Even though I’d grown up in Christian fundamentalism, and was raised to defend and fight for extremely conservative political ideologies, it wasn’t until I went to a private Christian college that I became a pro-life activist. My parents expressed their politics almost exclusively through voting, but that wasn’t enough for me. Yes, I would only vote for pro-life candidates, but my college community gave me the opportunity to get involved, so I did.
I helped make protest signs, and then we packed us all into my station wagon and I drove us to the reproductive health clinic in our city so we could use any means necessary—no matter how aggressive—to convince women not to have an abortion.
I canvassed neighborhoods to convince people to support Parental Notification bills, to call their representatives and ask them to vote in favor of measures like Florida’s HB 1247, a bill that eventually became one of the strictest laws like it in the country.
I participated in Day of Silent Solidarity—literally taping my mouth shut—in order to symbolize how I felt aborted fetuses had no voice.
I debated with any pro-choice person I could find, arguing in favor of TRAP laws. To me, it didn’t matter if waiting periods and ultrasounds and medically inaccurate notifications all represented an unjust burden on pregnant people and the doctors there to treat them—if any of these laws could prevent an abortion, no matter how humiliating, how triggering, or how invasive it was, it was all worth it.
On one forum I defended the original language of Virginia’s transvaginal ultrasound bill. I said there shouldn’t be any exceptions to it, because the whole point was to add as many inconvenient steps to the abortion process as we could. After all, we were trying to stop murder. Anything could be defended to stop murder.
Then I was raped.
At the time I didn’t know I’d been raped; I thought rape was something that happened at knifepoint in dark alleys, not in your fiancé’s bedroom. All I knew was that I’d begged him to stop and he hadn’t. I tried to put myself back together, to go back to normal, but something had changed.
And then my period was two weeks late. And then three. And then I’d missed two periods in a row when I’d been regular for years. I panicked.
At that point, I did what any good pro-life woman would: I called the local Crisis Pregnancy Center. When I tried to explain my situation—that I was afraid of my fiancé, that I didn’t know what to do because my Christian college would expel me if they found out I was pregnant, that I didn’t know how my parents would react—the woman on the other end of the phone told me that “this is the natural consequence for not keeping yourself pure.”
I hung up and called Planned Parenthood, the reproductive health clinic I’d picketed just a few months before. They comforted me, soothed me, directed me to websites that had all the information I needed to make any decision, abortion or not. I read it all, every single shred of it, and I realized that the pro-life movement had lied to me about a lot of things.
In those fragile days, I decided I needed to have an abortion. I wasn’t able to articulate why—that I was in an abusive relationship, that he’d raped me, that I could not allow him to be a father, that a deep, deep part of me was sure he’d kill me if he found out—but I knew I couldn’t be pregnant. Not with his baby. Not then.
Fortunately for me, I miscarried. It was terrifying—my flow is usually light to moderate, but for two days in a row I soaked through an overnight pad every few hours. I thought I was dying. I called a nurse, and she confirmed that I’d probably miscarried. The next month, my period came right on time and the panic went away. A few months later my engagement was over, I graduated, and I tried to move on with my life like nothing had ever happened.
I wish I could say that I wasn’t a hypocrite, that even though I’d gone as far as scheduling an abortion and felt nothing but relief when I miscarried—no grief over the “loss of life,” nothing— but I can’t. That conversation when I defended mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds? It happened nearly a year later. I’d decided that I was going to have an abortion, that I needed an abortion, but I shoved the reality of that decision as deep down as I could and tried to forget it.
But I couldn’t.
In graduate school, I wrote a story about a young Christian woman who had an abortion. It was even published in Liberty University’s literary magazine. I was trying to wrestle with something, through writing through it, that I couldn’t explain to anyone. When a lot of the pro-life people on campus liked the story enough to invite me to speak at an event, I felt sick.
I declined the invitation, and that’s when I finally realized I couldn’t ignore what I felt about abortion any longer. I had to come to some answers about it.
A few weeks later, in my research, I stumbled across “How I Lost Faith in the Pro-Life Movement,” written by a woman who’d grown up in the same fundamentalist sub-culture that I did. Reading that helped things crystallize for me: those old feelings I’d had about being lied to came roaring to the forefront, and I was able to admit that people who have abortions aren’t doing it because pregnancy would be “inconvenient,” or a baby would be “annoying,” or that we were just too lazy to use protection.
At least some—and probably many—of the people who have abortions made that decision because they were terrified. Because they felt that they didn’t have any other choice.
But how could I possibly justify being pro-choice and being a Christian? For years I lived in a space somewhere between: I felt that having an abortion would be wrong, but I couldn’t imagine a world where abortion was illegal. I’d been an impregnated rape victim who wouldn’t have been able to tell anyone that—so even a “rape exception” wouldn’t have helped me. Legalized abortion, I felt, was a necessary evil.
Over time, though, I came to change my mind. My perspective on what the Bible had to say about unborn life shifted, and I came to the conclusion that the Bible—and the majority of Christian theological history—supports unborn life as potential life, to be weighed against the life and needs of the mother.
It became apparent to me that life—unborn and born—is at least in part a mystery. I’ll never know the answers to questions like “when does life begin?” I think that for every person, and every pregnancy, the line is drawn differently. For some it’s vivid and clear and inky black, for other it’s blurry and filled with murky holes. Pregnancy, the process of not-life becoming life—is, to me, a miracle, and it’s something that hopefully I’ll be able to treasure someday.
But I know what it’s like to be pregnant and hurting and terrified. I know that there are as many reasons to have an abortion as there are pregnancies, and I do not get to sit in judgment and decide which of those reasons are “legitimate” and which not. I don’t get to define the exceptions. I don’t get to say exactly how or when a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother, or when a relationship is abusive enough to justify it. That is for each of us to decide privately.
In the end, I feel that supporting legal and accessible abortion is a Christian position. It is a position that embodies love, empathy, compassion, kindness, and mercy—qualities that I as a Christian am duty-bound to live.