The Changing Face of the Abortion Debate in America

The cover of the week’s Time magazine has a picture of a human hand with four replica fetuses at various stages of early development resting in the hand. It is a powerful image and worth more than a thousand words. The story is titled: “The Abortion Campaign You Never Hear About.” It reveals how crisis pregnancy centers are working to win one woman at a time to not undergo an abortion and thus to give birth to her baby. The writer, Nancy Gibbs, asks: “But are they playing fair?”

What follows is a story about the growth and operation of countless pregnancy centers (one group says there are 2,300 but the number is seemingly low) around the United States. These centers are typically Christian and often operate under the umbrella of one of three national groups: Care Net, Heartbeat International and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. What surprises me is that it took the mainstream media this long to even pay attention to this movement. The reason they are paying attention now is that the rate of abortion is in decline and has been from some years. Since 1983 it has, in fact, been in decline. The abortion rate now stands at 23.8% of all pregnancies, the lowest it has been since shortly after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973. In 1990 there were 1.61 million abortions in the U. S. By 2003 it was down to 1.28 million and the number still appears to be in decline. This decline makes pro-abortionists nervous.

The Time article seeks to show how groups like Planned Parenthood are concerned about “scare tactics” in crisis pregnancy centers. They also criticize these centers for not giving a full-range of real medical information. One thing is obvious—both sides of this debate distrust the other. Pro-life activists say abortionists are in business for the money and don’t really care about women, while pro-choice advocates counter that crisis pregnancy centers are in it because of their ideology and also don’t care about women. My honest opinion, and I am fervently and reverently pro-life, is that these suspicions have now become a part of the problem we face in the larger society. I don’t see an easy solution to them but I think it is imperative that Christians take the first step toward the advocates of abortion and work even harder at treating them as real humans, who are loved by God. These are people, people with fears and concerns just like Christians. It seems to me that so long as we call these people “baby-killers” and “murderers” we have no chance to touch their lives directly.

This abortion industry is dirty business, no doubt about it. Big money is involved. Some in the industry hate pro-life Christians with a white-hot hatred. I hate the industry and I loathe the gruesome practice of abortion. I am not arguing for letting up on our efforts to end abortions. And I do wish for hundreds more clinics to spare many more lives of unborn children. But there is more to this issue than baby-killers versus rescuers.

Pro-choice advocates have begun to fight back more aggressively according to the Time story. NARAL volunteers say they have called numerous crisis pregnancy clinics and asked questions to discover that a good deal of misinformation is given out. One clinic, if the NARAL spokesperson is to be believed, said she was told “9 out of 10 couples that go through an abortion split up.” Use of such data can be misleading. Christians do not need to dodge the basic facts to make a very strong case for birth, and against abortion, without ever distorting facts.

These undercover callers may really be about discrediting the crisis pregnancy centers, as some Christians argue in the Time article. (I believe there is likely to be truth in this concern.) Most crisis pregnancy centers are seeking to calmly help fearful pregnant women make a good choice that they will not later regret. They are trying to help people face the consequences of their actions responsibly and ethically. The Time writer gets it about right when she concludes, “One person’s loving support is another’s emotional pressure.” So the debate goes on.

There are clearly two kinds of Christian activists in the pro-life movement. There are “holy war” fighters and “loving support” care givers. I believer the latter number now far outnumbers the former and the more this becomes the reality of this struggle the better for both the pro-life movement and the church. A story is told in the Time article about a conservative Presbyterian Church in Asheville, North Carolina, which makes this point very well. A nurse, who was an abortion provider and once a member of this congregation, feared pro-life people and was intimidated by them. The pastor eventually began a meeting in a local café where the sides could talk. The pro-choice nurse says that when they met the first time the first words the conservative Christians offered were to ask her for forgiveness for not having dealt with some of the personal problems between them earlier. The nurse left the church but five years later the group still meets, showing people how to disagree civilly, and lovingly, and how to seek common ground where and when they so strongly disagree. This group eventually came up with a “common-ground statement.” This model is both amazing and encouraging.

The pastor of Asheville’s Trinity Presbyterian Church, Jeff Hutchinson, gets the Christian perspective right when he concludes:

I would never have said that the ends justify the means but I know that was in my heart—if lying helps save a baby’s life, [then] that glorifies God. This whole process (i.e., the discussion with the other side of the debate) has reminded me that Jesus is not a Machiavellian. It really helps me trust the sovereignty of God. He’s in control of who lives and dies. My effort is to serve folks, and the means I use matter. I have to glorify Jesus. The results are in God’s hands.

I pray that the day will come when abortion, except for the life of the mother, will end. I also know that in real life it will never end entirely because illegal abortions have always been available and the problem has been with us since the fall. In the end I believe we must make this issue far less political and far more a matter of speaking the truth in love and caring for real people with real struggles. We must, in short, restore civility to the debate and Christians should take the lead in this.

One by one we can save lives. But this is only the first step. When we have saved a life we also need to learn how to care for the life of the mother and her new child. We have come a long way from 1973. Clear progress has been made. But we have much further to go. Truth and love must not be compromised if we are to truly win the battle for people’s minds and hearts, and thus the struggle to save the lives of unborn infants.