Understanding the nuances of NY’s new abortion law

I originally posted this to Facebook, but copied it here for easier sharing.

Wading into a conversation about abortion on Facebook isn’t perhaps the wisest thing to do. But given all of the misinformation making the rounds on FB — especially from Christians who are hellbent on distorting and misrepresenting basic facts — I sense an obligation as a pastor to say something. (Also I’m tired of “pro-life” Christians trying to take the moral high road for political gain even if it means bearing false witness when it comes to the truth surrounding super complex and nuanced situations.)

Be warned, this is a long post. If you wish to comment, please do so only after reading the full content of what I’m sharing here, including the linked articles.

Most of what I’ll be sharing was written by others.* But first, allow me to briefly share a personal story. I grew up in the church. I was always taught that abortion was wrong. Period. No shades of gray. So it’s no surprise that I understood myself to be a pro-life Christian (and still do today, albeit from a much more nuanced position than before). And I carried these perspectives into ministry. It’s not something I ever thought much about. It all seemed pretty simple — until it didn’t. (Life has a way of challenging us.) Many years ago, as a very young pastor, a newly married couple asked if they could privately meet with me. They were expecting their first child, and had been so full of joy. That’s why I was so surprised when they showed up at my office full of sadness and disappointment. The joy was gone. They had just learned that their baby wasn’t developing properly. I don’t remember all of the medical terminology, but the baby was developing in a way that not only threatened the life of the mother, but would’ve brought excruciating, excruciating pain to the baby when born. This family met with me in heartbreak and tears. The last thing they wanted was to lose their precious child; at the same time they had immeasurable compassion and love for their child.

As I continued in ministry, I encountered more stories like this. I share this story because it’s cruel and insulting to think that mothers and families are cold hearted when making the most excruciating, broken-hearted decisions of their lives. They’re not being casual, callous, thoughtless, or cruel. They are trying their best to do what they think is the most loving and compassionate thing to do, given the heartbreaking moment in which all their deepest hopes feel lost. I know some pastors who say that God can do miracles, and I’m aware that amazing things can happen beyond anything we can expect. But that is also the exception to the rule. I think it’s only fair, at the very least, to have understanding and compassion for mothers and families in these moments. Not to do so says far more about you than them. And the last thing anyone should do to a grieving family who has lost everything they dreamed of is to gloat that God did for you what God didn’t do for them.

The next reflection I wish to share is from Lindsey Erin:

“For all of you who think that New York is allowing these terminations after 24 weeks for people who don’t want their babies, you’re wrong. You are dead wrong. And your posts depicting perfect full-term babies that are supposedly in danger are nothing short of torturous…

I was 17 weeks pregnant when I found out that [my son] had a condition that would make him incompatible with life. It broke me in ways you will never understand until you experience it yourself. I hope you never do.

I wasn’t 24 weeks yet, but I already loved this baby. I named him. I had dreams of holding him, of kissing his little fingers and toes. Dreams of what his giggles would sound like. I wanted him, so very badly. How much worse must it be for women who have made it to 24 weeks or more?

I had to make a choice. As you can see [note from Phil: this FB post contained the last picture taken of Lindsey’s son], he was badly swollen. What you can’t see is that his organs were surrounded by fluid. He was going to drown in the substance that was supposed to keep him safe. I wanted to try to carry to full term so that I could donate his organs to a baby that had a chance. Unfortunately, doing so would have nearly guaranteed that I would have developed eclampsia, had fatal seizures and left my other beautiful sons without a mother. There was only a 20% chance that I would even have made it to full term, because of the severity, and if he had passed before that, his organs would not have been eligible for donation. I made the heartbreaking choice to terminate via induction of labor. My doctors moved quickly, but showed more compassion towards me and my son than many of the people who claim to be pro-life. I was given a chance to hold him and say good-bye.

My story is not uncommon. The stories of the women put in this position through no fault of their own are heart-wrenching. The new law does not allow for healthy full term babies to be aborted. It does not allow for murder, yes a life is ended but it is an act of mercy. The law protects the women who are forced to make the hardest decision of their lives and the doctors who care for them.

These babies are wanted. These babies are loved. These mothers aren’t murderers. These mothers are devastated. You are politicizing their pain and demonizing them.”

The following link is to an article by the Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, pastor of the historic Riverside church in the city of New York. (She’s also a contributor to my latest book, Preaching as Resistance.) Here she shares her own heartbreaking and deeply personal story:


The next reflection is from my friend and colleague Yuki Schwartz, who shares her story of being a hospital chaplain:

“If you know anyone who is clutching their ideological pearls over various abortion laws being implemented or under consideration around the US, please send them this article [linked below] and invite them to think with compassion and within the bounds of reality, rather than going along with the hatred of women so many anti-abortion arguments are crafted around. What these laws do is place the authority for a medical decision in the hands of a patient and their doctor, not a governing body that is ignoring science in order to advance a religious agenda. Late-term abortions involve the loss of a wanted and expected child, whose survival is either not possible or whose birth threatens the mother’s life, or both. Anyone who pictures women gleefully lining up to kill a child that’s two minutes from being born are participating in a cruel and heartless politics that fundamentally hates women and disdains mercy and care for those in tragic circumstances. They are also willfully ignoring the fact that making abortions more difficult to get means depriving families of medical care and causing more trauma and suffering.

I did my chaplaincy training on the high-risk pregnancy floor at a hospital. I sat with families and helped them make decisions and funeral arrangements in the midst of a loss of their hopes and dreams for a life that couldn’t be saved. To deny these families and individuals the ability to make a hard decision with the help of a doctor’s advice compounds their grief. These laws lets doctors and patients take back their ability to make the decisions that are right for them in this difficult time, and stops religious fundamentalists from spreading their misery through the law.

We must call out the liars who seek to cause suffering just to satisfy their own sense of twisted self-righteousness. And also demand that people approach issues like this with compassion and education, and not with knee-jerk reactions to sensationalist propaganda.

H/t Violet Fenn

Article referred to by Yuki:


Lastly, there are many who will say these stories are exceptions to the rule, to which I respond in at least two ways: First, these are stories related precisely to the legislation in New York, which has been widely misrepresented. If people are going to try to figure out what they think about New York’s legislation (especially when the right is desperately trying to turn it into naked political gain) they need resources that directly apply to the actual content of New York’s legislation. I’m tired of people on the right saying those on the left are cold and heartless supporters of infanticide, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Secondly, the vast majority of those of us on the left who understand the necessary legal reasons for upholding Roe v Wade also do not take abortion casually. That too couldn’t be further from the truth. Which is why I wrote the following article a while back:


* Please note that each of these reflections were set to public on FB, or shared with the permission of the authors.

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