I was curled up in my assigned bed in the mental hospital—ready to go to sleep for the night—when a nurse came in to tell me I was pregnant. The news shocked me. I was in my 40s and had a history of infertility. It had been 14 years since I last conceived a child. I had prayed for a second child, but it seemed like God’s answer to that prayer was no.

Medical professionals rushed me to the emergency room that night because I had low potassium, which created an emergency situation for the baby. While in the ER I had words with God. Some were thankful; some were painful.

Then there were the angry words. Like, why did God choose this time of trial to bring this news to me? I was trying to get my life in order, so how could I be held responsible for this new life? How was this fair of God to do this to me now?

As much as I’d longed for another child, I was scared.

As family came alongside me, I saw that I had the support and resources to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. I knew that even with my mental health struggles, I could handle mothering a new baby with the help of God, medication and good therapy.

And yet, because I had such strong feelings at that time, I can understand why someone would consider terminating a pregnancy. The sense of overwhelm I felt was consuming.

I don’t think we can ever take for granted the immense sacrifice that life-bearing is for the one doing the bearing.

Faithful considerations

With recent legislation regarding abortion, pregnancy is in the news quite a bit. It’s also in our newsfeeds as each person posts their opinion. The ELCA, in its social statement on abortion, urges church members to move beyond the pro-choice versus pro-life language with which we typically discuss this issue. The statement, adopted by the 1991 Churchwide Assembly, speaks to the importance of valuing the lives of both the unborn and the bearer.

Recent legislation seems to champion the unborn while degrading the lives of those who choose to terminate a pregnancy. But we can care about both. A good first step is to gain a greater appreciation of the—I’ll just say it plain—burden of childbearing.

In the best of circumstances, a full term pregnancy involves incubating another human being inside oneself for nine months. One’s body goes through all kinds of changes—hormonal and physical. But I don’t know of any pregnancies that have been symptom-free. Those symptoms can vary widely from mild aches to life-threatening ailments. Add to that pre-existing health conditions (including mental health issues), and pregnancy can present serious challenges to one’s well-being.

And some women have life situations that are already difficult to bear. Maybe their partner is abusive. Or maybe they are living in poverty. Perhaps they don’t have access to good health care. Perhaps they were raped. Maybe they don’t have the mental health resources that could make a difference for them. Maybe they don’t have family rallying around them.

Can we as a society really honor the lives of these beloved by unnecessarily restricting their access to abortion if they, in their best assessment of their own situation, understand it to be their only/best option?

Abundant life

Jesus said he came so that we may have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). We can help the unborn have life abundant in as many circumstances as possible, not by pitting them against those who bear them, but by ensuring abundant life for both. Wouldn’t it be grand if we actively built a society in which someone becomes pregnant and knows they are loved and cared for and never has to question whether they have the support and resources to bring an unexpected child into this world?

Overbearing legislation will do little to build this kind of world. Our genuine care for the lives around us, abiding with those in difficult circumstances, being the support someone needs, fighting the oppressive forces in this world that keep people from feeling free to live abundant lives—these actions will and do make a difference. Let us then do everything in our power to make sure that all may “take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:19).

Jennifer Clark Tinker
Jennifer Clark Tinker is a Lutheran deaconess serving as a synodically authorized minister at a congregation in rural Texas. She is married to an ELCA pastor, and has two boys who are 14 years apart.

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