Two of the most disappointing characteristics of evangelical engagement with the public square are the inability to listen and the pervasive tendency toward truncated single-issue harangues. For example, two issues predominately drive evangelical social engagement. First is the simplistic condemnation of abortion. Second is the condemnation of gay marriage or anything related to the LGBTQ+ community. In this article I address the Evangelical rhetoric about abortion.
“If you vote for a democrate you vote to kill babies.” This was the response of an acquaintance of mine when I challenged his single issue view of the last presidential election. He continued to question my faith and fidelity to Christ. With the emergence of the “culture war” mentality among evangelicals there began a decline in some Evangelicals ability to comprehensively address social issues. Evangelicals have always been at a handicap in social issues because of the emphasis on personal salvation and condemnation of so called “social gospel” perspectives. The distinction is not found in scripture, but it does emerge culturally as fundamentalists reacted to the emergence of modernity. Rhetoric on abortion that classifies all abortions as baby killing is sensational – but harmful and misleading. In the Evangelical rant there is no discussion of high-risk pregnancies, birth control access, screening and treatment for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases in rural areas that already face limited access to these services. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 50,000 people in the U.S. experience severe pregnancy complications yearly. Overall, Black people are about three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white people.
Factors contributing to high-risk pregnancies include preexisting health conditions, pregnancy-related health conditions, and lifestyle factors, including smoking, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and exposure to certain toxins. The social factors attending these in rural areas suggest that not all preexisting conditions are a matter of personal choice. The Rural Health Info Hub reports that income level, educational attainment, race/ethnicity, and health literacy all impact the ability of people to access health services and to meet their basic needs, such as clean water and safe housing, which are essential to staying healthy. Rural residents are more likely to experience some of the contributing social factors that impact health, such as poverty. The impact of these challenges can be compounded by the barriers already present in rural areas, such as limited public transportation options and fewer choices to acquire healthy food.
The point is that discussions about abortion are not simple; they are complex and include issues such as poverty, access to healthcare, economic development, and women’s healthcare. Abortion is not reducible to infanticide and to do so is to sweep contributing social and environmental factors neatly under the rug of deliberate ignorance. Simply saying that the desire to save babies is the panacea to all abortion concerns fails those who cannot access health care or who have faced the trauma of abandonment.
Until 1970, Evangelicals had no problem with the idea of abortion in part because the discussion had yet to become political fodder and in part because the Christian tradition has not always held the unborn to be persons. W.A. Criswell W.A. Crisell, president of the Southern Baptists, (1969-1970) commented on Roe v. Wade, “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” While Criswell later reversed his position, his stated position was common among Evangelicals at the time. Many denominations opposed to abortion at least carried exceptions in cases of high-risk pregnancies where the life of the mother was threatened. But in the latest renditions of Evangelical rhetoric, concern for the mother is absent, awareness of the father is conveniently ignored, and women are awarded the status of non-persons.
Hence my rejection of the Evangelical argument against abortion. I see pro-life arguments as a strawman that avoids the awkward discussion of poverty, women’s health, racial bias, and access to healthcare that are closely related to Jesus’ ministry of bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, and freedom for the oppressed.
Already, antiabortion state legislation hasn’t saved babies as much as it has encouraged abortion providers pack up and leave states with bans. The unintended and/or unseen consequence is that providers take with them expertise in managing high-risk pregnancies as well as routine deliveries, particularly in less-populated areas, plus access to long-acting birth control and screening and treatment for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.
Similarly, medical students and medical residents avoid trainning in states where they can’t learn abortion techniques, which are often the same as care for miscarriages. In an already strained rural medical system these moves exacerbate the shortages of people trained to help patients give birth safely just as more people are being forced to carry pregnancies to term.
Also affected, at this point as much by accident as intent, is birth control. In Missouri, a hospital system temporarily stopped distributing the “morning after” birth control pill, which is a contraceptive that does not cause abortion, before reversing the decision.
That is its own sub-myth — that the Plan B morning-after pill is the same as the abortion pill mifepristone. Plan B is a high dose of regular birth control that prevents ovulation but does not interrupt an existing pregnancy. Mifepristone ends a pregnancy if used in approximately the first 10 weeks.
And it’s not just pregnant women who are affected by the uncertainty. People with severe psoriasis, lupus and other autoimmune disorders are already reporting difficulty obtaining methotrexate, a first-line medication for those ailments that can also be used as an abortion medication.
So, what is my hope? I hope Evangelicals actually engage the related social issues around abortion, exercise awareness of the connected and needed medical procedures that reqire abortion, and engage the large issue of women’s health holistically, not as a culture war but as an expression of the hope of the gospel. I hope Evangelicals stop voting with a single issue myopia and begin to engage the complexities of social issues. Myoptic voting is not helping families – it is robbing them of health and wellness. It is time to move from “culture war” to being a redemptive influence.
Source: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22190-high-risk-pregnancy; Accessed 27 September 2022.
Source: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/topics/social-determinants-of-health; Accessed 27 September 2022.
Source: Carlson, Allan C. “Children of the Reformation by Allan C. Carlson”. Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, Accessed 27 September 2022.