I’ve been thinking of the complications around being a “one issue” voter, especially when pro-life is the issue. Several years ago, my friend Elizabeth Sherwood began a ministry called “Young Lives” at our church, a ministry with a focus on teen parents. This was a way to be proactively pro-life. She wanted to be part of creating a safety net of relationship and support so that people who chose to keep their babies could do so. Elizabeth poured herself into this ministry for years, even after joining our staff as Administrative Pastor. As I walked alongside trying to give support to her efforts, she opened my eyes to many things I had never considered.
I watched the progression as she got to know these young moms and dads. The first obvious need was for childcare so that mom could continue her high school education. Elizabeth got to know the people at the excellent daycare center that is part of our local high school. This led to more and more connections throughout the city and county, both government agencies and non-profits. She logged many hours connecting with and learning from all the people in our area who are working to serve these teen parents. She worked hard for these moms, dads, and children whom she came to know and love: helped them obtain food and clothing, struggled with them as they wrestled to find work and housing, saw the many social-net gaps that cause great difficulties for these ones who’ve taken the brave step of keeping their baby. She showed up on doorsteps to encourage moms not to take the step of abortion.
Together we saw the stigma placed on these parents by the faith community. I remember a Young Lives event where they made shirts celebrating the worth of these babies, the value of these lives. The shirts for the moms said, “I make good babies”; and we had to deal with the furrowed brows and the critical comments of good church people who thought this went too far, that it was encouraging pregnancy outside of marriage without condemning that kind of sexual activity.
I remember Elizabeth talking about her meeting with a woman in our county who is a relentless advocate for reducing abortion here. This woman was shocked and had her guard up when Elizabeth (a pastor!) wanted to work with her. She was shocked because Christians never wanted to work with her, they just protested her.
Why would they protest? Because this woman was taking the action that has proven most effective in reducing abortion, making contraceptives available for free to anyone who asks, regardless of age. In our town of about 25,000 people, availability of free contraceptives has varied over the years between being available one day a week to not available at all. The organization that is most active in this effective way of preventing abortions is Planned Parenthood, which was surprising for me to learn.
My eyes have been opened to the complexity of voting pro-life. I’ve had to consider it isn’t just what happens at the Supreme Court, but also what happens at the grass roots level. I’ve had to wrestle with the many ways Christians are absent from the activities that actually help reduce abortions and make it possible for young parents to keep and raise their children. I’ve had to grapple with what government priorities and spending most make a difference in reducing abortion. I’ve been made aware of how Christians can send unintended messages of shame which may actually encourage the abortions that we wish would not happen.