By Valerie Tarico | 15 October 2016
Every fall and spring, anti-abortion activists step up protests during a time that they call 40 Days for Life and clinic staff call 40 Days of Harassment—or simply 40 Days of Annoyance. The event this fall runs September 28 through November 6. During 40 Days, protesters often gather in public prayer before lining up with placards that mix images of the Virgin Mary, bloody tissue, and warnings of eternal damnation.
The most devout have been at it for a decade now, praying that God will turn women away from the health centers and trying to do so themselves. But their approach may turn more people away from Christianity than from abortion services. Some Christian abortion providers, appalled by the behavior of their co-religionists, even put up signs that say, Jesus never shamed women.
For those who would like to see fewer abortions, perhaps it’s time for prayers of a different sort, ones that focus on the reasons behind abortion and the complicated reality of women’s lives, and so display Christian compassion at its best instead of Christian judgment at its worst. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Pray that God will keep all women healthy during pregnancy, eliminating pregnancy conditions that maim and kill. Some abortions are provided to save a woman’s health or life—for example if her blood pressure spirals out of control in a condition known as eclampsia. Conditions like these affect only a small percent of pregnancies. Even so, in the U.S. alone, about 800 women each year die from complications of pregnancy or birthing, and many more are left with temporary or permanent disabilities.
Of those who don’t survive, most die at the time of labor and delivery, when bleeding can be lethal, or afterwards, when blood-clot risk goes up; so, reducing these risks wouldn’t necessarily reduce abortion. But including them in your prayers would show that Prolife people care about female life as well as fetal life, which is open right now to question in many minds.
2. Pray that God will stop fetus formation from going awry so that abortions for fetal defects become unnecessary. In addition to dropping the abortion rate, improvements in cell division and recombination would benefit the many aspiring mothers whose own bodies recognize and reject a defective fetus in the making. Biologists estimate that at minimum two thirds of human embryos either fail to implant or else spontaneously self-abort after implantation, many because of mutations and other flaws in embryo production. For young couples who want to become parents, these flaws—whether they lead to fertility problems, or miscarriages, or difficult abortion decisions, or disabled children—can be heartbreaking.
3. Pray that God will stop impulsive young teens from ovulating or producing viable sperm. Close to 80 percent of teen pregnancies are unintended, and about a third of these end in abortion. That’s over 200,000 abortions a year caused by teens getting pregnant because they were curious about sex or hungry for intimacy. In general, almost a third of abortions occur because a young mother or father doesn’t believe she/he is ready to become a parent.
The Bible says that God plays a hand in everything that happens. By him all things consist (Colossians 1:17). This means that God plays an active role in creating the pregnancies that teenagers and young adults so often abort. Without his help, the egg does not release and the sperm fails to swim.
In Colorado, better access to better birth control—meaning “get it and forget it” methods like implants and IUDs—recently dropped teen pregnancy and abortion by almost half. But with God in charge, that number could go to zero. Most young people who abort will go on to have children later, so it’s simply a matter of timing. And, since God knows the secrets of the mind, he is in the perfect position to know when prospective parents have accumulated the knowledge, skills, and emotional resources that will allow them to be good parents.
4. Pray that God will prevent parents who are financially strapped from getting pregnant when they don’t want to. In developing countries 18,000 children starve to death each day. Most of these children are born from unintended and unwanted pregnancies, and most die as infants and toddlers. In the U.S., few children die of malnutrition, but financial strains and pressures are one of the top reasons women choose to end a pregnancy. Sixty-one percent of abortions in the U.S. are performed for women who already are mothers and want to devote their love and resources to the children they already have.
5. Pray that God will “shut that whole thing down” in cases of rape and when women are pressured or forced into pregnancy. Some Christians have suggested that a rape baby is a blessing. Others describe pregnancy after rape as a “silver lining.” Indeed, one might point to all of the rape babies in the Bible who are born from sexual slavery or other situations that lack free and full consent (including Jesus himself).
But most people find the idea of forced pregnancy repugnant, and—however well-intended—they find Christian attempts to pressure women into keeping such pregnancies repugnant too. By contrast, praying that women won’t get pregnant as a consequence of sexual assault or coercion demonstrates real compassion for rape victims—especially if it works.
6. Pray that God will end in utero transmission of Zika and Toxoplasmosis and German Measles. Many diseases don’t cross from a mother into her developing fetus, and some seem to have little effect on fetal development. But these terrible viruses literally eat the budding nervous system. In fact, why not pray that God make such pathogens go extinct? Many churches teach that he drowned the dinosaurs in a world-wide flood; surely making a virus or parasite go extinct is easier than doing the same to a tyrannosaurus rex.
7. Pray that God will more fully exercise his own role as all knowing, all loving aborter-in-chief. God, as I said, already rejects or aborts over two thirds of budding embryos. Though sometimes sad, spontaneous abortion is often merciful and wise. Scientists now understand that this culling process weeds out many ill-fated pregnancies and helps to produce healthy babies. But as things stand today, sometimes an unhealthy fetus slips through or a woman stays pregnant even though her body and psyche aren’t prepared to grow a healthy child.
Christians—including those who loathe induced abortion—tell us that God’s ways are perfect even if they are mysterious—but God also answers prayer. He might be willing to step things up a bit if Christians would pray in faith believing. Improving the miscarriage of mistimed and unhealthy pregnancies would reduce both the percent of pregnancies aborted by medical providers and the percent of children born under bad circumstances.
For the Love of God
Prayers like these would be a good start when it comes to showing that Christians care as much about the wellbeing of women and children as they care about sex rules or embryonic life.
Clinic protests with shouting and pleas and signs and tracts do the opposite. They earn Christianity a bad image. Protestors shame and threaten women facing hard circumstances. They presume to know what is best for families even when women have weighed their options, often with their partners, in light of their own spiritual values. They proclaim that their version of God’s will is the One True version, displaying an attitude of self-righteous arrogance.
Clinic protests turn hearts and minds against Bible believers. Indeed, the Bible itself gets tainted by association, even though it says almost nothing about abortion and can be interpreted either way.
By contrast, the prayers above show genuine compassion for the difficult circumstances of people’s lives. They are truly pro-woman, pro-child, and pro-family; and praying such prayers at the entrances to women’s health clinics—or (better yet) elsewhere–would show that those praying care deeply about real people. Critics like me who say that Christian protestors simply want to force women into gender roles from the Bible or punish young people for breaking sex rules from the Dark Ages might be struck dumb.
And just imagine if God answered these prayers with something other than silence.
Reprinted with permission from the author.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.
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