I am thankful for Christians in the medical profession who see medicine as ministry—or at least those who spend time thinking more deeply about the strange world of medicine (as one of my old professors, Dr. Verhey, would say). This past Sunday I sat down with Danielle to talk with her about a presentation she had on abortion. The question was, “what will you do when a patient comes in and asks for an abortion?”
I have posted her response below. It is long, but I think it is worth the read:
I would like to begin with a story. It was told by the Dean of Duke Chapel Sam Wells. He says,
“Several years ago I sat down with Brian and Clare. Clare was 15 weeks pregnant. They’d recently been told
that the child she was expecting would be so severely disabled that it might survive only a few agonizing days after birth; maybe only minutes. I asked them the two questions I always ask. “What’s the best thing that can happen?” Clare said, “That I might find peace”. “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” She said, “That I might have this child, and it might live, terribly troubled and hugely disfigured, and that my friends might come round once or twice, and then I’d be left all alone.”
So I said to Brian and Clare, “What you want is peace, and what you fear is being alone. But may I suggest that what you need is the church?” “Oh” said Clare, “My dad is right against abortion. He thinks people who have abortions go to hell. My mom is all for women’s rights. She thinks it should be my choice.” I replied, as gently as I could, “Can I suggest to you that we’re not really talking about campaigning for abortion or campaigning for women’s rights? I’m not sure it’s really about legislation and I don’t think it’s really about going to hell. Because all these people with their certainties, for all their self-importance, have left you all alone. Alone now, with your decision: and alone in six months time, when you might need all the help you can get. You don’t feel able to ask for real help, and you sense, probably rightly, that real help isn’t there. It’s perfectly understandable that you’re drawn to a technological solution. But the real problem is one that an abortion won’t solve. You need people who won’t leave you on your own. You need a hope that knows there are things worse than physical suffering. You need people around you who will make your life beautiful even if it’s not happy. What you need is the church.
What will I do when a pregnant woman comes in and asks about abortion? First thing’s first. Find out her story. Ask Why? What’s going on? And then after hearing her story ask her
What is the best thing that could happen??
What is the worst thing that could happen??
The most important thing I could do at this moment is listen.
As an FNP my responsibility is to educate, inform and keep my patient safe. According to the National Abortion Federation there are numerous aspects of abortion I could perform after training, but I would choose not to. I would focus my care on educating and informing my patient the best I could.
The best thing to do for this patient is to build a relationship. Let her talk. Let her share. Find out why. Find her a place to belong, whether it is the church or not. It might be a support group. It might be a women’s home. The point is that I would help her see that there is hope and that there are options. I would help her to try to find the beauty in the darkness.
We have around 4 million live births a year in the US. And we have a million abortions. This is such a common procedure that just does not make sense to me. The problem is much bigger than abortion. In my opinion the bigger problem that should be dealt with is a lack of education to women and girls. I truly believe that the ‘abortion issue’ could be almost completely avoided if we would begin educating women and girls more thoroughly. As we have seen in our readings this week there are numerous ways to have effective birth control. We should be educating women on the chance of pregnancy and the need for birth control. We should be telling even younger girls on risks of sex. We heard in our lecture that middle schoolers are having oral sex. They (most likely) have no idea about protection, and of course we all know that oral sex is just going to lead to sex sooner or later.
Girls are being bombarded with media presenting teen pregnancy as a “fun/trendy/cool” thing. Teens aren’t worried about becoming pregnant and then, ones that are, are not practicing safe sex practices. Teen pregnancy has become idolized in the past 5 years and is now something to be admired. This is clearly a problem.
It is our job as NPs to educate all aged women on the proper ways to protect themselves from pregnancy. And at EVERY visit.
On my first day at clinical we had a 15 year old seeking out contraceptive use. The mid-wife at the clinic spent 20 minutes discussing all sorts of birth control with the patient and then after she picked the one she wanted, the mid-wife continued to discuss sex with the girl. I will also add that since I have only been to clinic one day (before I saw this assignment) I was not able to ask if anyone in the practice performs abortions. But I will look into it.
So to close. Back to the topic at hand.
Why do we even have abortions? People feel ashamed. Because we feel abandoned. We don’t feel we have the emotional support or the money or security to meet all our commitments or give a child a chance in life without destroying our own.
One reason is we fear that a disabled life is less than a full life. We’re so concerned to abolish suffering that we would rather end life than watch a life in distress.
I can help my patients see that those are not the truth. Ashamed? We have all made mistakes. Alone? There are support groups. There is the church. Perhaps family.
And if you are a Christian- or maybe not a believer at all--We ALL, but especially Christians, should be in the business of forming and fostering communities in which unexpected life is welcomed as a gift rather than a threat. Christians should be opening our arms saying, “come and live with me”.
Danielle and I would have liked to take a lot of the argument a step further and explore abortion and the Church, but that was not the specific topic at hand. The questions, “when does life begin?” or “whose right is it to decide?” are unnecessary or secondary to Christians. Instead, there are Christian categories that are more important and need to be invoked. These are some of the theological categories we would have likely explored further:
Baptism—what does it mean that children are welcomed into a Church family through baptism? Or, that every adult is a parent to all of the children in the Church? Does this affect one’s “right” to choose or who raises the child?
Hospitality—what does it mean to welcome the stranger or the unwanted? What does it mean that Christians believe all life is able to build up our community? What does it mean to sustain a hospitality of life?
Kingdom of God—what does it mean that our citizenship is not primarily in the USA, but in the kingdom of God? Does this change the idea that, “it is your right as a citizen of the USA to choose?”
The Gospel favors the oppressed—What does it mean that the Gospel favors those who are oppressed—particulalry women and children? Is it ironic that the abortion debate pits women against children?
Suffering—What does it mean that suffering is not to be avoided at all costs? After all, we worship a God who suffered, in some sense. Compassion is radically different than “preventing suffering.”
These are just a few of the Christian categories that are important and need to be unpacked further. But, I think they start to put us in the right direction. Instead of lobbying for or against abortion. The Church should focus its energy on creating a space for “unwanted” children to become wanted. We have to actually be the Church.
There was a girl in Durham that wanted to have two abortions. Both times her Church said, “No. We will help you raise this child.”
That strikes me as the right thing to do.