The Abortion-Minded Woman in the Next Pew
Although a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report shows abortion rates have dropped to the lowest level in 40 years, another study has found that the majority of women obtaining abortions call themselves Christians.
In the most recent CDC statistics, 18 of every 100 pregnancies ended in abortion. However, research commissioned by Care Net, a national network of more than 1,100 pregnancy care centers, shows that 70 percent of females who abort self-identify as Christian — with 26 percent saying they attended a church service at least weekly at the time of the procedure.
Nonetheless, slightly more than three-fourths of the women said the church didn’t factor into their decision to abort. Only seven percent discussed the abortion with anyone in their congregation.
The Care Net survey specified that almost two-thirds of the females believed that church members would respond with gossip if they revealed their illegitimate pregnancy. More than a third expected or experienced a judgmental reaction, while only 16 percent said they anticipated or felt a caring response from their church.
The findings don’t surprise Sheila Hindman Harper, who knows full well the feelings of shame Christians have in sharing their out-of-wedlock pregnancy with others.
During her first year of college, Harper vowed to date only Christians, but she began partying with a non-Christian man and she soon got pregnant. Harper listened to her friends, who kept telling her how a baby would ruin her life.
“Even though I loved this boyfriend, I knew he was not the man I wanted to be connected with for the rest of my life through a child,” Harper says. “I thought abortion was the only answer.”
Instead, that abortion 30 years ago traumatized her. For the next seven years, Harper lived promiscuously and abused alcohol and drugs. Three years after her abortion, Harper became pregnant again, by a rowdy man she met in a bar. She knew another abortion would make her suicidal.
So Harper tried to force a miscarriage instead. For the first five months of her pregnancy, she drank alcohol excessively. Then she stopped abusing her body because she sensed God telling her she would have the baby.
After giving birth, she wed the boy’s father, Jack. Because she feared her husband would divorce her, she waited another 18 months before confessing her earlier abortion. Jack commended her for choosing to keep their son.
Ultimately, Harper, now 49, found forgiveness and restoration through a pregnancy care center Bible study. Three times she failed to show up as promised because she feared the facilitators would loathe her. Organizers continued to lovingly and persistently invite her to attend. Finally she relented.
The classes helped Harper to realize many other women likewise had suffered in silence in the aftermath of abortion. Knowing she had a lot of company sitting in church pews, she began leading post-abortion recovery classes in 1999.
Encouraged by her pastor, Maury Davis of Cornerstone Church in Madison, Tennessee, Harper started her own abortion-recovery course in 2002, based on a 146-page Bible-based curriculum she wrote. In 2005, Harper developed a separate study for men because of the growing need for males to heal.
Weekly SaveOne classes are two hours long and run for 12 weeks for those seeking deliverance from the pain and guilt of an abortion experience. SaveOne, based in Nashville, has 170 chapters in 16 nations.
Just like his wife, Jack settled down in his 20s, and after seven years of teaching a Sunday School class at Cornerstone, became founding pastor at CrossRoads Church of Antioch.
The Harpers have two sons, 24-year-old Jakob and 26-year-old Jared — the baby Sheila couldn’t abort.
Harper says many women in church circles don’t feel able to share the crisis of an unplanned pregnancy because whenever abortion is mentioned it is in an accusatory manner.
“As a young woman I felt as though the Church judged and condemned me when all the sermon was doing was confronting my sin,” Harper says. “While there was talk about the horribleness of abortion, there was no loving follow-up saying if you’ve had an abortion there is hope. That just furthers the cycle of self-hatred and can cause a woman to get another abortion, because she thinks no one at church understands.”
Harper believes that when pastors talk about abortion from the pulpit — and not just on Sanctity of Life Sunday — it frees up congregants to discuss the topic in counseling settings and abortion recovery classes.
“The local church should be the first place a woman turns to for love and acceptance,” Harper says. “The greatest way to save babies is to get men and women to talk about the most regrettable mistake of their lives in community settings. By sharing their personal experience stories of what abortion did to them, they can talk others out of choosing abortion.”
According to the Care Net survey, 71 percent of evangelicals said they believed it would be safe to talk to their pastor about abortion. Just more than three-fourths of evangelical women in the study said they agree pastors teach that God is willing to forgive past abortion decisions.
Care Net President Roland C. Warren says the organization is developing ministry resources that will equip churches in offering compassion, hope, help, and discipleship to anyone considering abortion.
He notes that while those in the throes of drug addiction or marital conflict often can find help in church, there are few resources for women trying to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. Those in the church can step up to help provide everything from a ride to prenatal visits to a job for the unemployed father-to-be, he says.
Warren, former president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, notes that the survey showed the primary one influencing an abortion decision is the baby’s father, so churches need to mentor men as fathers, and whenever possible as husbands, in such situations.
He urges church leaders to emulate Jesus when Pharisees brought him a woman caught in adultery.
“Jesus recognized the sin, but he didn’t condemn the person,” Warren says. “He told her to go and sin no more, which offered the chance to bring her back into community. Pastors need to be compassionate to those facing an abortion decision, and to those who already had an abortion.”
Sometimes pastors depict abortion as a sin only those outside the church commit, but Warren says the survey clearly shows there are many in the pew who have given in to pressure because they didn’t have wise counsel or enough information.
“Although initially there is a sense of release, over time regret increases as a woman realizes what she’s done,” Warren says. “Certainly there are consequences, as there are whenever we sin, but as horrible as it is, abortion cannot separate us from the love of God. Because of the cross of Jesus, it is not the unforgiveable sin.”