I grew up as the poster child for the evangelical pro-life movement.
From infancy, my mom brought me to our local Crisis Pregnancy Center as she volunteered or brought in donations. From the time I was in kindergarten, I was fundraising on my own for the center’s annual “Walk for Life” events, often winning prizes for bringing in the most donations. I attended every annual fundraising banquet and held pro-life signs on the side of the highway to “raise awareness.” I went to Purity Balls and wore a promise ring.
In my young innocence, I truly was “pro-life” in the purest sense of the word: I valued all human life profoundly, and the idea of abortion genuinely broke my tender heart. I couldn’t imagine a world where mothers were willing to kill their babies. With the confidence of a sheltered, teenage, virgin evangelical, I stated firmly that adoption was always the easier option.
Why would anyone kill a baby if they could just choose to place it with a loving family instead? I believed in all of this with such conviction that I got an internship at a Crisis Pregnancy Center the moment I graduated from high school and proceeded to spend the next decade in pro-life ministry work.
I’m thankful for my time in that line of work. I had the privilege of meeting and learning from and helping a lot of people in my community.
The organization did (and does) a huge amount of good. I saw countless families receive free baby supplies, diapers, and life-saving formula with dignity and no strings attached. I saw high-quality medical services offered free of charge for low-income families, undocumented immigrants, refugees, and young women without health insurance.
I saw scared, anxious women and men leave our office feeling peace and strength after learning that someone really cared about them. I personally had the privilege of giving at-risk teenagers a safe place to go after school where they could interact with healthy mentors, learn, and grow.
But, I also learned that the abortion debate may not be as black and white as I always believed it to be.
I saw pregnant twelve-year-old girls who were victims of statutory rape who carried their children to term, (literal babies having babies), only to get pregnant again just a few short years later. I saw teen parents with absolutely no support from their partners or parents working two jobs, going to school, and falling asleep in their seats on a daily basis. I saw an impoverished mother of ten find out that she was pregnant with triplets, (yes, triplets), and then learn just a few weeks later that her sixteen-year-old daughter was pregnant too. (Her husband left her shortly thereafter.)
I saw often-ill-equipped, wealthy, white volunteers tell poor women of color to “just quit it” when discussing sex outside of marriage, while abjectly refusing to talk about reliable methods of birth control. These volunteers meant well, I’m sure of it, but I now believe that sometimes they did their clients more harm than good.
I’m haunted by an eleven-year-old rape victim who was pressured out of any option other than carrying her pregnancy to term, who’s main concern was whether or not she could still run and play outside now that she was pregnant. (My heart still aches thinking of her young, utterly innocent face.)
After having a baby myself, (at 29 years old with a supportive husband and all the resources in the world), I no longer believe that carrying a child to term and choosing to make an adoption plan is an “easy option.”
Physically and mentally, giving birth to my beloved son quite nearly destroyed me. I adore being a mother, but thinking of repeating the postpartum stage again sends me into a spiral of anxiety as if I were about to go back to war.
Carrying a pregnancy changes you. Full stop. There’s no way around it.
Then there is the undeniable fact that we currently live in a country with “pro-life” leadership that offers little to no actual “life-support” after a baby emerges from the womb. If America were, in fact, pro-life, we would be offering accessible healthcare to everyone, expectant women and children especially.
Giving birth in a hospital wouldn’t be an event that could bankrupt an entire family. We would be helping families access affordable, safe childcare, and education for their little ones. We as individuals and communities would be leaping at the opportunity to feed, clothe, and house mothers and children in need.
We would be providing outstanding postpartum support to all mothers and giving out postpartum mental health screenings like candy at a parade. Reliable birth control would be accessible and affordable to absolutely anyone who wanted or needed it. All of this and more is essential to the fabric of a pro-life nation.
Do I believe that unborn children matter? Yes. Do I believe that the law of the land should require every pregnant woman under every circumstance to carry her pregnancy to term? I don’t think I do anymore. I believe that the eleven-year-old rape victim’s life deserves protection too. Do I believe that any woman who has ever had an abortion should be arrested and charged with murder? Absolutely not. And I don’t think that most ardently pro-life people do either.
The pregnancy center I used to work at offers post-abortion support groups, which I still believe are a wonderful resource to the community. Women who are struggling with a past abortion can find healing and community in a safe confidential space. But do I believe that those caring group facilitators would delight in reporting each woman’s “crimes” to the police and watching them be hauled away? No. Of course not.
I believe that the government shouldn’t have a say regarding my body or any other person’s body. I believe that this argument exists among a million shades of grey, far from the black and white I once imagined it to be.
Am I still pro-life? I think so. And I hope that now, my pro-life beliefs are deeper and wider and more inclusive than they ever were before.