By Bob Allen
One third of Protestant women who have had an abortion are Baptist, more than Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians combined, according to new statistics on abortion and church attendance collected by LifeWay Research.
Those numbers are similar to the Protestant population, says the Nov. 23 report based on interviews by the research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention publisher, LifeWay Christian Resources, with 1,038 women who have had a medical procedure to terminate a pregnancy.
The numbers stand in contrast, however, to the staunchly anti-abortion public face of the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics. The Southern Baptist Convention has adopted 46 resolutions mentioning abortion since the first anti-abortion resolution in 1976.
The most recent, passed at the 2015 annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, reaffirms “our repudiation of the genocide of legalized abortion in the United States” and calls on civil authorities “to enact laws that defend the lives of the unborn.”
The Baptist Faith and Message, the Southern Baptist Convention’s official confession of faith, declares that “children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord” and encourages Southern Baptists to “speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.”
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, held the Sunday nearest the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision recognizing a woman’s right to abortion, has appeared on the SBC denominational calendar since 1985. An accompanying special Sunday school lesson on the sanctity of human life in LifeWay curriculum was introduced in 1991.
According to LifeWay Research, more than four in 10 women who have had an abortion were churchgoers when they ended a pregnancy, but just 7 percent of women discussed their abortion decision with anyone at church. Three-fourths (76 percent) said the church had no influence on their decision to terminate a pregnancy.
Two-thirds (65 percent) said church members judge single women who are pregnant. A majority (54 percent) think churches oversimplify decisions about pregnancy options. Fewer than half (41 percent) believe churches are prepared to help with decisions about unwanted pregnancies and just three in 10 think churches give accurate advice about pregnancy options.
Seventy percent of women who have had an abortion indicated their religious preference is Christian, and 23 percent identified as an evangelical. A third (35 percent) indicated they currently attend church once a week or more. Half (52 percent) said no one at church knows they have had a pregnancy terminated.
Two thirds said they believe church members are more likely to gossip about a woman considering abortion than to help her understand options.
When weighing an abortion decision, women said they expected or experienced judgment (33 percent) or condemnation (26 percent) from a church far more than caring (16 percent) or helpfulness (14 percent).
More than half (54 percent) said they would not recommend that a friend or family member discuss an unplanned pregnancy with someone at church. Nearly half (49 percent) agreed their pastor’s teachings on forgiveness don’t seem to apply to abortion.
Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research, said the findings indicate that many women facing unplanned pregnancies perceive judgment from the church.
“You can’t say you’ve had an abortion,” he said in a news release. “You can’t say you’re considering one. It’s completely taboo to discuss.”
McConnell said judgmental attitudes among even a few people in a church can discourage women from seeking help.
“But when a woman is willing to publicly acknowledge she’s had an abortion in the past, she will sometimes be approached by several other women in the church who’ve never been willing to share with anybody that they too have had an abortion,” McConnell said. “It’s incredibly freeing for them.”
Russell Moore, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, counseled pastors in 2014 to begin thinking of abortion not as “some kind of external cultural issue but as something that affects your congregation and the people in your pews.”