Four in ten women who have had abortions are regular churchgoers, new figures by LifeWay Research reveal.
The church is more likely to be a place of gossip, judgement and condemnation than care or help for women who are considering abortion, the study shows. This is despite the fact that 70 per cent of women who have had abortions claim a Christian religious preference and 43 per cent were attending church at least once a month at the time of their abortion.
The research, sponsored by Care Net, found that 64 per cent of women believe the church was more likely to gossip than help understand the options. Furthermore the women surveyed said they expected judgement (33 per cent) or condemnation (26 per cent) more than care (16 per cent) or help (14 per cent) from church members.
The results pointed to a church culture that lacked grace, said ScottMcConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research.
"That's a huge opportunity for the church to have an impact on those decisions," he said.
"Women are perceiving judgment from the church, and that's probably partly because there are clear teachings in the Bible including about how and why we make judgments.
"However, if they don't start experiencing something different than what they've seen in the past, these numbers aren't going to change."
The research also highlighted that women in church were highly likely to keep quiet about their unwanted pregnancy.
Only seven per cent of women said they discussed their abortion with anyone from a church and even among regular churchgoers more than half said no one at church knew about it.
"That tells you the environment of the church," McConnell said. "You can't say you've had an abortion, you can't say you're considering one—it's completely taboo to discuss.
"But when a woman is willing to publicly acknowledge she's had an abortion in the past, she will sometimes be approached by several other women in the church who've never been willing to share with anybody that they too have had an abortion. It's incredibly freeing for them."
Perhaps because it is such a taboo, the church is becoming increasingly irrelevant for women deciding whether to have an abortion.
Only one per cent of women who had an abortion said someone at church was most influential on their decision to terminate.
The father of the baby (38 per cent), a medical professional (26 per cent), friends (eight per cent) and abortion providers (five per cent) all ranked above church as the most influential in the decision to terminate.
Even if only among very few people, judgmental attitudes in a church can discourage women from seeking help, said McConnell.
"They'll perceive everybody feels that way."
The research was conducted from 1,038 surveys completed from a sample which matched national totals for ethnicity, age, income, and region.