers in Jesus respond to the overwhelming political and societal pressure that progressive culture is mounting against evangelical Christianity?

A call to action 

In a Jan. 31, 2021, Wall Street Journal op-ed, Ryan T. Anderson, president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center, issued a simple call to action worth considering. Anderson advised cultural conservatives to respond directly yet intelligently to the pressures of their ideological opponents. “Americans need to figure out how to coexist peacefully on these issues,” Anderson insisted. “But the answer isn’t for our side to forfeit the fight about the truth by pleading only to be left alone. . . . We’ll have the best shot at winning fights over abortion restrictions,” Anderson argued, “when conservatives are willing to assert that their beliefs are true, not merely protected in law.” 

According to Anderson, what is needed is for morally conservative thinkers to engage abortion defenders and other progressive ideologues, and to do so armed with cogent and rational argumentation—that which can’t be easily dismissed on the basis of religion. “If we fail to fight back in the court of public opinion against the claim that our beliefs are ‘bigoted,’ we will ultimately lose even in courts of law, where the soundness of our beliefs is supposedly irrelevant. If basic truths of human nature are redefined as religious bigotry, they will be excised from society, in court and out.” 

Anderson’s call for peaceful, intellectual engagement on the matter of abortion is right on target for anyone who shares his convictions about the Bible’s pro-life message and its teachings on how to engage one’s ideological “other.” “For the weapons of our warfare,” announced the apostle Paul, “are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:4–5). 

Yet the manner of our engagement is as equally important as the method. If we wish for American society ever again to respect—much less reflect—our cherished biblical values, then Christians must embody not only the boldness but the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must engage, but do so peaceably (Rom. 12:18). We must speak the truth, but do so in love (Eph. 4:15). We must bear with the assaults of our critics, but do so with “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). This is all the more important when we step out from behind our mobile devices and social media pseudonyms and have real-life, enfleshed conversations with people we know and love. Indeed, if we ever wish to see our sister, daughter, niece, or neighbor choose life in the wake of an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, we must arm ourselves with answers as well as empathy.

Excerpt adapted from Choose Life: Answering Key Claims of Abortion Defenders with Compassion by Jeanette Hagen Pifer and John K. Goodrich (©2022). Published by Moody Publishers. Used with permission.

Jeanette Hagen Pifer

JEANETTE HAGEN PIFER (B.A., Biola University, M.A. Talbot School of Theology, Ph.D., University of Durham) is Professor of New Testament at Biola University, where she has taught since 2016. Her focus in research and teaching is on the New Testament, especially the Pauline literature. She has served in a variety … Read More

John K. Goodrich

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