“The only moral abortion is my own abortion.”
This is a common sentiment among Christian women who have abortions but then continue to actively promote an anti-abortion agenda. It sounds strange, but it’s actually a thing.
I recently read an article in a Wisconsin newspaper about an anonymous woman who received an abortion, even though she had been firmly anti-abortion. Although she had attended right to life rallies, she decided to get an abortion when she became pregnant outside of wedlock.
Feeling guilty about her decision to get an abortion, she confided in a pastor who assured her that in “God’s eyes” she was forgiven. I expected the article to take a turn and talk about how she now understands bodily autonomy on a deeper level. I was wrong. Instead, the woman still aligns with an anti-abortion approach because she doesn’t like the fact that some people get “second or third abortions.”
This type of judgment is common in anti-abortion circles. Like the woman in the article, they find their own abortion justifiable, but people in other circumstances worthy of condemnation.
Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, the only nationwide pro-choice group in that country, writes about this paradox. Abortion physicians provide examples of this strange dichotomy:
- “I have done several abortions on women who have regularly picketed my clinics, including a 16-year-old schoolgirl who came back to picket the day after her abortion … [Following her abortion] she was with her mother and several schoolmates in front of the clinic with the usual anti posters and chants.”
- “I’ve had several cases over the years in which the anti-abortion patient had rationalized in one way or another that her case was the only exception, but the one that really made an impression was the college senior who was the president of her campus Right-to-Life organization, meaning that she had worked very hard in that organization for several years. As I was completing her procedure, I asked what she planned to do about her high office in the RTL organization. Her response was a wide-eyed, ‘You’re not going to tell them, are you!?’ When assured that I was not, she breathed a sigh of relief, explaining how important that position was to her and how she wouldn’t want this to interfere with it.”
- “A 21-year-old woman and her mother drove three hours to come to their appointment for an abortion. They were surprised to find the clinic a ‘nice’ place with friendly, personable staff. While going over contraceptive options, they shared that they were pro-life and disagreed with abortion, but that the patient could not afford to raise a child right now. Also, she wouldn’t need contraception since she wasn’t going to have sex until she got married, because of her religious beliefs. Rather than argue with them, I saw this as an opportunity for dialogue, and in the end, my hope was that I had planted a ‘healing seed’ to help resolve the conflict between their beliefs and their realities.”
While these stories were captured in 2000, they are hardly out of date. I often see anti-abortion accounts on social media include “testimonies” from women who have had an abortion, but now are actively trying to prevent others from exercising their human right to one. I imagine it is to assuage any guilt that they may feel due to being part of their churches. After all, a 2021 article from Focus on the Family, an extremist Christian organization, found that only 7 percent of women discussed their abortion decision with anyone at church.
Of course, this is not the case for all Christian women who receive abortions. An NPR interview with an anti-abortion activist who changed her mind after getting an abortion showed how the perspective of some individuals alters. Perhaps one of the most revealing aspects of the interview was when she described the anti-abortion vitriol that she experienced while entering the clinic: “There was a lot of chalk on the sidewalk. I had to walk past anything from ‘Please don’t do this’ to ‘Don’t commit murder’ to ‘Your child is a child of God.’ You know, I had been fasting for, like, 12 hours. I couldn’t sleep. I was still very nauseous. And I just remember thinking to myself, ‘You don’t know what it’s like. Like, you’re not walking in my shoes.’ And I got a little angry at it.”
The truth is that abortion is a common medical procedure people of all backgrounds may choose. After all, studies have found that while evangelicals (63 percent) and Catholics (47 percent) believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, 54 percent of Christians from all denominations get abortions. Additionally, Catholics for Choice is an example of a religious group standing up for reproductive freedom.
Much of the anti-abortion movement hinges on guilt-tripping women who dare to exercise their right to bodily autonomy. Deep down, anti-abortion protesters must know that their churches will not support them in their decision to have an abortion. And if their churches do find out, these women will likely be encouraged to evangelize to other pregnant women as a form of penance.
Prior to the reversal of Roe v. Wade, extremist Christian women had the comfort of demonizing abortion funds and clinics while knowing that they could count on them for nonjudgmental health care when their church wouldn’t help. That is no longer true.
And while it may be tempting to throw a cynical jab at the people who fought for Roe’s demise, the fact is that abortion bans are harmful for all people — even religious people who claim that they don’t need it. That’s why I’m proud to be a secular abortion rights activist. Because abortion care is for everyone — not just for me.