The Pro-Life Movement in a Liberal State Like California
Christian advocacy in a post-Roe world
In the aftermath of the historic decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24, there is a scenario I can’t get out of my head. I imagine what it would be like to be a Christian living in the deep South in 1840 who was committed to seeing slavery come to an end. My beliefs would come from a deep, theological understanding of the doctrine of the imago Dei, that all persons are created equal by God and have inherent value, worth, and dignity. Thus, antebellum slavery defined by man-stealing (1 Tim. 1:10) and severe abuse is an affront to the holiness of God. Therefore, I would be committed to seeing an end to the wicked institution of antebellum slavery in my state and indeed the entire country.
But I would have a problem that’s not hard to imagine if we know our history well. Living in the deep antebellum South means that the entire community supported, the very economy depended upon, and all the local and state laws were in favor of or defended the institution of slavery. Therefore, when those around me were defending antebellum slavery, they were defending their community and way of life.
In this scenario, the Christian desiring an end to slavery and living in the deep South in 1840, was a theoretical man on an island. While he or she was praying for a day when slavery would become unthinkable, nearly every person around them thought that position was destructive to their way of life. So, what should the Christian’s life back then have looked like as he sought to “open [his] mouth for those who can’t speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” How could she have “open[ed] [her] mouth, judge[d] righteously, defend[ed] the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9, paraphrase mine) in regards to the wicked institution of slavery? How should he have protested, voted, or tried to convince others around him? What could he have done to win hearts and minds to the righteous cause?
Living in a post-Roe world as a Christian
Coming out of this scenario and back into 2022 and a new post-Roe world, I’m a committed Christian living in a place I love: Los Angeles, California. And as a follower of Jesus, I’m a committed pro-life person. My holistic, womb-to-tomb pro-life beliefs come from a deep, theological understanding of the doctrine of the imago Dei, that all persons are created equal by God and have inherent value, worth, and dignity, and thus to snuff out that life, before or after birth, is an affront to the holiness of God. These beliefs also lead me to find every opportunity to support vulnerable women in crisis, through charity and through the state. Therefore, drawing from my Christian faith, I’m committed to seeing both an end to the practice of abortion and flourishing economic systems that support vulnerable new parents and children in California and indeed the entire country.
But you already know the problem. Living in Los Angeles in 2022 means that my entire community, so many of our dear friends here, and all the local and state laws are in favor of or are defending and advancing the practice of abortion. I’m praying for a day when abortion will become unthinkable and illegal here, but that at times seems as impossible as a Christian seeing an end to slavery in the deep South in 1840.
California leads the nation in the number of abortions annually and now plans to become an abortion sanctuary state. Gov. Gavin Newsom is using campaign funds to put up billboards around the country that read, “Need an abortion? California is ready to help,” which, tragically, quotes Mark 12:31, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”1https://www.politico.com/news/2022/09/15/gavin-newsom-california-abortion-sanctuary-red-state-billboards-00057060 He is also aggressively signing bills that provide strong abortion protections and hosting a California abortion website that helps people find out where to obtain an abortion, among other information.2https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-27/newsom-signs-13-abortion-protection-and-reproductive-health-bills
So, I, like many other Christians in progressive states like California, am now asking myself, “What should my life look like as I seek to open my mouth for those who can’t speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute? How can I open my mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy in regards to the practice of abortion here in a post-Roe world?” How should I speak out? How should I protest? How should I vote? How should I try to convince others around me? How can I win hearts and minds to the righteous cause? How should I speak to my congregation?
My thought experiment about living in the deep South is of course hyperbolic. There are surely historical inaccuracies in my imagined scenario. But thank God we are in a society now where slavery is illegal and that sees it as unthinkable and more than unnecessary, as detestable. It wasn’t always so. And it wasn’t that long ago.
What can we do?
The recent overturning of Roe has indeed created a new world. But abortion isn’t seen as anything close to unthinkable or unnecessary in my beloved California. So, we have got to play the long game of hearts and minds here. This could take many forms, from simple one-on-one conversations, to advocating on the governmental level. We don’t have the luxury of culture-warring here, pitting ourselves against those with whom we vehemently disagree.
At the relational level, we have to make common-good relationships with pro-choice neighbors. We need to learn to speak in a way where people say, “I may not agree with your conclusions, but I can see you care for vulnerable women. I can see you care for children. I can see you care for the poor.” We can urge our churches and other pro-life friends to link arms in our community with crisis preganancy centers and other nonprofits that serve vulnerable women and children, a path which many pro-life advocates have already paved for us.
Even as we work for laws that restrict abortion where possible, at the governmental level, we’ve got to advocate for fiscal policies that reduce abortions and provide greater safety nets for the vulnerable. As much as our personal relationships and local nonprofits can do, the resources available at the governmental level vastly exceed local efforts. As those more versed in public policy than I have said, a new post-Roe world “is one that compels a greater claim on public resources to support expectant mothers.”3https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/07/opinion/republican-policy-after-roe.html#:~:text=But%20a%20world%20in%20which,parents’%20lives%20a%20little%20easier There are potential areas of overlap in bipartisan efforts even in California that Christian pro-life advocates should be willing to get behind when our interests align.
In addressing both the relational and governmental levels like this, Californian pro-life Christians will simply be obeying the words of the Lord Jesus, “ . . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). And it may not happen in my generation, but Lord-willing there may come a day when even in California abortion is illegal and as unthinkable as slavery is today.