Trusting women to make abortion decisions is a Christian norm

There is a dominant belief that Christianity and Christians are against abortion. In fact, many Christian communities accept abortion in certain circumstances. That abortion is acceptable in some cases means that the real social question is not whether women can have abortions, but which women and for what reasons?

Prenatal health, Rape, Incest, and health of the Mother – PRIM. Evidence indicates widespread consensus and acceptance among many Christian denominations that abortion for PRIM reasons is justifiable.

Of the 11 Christian statements included in a 2013 Pew Research Center study, only Roman Catholics state that they oppose abortion in all circumstances. All the other denominations, even the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the Southern Baptist Convention, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), and the Missouri Synod Lutherans concede that abortion is justifiable when a woman’s life is in danger. The LDS, the NAE, and the Episcopalians also specifically mention that rape and incest are considered justifiable reasons to terminate a pregnancy.

Beyond Christian communities, more than three-quarters of the U.S. public have consistently approved of PRIM abortions since 1972, indicating a broad public consensus that abortion is sometimes necessary.

Christian acceptance of PRIM abortions has helped shape the dominant public discourse about abortion into a debate about justification. By requiring women to justify their reasons for ending a pregnancy, this framework divides women who have abortions into two categories – the tragic and the damned.

Women who have PRIM abortions are portrayed as tragic, not only deserving of access to abortion services but also equally deserving of public sympathy. Women who have abortions for other reasons are stigmatized as morally unfit and labeled as selfish, cruel, and irresponsible. In short, they are the damned.

Given that only 27.5 percent of abortions happen from PRIM reasons, that leaves nearly three-quarters of the women who have abortions in the United States damned. These women stand outside acceptability in the justification paradigm that conservative Christian voices have established for our public conversation about abortion.

In a justification framework when women get pregnant, we expect them to have babies.

It is time for Christians to challenge the inadequacy, intolerance and misogyny of this paradigm of pregnancy and abortion. As my deeply Christian mother taught me, “You shouldn’t have a baby because you are pregnant. You should have a baby because you want to be a mother, because you want to have a family.” The moral wisdom of this Christian perspective recognizes that parenting is a profoundly moral act.

To choose to have a child is to make a significant moral commitment to raise the child or to place it for adoption. Since only 1 percent of women place their children for adoption, the overwhelming majority of women who continue unplanned pregnancies are making the choice to mother that child.

Creating healthy families requires more than ensuring that babies are born. Creating healthy families and raising children is a deeply spiritual and moral task requiring commitment, desire, and love on the part of parents.

Limiting our cultural approval of women’s reproductive decisions about the size, shape, and timing of their families to a narrow list of PRIM reasons flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching that he came to bring abundant life. A Christian vision of abundant life requires recognizing and supporting the development of healthy and robust families. It requires respecting women and the moral decisions that they make about their families. A Christian approach to supporting healthy families recognizes that only individual women and their partners are able to determine their ability to parent a child.

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