The Story: Progressive clergy are preparing for the end of Roe by considering how to make abortion available in the pews. Is the pro-life community similarly prepared for the next step in the fight for life?
The Background: The Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, senior minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City, was asked in a recent interview what clergy should be thinking about now as we consider the possibility of Roe v. Wade overturned and the issue of abortion returned to the states.
The first thing I want to say is that if men bore children, abortion would be a sacrament. It’s sexism that doesn’t allow a woman to use a perfectly ordinary reproductive technology. I’ve had two abortions and was back to work in the afternoon. That doesn’t mean they were inconsequential to me. They were profoundly positive experiences of exercising my humanity and my freedom.
In the late-1960s, Schaper was a member of the Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS), an international network of mainline Protestant and Reform Jewish clergy that helped women obtain legal and illegal abortions. Schaper says she and other liberal clergy plan to take up that mission again if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade:
So where do we go from here? It’s almost like the Do-It-Yourself movement. We’re going to have to encourage birth control because unwanted pregnancies will have no solution for many people in many states.
The thing most of us have been talking about is to encourage the use of medical technology, the morning after pills and very good new drugs. We need to get some wise pharmaceutical company to make money off distributing them so people don’t need abortions, and/or smuggling the drugs in from Mexico and Canada.
There are already very interesting groups of women my age feeling we could take the risk of loading up our vans to take road trips and give them out at churches. We’d see what kind of legal trouble one could get into because the drugs would be given away and are legal in Mexico and Canada.
This kind of civil action, I don’t even know if it’s civil disobedience—would be like the old Jane Collective. This would be Jane with drugs as opposed to Jane with forceps.
(The Jane Collective was a radical feminist organization that performed more than 11,000 illegal abortions in two apartment homes in Chicago from 1969 to 1973.)
When asked how the task of “pastoral care” will change for clergy if abortion is re-criminalized in many states, Schaper says,
It’s very hard to say. It’s going to have to be legislated. Before Roe, it was understood that counseling someone to have an abortion was illegal. Many clergy were picked up for it. I have a feeling that civil disobedience may be required, like the baker who won’t bake cakes for same-sex couples. We may have to say, “we will not not provide counseling” using a religious freedom argument.
Why It Matters: You might be tempted—as I initially was—to dismiss this interview as the insignificant views of an unknown apostate in an obscure radical publication. But I think Schaper is showing us the mirror image of the the pro-life cause. After the Roe decision in 1973, pro-lifers mobilized churches and fellow believers to protect the unborn. Similarly, progressive forces are preparing to use the power and rhetoric of religion to protect abortion after the next decision about Roe.
For Schaper, abortion is a religious sacrament. She’s willing and ready to hand out abortifacients along with the communion wafers. Her fanaticism is loathsome, but she’s willing to take genuine risks to protect an individual’s right to kill their children in the womb. While the pro-life community is ready for a break from this nearly five-decade fight, pro-abortion activists like Schaper are becoming ever more committed and motivated.
Whether Roe will soon be overturned is debatable. But for the first time in decades there is the possibility that we can roll back abortion on demand. In future articles, TGC will explore the legal ramification of ending Roe. For now I want to consider why it might not be the total victory we pro-lifers have been expecting.
Many of have grown weary fighting the endless culture war and believe that in rectifying the injustice of Roe, we will finally find some relief. If nothing else, we believe, the removal of Roe will lead to a reduction in the number of abortions. Unfortunately, neither of those beliefs is likely to be true.
Polls and surveys about the issue are often misleading, but they consistently show that few Americans are absolutists when it comes to abortion. Large percentages support restrictions on late-term abortions (second and third trimester) and support keeping abortion legal in the early stage (first trimester). When the legal issue of abortion is returned to the individual states that “compromise” will be the median outcome. A few states may ban all abortions, and a few others will make abortion legal throughout pregnancy. But for the most part, Americans will think they have reached a “moderate” position by banning abortion only after the first few months of fetal development.
From a legal perspective, a patchwork of inconsistent state laws is preferable to a consistent national precedent of abortion on demand. From a legal perspective, the death of Roe cannot come soon enough.
But if we look at the issue from a societal and political perspective, we can see the pro-life movement is unprepared for the next phase of the battle. We’ve convinced ourselves of the misleading half-truth that many, if not most, Americans are beginning to share our pro-life convictions about the value of unborn children.
The harsh reality is that most Americans—including many Christians—are only pro-life when the unborn looks like a newborn baby. That’s why they value unborn life more at later stages of pregnancy, during the stages when the child looks like a baby.
For decades, we in the pro-life community quietly acknowledged this fact and even used it to our advantage. The reason pro-life organizations so frequently display pictures of newborns or late-stage ultrasound photos rather than images of embryos and early-stage fetuses is because of the effective emotional connection of equating “unborn life” with “a being that looks like a baby.”
Beginning in the early 2000s, though, we realized the flaw in this approach. The debate over embryonic stem-cell research revealed how unprepared we were in making the case for all unborn life. Many “pro-life” evangelicals who opposed abortion supported research that required destroying embryonic human life. Most didn’t even recognize they were being inconsistent. They simply couldn’t muster up much emotion for groupings of cells that do not look like a baby.
A decade and half later, we still haven’t been able to convince all Christians that early human life in all locations and in all stages of development is equally worthy of dignity and protection. A couple that would be ashamed to admit to their church family they had an abortion would have no qualms talking about the dozens of “frozen” embryos they’ve abandoned in an IVF clinic. Their fellow believers would consider it sinful and tragic for a child dies in an abortion clinic—and yet shrug when “spare” children die in an IVF clinic.
Molech’s insatiable hunger for the flesh of our children haunts both types of clinics. And increasingly, Molech is being invited into our homes in the form of “morning-after” pills. How are we going to oppose clergy handing out abortifacients in churches when we can’t even convince our fellow Christians not to sacrifice their children (Lev. 18:21)?
We should thank God that the end of the Roe era may be within sight. But we also need to ask the Lord to give us a vision for the next phase of the struggle, and ask that he prepare pro-life believers for what comes next.