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Thursday 21 March 2024

Women, Victims or Perpetrators of Abortion?


Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in our modern world. The simplistic view is that there is a divide between pro-life and pro-choice. This should be the only real divide, those on the right, as in the right side of the issue are pro-life and anti-abortion, and those left on the wrong side of the issue are those okay with snuffing out a young child’s life in the womb. In a world where the moral poles of north, south, east and west, actually pointed north, south, east and west, this would not only be the correct divide, those on the pro-abortion side of the argument would be considered deranged. But, we live in a world that has corrupted so many values and morals in so many ways, that which ought to be believed and affirmed is often rejected.

But this is not the only divide on this issue. There is another divide, the accountability divide. Should women be held accountable for their abortions? Another way to phrase this would be to ask, “Are women who have abortions, victims as well?” I have always found this perspective shocking, but it is actually very common, this idea that there are two victims in most abortions, the child and the mother of the child. I have seen it often asserted by prominent pro-life advocates that abortion is not a power women have, but a power men have over women, and something women do because they are helpless. The narrative on the prominent pro-life right is that generally women are pressured into, or made to feel pressured into abortion, by bad men. To give these people credit, they are correctly against abortion, and therefore this is an inhouse debate, but they miss the mark widely on this issue, because the fact of the matter is that abortion is a feminist right, advocated for and defended strongly by feminists, to empower women. It is not a power men hold over women, but a power women hold over the child in the womb. So, the rhetoric that women who have abortions are just as much victims as the children being aborted, falls short, because it does not point to the truth of the situation.

This does not mean some women are not coerced into having abortions. There are plenty of anecdotal examples of this, and every pro-life advocate can draw on a few accounts of this having actually happened to someone they know, or have spoken to at least. This reality must be acknowledged. It is evil, and must be condemned, and the men and families involved in this coercion should face harsh sanctions. However, research, admittedly tentative research, shows that woman are much more likely to be pressured to continue pregnancy than to abort it.[1] It has also been claimed that 15% of abortions are the result of coercion by some pro-life advocates. However, this number comes out of a UK study that found that 15% of the women surveyed had faced coercive pressure to get an abortion, it did not actually state whether they went through with it.[2] So, this number is not reliable. In fact, it would seem to indicate that some number less than 15% of abortions are the result of coercion, because not every woman who was pressured gave into that coercion. This supports the other study, that the vast majority of abortions are not the result of partner, or other, coercion.

This appears to be the conclusion that other researchers have found too,

“For most women in Australia, the decision about whether or not to have a baby is a profoundly personal one. But for some, control over this decision is taken away from them, usually by an abusive male partner. This can happen via the use of verbal pressure, threats, blackmail, physical violence or rape.

In 2010, researchers in the US came up with the term “reproductive coercion” to describe these behaviours. Since then, some work has been done, primarily in US family planning clinics, to help understand reproductive coercion.

Despite this, it mostly remains a hidden issue. We don’t know how common it is, and it’s very likely (as with most forms of violence against women) it’s grossly under-reported. The US National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey suggested around 8% of respondents had experienced reproductive coercion in their lifetimes, although the survey only asked about a limited range of behaviours.

In Australia, we don’t have any reliable prevalence data. But Queensland organisation Children By Choice reported they’re seeing it in around one in seven women presenting for abortions.”[3]

1 in 7 equals about 14%. So, while this number is still too high, it is far below the majority.

I sympathize strongly with women who have been coerced into an abortion by a violent man, or by others. Women are the weaker vessel, as the Apostle Peter tells us, and a violent man can be a terror to a fragile and vulnerable woman. These cases obviously do exist, and should be addressed. But every data point shows far less women are coerced into having an abortion than those who actually choose to have one.

The reasons often given for abortion are, “financial reasons (40%), timing (36%), partner related reasons (31%), and the need to focus on other children (29%). Most women reported multiple reasons for seeking an abortion crossing over several themes (64%).”[4] Someone might latch onto the mention of “partner related reasons” as proof for a much higher rate of coerced abortions, but this is further explained,

“Almost one-third (31%) of study respondents gave reasons relating to their partner. For example, some individuals said they did not have a good or stable relationship with their partner or that their partner was unsupportive. Around 8% wanted to get married before having children. Others mentioned that they had a partner who was abusive or who did not want the baby.”[5]

Partner coercion is a subcategory of “partner related reasons”, but not the whole of it. Again no one is denying that some women are coerced into having an abortion, but it is not the norm.

Interestingly, 20% of women said they had an abortion simply because it would interfere with their life goals and future opportunities.[6] So, in the vast array of reasons, the number of women who abort a child just for career reasons is far higher than those who are coerced into having one.

So, as can be seen, there is simply no way that one can say that the vast majority of abortions are not a women’s personal choice. The Conversation appears to have hit the nail on the head when it stated, “For most women in Australia, the decision about whether or not to have a baby is a profoundly personal one.” It is something most women who have an abortion choose willingly. 

The continued over-emphasis on coerced abortions is a right-wing talking point, that garners lots of sympathy from men and women in the pro-life camp, but fails to gain traction in the abortion debate, because it is rhetoric that does not comport with most women’s experience with abortion. Most women who have abortions are not victims.

