I am pro-choice. Just about all Baptist leaders were in the years leading up to and after the Supreme Court decision commonly referred to as Roe v. Wade was handed down. In 1971, 1975 and 1976, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting affirmed a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy in cases of rape, incest, the mother’s health or fetal deformity.
I was heavily influenced by those early discussions and decisions. I was impressed even more by the women who came to talk to me about their plight. Fifty years of listening to heart-wrenching stories has a way of shaping one’s perspective.
My first conversation with a pregnant woman who was ambivalent about having another baby occurred early in my ministry. I was about 25 years old.
She described a situation I would not have wanted any child to experience. I recall being impressed by two things: her attention to detail and her sense of despair.
She and her two children were living in a dysfunctional and dangerous home. My attempts to discuss giving the child up for adoption or leaving her husband and moving the children from this unhealthy environment were futile. She had nowhere to go and no way to sustain herself if she did.
“I don’t want to bring another child into this abysmal situation. Going through a third pregnancy and taking care of an infant will make a bad situation even worse. I am worried and afraid. In addition, we cannot afford the two we have, much less another one.”
I never have forgotten this conversation nor the way I felt while listening to her. The level of agony, despair, fear and torment was unlike any I had sensed as a young adult.
I was completely drained after she left. Then it dawned on me: This is how she feels every waking moment.
I do not remember how many conversations I have had with pregnant women trying to decide what to do about a pregnancy. I do remember how many men came with these women to discuss what to do about a pregnancy: None.
In 50 years, you would think one man would show up. Never happened.
My colleagues tell me it still rarely happens.
Even now I am dismayed by the lack of attention given to men in the discussions about the future of Roe v. Wade. I know of no restrictions that will be imposed on men now that Roe v. Wade has been reversed, and I wonder if men will be held accountable for any of their decisions while the birth mother is pregnant.
What I do know is that listening to people’s stories has had a profound impact on me. It has taught me life is far too complex and complicated for a “one size fits all” solution to every dilemma.
“What I do know is that listening to people’s stories has had a profound impact on me.”
Every situation deserves its own hearing and careful scrutiny. Tender and tough decisions need to be made by an inner circle of family members, friends, spiritual advisers and health care professionals.
If this option is taken away or a final outcome is pre-determined, women living in despair will turn from those they can trust to those none of us would trust. I do not want any female put in this position.
Many years ago I coined the phrase, “When you put a name, a face and a story with an issue or a decision, it changes everything. At least it should.” I know it has for me.
Nowhere is this truer than the discussions I have been a part of that involve what to do about an unplanned pregnancy. When all the facts are put on the table, tough decisions have to be made. I believe they should be made by those who have been entrusted to weigh those facts and offer wise counsel.
I am aware of the arguments for and against repealing Roe v. Wade. I’ve spent years reading articles, researching facts, studying Scriptures, praying for guidance and discussing the pros and cons with colleagues who have wrestled with this issue as I have.
I am fully aware of how passionate people on both sides of the argument are. The emotions are raw and immeasurable.
It is not my desire to persuade anyone to believe as I do. Being pro-choice means everyone must come to their own conclusions and follow the dictates of their conscience.
“Being pro-choice means everyone must come to their own conclusions and follow the dictates of their conscience.”
This is what Jackie and I did. To be candid with you, at no time did we even think about terminating a pregnancy.
We had been married almost five years by the time our first child was born, and we welcomed this little boy with open arms into our family. Two more babies followed our firstborn, and we could not have been more delighted.
Between Jackie’s first and second pregnancies, however, she had a miscarriage. I remember the disappointment she and I felt, but we were also grateful for the doctor who performed a medical procedure that made it possible for us to have more children.
I wish every pregnancy made the parents smile. I suspect about half do not, and there are many reasons why.
Those concerns need to be voiced and heard. Nothing or no one should interfere with this process. As a matter of fact, we should do everything necessary to provide safe places for these delicate discussions to occur. And then we should trust the pregnant woman and all the people she leans on for advice and support to make the decisions they deem best in their unique situation.
Bob Browning is a retired Baptist pastor who lives in Frankfort, Ky.
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