She cried when the two blue lines appeared. Her fleece pullover got wet when she wiped her eyes, and she told me she’d just been hired at a new job that she feared she’d now lose. She was young. She faced eviction. Her boyfriend would be angry, she told me — maybe even violently so. I nodded, struck mute by a lack of solutions for her.
“I don’t know how to make it easier,” I told her. “But I know you will never, ever regret holding your baby. We can find help.”
I’ve volunteered in my community’s pregnancy resource center for a few years, and while I frequently feel nervous, sad, confused, and at a loss for solutions, there’s one concrete thing I’ve learned: Most women seeking abortions aren’t uber-political. They aren’t members of the aggressively pro-abortion, Twitter-argument-waging, shout-your-abortion crowd. They aren’t calculating murderers. They’re afraid.
Abortion is a great evil. It’s left an ugly, gaping hole in the world where millions of image-bearing children should be. While the church has largely excelled at calling this despicable spade a spade, she often fails to see this picture: a young, often impoverished, terrified woman — who knows her baby is a human! — but considers abortion anyway. Fear is incredibly potent.
Not all women seeking an abortion are uber-feminists
When we assume a woman who is seeking an abortion or has had an abortion is an archetypal, uber-feminist activist, we can expect to be neither as loving as we should be or as effective in encouraging her to choose life.
Instead, we should remember that she is probably afraid. This will help us love her, empathize with her, encourage her to choose life for her baby, and, ultimately, point her to Jesus.
Fear of What, Exactly?
It may seem obvious that the fear of killing should naturally outweigh any other fears. But while we may wish that fear — and the fear of God — was our most compelling motivator, in our human flesh it often isn’t.
Women facing an unplanned pregnancy often have reasonable, here-and-now fears. They may fear the loss of financial stability — or the loss of the ability to ever reach it. They may fear the loss of an already teetering status quo in which every available ounce of food is already consumed at home — perhaps by other children they’re already parenting. Pregnant women may lose a job, or they may not get the job they were hoping for. They may fear a violent boyfriend or father.
They may even fear pregnancy itself, which is often full of terrifying sickness, physical pain, loss of emotional control, and embarrassing bodily problems. All of these fears are real and oft-cited at crisis-pregnancy centers the country over. A common theme weaves through most of them: the fear of other people.
Evil often begets more evil. While many who support so-called abortion rights believe they’re serving needy women, they’re overlooking one critical reality: Women are often brought — reluctantly — to the abortion doctor. These women are compelled toward abortion not by their own empowering, my-body-is-my-own sense of autonomy, but by another person seeking control. Angry boyfriends, angry husbands, angry mothers, angry employers — these are so often the wind at the back of an abortion-minded woman.
Women may fear something else, too: adoption. Though morally clear, the thought is often experientially vague: It seems, or feels, much less repugnant to have a hidden medical procedure in the first weeks of pregnancy than to consciously hand over a smiling, babbling baby to a woman whose body never knew him or her. It’s cognitive dissonance, sure, but it’s a real — and understandable — fear.
Fear Is Familiar
Before my work at the pregnancy center, I may have quietly scoffed at the above. I meant well. I had read the books, seen the gruesome photos, and heard the apologetics. I believed that if the pro-life movement could successfully convince naysayers that a baby is a baby — imbued with all the God-given value of human life from the moment it is created — the debate would be over.
But then I started volunteering at the center. And then I became pregnant.
My pregnancies with my daughters were a revelation — and not necessarily a welcome one. I suffered health issues during each; some the typical pregnancy discomforts, others more serious. And despite my situation — which included financial stability, a supportive family, top-notch health care, and the fact that we had planned for these babies — I was still terrified. In my worst days, I identified with women who seek a way out.
Meet Fear with Empathy
Objective arguments against abortion based on an unborn baby’s humanity are true. And they have their place. Even images of pre-term and aborted babies may be persuasive — though in recent years many have begun to question their efficacy. But these arguments and photos usually aren’t best employed on the sidewalk outside an abortion clinic.
As ambassadors of Christ, we must remember first that women considering an abortion are often in a state of panic. And acknowledging that fear has the power to greatly alter our behavior.
When we presume others’ best intentions, we’re more likely to be softer, less frustrated, and more forgiving. If I can train myself to assume that the aggressive driver on the highway is actually rushing to the hospital, my anger toward him or her melts. And if we can train our hearts to recognize that a woman seeking an abortion is actually afraid — and even to accept that we would be feeling fear ourselves, were we facing her circumstances — we can shake off our unproductive anger and put on, instead, love and empathy.
Caring for the Fearful
That means one of our first steps in ministering to a woman facing a crisis pregnancy is to acknowledge her fear. Don’t judge it, don’t shrug it off, but take her seriously. It is scary. Don’t offhandedly offer adoption as a quick solution. Don’t immediately start in on the logical fallacies of pro-abortion apologetics. Let her be afraid, and tell her she’s not alone. (Better yet: Mean it.)
Once we acknowledge her fear — and, if she’ll allow it, pray for her — we can start to talk through potential solutions to her various worries. If an angry parent is threatening to kick her out, we can explore other housing options. If a boyfriend is threatening violence, we can talk about calling the police (not to mention ending the relationship). If she’s worried about financial instability, we can help her explore the various public and private options for help. Many communities offer vast resources for women facing crisis pregnancies — think free cribs, free parenting classes, free prenatal care — and most local pregnancy centers can navigate the road to those resources with expertise.
If a woman in crisis grants us the privilege of facing her fears with her, we may also have the opportunity to point her to the One whose perfect love casts out all fear. Life — and especially bearing life — requires physical, emotional, and financial resources that can ignite terror should they be hard to find. But as we help women find them, we also earn the relational capital to tell her about a God who clothes the lilies, calms the storms, and surely comforts us all the days of our lives — even the really, really scary ones.
**This article was originally published on The Gospel Coalition. Used with permission.