How have you come to your theological position on abortion?
Tamala Ceasar: The teaching in churches I’ve been part of says that life is purposeful, children are gifts and so to terminate is wrong. God doesn’t like abortion. The Bible talks about murder being a sin, it talks about the fact that God has knit us together in our mother’s wombs. For those I know who’ve gone through with the procedure it hasn’t had a good impact on them in the long term.
Charlotte Naylor Davis: I was pro-life for a long time for a lot of reasons; I do think life is purposeful, but over the last 20 years working with young people and women, I’ve seen that being pro-choice means acknowledging the complexity and hardship around pregnancy. To me, it’s a moral and ethical standpoint that allows woman and doctors to decide with their own agency, what is right for that particular circumstance.
We need to reinforce that there isn’t anything that separates a young person from God; whatever their decision, God is still going to be there.
Being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion; it’s an acknowledgment that though the rights of a foetus matter, I don’t know that life begins at conception. I don’t think the Bible is clear on that. There is acknowledgement of God knowing us before we were born, but there is also acknowledgement in Exodus that the life of the unborn is not worth that of a human. Religious thinkers across the ages have thought differently about life in the womb and abortion. The foetus having the same rights as the mother isn’t the only biblical viewpoint.
For a lot of Christians I know who are pro-choice, we would struggle to take a position which would enforce that choice for all woman, including sending an unintended pregnancy, or one that would be unhealthy to term, because of a religious decision on when life begins.
Would you talk to your youth group about abortion? If so, how?
CND: I think we have to, partly because the Church has really great things to say. We are communities that believe in supporting one another. When I was a young person, people didn’t talk about this stuff and when I became a youth worker, these issues came up.
I wouldn’t put across a particular view or even tell them what my position was. I would give young people lots of material and let them talk about it and come to their own conclusions. I would also have a discussion about why the Abortion Act was passed so they understand the wider use of the act for medical and mental health reasons. We have to be careful with language around abortion. For some people, as soon as they are pregnant that is a baby for them and I wouldn’t refer to it as a foetus, because if they miscarried that undermines the pain that is very real. On the other hand, if I referred to a foetus as a child when someone is trying to work out how they feel and they haven’t decided yet, I imply a lot there.
If you’re 13 and pregnant, I can’t even imagine the panic. I think we’ve got to be very careful, particularly with young people, not to present any of the options as easy. There is no way you can have a discussion like this and it not be emotive because it’s about people’s lives. We can’t talk about it purely from an ethical, academic or biblical stand point. Life is about how we interact with the Bible, with God, ourselves and everybody else.
TC: I would get young people to look at the pros and cons of a situation and look at what scripture says about it. I would want them to see that pro-life is a better option. There are instances where I can understand why people would terminate, at the very early stages, but I think it’s important for young people to understand the value of life and that abortion shouldn’t be used as contraception.
How would you counsel a young person who tells you they are pregnant?
TC: The first thing would be to be a listening ear; sometimes young people don’t want to have someone to tell them what to do yet. I would help facilitate a conversation between them and their parents if they wanted me to. It’s important to hear them out and give them their options. I would hope they would choose to keep the child, and I would try to explain that with lots of support they can do this, because I know teenage mothers who have been able to do it with the right support. The church community needs to come together and support these young people instead of saying: “You’ve done something wrong, go and sit at the back of church, or don’t even come back”. This judgemental attitude needs to end because things happen, life happens. I would want them to know: “You are loved, you are carrying a child and that is a blessing, even if the act wasn’t right, but God still loves you and that child”. I would also pray with them, because I think when things like this happen, it’s very easy for the young person to feel: “God doesn’t want to talk to me any-more and I can’t talk to him.” I would say: “God is still listening and you can bring the situation to him. That’s why Jesus died for you.”
CND: I would assure them that I care about their needs and feelings, that they are still accepted and loved by God and that we love them regardless of actions. I would point them to somewhere where they could talk with all of the information and options. If they started to talk about abortion, I would make sure they were fully aware of what it is and I would make sure they have counselling before and after if that’s what they chose. If they chose to keep a child, I would make sure that they really did have the support that was promised. I would make sure they got good, safe advice and weren’t bullied into a choice. We want to minimise shame and judgement. They are already dealing with what they think God thinks of them. What they need from a youth worker is openness and support. We need to reinforce that there isn’t anything that separates that young person from God; whatever their decision, God is still going to be there.
"It’s important for young people to understand the value of life and that abortion shouldn’t be used as contraception."
Would you accompany a young person to get a pregnancy terminated?
TC: I would go and I would have to put my feelings and sensitivities aside because it’s not about me, but I would find it really hard. But I think it’s more important that I’m there to support them after they’ve had the procedure. They’ll need someone there, because it’s a horrendous procedure and can often leave women feeling empty and regretful. I would hope that on the way there they would change their mind. If they didn’t, I would still be there.
CND: When I was 16, a friend of mine was pregnant. Her parents were very unsupportive and said that she would have to move out, but her boyfriend was supportive. Her boyfriend died in a car crash and she decided she was going to have an abortion. At the time I was very pro-life, but I was the only other person she had told and she asked me if I would go with her. I prayed about it a lot and decided I would go, for exactly Tamala’s reasons, and because I think Jesus would be there. I think we do young people a disservice if we leave them alone in these moments. If that’s what they’ve chosen to do and they’re asking for my support then that’s what I offer them. If they’re a Christian, I would want to pray with them afterwards.
There are a lot of people for whom an abortion was the right decision and they don’t regret it. In an ideal world the community is always supportive and wonderful and looks after the child but my experience of the world is that this isn’t the case. If we’re going to ask someone to carry that child to term, we have to be ready as a church to take that child on ourselves.
How would you support a young person who has had an abortion?
TC: Affirmation is so powerful, because it speaks to the person’s soul and they need to be restored. I would tell them what God thinks about them so they can move forward. Counselling is powerful, it isn’t a last resort. It’s important that young people get the opportunity for counselling and to get perspective, to look at things, compartmentalise things, work out where they fit into everything and move forward in a healthy manner.
The young person may go through a time where they think: “I’ve sinned; I’m going to have to repent of this.” So repentance is something that might need to be addressed so they can move forward.
CND: There are certain things Christians say that as youth workers or parents we have to start really standing on: we believe God judges by the heart, there’s no condemnation in Jesus, you are a new creation. If these things are true, they’re true every day. They aren’t undermined by anything that happened.
How would you help the parents of a young person who wants a termination?
TC: I would encourage the parents to try not to condemn their children. It’s hard because obviously parents have expectations of their kids and they are really disappointed. But where can a child go from disappointment? I would say to the parent: “Love your child, speak to them kindly, and try not to project your anger on them. Be angry, obviously. Express your emotions in a private way, but try and under-stand where they are and support them in any way you can.”
CND: Parents are going through a whole bunch of emotions. Churches have a responsibility to be supportive of parents as well. We might need to take the parent for counselling or to talk to somebody about all the options, separately from the young person so that they understand it. As youth workers we can help parents be well-equipped. It’s good for us to have information and resources to hand before we’re in crisis. If a child chooses an abortion and that is not what the parent wants, they’re going to really struggle with that and we can’t underestimate that. When you sign up for being a parent, you sign up for loving that kid; it will be difficult but maybe you need to not show your struggle, while they’re trying to make their decision. That young person has to make that decision knowing they’ve got support.