Elective abortion is the leading cause of death in America. And unlike cancer and heart disease, it is entirely avoidable. But the best way to address this issue prompts much debate — even within religious communities.
Many people of faith are inclined to plea for the lives of children in the womb who cannot escape an abortionist’s instruments of death. But competing with the inclination to act is an overwhelming fear — the fear that some will condemn them as being unloving, insensitive and judgmental. So many stay silent. Meanwhile, the most innocent and helpless in our nation are killed daily by the thousands.
At a recent General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Neil L. Andersen decided to move beyond any fear of condemnation and encourage people to choose life over abortion. He emphasized that abortion is a terrible evil, but he also stressed that forgiveness is available.
Andersen also encouraged his audience to reach out to women facing unexpected pregnancies “with love, encouragement, and, when needed, financial help.” And he told about how his grandson’s wife, Emily, was born to an unmarried 16-year-old who allowed a loving family to adopt Emily. Emily said of her birth mother, “I am so thankful for her selfless choice — that she did not choose to use her agency in a way that would take away my own.”
Andersen’s pro-life message troubled Kellie Woodfield, an obstetrics and gynecology physician. She felt that Andersen’s presentation contradicted another conference speaker’s call to “abstain from casting stones.” So Woodfield wrote an article questioning this perceived dissonance.
Woodfield explained that she once held the hand of a young teen girl who “found herself pregnant, scared and alone.” Woodfield thought of things she could say that might have prompted the teen to choose life for her unborn baby. But Woodfield said that those thoughts were “silenced by an overwhelming feeling of love and compassion that [she] felt came straight from God.” So instead of speaking out, she supportively witnessed the baby’s death.
While it is good that Woodfield felt love and compassion for the teen, she misjudged the best way to act on those feelings. It was neither loving nor compassionate to stay silent rather than convey truth to rescue a baby from impending death and save a teen from a possible lifetime of regret. Rather, speaking for the voiceless and encouraging people to avoid destructive behavior is a wonderful way to show love and compassion.
So let’s return to Woodfield’s concern about “casting stones,” a reference to an encounter between Jesus and a woman who had just been caught committing adultery. Jesus saved the woman from death by stoning and told her to “go, and sin no more.”
In other words, Jesus forgave the woman for something she had already done and could not undo. But by telling her to “sin no more,” Jesus made clear that adultery is a sin that should be avoided. That was loving and compassionate, not stone throwing.
So there is no true dissonance here. Jesus did not — and would not — take a woman by the hand and support her plan to commit adultery to try to satisfy her romantic longings. Nor would Jesus take a woman by the hand and support her plan to end the life of her child — a child made in God’s own image — to try to preserve her own vision for her future.
Bible believers can and should make clear that abortion is a life-ending sin that should be avoided even as they extend forgiveness to repentant people who have had or participated in an abortion. That is true love and compassion.
Samuel Green serves as president and general counsel of Reason for Life, a pro-life nonprofit ministry helping religious institutions share biblical and scientific truths about the humanity and value of unborn children. He can be followed on Twitter @ProLifeSamuel.