Pro-Choice Christians Fight to Control the Narrative on Abortion Rights

Former President Donald Trump was recently asked whether he felt that he played a role in the reversal of Roe v. Wade, after appointing three conservative justices to the Supreme Court who voted to overturn it.

"God made the decision," he answered to the question posed to him by Fox News.

Although Trump had been vocally pro-choice for most of his life in the business world, he became vocally pro-life in his public career. As he has done, many pro-life advocates and organizations have touted their Christian faith as a critical factor that motivates their stance on abortion. Claiming to represent the moral "sanctity of unborn life," these Christians united against abortion have tried to shape the narrative around the issue for almost 50 years.

But in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, pro-choice Christians have taken the offensive, fighting to regain control of a narrative that has been lost for decades.

Pro-choice protest D.C. 9-Jul-22
Vera Jalbert, 8, from Massachusetts, joins a protest by abortion rights activists in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. on July 09. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized women's constitutional right to abortion, sparking protest nationwide. Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images

"There is so much theological diversity within Christianity about the specific issue of abortion," said Reverend Katey Zeh, CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. "But there is a dominant narrative that to be a person of faith means that you are against abortion. And that is not true."

A report from the Pew Research Center published on July 6 found that 73% of white Evangelical Christians still believe abortion should be banned in all or most cases after the overturn of Roe. In contrast, 61% of non-evangelical White Protestants, 71% of Black Protestants, and 60% of Catholics believe that abortion should be available in all or most cases.

These disparities between denominations can be explained by political history, said William Trollinger, a professor of history and religious studies at the University of Dayton.

Before the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which protected the right to abortion on a federal level, he said the debate over abortion rights was not a significant concern for most Christian groups. But in the years after the ruling, with the help of clever political messaging, more people began to justify their anti-abortion positions with their religious beliefs.

By 1976, the issue had become a "centerpiece" of the Republican Party's outreach strategy to conservative evangelicals. This strategy later helped rally enough voters to elect Ronald Reagan to the U.S. presidency in 1980 — a man who was later dubbed the "Father of the Pro-Life Movement" by the Washington Post.

Four decades later, in 2022, anti-abortion sentiment among conservative evangelicals remains strong. But while some resistance to the procedure is genuinely rooted in faith, Reverend Zeh believes that a lot of it is also politically motivated.

"Ultimately, the anti-abortion movement has used and weaponized certain aspects of the Christian tradition to suit a political agenda," she told Newsweek. "Their voices have been so loud that it is the only narrative that is heard, although it does not represent the majority of the people's opinions."

For nearly 50 years, conservative evangelical political organizations have fought to restrict and ban abortions regardless of the popular support in favor of it, said Linda Goler Blount, the president and CEO of the Black Women's Health Imperative.

And while anti-abortion leaders have cited their faith or even "God" as the core reason for their most recent legislative victory, Blount sees it differently. Leading an organization dedicated to promoting health equity for Black women, she said that the success of the pro-life movement to-date is a result of strategic political thinking, not widespread public support.

Reverend Zeh said that while the evangelical right executed a strategy of effective marketing and making noise on the issue, leaders of other major denominations have stayed quiet or tried to avoid the issue altogether.

But with the procedure now either banned or about to be in 14 states, according to The New York Times, many practicing Christians find themselves opposed to the dominant narratives being pushed by religious conservatives about key tenants of their faith.

Jamie Manson is the president of Catholics for Choice, a non-profit created in 1973 to facilitate dialogue on the issue. She told Newsweek that since the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, many more Catholics have expressed interest in discussing the intersection of religion and abortion access — but there are few available forums for Catholics to do so.

"Even the most liberal Catholic colleges that talk about other controversial things, including LGBTQ issues, will not go near abortion," Manson said. "There is no space for this conversation in any Catholic place."

She argues that the anti-abortion doctrine widely adopted by the Catholic Church isolates those who have gotten the procedure or disagree with the political stance.

"Catholics are having abortions," Manson said. "Catholics who are going to mass and participating in the life of the Church are having abortions. But you have this absolute silence and stigma, and all you hear is that abortion is murder."

"That is a real pastoral crisis for this church," she added.

And while conversations about abortion are also taboo within the walls of Black churches, Blount said that church representatives and attendees have generally been supportive of her organization's efforts to improve the health outcomes for Black women.

"The majority of Black people, whether they're Christians or not, believe a woman should have the right to choose," said Blount, who added that about 40% of the women who get abortions in the U.S. are Black.

That said, while her church has never stood in public support of abortion, she said that most Black evangelical pastors understand the issue's complexity.

"We've never had an issue with the church," Blount said, "because it's all about women's health."

"I have yet to come across a pastor who has said to me, 'I want Black women to have poor health outcomes,'" she added.

Blount said that Black church leaders are generally allies of her organization's efforts. An example of that support comes from Pastor Sarah Jakes Roberts, the organization's newest ambassador.

A pastor, best-selling author, and daughter of megachurch pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes, Roberts has built a reputation for being honest, transparent and relatable to members of her congregation.

"She has a story that really resonates with women," Blount said.

In her book Lost and Found: Finding Hope in the Detours of Life, Roberts shared the story of a time when her faith was tested the most, after finding out at age 13 that she was pregnant.

She told Life Today Ministries she felt intense feelings of guilt, shame and regret at that moment.

"I felt that the goodness of God and grace of God is reserved for people who did everything the right way," Roberts said.

But she said that ultimately she was saved by the support and compassion of her loved ones, and decided to carry the baby to term.

While neither Roberts nor her peers have ever publicly come out in support of abortion, she has partnered with organizations like the Black Women's Health Imperative that connect people to vital health services and advocate for a woman's right to choose.

Reverend Zeh said this approach is more in line with her faith.

"Jesus never talked about abortion," Zeh said, "but what he did do was help people heal and center those who are impacted by injustice."

"I don't think Jesus would join the protesters outside the abortion clinic," she said. "I think that he would be accompanying patients inside, caring for them and holding their hands. That is the Jesus that I know."