For the vast majority of women who are pro-abortion, abortion is a right that they intend to defend, because they believe without it they do not have autonomy,

“Women Can’t Be Free If They Don’t Control Their Bodies,” read a placard held by a pregnant Jennifer Lawrence on Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. The Academy Award-winning actress was present at one of many marches held throughout the country to support abortion access in the wake of the recent rollback of human rights for over 50 percent of the population in Texas. By J-Law’s side was Amy Schumer, who held a Center for Reproductive Rights sign that said: “Abortion Is Essential.”[7]

Abortion, then, is more of an act of defiance, of women seeking a power over nature, that God has not afforded them, but which they take anyway. It is a way of asserting dominance in an area where God has commanded chastity or marriage, not abortion. This is the reality of the reason behind the majority of abortions. Some are coerced, many, many more are choices made by the woman, so that they do not have to live with the consequences of their sexual choices. The degree to which the men involved in these pregnancies have a part in this decision would vary, but it is not really the main issue, because men don’t have abortion rights. The main issue is many of the advocates want this choice, because they believe without it they cannot be truly free.

As Michelle Williams said in her Golden Globe acceptance speech,

“I’m grateful for the acknowledgment of the choices I’ve made, and I’m also grateful to have lived at a moment in our society where choice exists. Because as women and as girls, things can happen to our bodies that are not our choice.

I’ve tried my very best to live a life of my own making, and not just a series of events that happened to me, but one that I could stand back and look at and recognize my handwriting all over—sometimes messy and scrawling, sometimes careful and precise, but one that I had carved with my own hand. And I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose: to choose when to have my children, and with whom.”[8]

These are not fringe perspectives in the abortion debate. They are the mainstream, and the data on why women have abortions appears to show they are also the norm, the vast majority.

Therefore, the rhetoric of much of the prominent pro-life advocates in Australia that banning abortion is about protecting women from being coerced into having abortions, is rhetoric that is dead on arrival, because it does not point to the truth which encompasses the full reality of the situation. It points to a mere sub-category of what is happening, and therefore it cannot land successfully. I have personally seen women laugh off the suggestion that they are victims because they have had an abortion. I am sure there are women who genuinely feel that they are. But the vast majority of the pro-abortion crowd do not see it that way. Not all women are going to wear the right proudly and loudly, but nor are the majority claiming to be victims. They would say: It is a right. A sacred woman’s right. A right men should not be allowed to touch, that allows women to function in society like men and not be held back by their biology. That is the dominant view for pro-abortion advocates.

The kind of rhetoric we use should be based on that truth. When the sinner tells you why they love their sin, you have to hit them with the truth of the word of God on that issue. Someone sent me this tweet, and it is what prompted me to write this article, because the author is on the money:

“Perhaps the most controversial position abortion abolitionists hold is that mothers who have abortions should be penalized. But the witness of church history affirms this stance:

"She who has deliberately destroyed a fetus must bear the penalty for murder. Moreover those who aid her, who give abortifacients for the destruction of a child conceived in the womb, are murderers themselves, along with those receiving the poisons."

 — Basil of Caesarea (Canons 118.2)

"We say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God. The fetus in the womb is a living being and therefore the object of God's care."

 — Athenagoras (A Plea for the Christians 35.6)

"Those who use abortifacients to hide their fornication cause not only the outright murder of the fetus but of the whole human race."

 — Clement of Alexandria (Paedagogus 2.10.96)

"They deny in their very womb their own progeny. By use of parricidal mixtures they snuff out the fruit of their wombs. In this way life is taken before it is given. Who except man himself has taught us ways of repudiating our own children?"

 — Ambrose (Hexameron 5.16.58)

"They who drink potions to ensure sterility are guilty of rebuffing God's own blessings. Some, when they learn that the potions have failed and thus are with child through sin, practice abortion by use of still other potions. They are then guilty of three crimes: self-mutilation, adultery, and the murder of an unborn child."

 — Jerome (Letter to Eustochium 22.13)

"They provoke women to such extravagant methods as to use poisonous drugs to secure barrenness; or else, if unsuccessful in this, to murder the unborn child."

 — Augustine (On Marriage 1.17.15)

In other words, those who insist that women are second victims of abortion are undeniably outside of Christian orthodoxy on this matter.[9]

Rather than excuse women who have had abortions as victims, they should be shown why they are murderers. Of course, those who were coerced by abusive boyfriends or husbands should be extended extra grace. And even those who chose to have abortions of their own freewill can be forgiven; Paul the Apostle, was a murderer and repented and became a great leader in the early Church. But we do no one a service by not assigning accountability where it should be assigned. There is a strange tendency in conservative circles to not want to ascribe full responsibility to the vast majority of women who have chosen to have abortions. I won’t get into why I think this is, because it leads into speculation, but we can say for certain that those who do this are in error.

One thing we know from the Scriptures is that a correct preaching of the law of God as applied to the sinner to bring contrition for sin is the most successful way of bearing the fruit of repentance in that same sinner. In other words, how can we seek to turn around a great sin, if we don’t use the right rhetoric, based in solid realities, that creates the right response in the person to which it is directed? The answer is we can’t. Just as you can’t get a genuine response to the gospel, with a false message of salvation preached, no matter how real the emotion is. You cannot create the right godly sorrow without the right application of biblical truth. Hence, much modern pro-life advocacy fails to land.

The ancient church understood this, obviously better than we do.

List of References

[1] Karen Trister Grace and Jocelyn C. Anderson, 2016,

[6] Ibid.

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't heard that pro-life argument before but it reminds me of how in the same-sex marriage debate the ACL chose the weakest argument against same sex marriage.