Abortion policy: Six commitments for this time

Photo by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, many opinions and emotions have landed in my inbox and in my own heart and mind.

The issue of abortion is personal and emotional. In the Roe v. Wade era, nearly one in four U.S. women have experienced abortions in their lifetimes, and nearly all of us are close to people who have. Our thoughts and feelings are strong because the issue is close to all of us.

Abortion policy matters to me as a Christian advocate for human dignity and nonviolence, a global health professional, a woman, a close friend of people on both sides of the political divide, and a college president committed to supporting our students and employees through this transition. As I process the new realities, and my own words and actions, several commitments arise for me.

I commit to think and act in the context of my Christian faith.

Nearly all faith traditions recognize the sanctity of human life; however, many do not have a uniform theology on the issue of abortion, including Mennonites. Examples of Mennonite writings include this 2003 denominational resolution, and a well-considered opinion from Martin Shupack in the most recent Anabaptist World. These come to different conclusions. Although views on abortion have become socially and politically ‘tribal,’ I don’t want to rely on tribal shortcuts, but to discern carefully in the context of faith, prayer and community.

I commit to engage the complexity of the issue.

Abortion policy involves beliefs about the sanctity of the embryo/fetus, the rights and values of the parents who conceived the embryo, and the consequences of pregnancy and childbirth – especially for the one carrying the child, but for others as well. Broader complexities include the appropriate role of the government in legislating reproductive and health policies, and the unjust inequalities in how the issue plays out across genders and relative wealth. We need to consider the big picture.

I commit to support healthy and timely education about human sexuality, and access to contraception, so that every baby is desired and well loved.

Unplanned and unwanted pregnancies are the root cause of abortions; abortion is never the intended path for a woman or couple. Furthermore, beyond abortion, global health data show that children of unplanned or unwanted pregnancies do not thrive similarly to children born of desired pregnancies.

I commit to support our employees and our students in their decision-making about abortion.

Goshen College does not take a specific position on abortion policy, recognizing the diversity of views in our community and respecting the autonomy of our employees and students to discern their positions. Through our employee benefits program and our student health programs, we will make information available as policy changes continue to unfold nationally and in our state of Indiana. In line with our practices on freedom of expression, we will encourage spaces where people can talk about their views on abortion without fear or shame. Constructive discussion, debate and dialogue is the only way forward.

I commit to educate myself.

For example, this Washington Post article on the methods and timing of abortion procedures is informative as the debates now move to the state levels.

It was also useful for me to learn that the projected maternal health risks associated with lack of abortion access in the United States, while real, exist because pregnancy is riskier than abortion in our context – not due to unsafe illegal abortions. A recent analysis projects that banning abortion nationwide would lead to a 21% increase in the number of pregnancy-related deaths overall and a 33% increase among Black women – who already carry a three times greater risk than white women. U.S. women are likely to continue to access medically induced abortions that they can carry out at home in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, and the risks from that procedure are very low.

I commit to be gentle with myself and others as I process all of this.

I am disoriented by the aggressive pace of social policy change in the United States these days, and deeply concerned about the consequences for people who are female, poor, Black, Brown and/or LGBTQ+. Emotions are running high all around us. If you are distressed by the recent ruling, take care of yourself socially, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I am reminded of this good advice from a GC student: “Freaking out is not a strategy.”

Gentleness is my word for the year and a gift of the Spirit. I have previously referenced Mia Habib’s six rules of gentleness, and this is one:

“Honor your harshness – no one is gentle all the time. Observe areas in your life where you are harsh or resentful. Ask yourself, ‘why?’ without judgment.”

The stronger our views on the matter, the more it is wise to understand where our harshness comes from. Clearer understanding of our own views, as well as those of others, will help us to find life-enhancing and ethical steps forward.

Rebecca Stoltzfus