This is a post about crisis pregnancy that is aimed mainly at those in a position to support an unborn baby and its family. If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy yourself, you may prefer to read this accompanying post dealing directly with such a situation.
Inspired by Germany
In the United States it’s a polarised political issue. Abortion clinics have permanent protesters stationed outside, and every politician must express a party-appropriate opinion, loudly and often.
In New Zealand it’s hardly an issue at all. Between readily accessible abortion and the welfare safety net single mothers can land in, if you’re not pregnant, you can kid yourself that crisis pregnancies have nothing to do with you. In both countries, abortion occurs at a relatively high rate in the population.
Germany, of all places, has travelled a third path that I find pretty inspiring. Abortion is readily available but occurs at a third of the US rate and a quarter of the NZ rate. Why?
Hillary Clinton’s position on abortion, when she was campaigning to be the Democrat candidate for President, was that it should be ‘safe, legal and rare.’ I think many would agree with that trio, and Germany has something to teach us if we aspire to making the third one a reality. Pro-life or pro-choice, believers in the idea of the ‘imago dei’ or not, no one thinks that abortion is awesome and should happen often.
This is really a post about that third word: rare. Let me tell you the German story.
Around the same time that the Supreme Court of the United States decided, in Roe v Wade, that the state could not invade a woman’s personal space and compel her to continue a pregnancy she didn’t want, and that a foetus was not a person whose right to life could trump a mother’s right to have her body in her control, Germany was doing something quite different.
When the question of legalising abortion came before the highest court in West Germany, as it then was, the court decided, given Germany’s recent history of guns and concentration camps, that the right to life must be paramount, second to nothing.
And so they gave legal protection to unborn babies.
But then they went further. After reunification, the parliament had to reconcile two very different approaches to abortion law, and their first attempt was challenged in the courts again.
At this point, in the early 1990s, the court decided that the state not only had the responsibility to limit abortions legally, it had the responsibility to make sure no woman ever felt like abortion was the only option.
And so the court required the government to look at every aspect of German life and make Germany an hospitable country for unborn babies.
For instance, Germany is very densely populated. The court noted that where housing was in short supply, and tenancy agreements had a maximum number of occupants, some families were choosing abortion so they wouldn’t be kicked out of their apartments for having more people in the house than the tenancy agreement allowed. So the parliament changed tenancy law to stop that happening.
I argued on Sunday morning that people who feel strongly about protecting the unborn – whether for religious or other reasons – need to put their money, time, love and support where their mouths are. We must build a culture of hospitality so that no woman feels she needs to have an abortion because she is alone or unsupported.
These are, of course, murky waters, and I am not going to argue further about the legal position here, but about what Jesus calls his followers to be: neighbours to anyone in need.
We are neighbours to unborn babies
You might remember the famous story he told about the man in distress who was helped by the most unlikely stranger, the ‘good Samaritan.’ You can watch a stop-motion animation of it, if that’s your kind of thing, or just read the story below.
10 25 Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
26 He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
27 He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbour as well as you do yourself.”
28 “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
29 Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbour’?”
30-32 Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
33-35 “A Samaritan travelling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbour to the man attacked by robbers?”
37 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
An unborn child, vulnerable and dependent, is our neighbour. So are its parents.
More than that, each person in a distressed little family is to be treated not just as a neighbour, but as Jesus Christ. Towards the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we see Jesus channelling the fiery apocalyptic literature that was popular at the time to make a dramatic point about compassion:
31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 ‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
37 ‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?39 When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”
40 ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
41 ‘Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me.”
44 ‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”
45 ‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
46 ‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’
Our holy writings tell us that helping a stranger is a sacred task that God takes very seriously. In welcoming, feeding, looking after ‘the least of these’ we are, in a very real sense, welcoming, feeding, looking after Jesus Christ.
This is one reason the church has always seen the care of unwanted children as core business. We in the local church today need to get back to that business.
As I said in my sermon, ancient Israel was distinctive among its neighbours for not killing unwanted newborns. Infanticide has been common practice across cultures and history, but Israel and the early church were noted exceptions.
Christians were so notorious for their weird attitude of respect for babies’ lives that all sorts of people in Roman times started leaving their newborns at Christians’ doorsteps instead of killing them. Very early on, the church began and became known for systemic care of the needy.
God’s people have always extended this respect of life to the unborn, making them even weirder. We see some evidence of how the Jewish people thought about things in Psalm 139, where the poet praises God for having ‘knit me together in my mother’s womb.’ And in Luke 1, an unborn baby, the future John the Baptist, is an actor in the drama of Scripture, before he’s even born.
