The following article is forthcoming in the January 14, 2013 issue of Christian Courier (www.christiancourier.ca) by Shannon Jammal-Hollemans and Steve van de Hoef.
January 20, 2013, is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. For the church, this is an opportunity to reflect on questions such as: What does it really mean to value the sanctity of human life? How far does this call extend? What does it look like to protect the unborn, weak, poor and vulnerable?
Abortion is just one of many issues connected to the sanctity of human life. The Office of Social Justice has a mandate from the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church to raise awareness about abortion in our churches. The CRC position is nuanced and issues surrounding abortion can be personally painful and politically divisive, so we desire to approach the issue of abortion with a posture of humility; unfortunately, churches and Christian organizations haven’t always done so. For the upcoming Sanctity of Human Life Sunday we wondered how we might speak to abortion without ignoring the broad scope of issues that are tightly knit to it because, frankly, this is about issues of life and death.
If churches are going to work effectively to lower the number of abortions and provide healing, we need to recognize that this is a complex issue, as illustrated by the following facts. First, there are likely post-abortive women and men (that is, those who have had abortions) in the pews of nearly every North American church. A 2008 study in the U.S. found that one in five women who have an abortion are “born again” or Evangelical Christians.
Second, the reasons women have abortions are not cut and dry. Most of those who choose abortion do so because of their lack of financial resources, lack of familial or relational support, or because having a child would threaten their ability to complete their education or earn a living wage.
It’s also important to remember that abortion is not just a North American problem, but an international one. Recent studies in Canada have found an increasing number of immigrants are choosing abortion for gender selection. Over the past year, horrific stories of forced abortion in nations like China have shown how abortion is not always a woman’s choice.
And finally, while adoption is a wonderful alternative to abortion, many women are not comfortable with it because of their cultural community’s experience with adoption as a tool of colonization and assimilation.
Be ready to step up
The reach of abortion is not limited to certain age or economic groups. It is also not simply a matter of individual choice and responsibility; systemic issues like poverty, racism, economics and education, among others, also play a role. If we are going to encourage women to carry a pregnancy to term, the church needs to be there to offer support both before and after that baby is born. This support cannot be limited to ministries of mercy, but must involve advocating on behalf of those vulnerable to abortion, taking action to empower them in every arena of their lives.
In both Canada and the United States, abortion is legal and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Recent public debate in Canada concerning Motion 312 — a motion that came before Parliament in November 2012 to study the legal definition of a human being that was seen by many as a way to re-open the so-called ‘abortion debate’ — shows that Canadian society remains deeply divided concerning abortion laws, and that there is little public or political will to change them. Furthermore, the entrenched polarization of this debate has rendered sound and civil debate on issues like sex selection abortion (the subject of MP Mark Warawa’s motion M-408) nearly impossible. But an active response to abortion goes far beyond specific abortion legislation.
Abortion can be prevented by creating easy and abundant access to educational resources and birth control materials. This is particularly true for women who, for various reasons, have much less control over their lives or who do not have easy access to birth control information or affordable materials. Abortion can be prevented by investing in social services for women and their families who are at high risk of having abortions. Finally we can — as the church — fully embrace and include post-abortive women and men in our community of grace.
Shannon Jammal-Hollemans and Steve van de Hoef are staff at the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s Office of Social Justice. For more information, and to find resources for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, visit www.crcjustice.org/life.