(RNS) — My former church community is probably over the moon right now.
For a long time, and for so many in that community, abolishing abortion has been the foremost issue driving their votes — that’s what they said, anyway. As long as Republicans were anti-abortion and Democrats were pro-choice, they would vote GOP every time.
And now they have a big win to show for their efforts.
As someone who used to be heavily steeped in conservative evangelical Christian culture and called myself “pro-life,” when I heard the news of the passage of Texas’ SB 8 bill, which bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, and the Supreme Court officially denying the request to stop it going into effect, I wasn’t entirely shocked, but I was deeply saddened.
The conservative-packed court — achieved through evangelical Christians’ soul-selling pact with former President Donald Trump — did what the religious right had hoped. Undoubtedly more states will follow suit, bolstered by this result.
But who benefits from this law? Evangelicals would argue the unborn baby does. But what about the living mother? What considerations are they offering her in light of its impact?
How can conservative Christians believe that such abortion bans are “pro-life” when the legislators who pass them turn a blind eye to our rising maternal mortality rates — the highest in the developed world, and which disproportionately impact Black and brown women?
The legislators who passed this bill ignore the need to expand Medicaid access, and aren’t exactly pushing for America to introduce a federal paid family leave policy, as all other industrialized nations have had for years. They don’t question the billions of dollars we spend on endless wars, while ignoring the gaping financial needs here at home.
It was questions like these that moved me from ardently “pro-life” to literally dedicating my life to advocating for reproductive justice.
When I started researching data on abortion in the U.S., I read countless op-eds and articles from women sharing their personal stories. I started following journalists, activists, doctors and other public figures on Twitter. I learned that American faith leaders used to run a national network to help women obtain safe abortion care before Roe v. Wade.
I owe much to the advocacy of faith leaders like Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, the Rev. Katey Zeh, the Rev. Jacqui Lewis, Lisa Sharon Harper, the Rev. Susan Chorley, the Rev. Tuhina Verma Rasche, Rachel Held Evans, the Rev. Jes Kast, Sister Simone Campbell and others. I am encouraged to see progressive faith leaders take a stand for abortion rights and disrupt the narrative that has been dominated by anti-choice religious leaders for too long.
In 2018 I gave a TEDx Talk about my personal evolution and how it inspired me to make a documentary series that looked at the different aspects of abortion, with the aim of showing that the issue itself is so interconnected with other issues such as racism, poverty, sex education, maternal mortality and more. Titled “Life at All Costs,” my central questions are, “Whose life are we saving? And at what cost?”
After I began sharing my pro-choice views, women from my former church wrote to me privately. They thanked me because they too had had abortions and felt they could never tell anyone. That floored me. I couldn’t understand why they would do something in secret that they would vocally oppose and vote against.
According to Guttmacher Institute, many abortion patients are religious. In my TEDx talk, I cited a CareNet study on women who had an abortion that found that 70% of the women they surveyed identified as Christian — yet only 38% said church felt like a safe place to discuss pregnancy options. Two-thirds (65%) said single, pregnant women are judged at church.
That should be enough to stop every “pro-life” voter in their tracks. Sadly, we are not there yet and may never be.
Other data shows that the majority of women who get abortions in America are already mothers, and are women of color. What does that say about how we as a country treat the most vulnerable among us?
We cannot call a law like SB 8 pro-life. It is the opposite. Ordinary citizens are now empowered to go on a bounty hunting mission to “snitch” on anyone aiding a now illegal abortion (whether they know the people involved or not). What is noble about this?
Texas Right To Life set up a website called Pro life Whistleblower where people can share anonymous tips to set bounty hunters into action. It bears repeating that making abortion illegal doesn’t stop abortion. It makes it unsafe and predominantly adds an extra burden on women of color.
On the eve of SB 8 going into effect, Whole Woman’s Health, which has four clinics in Texas, tweeted: “The anti-abortion protestors are outside, shining lights on the parking light. We are under surveillance. This is what abortion care looks like.”
I can’t stop thinking about that chilling imagery.
Can the conservative church honestly continue to claim being pro-life is about protecting babies or mothers? Because the more extreme these laws become, the more it becomes clear it is about control.
As I digest the news about how SB 8 is going to impact Texans, my thoughts, prayers and hopes go out to all the abortion providers, activists, volunteers, clinic escorts and abortion fund organizations who are now figuring out what this law means for their work. I am also thinking of all the people who will need an abortion, and, yes, that includes conservative Christian women.
My hope is that more people like me who come from a conservative evangelical tradition will raise their voices, push back against this tidal wave of reproductive coercion and control, be bold and unafraid of saying the word “abortion” out loud. If you want to take action, it is as simple as having conversations with friends and sharing personal stories. We have work to do to convince people who stay on the sidelines or in the shadows to stand up and speak out.
Renee Bracey Sherman, founder of the abortion storytelling and advocacy organization We Testify, often says, “Everybody loves somebody who has had an abortion.” It’s time we as a nation started acting like it.
(Asha Dahya is author of “Today’s Wonder Women: Everyday Superheroes Who Are Changing the World” and founder of GirlTalkHQ.com, a daily blog promoting women’s voices and stories. She is developing and producing a documentary series looking at global abortion laws and the impact on everyday women and families. Follow her on Twitter @ashadahya.)