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Setting the course for life

Pursuing a pro-life future 50 years after Roe

The baby boutique room at Portico, a pregnancy resource center in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Associated Press/Photo by Mark Zaleski

Setting the course for life
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Jan. 22, 2023, marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. This year, no national court decision stands in the way of life. Now the obstacle is what Roe left behind: a distorted understanding of the dignity of human life. Fifty years after Roe, churches should take the opportunity to help their members and ministries find new footing for the long work of changing the prevailing view of what it means to be human.

Autonomy and control are at the center of that view today, observes Notre Dame law professor Carter Snead in his recent book What It Means to Be Human. As a result, critical aspects of human flourishing have been neglected. The importance of the body and of the relationships we need as embodied beings are especially overlooked. Because we are embodied, human life goes through seasons of vulnerability and greater dependence on others. These moments may not be marked by autonomy, but they do not diminish the inherent dignity of human life.

As Professor Snead points out, Roe v Wade treated the unplanned pregnancy as a conflict between two “atomized strangers” who are “isolated in their vulnerability.” There are indeed two vulnerable persons, but “they are not strangers,” Snead reminds us. Their human embodiment situates them in a relation of mother and child, and the flourishing of the child depends entirely on the mother.

Nor should they be isolated. A pregnant mother’s flourishing depends on care for her holistic needs. That should compel all of us to exercise duties of compassion toward expectant mothers whose circumstances leave them unsure of where to turn for help.

The post-Roe moment offers churches and individual Christians the opportunity to evaluate how well we are coming alongside mothers in need. Women seeking abortion most frequently name seven basic reasons for their decision, according to pro-life advocates at Her Pregnancy and Life Assistance Network (Her PLAN). Churches can assess how they are responding to these social, medical, and material needs and help build a safety net of resources for mothers and their children during and after pregnancy. That will require coordination across church mercy ministries and between congregations. The cause of life depends on Christians developing coordinated plans to help vulnerable women and children.

Changing hearts and minds to make abortion unthinkable means pro-life sentiment needs to be rooted in pro-life reasoning.

Meanwhile, the needs of front-line service providers working with women during and after pregnancy are shifting in the wake of the Dobbs decision. Many churches support local pregnancy centers and adoption agencies. This is an important time to invite these pro-life ministries to share with congregations about their new or expanded needs and how church members can help.

Changing hearts and minds to make abortion unthinkable means pro-life sentiment needs to be rooted in pro-life reasoning. For churches this begins with on-going biblical formation in what it means to be human, made in the image of God. Seminars with pro-life experts, reading groups, and classes can provide further training in pro-life apologetics. Christians should know how to respond to misconceptions about the pro-life cause in the wake of Dobbs.

Now is also the time to get educated about how abortion is changing in practice. More than half of abortions today are chemical, by abortion pills, rather than surgical. The Biden administration began loosening abortion pill regulations during the Covid-19 pandemic. Then in December 2021, the Food and Drug Administration announced it was permanently dropping the requirement for in-person dispensing of abortion pills, permitting mail-order access. The new year 2023 began with a further regulatory announcement that retail pharmacies can now carry the pills. Complications associated with chemically induced abortion pose serious risks to women.

As the abortion debate continues across the country, Christians should continue to build a culture that refuses to ignore the humanity of the unborn and that emboldens women to choose life, with the respect and support of those around them. For churches and individual Christians, pro-life preparedness means declaring the truth about life made in the image of God and being equipped to come alongside those in need with care and concrete resources.

Are we ready to do our part?

Jennifer Patterson

Jennifer Patterson is director of the Institute of Theology and Public Life at Reformed Theological Seminary (Washington, D.C.) and a senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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