Numerous post-abortive women sit in the pews of evangelical churches. The Center for Disease Control’s National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) tells the story. From 2015–19, 12 percent of all evangelical women ages 32 to 49 who have ever been pregnant admitted to having an abortion. Of these, more than one in five had more than one abortion. This is about the same as Catholics, better than mainline Protestants, and far better than those of no religious affiliation (28 percent).
These are not only women who never darken church doors. Among the evangelical women who have ever been pregnant and who attend church at least weekly, one in 10 admitted to at least one abortion. Those who attend church one to three times a month are at about 12 percent.
Numerous post-abortive women sit in the pews of evangelical churches.
What about evangelical women who first became pregnant out of wedlock? For those ages 32 to 49, 26 percent had at least one abortion, about one in four of whom had more. Making these statistics more significant, the NSFG underestimates abortion. Despite their anonymity, respondents report less than half. Knowing how common abortion is among evangelicals, how can we respond biblically and pastorally?
Shining Light in the Dark
Some women have confessed and repented from the sin of abortion, but the pain isn’t gone. Others know they did wrong but have kept it a secret; they’ve never confessed their sin and let Christ liberate them from it. Some never viewed their abortion as a sin but as the only way out of an awful dilemma. After all, trusted friends may have encouraged them to abort. Many post-abortive evangelical women, and others complicit with them, haven’t fully benefited from God’s promise in Proverbs 28:13: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
We need to reach out to these men and women, whether they were unbelievers or professing Christians when the abortion took place. In confronting the plague of abortion and caring for those damaged by it, we must not only focus on those outside the church. We must look within (Gal. 6:10). Here are four ways.
1. Teach the sanctity of life in a redemptive framework.
Our teaching about abortion shouldn’t be “Here are the rules. Don’t break them.” We must explain why abortion is sinful within the framework of the full tapestry of Christian theology and anthropology: creation, fall, and redemption.
Our conviction that people are created in God’s image establishes the unique value of all human life, including unborn babies (Gen 1:26–27; cf. Gen. 25:22–23; Ps. 139:13; Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:15, 41; Gal. 1:15). The fall shows us the gravity and power of sin (the first murder occurs shortly after humanity’s expulsion from paradise, Gen. 4:8–16). The church must call out all sin, knowing that no transgression (though we may try to hide or deny it) is beyond a believer’s capacity (1 Kings 8:46; Ps. 14:3; Eccles. 7:20; 1 Cor. 10:13). We must also be clear that there’s redemption, complete salvation, and total forgiveness for all sins (past, present, and future) for all who repent and believe (Ps. 103:12; Isa. 1:18; Acts 22:16; 1 Cor. 6:11; Rev. 7:13–14).
Many believers haven’t been instructed to view abortion through this lens. They may have heard it addressed in relation to political or cultural battles but not as a common transgression normal Christians are tempted by. We must fill in that teaching gap without treating abortion as either an unforgivable sin or a minor one.
2. Consider the effects of hidden abortion when you counsel.
We must uncover abortion, redemptively and honestly, in pastoral counseling. When a woman struggles with substance abuse or self-harm, it’s appropriate to delicately ask whether unconfessed sin is troubling her. This may reveal an unaddressed, hidden abortion.
Premarital and marital counseling are natural places to gently ask as well. These settings often explore whether there have been premarital or extramarital sexual relationships, whether pregnancies occurred, and how they were responded to.
We must uncover abortion, redemptively and honestly, in pastoral counseling.
Pastoral counselors must foster relational climates where women and men can safely discuss such sensitive sin issues. This requires patience. If we suspect a sin is not being admitted, we can set the issue aside and approach it later. The goal is to take the posture of a sinner approaching sinners for their good, not to unleash moral condemnation or speak down to those who come for care.
3. When teaching, assume church members have had or been complicit in abortion.
Does this mean avoiding the subject? No. Will some get angry no matter what? Yes. It’s difficult (but not impossible) to be biblically faithful while remaining tender and kind in dealing with contentious moral issues, including abortion. This does mean taking care about tone and vocabulary, and avoiding being too graphic without diluting reality.
It helps to offer concrete, real-life stories that allow people to see the agonizing realities women in difficult pregnancies and their loved ones face. Narratives can introduce tough topics more effectively than diving directly into principles, facts, and logic.
4. Avoid depicting those who are pregnant out of wedlock as ‘scarlet women.’
Without denying sex outside marriage is morally wrong, we honor every woman’s dignity, acknowledge the powerful temptation of sex, and hold high the cleansing power of Christ’s blood. Then we must come beside unwed mothers and fathers to assist them spiritually, emotionally, and materially.
Women facing difficult pregnancies often believe they have no other choice. That’s a lie. Treating a woman as a second-class Christian or letting her face what appear to be insurmountable challenges without loving help leaves her far more vulnerable to this lie.
With the Dobbs decision, the legal and cultural landscape of abortion has shifted enormously. We must continue caring for women, men, and family members facing difficult pregnancies, proclaiming the gospel in word and deed. And as we respond to these God-given opportunities in this unique historic moment, let’s especially acknowledge and remember those in our own churches who suffer from the effects of abortion, sharing with them the liberating power of God’s limitless mercy.