Talking about abortion: Christians' harsh language blamed for women's silence

Anti-abortion protestors demonstrate in front of the US Supreme Court.Reuters

How conservative Southern Baptists talk about abortion has come under the spotlight after the release of a LifeWay studyshowing that women who have had abortions believe churches are more likely to be judgmental than caring.

The survey found an astonishing 43 per cent of women who had abortions were attending church at least once a month when they had their pregnancy terminated. Only seven per cent discussed their decision with someone in the congregation.

The survey found that more women would expect a judgmental reaction (33 per cent) than a caring, helpful or loving one. Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) thought members would be more likely to gossip about a woman who'd had an abortion than to help her. Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) said church members judge single women who are pregnant.

According to Baptist Press, Southern Baptist Executive Committee chairman Rev Frank Page said he "was saddened to hear that most [post-abortive women] said they would not share their plight or decision with people in the church because of fear. I do believe that is a valid point in some circumstances."

However, he added: "For some, perhaps even a few, it is easier to say that their fear is of retribution or gossip when the truth is their deepest fear is the shame they feel over doing something so catastrophic.

"My prayer is for God's healing and forgiveness, and yes also for acceptance by God's people of those who have made such decisions in their past."

The director of community outreach for the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Trillia Newbell, told Baptist Press the survey results "do not surprise me, but they do grieve me".

"We want our churches to be places where men and women can share openly and honestly about their struggles," she said. "My hope is that the Gospel of grace would break through a culture of fear and gossip so that women may be served well. We must equip the church on how to properly handle these tough circumstances with truth covered in gentleness and love."

However, another senior SBC figure has taken aim at the language used by anti-abortion campaigners, including some in her own denomination. In a blog post after the shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, Karen Swallow Prior, a research fellow with the ELRC, wrote that while it was legitimate to campaign against abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, "referring to abortion providers as 'abortion ghouls,' clinic volunteers and workers as 'deathscorts' or 'bloodworkers' and women who obtain abortions as 'murderers' is worse than inflammatory: it is unchristlike".

She continued: "Calling legal abortion 'murder' when it isn't (it is, to our shame, lawful) is to say what isn't true, at least in a civil (not church) context."

Her comments appear to be influenced by those made by ERLC President Russell Moore. In a comment on the Planned Parenthood body parts scandal in which an executive was secretly videoed discussing financial arrangements regarding the use of foetal tissue for research, Moore wrote: "Let's be clear about what is going on, it is not only that infants, in their mother's wombs, are deprived of their lives, but also that their corpses are desecrated for profit. This is not only murderous; it is murderous in the most ghoulish way imaginable. Is it not clear at this point that these are not health-care providers but pirates and grave-robbers of those who have no graves?"

In a piece written after the Colorado Springs shooting Moore defended the use of strong language about abortion, saying that "we as gospel Christians speak to the conscience about the violence of abortion, and the injustice of it before the throne of God". However, he added: "We also, though, speak to the consciences of those who have aborted with a word of invitation. Jesus is not surprised by their, or our, sin. Jesus welcomes sinners."