What can we do?
I promised on Sunday morning that there would be some specific ideas here about how we can each take part in making our community hospitable to unborn children. So here’s a list, and I’d love you to add to it.
Some things are huge (eg, foster a child!) and some are not, but they’re all part of building an hospitable community where far fewer than the current 17,000 women a year will feel that abortion is their only option.
- If taking in a single mum is too much of a stretch for you, how about strategically supporting someone who can do that? Check out the House of Grace if you’re in Wellington. It’s a home for pregnant teenagers who need support, and there are lots of ways, big and small, you can help their work with these young women and their babies.
- If you’re elsewhere, Heartbeat International has a worldwide directory of such places, and any one of them would welcome your practical or financial support, I’m sure. You could also just google your location and ‘crisis pregnancy support.’ If you know personally of a good place, pop a link in the comments below.
- Helping a pregnant woman is just the start, of course. Birthright is dedicated to supporting single parents. See if you have skills or time they would appreciate.
- Do you have a spare room? Could you offer it to a single mum and her baby? A church, fostering agency or state or council department with responsibility for the care of children may be able to match your household with someone who needs a supportive living arrangement. Talk it over with someone.
- Do you have practical skills you can share? If you have a couple of hours a week you can give to teach a young parent how to budget, cook, garden, sew, fix a car or something else, you could make a huge difference to a family.
- Or maybe you could use those couple of hours to do some chores around their house that are a stretch for a family with a small child – especially for a single parent. Offer to mow their lawns regularly, or clear out the guttering, clean the oven or wash the car. Is there a single mum living on your street who might appreciate a bit of help?
- Tell a neighbour who is a single parent (or vulnerable in any other way) that they are welcome to call you in the middle of the night if they need another adult around. Give them all your phone numbers and a smile.
- Any of the tips from this post will apply to supporting someone with a crisis pregnancy or with a newborn and not much support. There’s also this great list of 50 ways to help a single mother, most of which would apply to most of us. Have a read!
- Equip yourself for the next level of radical hospitality. With a bit of extra training or support, could you mentor a young parent? Could you offer respite care (the odd weekend) for a child or young mother? Could you consider full-time fostering of a little person who needs a home? Do you want to be the house-parent of the next House of Grace? Let God guide your imagination, and provide the courage. Speak to someone this week about what you would need to do next to take on a challenge.
- Open Home and its mentoring initiative Fresh Perspective could provide some training and a place to connect with someone in need. Child, Youth and Family coordinates fostering in New Zealand (Open Home contracts from them) and provides training and financial support. Check them out.
- Mick and Ruby Duncan run Alongsiders seminars to equip and motivate ordinary people to come alongside complex, vulnerable people. Watch their promo video below (with the story of Becs and Dorothy I mentioned today) and consider doing a seminar with them or watching the video with a bunch of friends.
- What else? Do have advice or ideas to offer? Add a comment below with your wisdom, please!
I am heavily indebted, for this post and the sermon it accompanies, to the work of Prof John Wyatt, particularly in his excellent book, Matters of Life and Death. Order a copy right now if a Christian approach to these issues interest you.
And the last word today goes to Elaine Storkey, who wrote these beautiful words about the hospitality a mother shows to a foetus. May we all choose to build a world where women are enabled to offer this costly hospitality.
Pregnancy is itself a symbol of deep hospitality. It is the giving of one’s body to the life of another. It is a sharing of all that we have, our cell structure, our bloodstream, our food, our oxygen. It is saying ‘welcome’ with every breath and every heartbeat. And for many mothers that welcome is given irrespective of the demands made on one’s own comfort, health, or ease of life. For the demands of this hospitality are greater than almost any of our own. And the growing foetus is made to know that here is love, here are warm lodgings, here is a place of safety. In hiding and in quiet the miraculous growth can take place.
This is part of a series on Christian bioethics that accompanies my sermons at Wellington South Baptist Church. Anyone is welcome to join the conversation. If you want to catch up, you can read the introductory post, Being Human, and see the series list here.
If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy yourself, I have written this accompanying post that you may wish to read.
If this is your first time visiting, do feel free to check out the Welcome page for a little tour of what the blog is all about, and shortcuts to some key posts and series. And welcome!
There are plenty of ways to join the Sacraparental conversation and keep in the loop. You can follow me on Facebook (for extra links and resources, daily), Pinterest (for link-plantations) and Twitter (for occasional ranting and raving).
The sculpture in the cover image is called Head Hand Seedling, by Daniel Clahane, and is in Saltwell Park, Gateshead. The original photograph is by Andrew Curtis.